Claims only add to pain says ex-hunger striker

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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