Hunger Strike Controversy Has Not Gone Away, You Know

Eamon McCann’s Belfast Telegraph article and Radio Free Eireann interview about Richard O’Rawe’s account of the prisoner acceptance of a deal which would have saved the lives of six hunger strikers has created more questions than answers. McCann’s pieces were firm in his conviction that “Richard O’Rawe is telling the truth”, based on confirmations he had from the “Mountain Climber”, former prisoners on the same wing and Richard’s cellmate. Richard’s cellmate, Colm Scullion, was then quoted by the Derry Journal – in a confused piece, which, for example, referred to the Derry based INLA hunger strikers as being IRA, and also ran without a by-line – saying there was no deal but agreeing there was an offer. This was followed by a letter from Scullion to the Irish News, which Richard O’Rawe has answered today. The silence from Jim Gibney, Danny Morrison and Laurence McKeown, who were so vocal in denouncing O’Rawe the first time around, is noticeable now. They certainly weren’t shy about sticking an oar in before, even if their accounts then contradicted each other and historical record. This week’s Gibney column is about Gaza, while last week it was about Deaglán de Bréadún’s book. Answers that should be forthcoming from that quarter aren’t.

McCann could also write a follow-up piece which expands on the information he has been privy to that has so convinced him. Such an article would not be unwelcome.

The IRSP are investigating the claims and counter-claims; more about their findings can be read on their forum.

This is one controversy, the events of which are so seared in the public mind, which isn’t going to go away easily. It’s left too many questions and not enough answers.

‘Mrs Thatcher and her government were responsible for their deaths’ Colm Scullion Ex-prisoner, Co Derry, 09/04/08

In The Irish News (April 2) it said: “A former IRA prisoner last night claimed that he had been ‘totally vindicated’ after a man who shared a cell with him confirmed his account that republicans rejected a deal in 1981 which could have saved the lives of hunger strikers.”
This is a reference to Richard O’Rawe.
I also believe it is a reference to me because I was on the blanket and shared a cell with Richard at this time during the hunger strike, July 1981.
I don’t accept what is being said.
There was no deal.
I agree with Richard that there was certainly an offer which Richard was made aware of by Brendan McFarlane, who was a few cells away.
We all desperately hoped that there would be a deal.
Unfortunately, the British government refused to stand over or verify what it was offering.
It refused to send any of its representatives in to meet the hunger strikers and tragically
Joe McDonnell died and his death was followed by five more of our comrades.
Mrs Thatcher and her government were responsible for their deaths.
Colm Scullion
Ex-prisoner, Co Derry

Britain’s offer to end hunger strike is still cloaked in mystery, Richard O’Rawe, Belfast 11, 17/04/08

Colm Scullion avoids detail and keeps to what is the standard Sinn Fein line in relation to the 1981 hunger strike in his Irish News letter (April 9 2008).

However, Colm did contradict Bik McFarlane, the OC of the prisoners, when he said that Bik received the contents of a British offer on July 6 1981 and that Bik sent that offer down to me on his return from his meeting with Danny Morrison in the camp hospital. That is progress, because Bik had previously said that there was ‘no offer whatsoever’ (see UTV Live, March 1 2008, in reply to interview with reporter, Fearghal McKinney).

Now that, I hope, it is universally accepted that there was a British offer sent into the prison leadership to consider, perhaps we can get answers to the many questions that this poses.

For example, what was Bik McFarlane’s opinion of the offer?

Did he believe it constituted a settlement?

If so, did he convey this belief to the ‘Committee’, the caucus of republican leaders who had been designated by the IRA Army Council to advise on the running of the hunger strike?

It would be interesting to know what the committee’s view was on the offer.

Did they communicate their opinion to Bik? If not, why not?

Why did Bik, for 26 years, deny that an offer had been made?

Suffice to say that, on several occasions, Colm and I have had conversations, during which he did accept, that (1) there was an offer (2) Bik and I accepted that offer, and communicated our mutual acceptance in Irish, and (3) a comm came in from outside which rejected the offer.

Richard O’Rawe, Belfast 11

Background: Blanketmen, by Richard O’Rawe
Danny Morrison
Jim Gibney
Brendan McFarlane
Brendan Hughes
Interview with Richard O’Rawe

  • B

    Yes, indeed we have progress. For the first time since his book was serialised in the pro-IRA paper the Sunday Times Richard O’Rawe hgas compeletely dropped his reference to a deal and now natters on about an offer. Read 10men Dead. Bik is obviously talking about an offernot a deal. So what if he said therewas no offer when he meant no deal. Is this what this all comes down ot?an interivew on UTv. Stick to reality. Richard himself said there was no deal at the time.Brits don’tclaim a deal. Irish Commission deny there wa s a deal. Lorny who wason hunger strike denies there wa s a deal.Did richard ever go the hospital and meet the men like Bik?Did Richard see the commisson? I don’tthink so.

  • Rory

    Tentative probings by the Brits, through intermediaries, of the “Might you not consider this?” variety do not a firm proposal make and it was for Brendan McFarlane to weigh the import of any such approaches and to consider whether they amounted to absolute proposals or were merely kite-flying exercises designed to probe the hunger strikers’ resolve. O’Rawe was not involved in the evaluation of such measures and what he offers is based on limited intelligence and flawed reasoning based thereon.

    It needs to be remembered that the outside IRA leadership had no authority to order any volunteers to undertake a hunger-strike. They did have the authority to call off a hunger strike but understandably would be extremely reluctant to take that step where it conflicted with the determination of the prisoners to continue until their demands were met and the opinion of the prisoners’ commander would be crucial in weighing such a decision.

    Having committed himself to an element of sensationalism in his book it is understandable that O’Rawe now feels obliged to further defend it and that all and any opponents of republicanism clamber aboard for a free ride but that is no reason for the known facts to be discarded to titillate the prurience of those who ever detested the hunger-strikers and the cause for which they struggled.

  • IRIA

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

  • jake

    rory and B, the chuckie brothers:
    o’rawe never, ever talked about a deal but always an offer – sinn fein spinners, including bik mcfarlane denied there was an offer and now colm scullion, o’rawe’s cellmate has confirmed that there was an offer – result bik is discredited;
    other sf spinners, eg gibney and morrison admitted there was a deal but claim the british never followed up – but they did, they followed up the july offer with another simmilar offer (ie effectively granting 4 of 5 demands) which adams was compelled by fr faul and relatives to take into the prison hospital just before the second fermanagh south tyrone by-election – that meeting was marked by adams’ refusal to tell the prisoners that the offer was good enough and that they should end the protest and his insistence on leaving the final decision to the hunger strikers who not unnaturally were weighed down by the earlier sacrifice of their comrades – result? the strike continued and in the atmosphere of continued conflict with thatcher, owen carron won bobby sands’ seat, adams went on to launch the ballot box strategy and then the peace process. conclusion? the peace strategy of the sf leadership was built on the corpses of six hunger strikers. that’s why people like rory and B will perform the most extreme verbal gymnastics and outright deceptions to disguise this truth. as gerry himself might say: ‘sin e’

  • DK

    Digging up the past is always interesting when established orthodoxies are challenged. Thus we now have the hunger strikers ordered to die for PR reasons. Makes the cause seem a bit weak if they just take the British offer – even if that saves their lives (and the lives of countless others from the reduced tension in the streets).

  • Rory

    “…that meeting was marked by adams’ refusal to tell the prisoners that the offer was good enough and that they should end the protest and his insistence on leaving the final decision to the hunger strikers…” says Jake.

    It would have been wrong for Adams “to tell the prisoners that the offer was good enough”, Jake. He could only offer an opinion as to his belief in the merits of any such offer and then, quite rightly, leave “the final decision to the hunger strikers”. The decision to go on hunger strike was always theirs, each man who entered on to it did so voluntarily and always without pressure (any who volunteered but were deemed to be in too poor a state of health to endure it were refused) and the final decision on whether or not to abandon the strike would always remain with them.

    How indeed could it be otherwise? What possible sanction could be employed against a refusal to follow an order to abandon the strike – “Come off hunger strike or you will be shot”? A bit implausible don’t you think?

    DK’s assertion that ” Thus we now have the hunger strikers ordered to die for PR reasons” is in itself rendered more than a bit weak when considered in the light of what I have written above. No one was ordered to undertake a hunger strike much less to remain on strike and none was ever condemned or themselves abandoned if having entered upon a strike they later abandoned it, not even Séan MacStíofáin. But then he was Chief of Staff at the time and his poor judgement and even poorer example did lead to his loss of that position.

  • “Yes, indeed we have progress. For the first time since his book was serialised in the pro-IRA paper the Sunday Times etc etc”

    B

    Your comment above is what makes some of us despair with the northern SF leadership, from the safety of your anonymous tag, with these words you have attempted to smear a man who has served the Republican movement well. Or have you forgotten as soon as the H/S ended, the RM leadership asked Richard to take up the post of O/C in one of the blocks. and more to the point despite being exhausted etc he accepted that task.

    Rory your being a little harsh here, Richard was at the heart of the jail-side decision making process throughout the hunger strike. Who better to write a book? The SF strategy seems to be, sit on this until all those who participated are dead.

    There is bound to be differences over what occurred and for obvious reasons, there is no shame in that, but the republican movement, SF and all those who participated both in and out of jail, need to come together over a period of days and debate this thing through in a public forum, with independent moderators so that both sides can put their point of view, call witnesses etc.

    History demands this happens, otherwise future generations will never get the truth as the victors will be writing the byline and the Hunger strikers deserve better than that.

  • Rory

    If as you say, Mick, that “Richard was at the heart of the jail-side decision making process throughout the hunger strike” then he held greater responsibility for the decision to continue than did any of the leaders on the outside, because, as I have tirelessly repeated, it was those inside and, in the final analysis the hunger strikers themselves who made the decision on whether to end or continue. The leaders on the outside had important influence no doubt, but, and it is this “but” that remains all-important, it remained only at the level of influence to be weighed for consideration. They could not make the decision for those on hunger strike.

    If Richard O’Rawe considers that the outside leadership, in particular Gerry Adams, misread the British earnest as lack of earnest then he either does so in hindsight or if it was his consideration at the time then he clearly failed to convince his comrades sufficiently to influence the decision they took. He can argue that others made mistakes but he cannot pass the buck on to others for his own failings, however understandable they may be on the human level.

    “History demands….” blah, blah, blah. History demands my arse, Mick. History demands nothing whatsover, history simply attempts to interpret what was recorded and often makes a very poor job of it. If there is to be any call for a debate on this issue then it would need to come from within the corps of former volunteers and realtives of the deceased and the main activists of the time and not to satisfy the whimsical prurience of the destructive, divisive, eternally splintering ultra-left onlookers to history.

  • jake

    rory, now the single chuckie brother:
    how selective the memories of the shinners and their spinners can be – you ignore the fact that the 1981 hunger strike ended when the ira’s army council instructed the prisoners to end their protest – the simple fact of the matter is that the ira leadership could have called off/ordered an end to the hunger strike at any time, especially when an offer was made by the british that most neutral observers would have seen as a victory for the prisoners – but, under the guidance, advice, influence and goodness knows what else of gerry adams the leadership did not do so. why? the need to win the fermanagh-south tyrone by-election, to get owen carron elected and to thereby ease the way for sinn fein as a party to adopt the strategy of fighting elections – that’s why. the rest as they say, right up to the chuckle brothers, is history and history does matter, dear rory, and it is because of your fear that history’s judgement on your leader in regard to this matter will be so harsh that you spend so much time and energy spinning on mr adams’s behalf.

  • Janus

    Bik McFarlane interview with Stephen McCaffrey March fourth 2005

    “I (McFarlane) went back to the block, wrote out a quick note, passed it up to Richard, informed him that the British had opened up a line of communication.

    “We were not to spread the word. I told him and i think one other member of the camp staff. I told him again that we need to see what’s going to happen.

    Asked whether any information was passed to O’Rawe on what might have been on offer?

    Mr McFarlane replied: !There was no concrete proposals whatsoever in relation to a deal.’

  • SlugFest

    Jake,

    the hunger strike ended after a number of families ordered medical intervention once their loved ones (Paddy Quinn, Laurence McKeown, etc.) went into a coma (and, therefore, were no longer in charge of their own destiny). Once other families made it clear that they would do the same thing, those inside the Maze (not the council) decided to offically end the strike.

    now i’m quite sure everyone was looking for a way out at that point, the council included, but let’s not rewrite history any more than it already has been.

  • Rory

    Firstly, Jake, I do not have a leader, I have no party political commitment or loyalty whatsoever and I tend to judge each action or policy decision of any party on its own merit.

    I have already said that the IRA leadership had the authority to call off a hunger-strike but that they would be most reluctant to do so when that decision conflicted with the determination of the hunger-strikers themselves and only then when they considered it in the best interests of the movement as a whole. All volunteers are aware of this policy and those contemplating hunger-strike most acutely so.

    You can if you wish argue that the leadership got it wrong in deciding not to call off the strike but since I presume that you never supported the hunger strikers or their demands in the first place why on earth would you expect anyone to take the least little bit of notice of your opinion?

  • Janus

    McFarlane had a couple of revealing things to say to Stephen McCaffrey of the Irish News in that March fourth 2005 article. He says he told O’Rawe, “We were not to spread the word.” So much for all the wannabee experts who jumped on the bandwagon and guttied O’Rawe after his book was released [Paul McGlinchey, Raymond McCartney, et al. If McFarlane is to be believed, then it appears none of these guys knew any more about the Mountain Climber, his offer, or the hunger strike, than anyone else who wasn’t part of the leadership].

    Secondly, you can spin to the cows come home, fellas, but when McFarlane was asked, “whether any offer was passed to Mr O’Rawe on what might have been an offer?” He replied that, “There was no concrete proposals whatsoever [there’s that dreaded word again] in relation to a deal.”

    I daresay some magician will turn those words over, and conjure up a different meaning from what McFarlane is evidently saying; that is, he did not sent O’Rawe up any proposals at all from the Mountain Climber: ‘I went back to the block [after meeting Danny Morrison], wrote out a quick note, passed it to Richard, informed him that the British had opened up a line of communication.” Again, no mention of proposals ‘whatsoever’.

    “The sky too is moving under you,
    And its all over now, Baby Blue.”

  • “the republican movement, SF and all those who participated both in and out of jail, need to come together over a period of days and debate this thing through in a public forum, with independent moderators so that both sides can put their point of view, call witnesses etc.”
    Mick Hall

    Rory

    You are a very intelligent fellow so I am puzzled why you claimed to fail to understand my comments above but went on to use a form of words that have much the same meaning.

    ” If there is to be any call for a debate on this issue then it would need to come from within the corps of former volunteers and relatives of the deceased and the main activists of the time”

    By the way out of interest what does “destructive, divisive, eternally splintering ultra-left onlookers to history” have to do with this thread?

  • Paul McMahon

    “Your comment above is what makes some of us despair with the northern SF leadership, from the safety of your anonymous tag, with these words you have attempted to smear a man who has served the Republican movement well”

    That’s a fair point Mick but the opposite correlation is also true.

    Aren’t people like Bik, Lorny McKeown, Colm Scullion etc, who have also served the RM well, also being smeared in the sense that their personal integrity is being called into question?

    (I would apply this point particularly to Bik who ultimately had the unenviable task of choosing men for the HS in the certain knowledge that he was sending them to their deaths)

    I know all of the individuals I have mentioned, (some better than others}, and, IMHO, their personal integrity is beyond reproach.

    I have also met Richard O’Rawe a number of times and, admittedly based on limited experience, I have my own opinions on his reasons for writing the book.

  • jake

    rory:
    old reliable rule of thumb – if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. and rory, baby, you’re a duck!

    Janus:
    mcfarlane & co. have a motive to lie, i.e. their own role in this shoddy affair, their position/job in sinn fein/west belfast to protect and obligations to adams (if you want to know what i mean about that last bit, ask bik about sweden) whereas o’rawe has no motive to lie and every reason to fear the consequences of speaking out;

    paul mcmahon:
    yes, their personal integrity is being called into question and for a very good reason: they’ve been lying to protect their leaders.

  • Paul

    You make a fair point and myself I do not believe there are any villains here, it really is a matter of a different interpretation of events which were almost three decades ago. I feel there may be a number of reasons for this none of them underhand.

    However this thing will fester if it is just left to lay and that is why I made the suggestion that I did. Much of the IRAs military campaign cannot be placed into the public arena for obvious reasons. But within reason the period of the Hunger strike can be, I do not believe making public who said and did what can damage the republican movement nor individuals within it, as long as it is made clear that these people back then lived in a pressure cooker and dangerous environment, etc etc.

    As to Bik, I feel he has been placed in an unenviable position by the leadership, as all responsibility for continuing the H/S is in many ways being placed on his shoulders and not only is that wrong, but it is untrue as he was simply one man in a chain of command.

    best regards

  • Janus

    To Paul McMahon

    Of course the personal integrity of Bik McFarlane, Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison, Lorny McKeown, and Colm Scullion are being called into question, relative to the hunger strike. This is because, either Richard O’Rawe is a liar, or they are: there’s no in-between.

    The renowed reporter Eamonn McCann says that he has incontrovertable proof that O’Rawe is telling the truth. In his Irish News letter,O’Rawe says he had conversations with Colm Scullion, which effectively back up everything he and McCann says. I ask the questions: does Scullion agree with this? Is O’Rawe telling lies?

  • Paul McMahon

    “The renewed reporter Eamonn McCann says that he has incontrovertible proof that O’Rawe is telling the truth. In his Irish News letter,O’Rawe says he had conversations with Colm Scullion, which effectively back up everything he and McCann says. I ask the questions: does Scullion agree with this? Is O’Rawe telling lies?”

    McCann’s original article is here Janus:

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/columnists/eamon-mccann/article3555919.ece

    The cellmate that he refers to in July 1981 was Colm Scullion. I spoke to Colm in the aftermath of Richard O’Rawe’s book and he told me the claims were untrue.

    If you need corroboration as to Colm’s rebuttal read the Derry Journal and Irish News links supplied in this blog.

    Mick

    I agree, I don’t think there are any villains but surely in Richard’s prominent position as PRO he should have clarified the camp staff position instead of leaving it open to different interpretation?. [Although as someone who was not a prisoner in the Blocks at that time I admit that I do have the luxury of hindsight].

    I also agree that if needs be there should be a public debate but I would respectfully suggest that this should be at the discretion of the families.

    As to Bik being one man in a chain of command I’m not so sure. Yes, he was one man in the camp staff but if you accept the premise that the prisoners were in control of decisions taken throughout the protest, from the blanket to the no wash to the HS then ultimate responsibility for choice would have rested with him as overall camp OC.

    I accept this premise.

    Jake

    I simply don’t believe you.

  • curious

    ”The cellmate that he refers to in July 1981 was Colm Scullion. I spoke to Colm in the aftermath of Richard O’Rawe’s book and he told me the claims were untrue. ” says Paul McMahon

    I am curious, if the above is correct, as to why Colum Scullion told the son of a hunger striker, Mickey Devine that he couldn’t talk about that period and that he couldn’t ”confirm or deny” O’Rawe’s claims and, if the above quote from Paul is correct why did Colum not say so publicly after the book came out as Gibney used him to bolster his version when it did. If what O’Rawe has claimed is untrue then it is truely a despicable lie so why did Colum not say so to Mickey Devine.

  • B

    Anybody wno knows scull knosw he is a quiet man who wouldnt wnat the limelight. Heketp out of it as long as he could till provoked by Rickj claiming hewas vidnicated. that’s why he has been so quiet.

  • Paul

    When I wrote that Bik McFarlane was one man in a chain of command, I meant both in and outside the jail. it is not true that the prisoners made their decisions independently of the Óglaigh Na hÉireann leadership on the outside. After the ending of the first H/S it became clear that if a second was to have any chance of success then the leaderships within and out of the maze would need to coordinate the decision making process.

    That the British allowed a senior member of SF into the jail in the day in question does make one feel he may have brought some sort of offer in, whether this was a genuine offer worthy of consideration etc is what this kerfuffle is all about.

    I feel due to the RM secrecy on this, some people may be taking a jump to far here, for even if the outside leadership advised against accepting whatever was offered at that time, it does not mean that they made this decision for opportunist reasons centered around the growth of SF.

    To be fair to Richard he does not say this in his book, which incidentally imo is a very fine read and one of the very best written about the HS.

  • Rory

    Your duck analogy, Jake, is, I am afraid, about as stale, hackneyed and laboured as the rest of what you had to offer on this matter and has only but the effect of rain on this old duck’s back.

  • B

    http://www.derryjournal.com/journal/1981-hunger-strike–an.3997798.jp

    here’s ricky in the derry journal and anasnwer. Let it rest now big ricky.

  • still curious

    ”Anybody wno knows scull knosw he is a quiet man who wouldnt wnat the limelight. Heketp out of it as long as he could till provoked by Rickj claiming hewas vidnicated. that’s why he has been so quiet. ”

    Posted by B on Apr 18, 2008 @ 10:42 AM

    What limelight would Scull have been in when asked by the son of a hunger striker if the claims were true, particularly when these claims, as you assert, were untrue? If O’Rawe’s claims are untrue then they are outrageous, slanderous, hurtful lies which could have easily been denied by Scull when meeting Mickey Devine. Surely Scull isn’t that quiet that he could nail this ‘lie’to Devine instead of stating that there are some things he ‘couldn’t talk about’ and that he couldn’t ‘confirm or deny the claims.’ O’Rawe and Gibney both used the ‘cellmate’ in their statements when this controversy first arose so why did Scull not say something then instead of allowing this controversy to linger on. Saying that Scull is a quiet man and only went public after the ‘vindication’ story cuts very little ice to be frank