Hunger strike deal


Maze inmate insists IRA blocked hunger strike deal

By Alan Erwin

Irish Examiner


A FORMER IRA jail chief attacked for claiming the

organisation blocked a life-saving deal to end the

1981 hunger strike last night declared: “The truth’s

on my side.”

Richard O’Rawe, the Provisionals’ spokesman inside the

Maze Prison, revealed he has been ostracised for

alleging the leadership refused a package of British


Margaret Thatcher’s administration was prepared to

meet nearly all of the demands in a move that would

have halted the protest just before the fifth prisoner

died, he insisted.

But the IRA’s Army Council refused to call off the

fasts until 10 of their men were dead.

Mr O’Rawe’s claims that the ruling body wanted to use

public sympathy to win a by-election have provoked a

republican backlash.

Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, leader of the H-Block

prisoners during the hunger strikes of 1981, denied a

deal was rejected before the death of Joe McDonnell,

the fifth prisoner to die.

“As the officer commanding in the prison at the time,

I can say categorically that there was no outside

intervention to prevent a deal,” he said.

“Once the strike was under way, the only people in a

position to agree a deal or call off the hunger strike

were the prisoners, and particularly the hunger

strikers themselves.”

Danny Morrison, former head of Sinn Féin publicity,

also hit out at Mr O’Rawe’s claims, insisting they

would only cause further distress for the families of

those who died. “He should hang his head in shame,” Mr

Morrison said.

But Mr O’Rawe, 51, stood by his account, contained in

a new book, Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block

Hunger Strike, published yesterday by New Island.

According to the west Belfast man four key demands

were conceded by the British Government: prisoners’

right to wear their own clothes, segregation from

loyalists, more visits and education as part of their

work regime.

“This hasn’t been said for 24 years because it would

be a massive embarrassment if they accepted the Army

Council of the IRA refused to acquiesce with the

prisoners’ acceptance of the deal,” he said. “The

consequence of that would be that responsibility for

the deaths would shift from the Brits to the IRA.”

Mr O’Rawe, who was freed in 1983 after serving six

years of a sentence for armed robbery, said he was

devastated when the compromise broke down.

Although many of his friends are still in the

republican movement, he severed ties in a bid to spend

more time with his family.

The outrage at his version came as no surprise, he

said. “They are rallying the troops and it won’t stop

here,” he said.

“But this is a battle they can’t win because I have

the truth on my side.”


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