SF to meet hunger strike families over deal ‘myth’

By Seamus McKinney
Irish News
13/06/2009

The Sinn Fein leadership has organised a meeting with families of the 1981 hunger strikers to discuss recent controversy about the period.

Families of the 10 men who died were notified this week about the meeting at Gulladuff in south Derry on Wednesday.

It is understood Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and others connected to the 1981 protest will attend.

The discussion follows a number of claims in recent months about a possible deal which might have saved the lives of five or possibly six of the hunger strikers.

The meeting will be the first time the party leadership has held direct talks with the families since the controversy arose. It is being seen as a bid to stop the issue gaining further momentum.

Claims that a deal could have saved lives first arose in 2005 when Richard O’Rawe – who acted as publicity officer for the 1981 hunger strikers – published his account of the period.

In his book, Mr O’Rawe said a deal was sanctioned by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher hours before Joe McDonnell died.

However, Mr O’Rawe alleged it was rejected by the IRA leadership outside the prison because it wished to capitalise on political gains.

This was rejected by the Sinn Fein group which managed the hunger strike from outside the prison, insisting the deal was not guaranteed.

The dispute continued this year when a number of documents released under the Freedom of Information Act appeared to confirm details of a deal being offered to the IRA on July 8 1981.

Next week’s meeting has received a mixed response from families of the hunger strikers.

Tony O’Hara, whose brother Patsy died before the alleged deal, said his family and that of Michael Devine (both INLA hunger strikers) were considering whether to attend.

The IRSP claimed the meeting was “another attempt to mislead and confuse”.

Spokesman Martin McMonagle said a full inquiry into the issue – demanded recently by former hunger striker Gerard Hodgkins – was the only way forward.

“We have come to this conclusion because of the weight of evidence from wide-ranging sources who were directly involved which clearly contradicts the Sinn Fein version of events,” he said.

However, Oliver Hughes, a brother of Francis Hughes and a cousin of Thomas McElwee, supported the Sinn Fein leadership.

He said while he could not attend because of business commitments his family would be represented.

Mr Hughes said he was angry that the pain of the hunger strikes was being revisited on the families.

“I would question what the motive is for bringing this up again 28 years on,” he said.

“I support the leadership of the republican movement in arranging this meeting. I believe Adams and his colleagues feel they must make some reply.”

Sinn Fein last night confirmed that a “private meeting” had been organised.

A spokesman said the issue was raised a number of times during recent meetings organised by the party leadership.

“As a result of these meetings it was decided that we should organise a meeting for all the relatives of the hunger strikers to allow them to come together as a group and discuss issues both amongst themselves and with the Sinn Fein leadership,” he said.

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