Archive for October, 2009

Claims only add to pain says ex-hunger striker

Posted in marcella on 25 October 2009 by micheailin

THE HUNGER STRIKE Was there a deal?

By Allison Morris
Irish News
22/10/2009

Former republican hunger striker Bernard Fox says he is deeply distressed by allegations that a deal which could have ended the strike was vetoed in order to maximise electoral support for Sinn Fein.

The west Belfast man, who spent a total of 22 years in prison, was on hunger strike for 32 days when the protest was ended.

Speaking to The Irish News Mr Fox said: “I was a close friend of Joe McDonnell. I was on active service with him on the outside, and later imprisoned with him.

“Under those circumstances you get to know a person’s character very well.

“Joe loved life and had no desire to die but he was determined and pragmatic and was not for settling for anything other than the five demands – that I can say for sure.

“I wasn’t in the hospital at that time and I don’t know what the men were told or not told but I do know that there was no deal.

“Offers, yes – there were plenty of offers.

“Sure wasn’t Kieran Nugent given an offer of a convict’s uniform in 1976, an offer he declined?”

Having been interned twice the former IRA man was returned to the Maze prison as a convicted prisoner in 1977 and immediately joined the blanket protest, before volunteering for the Hunger Strike.

He spent 32 days on hunger strike before the protest, which claimed the lives of seven IRA and three INLA prisoners, came to an end.

“It took me 20 years before I could even speak openly about my experiences,” he said.

“It’s still emotional and raw for me even now. These claims just add to that pain.

“I can only imagine what it must be like for the families of the 10 lads.

“Bik [McFarlane] was chosen to act as our OC [officer commanding]. It’s a job no-one envied – the pressure must have been unbearable.

“Regardless of what I or anyone else may think about the political direction he has taken since, at the time we knew he wasn’t going to let us down.

“To suggest that he in some way colluded with the outside leadership to let his comrades die is sickening to me and does not hold up to scrutiny.

“After the first hunger strike we, [the prisoners] were very clear we wanted our demands in writing and delivered by a representative of the British government so there could be no reneging this time.

“Look, I would never criticise any former blanketman. We all suffered equally and the comradeship we had at that time was the only thing that saw us through.

“But try as I may I cannot understand where some people are coming from or why they would wait all these years to bring this out.

“Thatcher and the British government are responsible for the deaths of our comrades – that’s where the blame lies.”

In 1998 Fox was released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

He has since parted company with Sinn Fein in disagreement over its political direction.

“I have no personal or political agenda,” he said.

“My only concern is for the families and how all this must be hurting them.

Addressing calls for a public inquiry, he said: “I have no time for inquiries. What you need is not an inquiry but the truth and it would be naive to think the British will ever tell the truth.

“If there are unanswered questions my advice would be to seek clarification.

“That way the families who have called on all this to stop can be left in peace.”

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There was an offer on the table – but the prisoners weren’t told

Posted in marcella on 23 October 2009 by micheailin

THE HUNGER STRIKE Was there a deal?

Irish News
22/10/2009

Richard O’Rawe – former republican prisoner, PRO of the 1981 hunger strikers and author of Blanketmen – responds to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams on claims a deal was available which would have saved the lives of six hunger strikers

There is now no room for doubting that the hunger strikers, by their sacrifice and courage, melted the iron will of Margaret Thatcher.

In doing so they tore asunder the British government’s policy of criminalisation. Not only that, but the hunger strikers forced the British to make a substantial offer, which was passed to Brendan Duddy (the Mountain Climber) on 5 July 1981.

Martin McGuinness said in his September 28 Irish News article that he took the offer from Duddy and passed it on to Gerry Adams in Belfast.

I believe that, had that offer not been rejected by those republican leaders on the outside who ran the Hunger Strike, it would have spelt victory to the Blanketmen, proved to be a massive propaganda coup for the republican struggle and, most importantly of all, saved the lives of six hunger strikers.

I also believe that while other accounts of the period have crumbled under the weight of damning contemporaneous evidence, my version of events has been vindicated: there was an offer; Bik McFarlane and I did accept it; a comm from Gerry Adams came in to the prison leadership which said that ‘more was needed’.

A similar message was sent to the British government.

Besides Martin McGuinness, the former hunger striker Laurence McKeown contributed an article to The Irish News special edition.

In it Laurence made no direct reference to this offer, preferring instead to write about a conversation he had had with a BBC producer in the 1990s.

That prompts the question: had Laurence and the hunger strikers been made fully aware of the details of the Mountain Climber offer?

I do not think they were and Laurence McKeown’s own book, Nor Meekly Serve My Time, demonstrates this.

For example: on July 29 1981, at the request of the families and Mgr Denis Faul, Gerry Adams, Fermanagh and South Tyrone election candidate Owen Carron, and INLA leader Seamus Ruddy visited the hunger strikers, ostensibly to give them their assessment of the situation.

Thirteen years later, in 1994, Laurence recorded the visit in his book. On page 236 he wrote of Gerry Adams having visited hunger striker Kieran Doherty:

“On their way out of his cell Doc’s parents met and spoke with Gerry, Bik and the others. They asked what the situation was and Gerry said he had just told all the stailceoirí, including Kieran, that there was no deal on the table from the Brits, no movement of any sort and if the stailc continued, Doc would most likely be dead within a few days. They just listened to this and nodded, more or less resigned to the fact that they would be watching their son die any day now.”

Kieran Doherty TD passed away four days after Adams’s visit, believing that there ‘was no deal on the table from the Brits, no movement of any sort’.

What Adams seemingly did not tell Kieran’s dignified parents, Alfie and Margaret, was that, actually, there was a deal on the table from the Brits, and it had been there from before Joe McDonnell died.

Moreover, he did not tell them that there had been movement.

Adams did not tell Mr and Mrs Doherty – or their noble son – about the Mountain Climber offer.

According to Laurence McKeown, Adams did not tell any of the hunger strikers about the Mountain Climber offer. Worse still, he told them the opposite of what he knew to be the facts of the situation.

I believe that Adams misrepresented the situation and Bik McFarlane did nothing to correct him. That is hardly surprising since before Adams even set foot in the prison McFarlane told Pat ‘Beag’ McGeown ‘Don’t make your opinions known,’ at the forthcoming meeting.

Subsequently Pat Beag said, ‘When Gerry was in I didn’t say anything to him.’

In the face of all the evidence Sinn Fein has sought to demonise anyone who criticises their version of the Hunger Strike by representing that any condemnation of them automatically means that the hunger strikers had been dupes.

The hunger strikers were never dupes. In reality, like Pat Beag, they were very astute and politically-aware individuals, people who would not be ‘easily deceived or cheated’ by anyone.

Yet, like any of us, they could only make decisions on the basis of the information they had.

If those they trusted withheld vital information from them, their judgements would obviously have been impaired.

Besides Gerry Adams not having told them of the Mountain Climber offer, when he visited them on July 29, Bik McFarlane never told them that he and I had accepted the Mountain Climber offer.

Furthermore, like McFarlane and the rest of the prison leadership, the hunger strikers were never shown a copy of the British government’s offer.

In fact, none of us prisoners in Long Kesh were told that the offer came in the form of a statement from the then secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins, which the British, as documents recently disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act made clear, would have been released if and when the Hunger Strike ended.

So, why was this offer not sent in to the hunger strikers so that they could properly evaluate the attitude of the British?

Who took the decision to withhold it from them?

And the biggest question of all – why?

Hunger strikers ‘were not sacrificed for political gain’

Posted in marcella on 18 October 2009 by micheailin

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh Interview

By Allison Morris
Irish News
17/10/09

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.”

Probe ’81 deal claim ex-INLA man says

Posted in marcella on 18 October 2009 by micheailin

By Allison Morris
Irish News
17/10/09

A FORMER Belfast councillor who represented the interests of INLA prisoners during the 1981 Hunger Strike has backed calls for an inquiry into controversial claims the protest was allowed to continue for political gain.

Former INLA inmate Sean Flynn said he thought enough evidence had come to light to warrant further investigation into the deaths of 10 republicans, including three INLA men.

During the republican prison protests Mr Flynn was spokes-man for the INLA prisoners.

He was one of two IRSP candidates elected to Belfast City Council in 1981 but served only half of his four-year term after going on the run to the Republic when he was implicated in paramilitary activity on the word of supergrass Harry Kirkpatrick.

Speaking from his north Belfast home the 61-year-old, who is no longer active in politics, said: “I’ve no agenda and I’m certainly not coming at this from a Sinn Fein bashing angle.

“I can only say what I know from my experiences at the time.”

Mr Flynn claimed he received a call on July 5 1981 from the NIO telling him it was imperative that he visited the jail that day.

By that time four prisoners had already died including INLA man Patsy O’Hara.

“The caller said he was from the NIO and that it had been arranged for me to gain entry to the jail,” he said.

“I did see Danny Morrison (the IRA prisoners’ spokes-man) that day and I don’t know if he saw me, he would have to answer that himself.

“They took me through the door the screws used and straight to the hospital.

“I spoke to Kevin Lynch. Micky Devine was at that point still being held in the blocks as he wouldn’t have been sick enough yet to be moved to the hospital.

“What I can say for absolute certainty is that the INLA and the IRSP were not made aware of the Mountain Climber negotiations or any proposed deal.

“I spoke to Kevin Lynch that day and he also didn’t know or he would have mentioned it.

“I have no idea if Danny Morrison told the IRA prisoners of an offer, I can only speak for our men and they didn’t know.

“Something was obviously going on or else why would the NIO have contacted me?”

Mr Flynn said the INLA prisoners had been denied the opportunity of making up their own minds on whether the Mountain Climber offer from the British government was worth accepting.

“There is also no way of knowing whether our prisoners would have been willing to accept an offer. I’ve been told that it was pretty close to the five demands,” he said.

Sean Flynn was to later give an oration at the funeral of Kevin Lynch in Dungiven, Co Derry, following his death on August 1 after 71 days on hunger strike. He was the seventh person to die.

“Look, I know that there is a lot of speculation and misinformation going about,” Mr Flynn said.

“What I will say is that Sinn Fein do need to answer some basic questions.

“Was there an offer and if so why were the IRSP not informed and given a chance to look it over?

“In that respect I would support recent calls for an inquiry,” he said.

Hunger striker’s mother ‘fully behind’ INLA move

Posted in marcella on 14 October 2009 by micheailin

Derry Journal
13 Oct 2009

The mother of a Derry man who died on hunger strike says she fully supports the INLA’s move away from violence.

Peggy O’Hara, whose son Patsy, an INLA volunteer, died on hunger strike in Long Kesh in 1981, says she is happy with the move which was announced at the weekend.

“I am happy with the announcement and happy that the political stance of the movement has not changed,” she told the ‘Journal’ last night.
“The main thing for me is that they still remain implacably opposed to the Good Friday Agreement and the notion of a British police force in Ireland.

“I understand that it is only the tactics that have changed and that the political objectives remain the same as they were in 1981.
“I give my full support to the republican socialist movement,” she added.

Mrs O’Hara has a long connection with the republican socialist movement and stood as an independent republican candidate in the Assembly elections in 2007 on an anti-PSNI ticket.

She received more than 1,700 first preference votes but was not elected.
Meanwhile, IRSP ard comhairle member Martin McMonagle says the families of INLA members who died during the Troubles were consulted before Sunday’s announcement.

“A series of talks have been going on for the last few years,” he said. “Families were happy in 1998 when the ceasefire was announced and that has not changed,” he added.

Mr McMonagle insists the move is supported by the “vast majority” of republican socialists and ruled out any possibility of a split in the ranks of the INLA.

“If people were unhappy, this initiative would not have happened,” he said. “It was important for us to keep the movement intact.”

There was no deal

Posted in marcella on 13 October 2009 by micheailin

Platform

By Gerry Adams Sinn Fein president, West Belfast MP, MLA
Irish News
12/10/09

Twenty-eight years ago, 10 Irish republicans died over a seven-month period on hunger strike, after women in Armagh prison and men in the H-Blocks (and several men ‘on-the-blanket’ in Crumlin Road Jail) had endured five years of British government sanctioned brutality.

The reason for their suffering was that in 1976 the British government reneged on a 1972 agreement over political/special category status for prisoners which had actually brought relative peace to the jails.

Joe McDonnell

You would not know from reading Garret FitzGerald’s newly-found ‘memory’ of 1981 in the recent Irish News series that in his 1991 memoir he wrote: “My meetings with the relatives came to an end on 6 August when some of them attempted to ‘sit in’ in the government anteroom, where I had met them on such occasions, after a stormy discussion during which I had once again refused to take the kind of action some of them had been pressing on me.”

This came after a Garda riot squad attacked and hospitalised scores of prisoner supporters outside the British embassy in Dublin only days after the death of Joe McDonnell. It is clear from FitzGerald’s interview and from his previous writing that his main concern, before, during and after 1981, was that the British government might be talking to republicans and that this should stop.

With Thatcher he embarked on the most intense round of repression in the period after 1985. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of that year the Irish government supported an intensification of British efforts to destroy border crossings and roads and remained mute over evidence of mounting collusion between British forces and unionist paramilitaries.

The same FitzGerald was portrayed as a great Liberal, yet every government which he led or on which he served, renewed the broadcasting censorship of Sinn Fein. This denial of information and closing down of dialogue subverted the rights of republicans. It also helped prolong the conflict.

The men who died on hunger strike from the IRA and INLA were not fools. They had fought the British and knew how bitter and cruel an enemy its forces could be in the city, in the countryside, in the centres of interrogation and in the courts.

The Hunger Strike did not arise out of a vacuum but as a consequence of frustration, a failure of their incredible sacrifices and the activism of supporters to break the deadlock.

Part of the problem was that the Irish establishment, including the Dublin government, the SDLP and sections of the Catholic hierarchy had bought into British strategy.

This was actively supported by sections of the Catholic establishment in the north including The Irish News.

The prisoners, our comrades, our brothers and sisters, resisted the British in jail every day, in solitary confinement, when being beaten during wings shifts, during internal searches and the forced scrubbings.

In December 1980 the republican leadership on the outside was in contact with the British who claimed they were interested in a settlement. But before a document outlining a new regime arrived in the jail the hunger strike was called off by Brendan Hughes to save the life of the late Sean McKenna. The British, or sections of them, interpreted this as weakness. The prisoners ended their fast before a formal ‘signing off’.

And the British then refused to implement the spirit of the document and reneged on the integrity of our exchanges.

Their intransigence triggered a second hunger strike in which there was overwhelming suspicion of British motives among the hunger strikers, the other political prisoners, and their families and supporters on the outside.

This was the prisoners’ mindset on July 5 1981, after four of their comrades had already died and when Danny Morrison visited the IRA and INLA hunger strikers to tell them that contact had been re-established and that the British were making an offer. While this verbal message fell well short of their demands they nevertheless wanted an accredited British official to come in and explain this position to them, which is entirely understandable given the British government’s record.

Six times before the death of Joe McDonnell, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), which was engaged in parallel discussions with the British, asked the British to send an official into the jail to explain what it was offering, and six times the British refused.

After the death of Joe McDonnell the ICJP condemned the British for failing to honour undertakings and for “clawing back” concessions.

Richard O’Rawe, who had never met the hunger strikers in the prison hospital, never met the governor, never met the ICJP or Danny Morrison during the hunger strike, and who never raised this issue before serialising his book in that well-known Irish republican propaganda organ, The Sunday Times, said, in a statement in 1981: “The British government’s hypocrisy and their refusal to act in a responsible manner are completely to blame for the death of Joe McDonnell.”

Republicans involved in the 1981 hunger strike met with the families a few months ago.

Their emotional distress and ongoing pain was palpable.

They were intimately involved at the time on an hour-by-hour basis and know exactly where their sons and brothers stood in relation to the struggle with the British government.

They know who was trying to do their best for them and who was trying to sell their sacrifices short.

More importantly, they know the mind of their loved ones.

That, for me, is what shone through at that meeting.

The families knew their brothers, husbands, fathers. They knew they weren’t dupes. They knew they weren’t stupid. They knew they were brave, beyond words and they were clear about what was happening.

All of the family members, who spoke, with the exception of Tony O’Hara, expressed deep anger and frustration at the efforts to denigrate and defile the memory of their loved ones. In a statement they said: “We are clear that it was the British government which refused to negotiate and refused to concede their [the prisoners’] just demands.”

Hunger striker’s children renew inquiry call

Posted in marcella on 7 October 2009 by micheailin

Derry Journal
06 October 2009

Mural photo from CAIN

The children of Derry hunger striker Micky Devine have renewed their call to find out the truth about the circumstances that led to their father’s death in Long Kesh in 1981.

Michael Og and Lousie Devine have called on leading Belfast republican, Laurence McKeown, to explain comments he made in a recent interview when he said there was “nothing new” on offer from the British during the negotiation surrounding the hunger strike in 1981.

Michael Devine, hungerstriker

The Devines are calling for an independent inquiry to be held into claims that a deal which could potentially have saved the lives of six of the hunger strikers was rejected by the IRA leadership, despite having been accepted by republican leaders within jail. The claim, which was made by a former blanketman, has been rejected by Sinn Féin and many leading republicans.

Michael Og Devine said: “Our father was the last of the Hunger Strikers to die and all we ask from republicans is the truth. Due to all the contradictions, new evidence and the ever-changing shifting Sinn Fein narrative we feel that only an independent republican Inquiry can heal this festering sore that has erupted over what occurred during the Hunger Strike,” he said.

Mr Devine also said he is confident his father was not aware of any deal coming into the prison through a secret contact known as the ‘Mountain Climer.’

“Both Louise and I attended the Gasyard debate and listened to Brendan Duddy claim that the offer he wrote down and communicated to Martin McGuinness on the 5th July ’81 contained four of the demands. He also stated that he believed this was a genuine offer from the British.

“We would make this appeal to Laurence to tell us publicly exactly what did happen in the prison hospital and what exactly was my father told, if anything, that he felt he couldn’t share with his family or his movement. We would also like to ask Laurence did he see a copy of the offer which Duddy gave to McGuinness who in turn gave it to Gerry Adams,” he said.