Last night in Derry a significant meeting was held examining the events of the 1981 hunger strike, specifically looking at the negotiations between the British and the PIRA around the time of hunger striker Joe McDonnell’s death. He was the fifth hunger striker to die; five other young men died of starvation after him. Since the publication of the book, Blanketmen, by Richard O’Rawe, a horrible question has been raised: were the deaths of those 6 men a betrayal of unimaginable magnitude? The heartbreaking truth as emerged undeniably last night is yes.
On the panel were Willie Gallagher, IRSP; Gerard Hodgins, former PIRA hunger striker; Richard O’Rawe, former PRO for the prisoners during the hunger strike; Tommy Gorman, former PIRA prisoner and chair of the meeting; Liam Clarke, Sunday Times journalist; and Brendan Duddy, the Mountain Climber link that ferried negotiation messages between the British and the PIRA’s hunger strike committee which consisted of Danny Morrison and Gerry Adams and also, it is believed, Martin McGuinness, Jim Gibney and Tom Hartley.
Richard O’Rawe’s contention that on July 5th a British offer, authorised by Thatcher, came into the prison via Danny Morrison to Bik McFarlane, was discussed by himself and Bik, that it was agreed that there was enough for the prisoners to accept, and that acceptance was to be sent out to the outside leadership, was verified: Willie Gallagher presented excerpts from a recorded conversation between two former prisoners in which one of them, whose identity is known to those who have heard the tapes, confirms the conversation between O’Rawe and McFarlane took place. In addition to that, former prisoner Gerard Clarke came forward last night and also confirmed that he heard the conversation take place as described by Richard O’Rawe.
Liam Clarke presented new documents obtained from the NIO under Freedom of Information requests that contained the British notes of the offer that was made. O’Rawe confirmed that what was in the British documents was what was relayed to Bik McFarlane, and that was what they had discussed and accepted. Brendan Duddy confirmed that the offer in the documents was that which he conveyed in his role as messenger to the Adams/Morrison committee. He had no knowledge that the prisoners had accepted the offer; he confirmed that the response from the representative of the IRA he was in contact with was to reject the offer.
The only question remaining now is why.
The insulting nonsense about the difference between and offer and a deal and all the shifting denials from Danny Morrison and those pushing the Sinn Fein line is meaningless. The revisionist propaganda about the ending of the first hunger strike and its impact on the second is also exposed for the self-serving guff it is.
O’Rawe was right. His account is now verified by prisoners who heard the conversation between himself and Bik McFarlane; by British documents that detail the offer they discussed; and by the messenger who delivered both the British offer and the Provo hunger strike committee rejection. The IRSP and INLA are on record as having no knowledge of the Mountain Climber negotiations, let alone an offer that was acceptable to the prisoners; and members of the Provisional IRA Army Council of the time have also made clear they too were unaware that the members of the hunger strike committee were in contact with the British government, directly negotiating with the British government, and over-ruling the prisoners’ wishes while doing so.
This is devastating.
Tommy McCourt, at the time a representative of the IRSP, spoke to the meeting about the last time he saw Mickey Devine in the prison hospital before he died. They discussed his funeral arrangements; Devine believed that to come off the hunger strike, even with the support of the INLA and IRSP, would be a complete defeat, one he could not inflict upon his comrades. Neither McCourt nor Devine were aware that just weeks earlier, an honourable end to the hunger strike could have been had for all; but for the political machinations of a secret few. “All those weeks before [his death], there was an offer which I could have said to Mickey Devine, ‘Here’s an offer Mickey. This could save your life.'”
Gerard Hodgins quoted Gerry Adams in his address to the standing room only crowd: “A happy ending, finally, eventually, it seems to me is more important than a tell-all story now.” (Gerry Adams, A Farther Shore, 2003) He spoke of how for too long Republicans accepted the ‘packaged narrative’; now, “We need to know the truth…The genie is out of the bottle. There has to be some way of full disclosure, full truth of everything known of them days between leadership and the British and that’s what I would call for, some way of inquiry, some way that we could get at all the facts from all the key players of that day.”
The truth is a heartbreaking, but needed thing. We know the ending isn’t a happy one. This is why the truthful ‘tell all story’ is more important now than ever. Tell the truth, Mr Adams. No one wants nor needs the packaged narrative of false happy endings anymore.
Links to speech transcripts, copies of the British documents, videos, and other reports of the night will come tomorrow.