Hunger Strike controversy - articles from Newshound


Monsignor Faul regrets his 'late intervention'

(Catherine Morrison, Irish News)

A key player in the 1981 hunger strikes last night (Monday) said he regretted not intervening earlier in the protest.

Monsignor Denis Faul, was a regular visitor at the Maze prison at the time and a supporter of the prisoners' families.

Mgr Faul described how, by the end of June 1981, he believed the strikes were all but over.

Four prisoners had died agonising slow deaths from starvation, but unbeknownst to Mgr Faul at the time, six more would die before the protest was brought to an end.

"The prisoners had gotten to wear their own clothes and I remember distinctly going into the prison at the end of June, and many [prisoners] were of the opinion the strike should stop," he said.

"I went on holiday – I thought the whole thing was over."

But by the time Mgr Faul returned to the prison, two more men – Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson – had died.

"I called a meeting on 28 July in Toomebridge – all the relations were there and they all decided unanimously that they wanted the strike ended," he said.

"We headed down to Belfast to meet Adams at 12 midnight and had a long discussion until about 2.30am. We told him he was to get an order from the IRA [to stop the strike].

"We pushed our point and were very blunt about it. The families had a clear cut request.

"They [the republican prisoners] had got the clothes and if they stopped, they would get the rest."

Mgr Faul recalled Gerry Adams agreeing to the families request, and said he would go to the Maze to talk to the prisoners.

"But the next day Mr Adams phoned me and said he was bringing somebody into the prison with him – Owen Carron.

"My heart sank.

"I was suspicious, was this for political reasons?

"We gave the IRA the opportunity to end it, I went back to the families and told them to take them off the strike as soon as the men became unconscious.

"But by that stage the political aim had been met and the election was over."

Richard O'Rawe, in his book Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike, contends that the IRA army council and Sinn Féin leadership may have decided to keep the strike going for political gain.

If that was the case, Mgr Faul said, that claim is potentially devastating for the republican leadership and more so, for the families of the hunger strikers.

"If these men died for votes it would be a sad event," he said.

"I mean, what was important – the votes or their lives? It is damaging if it is true and I regret I did not intervene earlier."

March 4, 2005

This article appeared first in the March 1, 2005 edition of the Irish News.


Unburdening long-held sense of guilt

(Steven McCaffery, Irish News)

Did the IRA allow six of the 10 hunger-strikers to die needlessly in 1981 when an offer to end the protest was on the table? Steven McCaffery meets the author of a controversial new book on the hunger strike, who concedes he may not have all the answers but questions remain.

Richard O'Rawe is a man under pressure. Not only has he written a book suggesting the IRA may have sacrificed six of its most honoured comrades, he also carries a belief that he personally could have done more to save them.

Since the launch of his book he has been condemned by leading republicans who were once close colleagues. For them, the 51-year-old is suggesting the unthinkable.

Republican history is founded on centuries of republican martyrdom. For the modern movement, Bobby Sands and the 1981 hunger-strikers hold the same iconic status as Wolfe Tone and Padraig Pearse.

Mr O'Rawe, an IRA spokesman in the Maze prison at the time of the hunger strike, claims an acceptable offer was made by the British government after four of the 10 IRA and INLA men had died, but was rejected by the IRA leadership.

Sitting in his west Belfast home, wearing a black top, tracksuit bottoms and slippers, he says he has been under severe pressure since his book was launched in Dublin on Sunday.

In the 24 hours since he returned to Belfast, his phone has not stopped ringing. He leaves the room on several occasions to hear radio interviews with contemporaries of the hunger strike period offering their thoughts on the bitter debate his book has opened.

The bereaved families, he says, have a right to know "what went on", though he says he regrets they have suffered through the angry exchanges that have greeted his claims.

But if his account is true, why has it taken almost 25 years to emerge?

"It hasn't come out for one very good reason: because if it had come out, and it was known that the movement pulled the plug on a potential deal, people would say that the IRA killed these men," he said.

"Now I am not particularly saying that either. The British government killed these men. That is one thing that they [his republican critics] are trying to say that I am saying. I went on the record that Margaret Thatcher killed these men. That is the bottom line.

"It could well be that they [IRA leadership] thought there was a second deal coming. How do I know? Maybe that is why they rejected the deal. All I am saying is that Bik (McFarlane) sent up [the July 5 deal] to me. I looked at it for about three hours...We took the deal, and the army council rejected it."

The book launch comes as the republican movement fights off allegations of criminality over the Northern bank robbery, money-laundering and the murder of Robert McCartney.

Mr O'Rawe says he signed the book deal a year ago and had no say in the launch date or the decision to serialise it in the Sunday Times.

"In press interviews since Sunday I have had to defend the movement against allegations of criminality and on claims that Gerry Adams was in the IRA. So I have been defending the movement."

The claims in his book, Blanketmen – An Untold story of the H-block Hunger Strike, centre on July 5 1981.

He alleges that Danny Morrison, then director of publicity for the republican movement, visited the IRA officer commanding in the prison, Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane, with details of a British offer of a deal.

Mr O'Rawe then claims he discussed the offer with Mr McFarlane and they agreed it met most of the prisoners' demands for political status.

But on the outside, he claims the ruling IRA army council decided that the deal was not enough.

He claims the long-held belief that the prisoners held the whip hand in decision making was a "carefully scripted myth".

He suggests the deal may have been rejected because republican candidate Owen Carron was fighting a by-election for the Fermanagh/South Tyrone Westminster seat that the late Bobby Sands had dramatically won from his bed in the Maze prison hospital.

On July 8 a fifth hunger striker, Joe McDonnell, died. Five more men followed him to their graves after the alleged ditching of a deal.

However, Bik McFarlane and Danny Morrison have insisted the author is misrepresenting the truth, thereby opening one of the most divisive debates in modern republicanism.

Mr McFarlane has dismissed his former colleague's account outright, and last night said: "There was no concrete offer made by the British government as Richard claims.

"Lines of communication had been opened up. But after the experience of British bad faith following the first [1980] hunger strike when the British reneged on the agreement reached, the prisoners insisted that any proposal for a resolution from the British government would be in writing and authenticated. This did not happen."

Richard O'Rawe rejects the criticism: "They have said that I was scurrilous, they said it was about selling books.

"Danny Morrison said I should hang my head in shame. For what? For telling the truth?

"At the end of the day Bik McFarlane knows I am telling the truth. He can take the party line, but he knows that I am telling the truth... And there's more than Bik knows that I am right."

Mr O'Rawe's father was an IRA member and he followed him into the organisation at the age of 17. Interned twice in 1972 and 1973, he was later convicted and jailed for eight years for his part in an IRA bank raid. He remained in the Maze prison from 1977 until 1983.

During that time he took part in the 'blanket' protests against the wearing of prison uniforms, and in his book recalls living in a cell smeared with excrement and crawling with maggots during the 'dirty' protest.

On his release he said he was launched immediately into a publicity role in republican election campaigns and went on to "spearhead" the campaign opposing 'supergrass' informant trials.

He says he left his political role for personal reasons and denies any fall-out with the republican leadership.

"I bought businesses. I got into taxi depots, bars, buying houses and stuff like that there."

He claims that in 1991 he "vented my anger" to a fellow republican, saying he was "in no uncertain terms unhappy that the last six men died", but was warned that if he repeated the words "he could be shot".

His move to write the book came four years ago following an encounter with an academic researching the hunger strikes.

"The whole thing had been building up on me all the time. He [the academic] was talking about the hunger strike and before I knew it the water tap was turned on and I totally broke down. That was the point of departure for me. That was the point where I said 'this has to come out'," he said.

He said he repeatedly stopped work on the book, but "like a magnet it kept pulling me back".

"I have always been an independent thinker. I have always been my own man and maybe that is my downfall. But this has been eating at me and eating at me for 24 years."

Becoming increasingly emotional, he said: "There is a bucket of personal guilt here. When we accepted that offer I should have stood up and said 'Bik, the offer is good', and stood up and fought the corner, and I didn't.

"As I pointed out, there was a rationale for not accepting this offer. One – it was the first offer. There might have been a second offer – the mountain climber [the British go-between] was still in play.

"But, looking back, in hindsight, I should have been stronger. When [hunger strikers] Bobby and Frank and Patsy and Raymond died, criminalisation went into their graves.

"The policy of criminalisation, saying that the republican prisoners and therefore the republican struggle is a criminal conspiracy, went into the grave with those heroic men.

"So morally we had won this war. And I reckoned that our people on the outside could have gone to the world and said 'look, we won'."

He added: "I should have said 'Bik don't accept this [the IRA army council rejection], the second offer might not come. The second offer mightn't come and if we go across that threshold with Joe, f*** knows how many people will die'.

"... It wasn't until 10 men died that I stood up. And that is a massive, massive regret. It is absolutely a knife in my heart.

"To most people the hunger strikers are just pictures on a wall. To me they are alive. I see them. When I was crying, breaking my heart writing this book, I saw them. And I did that many's a time. Every time I went back to this it was like someone was reaching in and pulling your heart out."

The author concedes that he has offered a personal account of a period dogged by intrigue, claim and counter-claim.

Fatherr Oliver Crilly, who worked with the Irish Commission for Peace and Justice while it also attempted to secure a deal in 1981 – said yesterday (Thursday) he believed the new book was one man's account of a moment frozen in time.

And though by inference a partial account, it had the historical merit of being a first-person view of events.

Among his memories of prison Mr O'Rawe holds one artefact, a scrap of paper which carries the words of a song presented to him by Bobby Sands on the day he went on hunger strike.

"To me they [hunger strikers] are alive," the author said.

"I see them all the time. I have flashbacks to the times I had with Bobby, and big McElwee, and Joe. I knew most of them personally."

And in an apparent conciliatory gesture to his critics, he added: "I am sure Bik and the rest of them feel the same way."


Hunger strikers' deaths must be fully explained, says author

(Irish News)

Richard O'Rawe, author of Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike, replies here to a letter printed yesterday from Magherafelt councillor Oliver Hughes and criticism by other republicans of his claims that the IRA may have blocked a deal to end the 1981 protest before six of the 10 men died.

Mr Hughes is right when he says that the IRA strenuously opposed the hunger strikes when they were first suggested, but can he be sure that attitude didn't change when Bobby Sands won the Fermanagh/South Tyrone by-election and the opportunity came to enter electoral politics if that seat could be retained after Bobby's death?

He is correct when he says the hunger strikers were not forced unto the strike.

It was a voluntary process and those courageous men that came forward are worthy of the utmost respect.

Mr Hughes is also right when he says that volunteer Francis Hughes (his brother) remained a dignified and courageous Irishman. He was a giant in every sense of the word.

But he is wrong in almost everything else he says about my book.

Mr Hughes expressed outrage and disbelief when I revealed the republican leadership had opposed our accepting the first 'Mountain Climber' offer.

It must be remembered that Oliver Hughes had no first-hand involvement in the hunger strikes after the death of his brother.

As PRO for the prisoners, I did.

No doubt Mr Hughes, a Sinn Féin councillor, is taking his guide from Bik McFarlane, who said on UTV news on Monday night that there was no offer from the Mountain Climber before Joe McDonnell died.

Mr Hughes is entitled to his opinion, but Bik is wrong.

All he needs do is refer to pages 292-293 of the book Ten Men Dead, which was written with the co-operation of the republican movement.

David Beresford, the author of that book, was briefed by the republican leadership about the Mountain Climber initiative and he says: "While the commissioners (Irish Commission for Justice and Peace) were occupying centre stage, at least in their eyes and those of the media, the hard bargaining was in fact going on behind the scenes.

"The Foreign Office had re-launched the 'Mountain Climber' initiative."

As the ICJP left the stage immediately after Volunteer Joe McDonnell died, there can be no ambiguity about the timing of this offer.

Mr Beresford goes on to say that "The Foreign Office in its first offer had conceded the prisoners' main demand of their own clothing".

He then gives a definition of a reformed work regime, as well as conceding everything on parcels, visits etc.

He also offered segregation and a portion of lost remission back.

So there is no doubt that Mountain Climber was involved, separately from the ICJP, and that he made an offer on behalf of the British government to end the protest.

I am sorry that Mr Hughes does not appreciate why I wrote this book.

I did so because I believe that the hunger strikers' deaths should be fully explained; in my opinion they deserved no less.

My book is not an outrageous slur on the hunger strikers. Not once in any part of it did I question the integrity, honour or courage of the hunger strikers. The hunger strikers were my comrades and while I didn't meet Frank during the protest, I nonetheless knew that he was a great Irish patriot.

I was privileged to have been on the protest with such men.

I stand by what I wrote, which is that Bik and I accepted the Mountain Climber offer but that the "advice" purporting to come from the army council was to reject it.

I have no reason to invent this story.

I have no reason not to tell the truth about what really happened. Can those who now deny this story say the same?

March 4, 2005

This article appeared first in the March 3, 2005 edition of the Irish News.


Hunger strikers wanted more than vague promises

(by Danny Morrison, Irish Times)

The claim that the IRA's army council was responsible for prolonging the hunger strikes is wrong, writes Danny Morrison.

Your columnist Fintan O'Toole (March 1st) readily accepts Richard O'Rawe's claim in his new book Blanketmen that the IRA army council was to blame for six of the 10 hunger-strike deaths by refusing a deal from the British government.

The 1981 hunger strike was a direct result of the 1980 hunger strike. The British government had said that it would not act under duress but would respond with a progressive and liberal prison regime once it ended. The prisoners called off the fast to save the life of Seán McKenna.

However, the British immediately reneged on their promises. Because of this duplicity the hunger strikers of 1981 were adamant that any deal must be copperfastened.

By early July 1981, and after four deaths, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP) became involved in trying to mediate a settlement.

Around the same time the republican leadership was privately contacted by "Mountain Climber", codename for a leading Foreign Office figure, by telephone through an intermediary. This method was not satisfactory given that messages could become distorted, but we had no choice if lives were to be saved.

I was given a special visit with the hunger strikers on Sunday, July 5th, and told them we were in contact with the British. The offer was, of course, less than what the men were demanding.

Both in regard to this offer and the separate initiative undertaken by the ICJP the prisoners' major concern was a mechanism for ensuring the British did not renege.

As was agreed with Mountain Climber I was allowed to send for and meet Bik McFarlane, the IRA OC. I was also allowed the use of a telephone to speak to Gerry Adams in Belfast.

When I attempted to return to the hunger strikers a governor intervened, ordered me out of the prison and snatched the phone from me. We were aware of major differences between the Home Office, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the Foreign Office over the hunger strike, and my being ordered from the prison was worrying.

That night the ICJP visited the hospital. The hunger strikers asked for McFarlane to be present, but the NIO refused. The ICJP offered to act as guarantors, but the prisoners asked for an NIO official to deal with them directly.

In relation to my eviction Mountain Climber explained the delicacy of his operation and that there was major opposition to a settlement. He had been insisting on strict confidentiality.

However, we took a decision to divulge to the ICJP that a more solid negotiation was going on in the background. Because of the ICJP's intervention we felt that the British were postponing doing this potential deal to see if they could force the prisoners to accept less through the ICJP.

An angry ICJP then confronted prisons minister Michael Allison and demanded that an NIO guarantor be sent in to the hunger strikers to confirm a deal.

In Richard O'Rawe's version the IRA's army council sent in a communication ("comm") on Monday afternoon rejecting the proposals. "Bik and I were shattered," writes O'Rawe. McFarlane totally repudiates that account.

The contemporaneous evidence is on McFarlane's side. At 11pm on July 6th, the latter wrote a lengthy comm (which is in Ten Men Dead, David Beresford, 1987) in which there is no mention of an IRA comm. From his demeanour there is clearly no evidence that he received such a missive.

Furthermore, if the NIO had really wanted to do a deal, even one based on the ICJP's proposals, then all it had to do was send in the guarantor to the hunger strikers. Fr Crilly (ICJP) confirmed this on Thursday on BBC Radio Ulster. Six times the ICJP phoned Allison about the guarantor going in, but none ever appeared and Joe McDonnell died on July 8th, followed by five others.

O'Rawe says: "The proposals were there in black and white, direct from Thatcher's desk." They were there through word of mouth. Given previous experience, were not the prisoners right to insist that any deal be guaranteed? How can the hunger strikers or the republican leadership be faulted for insisting on that safeguard?

Laurence McKeown, who was then on hunger strike (surviving 70 days), criticised O'Rawe's version and said yesterday: "We wanted definite confirmation, not vague promises of 'regime change'."

O'Rawe claims he wrote the book because the families "had a right to know the facts", yet he did not have the courtesy to forewarn them. He never once discussed with McFarlane if those recollections from 24 years ago were also his, as would be the normal practice. We now know why. O'Rawe's book which relies so much on "Bik and I this and that" would have fallen asunder if O'Rawe had consulted him.

It is telling that not once in the past 24 years has the NIO stated that before Joe McDonnell's death it made an offer to the hunger strikers which was turned down by the IRA's army council. I wonder if Fintan O'Toole would have commented had O'Rawe's book been titled, Blanketmen - Thatcher killed hunger strikers.

February 5, 2005

Danny Morrison is the author of several books, including All the Dead Voices.

This article appears in the March 5, 2005 edition of the Irish Times.

All of Danny Morrison's articles can be found at DannyMorrison.com.

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