2.3.05

'My brother, Francis Hughes...'

Daily Ireland

Letters to the editor - Courage and intelligence

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Francis Hughes' mother Margaret (holding sign) beside her daughter Dolours and James O'Hara, father of Patsy O'Hara on a demonstration

On May 12, 1981, almost 24 years ago, my brother, Francis Hughes, was the second republican prisoner to die on hunger strike, exactly one week after Bobby Sands MP.
Francis died after 59 days of terrible suffering and remained, until the end, a dignified and courageous Irishman.
I am writing in response to newspaper items about a book published by a former prisoner, Richard O’Rawe, a man whom I do not know.
In that book, Blanketmen, Mr O’Rawe describes the leadership of the republican movement and key individuals from the 1981 period in a way that bears no resemblance to the people I and my family dealt with.
Sinn Féin representatives assisted us, were concerned for us, liaised with us regularly and kept us informed of all initiatives, which was crucial, for example, on those occasions when I myself was sometimes required to act as a spokesperson and respond to particular developments.
I was outraged by Mr O’Rawe’s claims that the republican leadership around the time of Joe McDonnell’s death ordered the prisoners not to accept an offer from the British and used the prisoners as cannon fodder for election purposes.
Having visited my brother on the blanket, I think I can say with some authority that that was never the relationship between the IRA and the prisoners.
I know it for a fact from Francis that the republican movement was opposed to the hunger strike but that, in the event, it would support them totally in all decisions they would make, including ending the strike without concessions.
It is because of this last vital point - which we were always clear about - that Mr O’Rawe’s remarks do not ring true.
In 1980-81, the prisoners had exhausted all means of protest, and Francis fully supported the use of hunger strike and insisted that, if he lapsed into a coma, we were not to authorise medical interventions unless his and his comrades’ demands had been met.
We do not understand why Richard O’Rawe would write such an insensitive book on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the hunger strike.
We had no notice of his book or what he was to say until it appeared serialised in a Sunday newspaper - one certainly not known for its republican sympathies, to say the least.
We have never forgotten what those ten men went through.
They were not just brave men. They were intelligent men, who did with their lives what few are prepared to do - lay them down for their comrades and their people.

Oliver Hughes


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