Archive for September, 2009

O’Rawe warned of backlash from republicans – journalist

Posted in marcella on 30 September 2009 by micheailin

Was there a deal?

By Allison Morris
Irish News
29/09/09

**NIO FOI documents (PDF) from www.longkesh.info

VETERAN reporter Ed Moloney has said that he warned Richard O’Rawe about an inevitable backlash from former republican associates if he went ahead and published his book.

O’Rawe’s claims that the Sinn Fein leadership sabotaged a possible resolution to the protest in order to further the party’s political fortunes has caused a storm of controversy which has gained momentum ever since.

Having covered the unfolding situation at the Maze prison as a journalist, from the blanket protest through to the first and later the second Hunger Strike on which 10 men died, the former Irish Times and Sunday Tribune northern editor said claims contained in Blanketmen came as no surprise to many.

“I not only read Richard’s book at an early stage I helped edit it and advised him strongly at the time not to publish it,” he said.

“I told him they, and by they I mean primarily the Sinn Fein leadership, would make his life very difficult.

“Knowing Richard, where he lived and the background he came from, I was aware from previous personal experience that it would get very rough for him.

“But I got the impression this had been eating away at him for some time.”

Mr Moloney, who lives in the US, is expected to reveal new material on the republican movement in a book due out early next year.

The book includes a series of interviews with top republican Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes before his death last year.

Hughes had been a former OC of the IRA’s Belfast brigade and was leader of the 1980 republican Hunger Strike in the Maze.

During his conversations with O’Rawe, Mr Moloney said he was aware that he had delayed publishing his book Blanketmen until the peace process was firmly embedded.

“He did this so he couldn’t be accused of causing the Sinn Fein leadership problems,” Mr Moloney said.

“Covering the Hunger Strike as a journalist, even back then at a republican grassroots level, there was a general feeling that it had just gone on for far too long,” he said.

“Ten deaths was excessive and went way beyond anything that they had previously asked their prisoners to do.

“To leave the decision up to the prisoners themselves was thought by some to be a tactical move.

“Each man carried the weight of the dead comrade who went before them on their shoulders and so the protest continued.”

Mr Moloney said it was fairly well recognised that the 1981 Hunger Strike was the Provos’ Easter Rising.

“So many horrendous horrible acts had gone before it that this supreme sacrifice and unfaltering belief was a kind of justification for the IRA’s campaign,” he said.

“It was also the very start of the modern peace process and the beginning of Sinn Fein’s electoral and political strategy.

“More recently, evidence uncovered by Liam Clarke [who reported details of British government documents which were released to The Sunday Times earlier this year following a freedom of information request], if not entirely settles the matter, then takes us to a point where explanations are certainly required.

“There have been changes to some people’s stories that are so significant it begs the question why?

“That is what in my opinion now needs to be cleared up.”

Provos ‘kept rivals in dark’

Posted in marcella on 29 September 2009 by micheailin

By Seamus McKinney
Irish News
28/09/09

TONY O’Hara last saw his brother Patsy alive two days before the Derry man died on the 61st day of his hunger strike on May 21 1981.

At the time O’Hara was an INLA prisoner at the Maze serving a sentence for possession of arms.

He died on the same day as IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh from Camlough, Co Armagh.

“For the entire duration of the 61 days I got to spend two hours and 15 minutes with Patsy. Even though I was in jail I was brought in handcuffs from H5 to the prison hospital – a short trip,” Mr O’Hara said.

Two days after seeing his brother Mr O’Hara, whose first cell mate was Bobby Sands, heard of his younger brother’s death on a crystal radio set smuggled into the jail.

“Another prisoner came to his window and shouted but I sort of knew. I was waiting for it when news came,” he said.

Mr O’Hara was given 12 hours compassionate parole to attend his brother’s funeral and just two months later he was released.

“When Patsy died I just felt numb. I remembered what it was like when Bobby Sands died,” he said.

“On the night he was elected there was elation. We just, everyone just, celebrated and cheered.

“But on the night he died there was just silence. The whole of Long Kesh went silent.”

Although any deal, real or not, would not have saved O’Hara’s life, the INLA man’s family is one of those demanding an inquiry into the Provisionals’ management of the Hunger Strike.

Mr O’Hara’s concern is that the Sinn Fein version of events has changed too often since Richard O’Rawe published his account of a possible deal in 2005.

He is also concerned that the INLA leadership was never told of the possible deal despite the fact that two of its members -– Kevin Lynch and Michael Devine –- died after it was alleged to have been made.

“It could have been a propaganda coup for the blanketmen and we could have said the Brits reneged on a deal,” Mr O’Hara said.

He believes the Provos tried to manipulate the Hunger Strike to exclude the INLA as much as possible.

“Patsy was to be the second to go on strike after Bobby Sands but Francie Hughes created such a rumpus that he went second,” Mr O’Hara said.

He accepts there could be a number of reasons for the Sinn Fein leadership deciding not to accept the deal.

“There is a lot of speculation and I don’t know the reason but that is one of the big questions that must be asked,” Mr O’Hara said.

He disputes the various statements put forward by the Sinn Fein leadership in recent months, not least a claim that all prisoners were told of the deal in 1981.

Mr O’Hara is adamant that only a full inquiry, chaired by an international human rights figure, will get to the truth.

Hunger Strike freed us all from cycle of deadly ways

Posted in marcella on 29 September 2009 by micheailin

Roy Garland
The Monday Column
Irish News
28/09/09

I once attended an evangelical meeting where a “hymn” written by a hunger striker was occasionally sung.

Thomas Ashe was a 1916 leader who died after force feeding went wrong in 1917.

His “hymn” was an amended version of one of his poems written in Lewes Gaol in England. It included the following lines: “Let me carry your cross for Ireland, Lord: the hour of her trial draws near. And the pangs and the pain of her sacrifice will be borne by comrades dear. But Lord, take me from the offering throng, there are many far less prepared, though ready and all as they are to die, that Ireland may be saved.”

Early last century Dublin-based evangelical Christians Eva and Clara Stuart Watt encouraged people to emulate the resolve of republicans in the service of Christ.

Self-sacrifice was not, however, to be taken literally. They found inspiration in Thomas Davis’s A Nation Once Again especially the words, “and righteous men must make our land a nation once again”. For a righteous person violence was not an option.

Killing for any earthly cause was repudiated. Yet the need for bloodshed was accepted but applied only to the “blood of Christ” whose suffering and death was the sacrifice to end all sacrifice.

The horror of human or animal sacrifice was rejected. The kind of “reasonable service” that evangelicals were called upon to make was, in the words of St Paul, a “living sacrifice”, meaning a life lived for God and one’s fellow man.

In contrast so many animal sacrifices took place in the Jerusalem temple before AD70 that blood spilt into the Jordan River was used by local farmers as fertiliser.

Hunger strikers fasting onto death were sacrificing their own lives. This act may be respected as courageous, revered as an example of dedication or perhaps deemed as wasteful.

On the day Bobby Sands died a deep hush pervaded the whole camp. Loyalists respected his courage. They had also wanted changes in prison conditions and led the way in support of political status in 1972 while some republicans were hesitant.

Loyalist aims were obscured somewhat by their demands for segregation.

The idea that prisoners deserve humane living conditions is of ancient vintage and perhaps derives from the Quaker emphasis on “that of God in everyone”.

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) was a Quaker who dedicated her life to the welfare of prisoners.

Support for humane prison conditions even reached into the heart of the Orange Order.

A friend in my dad’s Orange Lodge was secretary of the Prisoners’ Aid Society who gave occasional talks at Orange functions about prisoners’ needs.

The idea that people might die for the right to wear certain clothes or for certain “privileges” was highly questionable.

The violence of the IRA campaign had caused revulsion while unhelpful rumours that Long Kesh was a home from home did not help. Some students were angry that prisoners should gain qualifications at the taxpayers’ expense while they lived with financial difficulties.

It was not fasting itself that was considered repugnant but fasting unto death that even some republicans baulked at.

Any hint of manipulating people’s deaths for private or political ends was regarded as repulsive.

When some loyalists participated in the early dirty protests and hunger strikes, this went against the grain. They were criticised for “lending support to republicans” and became pariahs, demonised by republicans while demeaned and ostracised by many of their own people. Progressive loyalists were sometimes damned as “rotten Prods”.

This was especially difficult given that it was the oratory of unionist leaders that led many of them to take up the gun in the first place. When militant clergy disowned their proteges, this fostered cynicism. Loyalists usually hailed from the most deprived sections of the community but they could see that hunger strikes to the death were extremely emotive events that could raise dark and deadly ancestral voices.

To associate the dying hunger striker with Christ was a form of dangerous idolatry. This might explain why even progressive loyalists remained uneasy about a museum associated with the hunger strikers’ deaths.

Yet those who died in this way could be seen as in some sense Christ-like. They were victims, even if it was at their own hands. However, to manipulate their deaths for party political ends, if this is what happened, was surely the ultimate abuse of human suffering.

Yet strangely the final outcome proved to be a political path which had the capacity to free us from the ways of death.

Stature of ten men unassailed

Posted in marcella on 29 September 2009 by micheailin

THE HUNGER STRIKE

Irish News
28/09/09

THROUGHOUT Irish history Britain attempted to legitimise its actions by criminalising those native forces who opposed them physically, or in conscience. At one time it was Catholicism which was penalised, later it was nationalism and republicanism.

After 1969 the prison population here multiplied, not from an outbreak of criminality but due to the failure of government, street resistance and, latterly, IRA activity.

The first British secretary of state, William Whitelaw, recognised this political reality within the rising prison population and granted special category status (that is, political status) as a result of a republican hunger strike in 1972 before any prisoner lost his life.

Although tensions remained and republicans continued to attempt to escape and thwart imprisonment, by and large a quid pro quo existed within the jails. No prison officer, in those days, lost his life.

All this changed when the British went for wholesale confrontation and picked on what they mistakenly thought was the most vulnerable section of the republican movement – our imprisoned comrades.

They arbitrarily ended political status on March 1 1976, declaring that anyone involved in physical force after that date was a criminal.

But they had several problems, not least that IRA volunteers were politically and community motivated and, unlike loyalists, would not accept the Orwellian dispensation.

Britain’s other ‘criminalisation’ difficulty was that their own laws recognised IRA activities as ‘the use of violence for political ends’.

As we know, emboldened by the sacrifices of the hunger strikers, the H-Block prisoners went on to establish full political status, eventually acknowledged in the early release of prisoners under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Some weeks ago Gerry Adams met with all but two of the families of the hunger strikers. Bridie Lynch, sister of Kevin, couldn’t make the meeting but telephoned her solidarity for the group.

The meeting was private, though later misrepresented by others. It was the first time that many of the families had met since those heart-rending seven months in 1981.

The allegation that a ‘deal’ by the Sinn Fein leadership was squandered was given short shrift. The families appealed to those who were perpetuating their ongoing grief to cease, though they have persisted, motivated by a variety of reasons.

In 1981 we were dealing with a ruthless, hypocritical enemy, personified by Margaret Thatcher. I find it quite ironic that in their desire to get at Sinn Fein our opponents are attempting to portray Thatcher as someone anxious to resolve the Hunger Strike.

Nothing could be further from the truth. According to our critics, the hunger strikers, on whose behalf we were acting, should have accepted an ‘offer’ which came to the prisoners and us, via a phone-call from a British official in London, through the intermediary (since identified as Brendan Duddy – an honourable man), to myself, to a phone-call to Gerry Adams, and in a verbal message to Danny Morrison to the prisoners.

Clearly, they have chosen to forget of what mettle the hunger strikers were made, of their experiences of British deceit in December 1980.

Sinn Fein had political and ideological differences with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP).

We and the prisoners suspected that it would sell the prisoners short. Despite being a vehicle for the British government delivering a compromise and avoiding direct negotiations, even the ICJP’s expectations/demands that the British would send in someone to stand over what London was implying in messages was refused six times in the hours before Joe McDonnell died.

This year the British government selectively released documents about this period under the Freedom of Information Act and our critics have seized upon their release, but not their content, as some sort of proof.

That the republican leadership was in contact with the British was revealed long ago, not least in the 1987 book Ten Men Dead.

I would encourage people to read this book and the documents released in 2009 and compare it to the allegations of those who never visited the hunger strikers in the prison hospital, never dealt with the prison administration and the British government or liaised with the ICJP (which, on its terms, to be fair, was attempting to resolve the situation).

Out of the five demands the only thing the British were offering to the hunger strikers after four men had died was that they could wear ordinary clothes, “provided these clothes were approved by the prison authorities.”

The prisoners would have to do prison work or else they would be ‘punished by loss of remission, or some similar penalty’.

Ironically, Thatcher was without human compassion until her own son, Mark, was lost in the Sahara desert during a car rally in 1982 and as a mother begged God to deliver her son from hunger and thirst in the desert. Mark Thatcher was saved but not our 10 men dead. Nevertheless, their stature is unassailable and increases with every passing year, those men whose memory we will always honour, whose sacrifice triggered such a confidence in the nationalist community that things were changed utterly.

Deal allegations hurtful to family

Posted in marcella on 29 September 2009 by micheailin

By Allison Morris
Irish News
28/09/09

Left Kieran Doherty’s parents Alfie and Margaret with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

Kieran Doherty, known as ‘Big Doc’, was on hunger strike for 73 days before his death on August 2 1981, the longest of any of the 10 men who died.

He was 25 years old.

Elected as a TD to Cavan Monaghan in June 1981, for the last 16 days of his life members of the Doherty family kept a round-the-clock vigil by his bedside in the hospital wing of the Maze prison.

His mother Margaret, now 82, said until the very end he remained adamant that he was not to be taken off the protest until the five demands were not only achieved but copper fastened.

A convert to Catholicism, Margaret Doherty had moved from the staunchly Protestant Shankill Road to Andersonstown after marrying her now late husband Alfie.

She says that her son’s belief in what he was doing left the family with no option other than to give him their support.

“Kieran knew he was likely to die. He told us that from the start,” Mrs Doherty said.

“He was a great son. He had a very strong faith; he never missed his Mass no matter what.

“When he knew he was near the end, he told his father not to worry. ‘It’s only a wee step over to the other side’, he said.

“And he made us give our word he wouldn’t be taken off unless the demands were met.

“Up until then you should have seen the way they were being treated. As a mother it just tore at your heart.

“Before the Hunger Strike started he had spent a week in hospital, he had been beaten so badly during a search.

“Kieran knew the Hunger Strike wasn’t going to benefit him because he was going to die. He did it for the other lads because they couldn’t have survived much longer in conditions they were living in.

“I feel him all around me every day. God love him, he’s always been there.”

Representatives of the Doherty family attended a recent meeting in Co Derry with Gerry Adams and Bik McFarland to discuss the controversy surrounding the Hunger Strike.

In a statement, they told The Irish News: “These totally untrue allegations have caused untold hurt and anguish to our family and we feel sully the proud memory of Kieran and his comrades.

“What hurts more is that the nasty and spiteful allegations come from people who should really know better – former comrades and people who claim to be republicans.

“We were at Kieran’s side throughout what was a traumatic time for our family.

“Kieran was determined to see the protest through until the five demands had been achieved. ‘Set in concrete,’ were his very words.

“Due to the position of Margaret Thatcher and the British government a deal was not secured; we knew that at the time and we know it now.

“We would like to state this is hurting our family, especially our elderly mother, and call on those responsible to stop pushing this agenda for whatever personal reasons they may have and allow Kieran to rest in peace.”

The other families

The families of Francis Hughes and Thomas McElwee (who were cousins) from Bellaghy declined to take part in this investigation. Following individual family discussions, they said they believed the issue had been dealt with.

The families of the five other hunger strikers who died were approached by The Irish News but also declined to take part.

Laurence McKeown: Unionists in NIO scuppered deal

Posted in marcella on 29 September 2009 by micheailin

THE HUNGER STRIKE Was there a deal?

Irish News
28/09/09

Laurence McKeown is a former IRA prisoner who took part in the Hunger Strike. He joined the fast on June 29 1981 after the first four prisoners died. Following the deaths of six more hunger strikers his family authorised medical intervention to save his life on September 6, the 70th day of his hunger strike…

WHEN Richard O’Rawe first made the claim that the British had been prepared to reach a deal during the 1981 Hunger Strike but that it was rejected by the leadership of the republican movement, I believed the claim to be totally unfounded.

I still believe that.

In the intervening period it has been disproved by documentation from the period and by a broad spectrum of individuals involved at the time.

Nevertheless, the controversy has rumbled on, fuelled by an assortment of disaffected former members of the republican movement and political opponents of Sinn Fein.

The ‘debate’ has therefore more to do with contemporary political machinations and allegiances than it has to do with the Hunger Strike.

Trying to ‘answer’ the claim is a bit like trying to convince an alcoholic that they’d be much better off not taking that next drink.

There will never be an answer that will suffice, a response that will be adequate.

So why bother?

For the families of the six who died later that summer and for the thousands of ordinary people who did so much for us during that period.

The Tory government of Maggie Thatcher is infamous for the trail of suffering, death, social upheaval, destruction of communities, and removal of civil and workers’ rights that it wreaked not just in Ireland but in Britain itself.

But let’s just suppose for a moment that it wanted to end the Hunger Strike.

Britain acts only in Britain’s interest so if it was decided that it was in their best interest to concede some or all of our demands it would not have been out of some humanitarian sentiment but because not to do so would be damaging to Britain’s long-term interests.

So, this Tory cabinet of Maggie Thatcher, having decided that it was in Britain’s best interest to act to break the Hunger Strike, comes up with a list of concessions they are prepared to make, presents this to the leadership of the republican movement, who supposedly reject them and what do the Brits do?

They walk away with their tails between their legs.

Is this the same government that cold-bloodedly slaughtered the Argentinean sailors on the Belgrano?

That smashed the powerful National Union of Mine Workers and left whole mining villages and communities desolate?

If the British had thought it was in their interest to end the Hunger Strike then they would have done so regardless of what the republican movement did or did not do.

They would simply have gone to the media – having first confided with and secured the support of the SDLP, the Catholic hierarchy and the Dublin government – and announced concessions they were prepared to make.

We on hunger strike would then have been faced with either calling it off or trying to continue with a now deeply divided support base, not to mention internal and family divisions.

It’s not rocket science.

So why did the Brits not do that? If indeed they ever had any real intention of doing it.

A BBC Timewatch programme produced in 1994, a full 11 years before Richard O’Rawe’s claim, possibly holds the answer.

I did an interview for the programme and the producers got access to many senior British government officials from the time.

In casual conversation with the producer I asked if the civil servants, particularly in the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), had felt a bit like ‘piggy-in-the-middle’, forced to hold to Thatcher’s uncompromising line while having to deal with adverse publicity from around the world.

The producer replied that everything they had discovered indicated that Thatcher at one point was going to make concessions but that when the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) got wind of it top civil servants, including the governor of the prison, Stanley Hilditch, threatened to resign.

As soon as he said it I realised it made absolute sense. Of course the civil servants in the NIO (unionists) would be more opposed to any concessions to republican prisoners than the British would.

It was personal for them. They lived here. They ran the place. They were the ones who formulated policies and how they were implemented on the ground including the criminalisation and Ulsterisation policies.

Stanley Hilditch had actually cut short a holiday at Christmas 1980 to return to the prison and personally handle the aftermath of the first hunger strike.

So, the producer of the programme added, threatened with rebellion on their doorstep it appears the British government decided it best to weather the storm (of the Hunger Strike) rather than follow through with their ‘offer’.

That was his version of events. What we know for definite is that during the Hunger Strike there were always offers from the British but never a deal.

And given that four comrades had already died and the hunger strike of 1980 had ended with not the merest crumb of concession there was no way we were ending ours without a concrete, copper-fastened deal witnessed by guarantors who could stand over it.

And anyone who was on it or involved with it, including Richard, knows that to be the case. Such was our suspicion and distrust of the British.

In the peace and tranquillity of 2009 it’s easy to forget that. To de-contextualise events. To forget the power of the emotions then and the strength of convictions.

It’s also easy to wish it could somehow have been different. What is unforgiveable though is to attempt to make cheap political gain from those events and in the course of it to cause hurt.

INLA man’s son calls for inquiry

Posted in marcella on 29 September 2009 by micheailin

Families of the strikers are divided over O’Rawe claim

By Seamus McKinney
Irish News
28/09/09

Top from left: Michael Devine’s children Michael Og and Louise, former blanketman Dixie Elliott, Patsy O’Hara’s mother Peggy O’Hara and the hunger striker’s brother Tony O’Hara, Willie Gallagher of the IRSP, Richard O’Rawe and former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins. (Photo: Margaret McLaughlin)

MICHAEL Og Devine was just eight years old when his father, also Michael, became the final hunger striker to die on August 20 1981 after 60 days without food.

The INLA prisoner told Tommy McCourt, a friend who visited him just days before his death, that he could not come off the Hunger Strike.

Mr McCourt has recalled how the two men discussed Devine’s funeral arrangements.

His dying friend told him if he came off the Hunger Strike — and thereby ended the protest — his life would not be worth living in the H-blocks.

His son, Michael Og, recalls that although very young he was fully aware he was seeing his father for the final time during their last visit days before his death.

Had the British government’s offer to make a statement conceding some of the hunger strikers’ five demands been accepted by the Provisional IRA leadership and had the protest ended, Devine (26) would not even have gone on hunger strike.

He commenced the protest on June 22. But like his fellow INLA prisoner Kevin Lynch and the INLA leadership, he was never made aware of the negotiations prior to the death of Joe McDonnell on July 8.

The funeral of Joe McDonnell

Michael Og believes the version of the deal and events put forward by Willie Gallagher of the IRSP.

“I believe Willie would not tell me lies. He has been working on this for three years,” Mr Devine said.

As to whether his father would have declined to go on hunger strike if he had known a deal was offered and rejected, the Derry man says that is too difficult a question to answer.

“If there was a deal there, I don’t know how he would have reacted,” he said.

Following a private meeting between Hunger Strike families and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in Gulladuff, a statement was issued saying most of the families, including the Devines, accepted the Sinn Fein version of events.

But the statement was signed on behalf of the Devine family by members of the hunger striker’s extended family.

However, Michael Og is adamant that he did not and does not support the statement.

He said he is not angry at present about the controversy, but he believes all the facts should be revealed and that this can be done only through an independent inquiry.