Prisoners praise former chaplain

Daily Ireland

By Eamonn Houston

Two former republican prisoners who took part in the Long Kesh hunger strikes last night described Monsignor Denis Faul as a man of complex character whose legacy will endure.
Tommy McKearney spent 53 days on the first hunger strike protest in 1980 and Lawrence McKeown was taken off the second fast the following year after 70 days.
As the British government dug in its heels over the prisoners’ demands, Monsignor Faul sought to end the hunger strike by persuading the prisoners’ families to intervene.
On July 28, 1981, as Kevin Lynch approached the 69th day of his fast, Fr Faul met some of the prisoners’ families.
He told them he believed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would not make any further concessions and that nothing could be gained by more deaths.
In earlier years his role as chaplain in Long Kesh won him the respect of prisoners and their families. As the authorities in the North clamped down on republicans with internment and brutality, Monsignor Faul was outspoken in his criticism.
However, for republican prisoners Monsignor Faul’s intervention in the 1981 hunger strike was viewed as a betrayal.
Mr McKearney knew Monsignor Faul all of his life and was taught by him at St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon.
He said that republicans should take a balanced view of Monsignor Faul’s role in Long Kesh and his human rights campaigning in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s.
“I don’t think that we should see him purely as a critic of the IRA and republicans,” Mr McKearney said.
“There was another side to him. He campaigned very staunchly for human rights for republicans on a huge number of occasions. We need to take a look at both sides - not just the one.”
Lawrence McKeown remembers Monsignor Faul smuggling cigarettes, tobacco and pens to prisoners on the H-Blocks. He would also keep the prisoners up-to-date with football scores and developments outside the prison, but things changed.
“I do think that the steps he took to intervene in the hunger strike were totally reprehensible in the extent to which he went to manipulate the families of those on the fast.”
It was also significant, according to McKeown, that in later years Monsignor Faul became a vocal opponent of republicanism.
“He was a bit of a conundrum. He had a flawed side of his character, but we can’t take it away from him - in the 1970s he took a forthright stand on torture and brutality. The community looked to him in the 1970s, but didn’t in the 1980s.”

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