Hunger strikers ‘were not sacrificed for political gain’
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh Interview
By Allison Morris
STRATEGY: Ruairí Ó Brádaigh has dismissed suggestions by former republican prisoner Richard O’Rawe, inset, that some of the 1981 hunger strikers were allowed to die in the Maze Prison as part of a Sinn Fein strategy to gain electoral support
Throughout the1981 republican Hunger Strike, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh reigned as president of Sinn Fein. It is also believed he was a member of the IRA’s ruling army council throughout the same period.
Controversy surrounding the publication of Richard O’Rawe’s book Blanketmen, which claims the fast was allowed to continue for political gain, has provoked reaction from a vast spectrum of republicans.
While Ó Brádaigh has said he passionately supported using elections as a strategy to draw global attention to prison protest, he maintains it’s unthinkable that men were sacrificed for electoral success.
“When the first four men had died we had a situation in the 26 counties where Charlie Haughey was hesitating calling a general election,” he said.
“Men were dying and Haughey knew this would do him no favours.
“After the first four died it was thought there would be a space – people generally go about 60 days – so Haughey finally called the election “I pushed for a contest and I have
to say there was a lot of opposition to that, especially from people north of the border who wouldn’t be that familiar with the ground in the south.
“But eventually we got agreement and it went ahead.
“People were very nervous but men were dying. We had to do something.
“Getting reaction from people I knew well and whose judgment I trusted. The feedback I was getting back was that there was great support there.
“In the end two were elected but I would say if we had more time we could have got a couple more elected.”
The election of republican candidates achieved its aim, namely drawing attention to the protest.
However, allegations against Sinn Fein are that a deal, that came close to granting the prisoners’ five demands was rejected in order to exploit gains being made at the polls.
Ó Brádaigh, while no friend of the present Sinn Fein leadership, says he would challenge this version of events, claiming British dirty tricks were responsible for prolonging the protest.
“The Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP) were doing their best, I’m sure of that judging by the talks they had with us,” he said.
“But the Brits were up to their tricks.
“They would always have something else going on – and that is the diversion – while the real thing is going on somewhere else.
“That is what I believe was going on there with the ICJP, they were the diversion.”
As Ó Brádaigh was banned from Britain and Northern Ireland at the time he was only able to cross the border covertly.
It has been suggested the northern leadership could have been acting
autonomously without his knowledge and so rejected any deal without the knowledge of the full IRA army council.
“No, no, no I wouldn’t say that at all. With the situation as it existed at the time, no,” Ó Brádaigh said.
“Or even for the second by-election that has been much talked about, no that just couldn’t and wouldn’t have happened.”