The Truth is a Heartbreaking Thing

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.

  • mal

    Saw the Gerard Clarke confirmation.

  • John O’Connell

    It’s a fair cop, Gerry Adams. You need to avail of this opportunity to get it all off your conscience.

    I was very impressed by Richard’s book Blanketmen, and I hope he gets to the place he wants to be.

    All I can say is that Gerry Adams’ political power was based on two things, the IRA and the hunger-strikers. He had seven heads (seven man army council) and ten horns (ten hunger-strikers) and the unravelling of that power is taking place now.

    The SDLP undermined his pursuit of the tactical use of of human suffering and helped him stop obtaining his power from the army council.

    Now internally the sincerest republicans are preventing him from using their ten dead men to obtain power in Ireland.

    Soon Gerry Adams will be leading just another BNP.

  • Hogan

    this is devastating?

    This won’t be devastating until it forms a 14-day series on the front page of the Irish News.

    Only nationalist political nerds read slugger…. the rest of us will swallow whatever political shite PSF throw at them in their ‘historical’ pagents they happen to put on at casement park.

    Why 14 days? Because Seamus Mallon’s school master’s instinct was right and PSF learned the lesson … people are naturally stupid.. if you want them to believe some thing you must repeat.. repeat.. repeat!!!

  • Anon

    Does Mallon have an autobiography or has anyone taken it upon themselves to write a book on the man? I can’t seem to find anything.

  • Declan Butler

    Adams needs to come clean.

    Six Hunger Strike deaths should have been prevented.

  • The first discussion is whether or not an offer was made/accepted. This only seems to matter in respect of a dent in the Provisionals’ narrative of the period. Why did they let hunger strikers die? Given Liam’s other piece at the weekend, and previous examples we’re not to be surprised that the Provisionals used lies routinely, ‘strategically’ and with effect. Lies were used to cement division, radicalise nationalism and paint the Brits (Government, army, police, unionists, the man in the street) as the enemy generally. Having seen the impact and ‘success’ of Bloody Sunday in radicalising nationalism and bolstering support to the IRA, here, was another significant opportunity to reinforce that alienation from the State. It also enabled a second ‘political’ front to open up, to broaden the conflict and to add extra cover to a military campaign that was already flagging. Ultimately this has led the IRA to where it is today. Observing from the outside the angst on whether or not the death of six hungerstrikers was necessary in the long view or not. That is something republicans/nationalists need to work out for themselves.

  • Gabriel

    Allegedly last year a very high profile republican from the early 80’s (now in dublin) threatened Gerry in a huge argument that he would spill the beans on things that gerry prefers to keep quiet that would cause uproar. 😉

  • circles

    I’m sorry rusty but I don’t see how you’re assertion that O’Rawe’s account is true somehow makes it so – particulalry because its mainly backe up by a queue of axe-grinders and the disgruntled.
    What is clear is that as everybody knows an offer is most certainly not a deal. This is patenly clear and to try and blur the line somehow is just simply dishonest.
    This post, far from providing devastatig evidence falls into what Hogan said – if you want them to believe some thing you must repeat.. repeat.. repeat!!!
    Saying “O’Rawe was right” does not make it so.

    There is a clear need for the truth to come out but the truth doesn’t belong to whoever shouts the loudest – and at the minute the Republican Network for Unity are screaming at the top of their voice. Given the nature of those organising the event, a fair, unbiased consideration of those days was never on the cards. I could have written your post here directly after reading the first one announcing the event – having ground their axes it was clear a lot of those involved were simpy out to do a hatchet job.

    The use and abuse of the legacy of the hunger strikers by all involved to promote themselves, no matter what their narrative is, is sickening.

  • Rusty Nail

    The debate has moved on. It is no longer merely ‘just O’Rawe’ who is saying what happened. The idea that only ‘axe-grinders’ and ‘the disgruntled’ are backing up O’Rawe’s claims is a nonsense. Brendan Duddy is an axe grinding member of the disgruntled now? Gerard Clarke? Gerard Hodgins? And Liam Clarke? Contemporaneous documents also support his claims. Character assassination as a defence no longer works. Watch the videos yourself. More will be coming online later, as will copies of the new NIO documents. It is not hearsay; the confirmations are coming from primary sources, the people who were involved – and it is coming from all sides party to the offer, the prisoners, the British via the documents, the Mountain Climber; the only people denying this now are those with a vested interest to protect: the members of the Adams committee. It is quite clear, no matter if you choose to deny it or not.

    1 The conversation he claims happened between himself and Bik has been verified by other ex-prisoners, including one who was in the cell next to them (see video)

    2 The offer is verified by new British documents released by the NIO – which includes the document of the offer that was sent in and discussed and accepted by O’Rawe and McFarlane

    3 The document was confirmed by the man who took the offer from the British and gave it to the Provo hunger strike committee as being the offer that he delivered during the time in question;

    4 The same man, known as ‘The Mountain Climber’, also confirmed the representatives of the PIRA he was dealing with rejected the offer in response

    This is hugely significant. This clearly and undeniably shows that O’Rawe was correct. Independent witnesses have now come forward publicly and corroborated his claims; there is also now documental evidence that verifies the British offer.

    It is quite simple and quite stark.

    In July the British made an offer to the PIRA (via the Adams committee) in a bid to end the hunger strike. The record of that offer exists and has been confirmed by the man who delivered it to the Adams committee, Brendan Duddy. Danny Morrison relayed this offer to Bik McFarlane who in turn discussed it with Richard O’Rawe; they agreed to accept the offer and send word of that acceptance out. Other prisoners have confirmed this conversation took place. Brendan Duddy has confirmed the response he got from the Adams committee was not that the prisoners accepted the offer, but a rejection of it. Joe McDonnell then died.

    In addition to this, it is now clear that the Army Council of the PIRA was not fully informed of the activities of the Adams committee; the INLA and the IRSP were also kept completely in the dark about this, and neither made aware that negotiations were being conducted let alone that an offer was made by the British government or that the prisoners had accepted such and the outside rejected it; worse still the hunger strikers themselves were never told of the offer nor acceptance of same by their comrades. This has been confirmed by surviving hunger strikers who had no knowledge of this. Mickey Devine died not knowing that an offer had been on the table, not knowing that the prison PIRA leadership had accepted it.

  • sj1

    What is clear is that as everybody knows an offer is most certainly not a deal.

    I think you’re missing the point. The offer could have been a deal if the knowledge of the offer had reached all involved rather than having been rejected for reasons unknown.

    You need to know about the offer before you can either accept it or reject it. That knowledge was obviously denied to the IRSP in the first instance, whose men died along with the others.

    These were all comrades, republican differences should have been forgotten, but it looks like the IRSP’s were treated as invisible. Listen to what Tommy Mc Court says.

    There is a tendency on all sides to say, well if you are saying it then it can’t be true, because obviously you’ve an axe to grind, that is simply the opposite side of the coin to saying if SF say it then it must be true.

    Everyone must try to examine the evidence, all that is available in the public domain, and make their minds up objectively.

    Why would Gerard Clarke step forward and support O’Rawe if he believed O’Rawe was a liar? These are men not easily intimidated, all of them, axe grinders or not, have taken all that the might of the British state could throw at them, it didn’t look like anyone put his arm up his back.

    Objectively, on examining the evidence so far there is discrepancy in the Provisionals version.

    If this were merely a difference of opinion over what is a deal, and what is an offer, why did Bik deny the conversation ever took place?

    Then we have to see what it is the tapes the IRSP’s have are about, who was talking, and what information is contained on them.

    I don’t think anyone expects blind belief or following of one opinion or the other, but any honourable person with integrity who is interested in this subject would examine the evidence objectively and not scream that those who scream the loudest are liars. That position is untenable and dishonourable.

  • circles

    sj1 – i simply made a point, and in the shouting match that this debate has descended into I think its fairly clear who is screaming loudest. Its very hard to remain objective when many (note not all) of those pushing the issue have an anti-SF agenda. Its also almost impossible to take SF at their word as they have far too many vested interests to protect, and the fact that they have stonewalled doesn’t help. Using words such as untenable and dishonorable really doesn’t make your post of an greater value.

    As you said – you need to know what the offer was before it can be accepted or rejected. As we don’t, its very hard to judge whether it was even remotely acceptable – given thatcher’s attitude and the results of the first strike is there reason to believe that it may have been?
    Is it reasonable to assume that this was the capitulation of the brits or in any way a meeting of the demands?
    Is it then reasonable to assume that Gerry Adams decided to turn this down without ever consulting men he knew well. Comrades dying waiting for away out?
    And all this because he somehow could see the future and predict the future of the shinners coul only benefit from more dead? As if there hadn’t been enough.

    There are still far too many holes in this for it to make any sense and too many wrestling over who has the correct version of events for the truth to come it.

  • Circles
    Perhaps not deliberately, but I feel you are muddying the water here, I take it you now accept an offer was made? In truth it is hard to deny this fact as Danny Morrison, who it is said took the offer into the Maze has admitted it. Secondly Richard O’Rawe now has witnesses who were on the prison wing to back up his claim that he and Brendan McFarlane discussed the offer, when the latter returned from his meeting with Dan and they both appeared to believe the offer was enough to bring the hunger strike to an end.

    This is where it gets difficult.

    Bik as prison OC then presumably sent a com to the outside army leadership to inform them he and O’Rawe thought the Hunger strikers would accept the deal.(He denies this although a com went out)

    For some reason the whole thing then fell to bits. All the com’s Bik sent out of the jail were kept, although some say those that have been made public or been made available to authors etc were censored. (which could be understandable if done for security reasons?) It should not be difficult for an independent source to find the original if it still exists and verify the coms Bik wrote on the days surrounding Dans visit.

    The lies/misinformation,

    The lie that has enabled the SF leadership to muddy the water time and again as far as Richards accusation is concerned, is the claim that the British went back on a deal that they made which ended the first Hunger Strike, which was led by Brendan Hughes.

    Thus SF spokesperson like Gibney/ McCartney have claimed the outside leadership demanded firm guarantees to end the second, up unto this day leading Sinners are still running with this untruth as we heard last week in a radio interview.

    The first hunger strike collapsed, there was no offer or deal as scores of blanket-men know. The legend was put out to save some face and give Bobby Sands some traction when he started his hunger strike, understandable at the time, but unforgivable all these years later. What this means is almost every book written about the hunger strike is inaccurate up until Richard O’Rawe’s.

    The chain of command.

    It was always claimed by SF the protesting prisoners and hunger strikers were masters of their own situation, this now seems unlikely and that command lay with the outside leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann. Otherwise the OC and his staff on the wings could have called the HS off and made a deal of their own with the British. To understand why this did not happen it is important to take on board that these men did not consider themselves to be free agents, but soldiers in a disciplined organization. It is important to hold onto this fact before anyone gets the tar and feathers out and points them at the likes of Danny Morrison or Brendan McFarlane.

    Cover ups in revolutionary organizations are always a mistake, especially if someone else, let alone an enemy holds the key to the lock that keeps them entombed. The truth will always come out.

    I would think the membership of the IRSP and the INLA must be outraged at the latest revelations as they lost good comrades, believing they were being kept in the loop by SF, when nothing of the sort occurred.

    The more I read about this the more I wish to weep, heatbreaking indeed.

  • circles

    Mickhall – i never denied an offer was made – how would I know. Indeed how would anyody know who wasn’t involved? ANd i honestly haveno interest in muddying any waters by asking questions.
    To be honest i live in a place with extremely slow internet access and as such the video links and so don’t work – leaving me uninformed about particular aspects.
    I’m on no side at all in this – I too find it heartbreaking – not just that there is doubt about what happened but also the subsequent intrumentalisation of this doubt and the over stretching of the story into tarring people as traitors.

    But if as you say command of the hunger strike lay outside are you also suggesting that the outside leadership ordered the hunger strike?

  • sj1

    you need to know what the offer was before it can be accepted or rejected.

    But we do know now, Liam Clarke read out the offer from the British from papers released under the freedom of information act…..

  • sj1

    If you listen to Tommy McCourt, listen to him, he is stating that

    “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.’”

    that was after the speeches in the hall on Saturday night.

    Not everything is out yet… By the end of the day, or when the papers are published and the remainder of the vodeos come out everything will be much clearer.

  • circles

    then what was it? Is there a link that is not a video? And does it make sense to believe the brits version rather than SF’s?
    I mean FFS – the brits version is taken as gospel but what Bik McFarlane says must be a lie. Do you not find that just a little bit strange sj1?

  • But if as you say command of the hunger strike lay outside are you also suggesting that the outside leadership ordered the hunger strike?

    No, From what I can gather Bobby Sands was an unstoppable force,
    in all probability the leadership recognized that fact and acquiesced, taking into account his determination and realizing if they did not they would lose control over their volunteers. This is only a guess though. Although it would explain the system that was set up to oversee the HS.

  • John O’Connell

    No matter what side you are on in this debate, the Truth is going to lie something near to this.

    Years of being pilloried by the SDLP and others for not having a mandate made Gerry Adams particularly very determined to use the hunger strikers to launch a political campaign. Politics was where it was at in 1981 as always as that is where power lay.

    So we shouldn’t really be that surprised if a young and inexperienced Adams decided to use his comrades for the cause. They had after all volunteered and could have died before then in operations.

    But when life is cheap and elections have a powerful attraction, you’re going to get decisions like the ones made by Adams, a man who believes himself to have a destiny. His destiny is to be great like John Hume, his comrades’ destinies were to die for his political ambitions.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what happened.

  • sj1

    I mean FFS – the brits version is taken as gospel but what Bik McFarlane says must be a lie.

    That is not the way of it. These documents are contemperanous with the events, but there is also evidence sourced from various written material, such as books like ten men dead etc that indeed a deal was on offer. Danny Morrison admits there was a deal, O’Rawe and Clarke have come forward to the exsistence of the conversation that took place etc etc etc…

    Anyone who now says there was no offer is up the left, its exsistence has been proven by Morisson himself, so has he an axe to grind too..???

    The position has moved on. There is no question now about the exsistence of the offer…..

  • sj1

    Danny Morrison admits there was a dea

    Should read, DM admits there was an OFFER….

  • sj1

    then what was it?

    If you can’t access videos (strange) then you’ll have to wait on the papers to be published, but they exsist, Liam Clarke had the papers with him, and read them out and said he’d publish them on a website…..


  • The people I most feel sorry for are the children of Hunger-Strikers, Joe McDonnell and Micky Devine.

    How are they meant to feel given all this controversary?

    Its high time all documentation was released to the public before more hurt and grief is caused!

  • redhugh78

    Liam Clarke is now some sort of authority on the Hungerstrikes?FFs next we’ll have Eoghan Harris and Ruth Dudley Edwards wheeled out as some kind of expert on it.FFs get a grip.

  • sj1

    Liam Clarke is now some sort of authority on the Hungerstrikes

    I also saw Brian Rowan in the audience. Can’t see the problem with journalists speaking, unless you can point out any of them shouldn’t.

  • Rory Carr

    “…were the deaths of those 6 men a betrayal of unimaginable magnitude? The heartbreaking truth as emerged undeniably last night is yes.”

    With the kind of devestating lack of objectivity embraced by this seethingly resentful little group who, like our thread-master, Rusty Nail, had already decided the conclusion of their “inquiry” well in advance we can only wait with keen anticipation their next attempt at historical revision, working title: “Did 6 Million really die?”.

    The motivation of those involved seems so much inspired by unresolved infantile behaviour (the “Look at me, mommy! Look at me!” syndrome) that it is difficult not to look for answers for their conceit in the realm of the psychological rather than the poltical.

  • Reader

    Rory Carr: The motivation of those involved seems so much inspired by unresolved infantile behaviour (the “Look at me, mommy! Look at me!” syndrome) that it is difficult not to look for answers for their conceit in the realm of the psychological rather than the poltical.
    I thought for moment you were referring to the hunger strikers there. Setting that aside – couldn’t it apply to the hunger strike committee at least as much to their modern challengers?
    As for the pursuit of actual truth; I have no more to say on that matter than you did.

  • John O’Connell

    It would be a mistake for the Richard O’Rawe camp to try to re-win and re-win the argument about a deal. That’s what Sinn Fein want. Any offer accepted becomes a deal. There is no confusion. The argument has been won. There is no need for Liam Clarke to publish anything. It is simply a matter of letting the public know that the argument has been won.

    The only outstanding matter is finding who is responsible. To me it is Gerry Adams primarily and Danny Morrison on the H-Blocks committee that scuppered the deal.

    But others may find that the reqired level of coldness to let young workingclass men die come from advice taken from Churchmen or businessmen who knew that the deaths were damaging the image of Britain abroad. This hungerstrike didn’t happen overnight. It happened in slow motion largely and every decision was calculated and thought through in relation to its effects.

    How could anyone be so cynical as to let young men die? Ultimately the decision rested with Adams and the voices he listened to. His craven desire not simply to be the next John Hume but the next Jesus Christ is in my opinion at the root of his decision making. And subsequently Gerry Adams tried to turn the clock back on 2,000 years of Christianity. He would have succeeded if it were not for John Hume and Richard O’Rawe.

  • AdamsandLoughgall

    The issue here seems to be that Adams et al have been totally dishonest. Yet why should anyone be the slightest bit surprised? Gerry Adams has never had a problem at any time with dissembling or dealing in misinformation or just plain telling lies.

    In his ‘Secret History of the IRA’ book, Ed Maloney makes it very clear that Adams lied quite cynically and purposefully to him in relation to details around the IRA’s ‘disappearing’ of Jean McConville.

    Its therefore a bit of a no-brainer for Adams to tell porkys about the possible resolution of the hungerstrikes. The alternative to lying is admitting responsibility for the unnecessary, harrowing deaths of some of his most devoted followers.

    Hunger-strikes aside, how many comrades has Adams jettisoned to some terrible fate in pursuit of his own glorification?

    The world would be a better place if he were to step down off the stage.

  • Paul

    Its equally ob vious that both sides have their own recipee for Koolaid and that they have drank a long portion of whatever flavour they liked

  • John O’Connell

    The world would be a better place if he were to step down off the stage.

    I agree. But he won’t step down without a fight and the resultant humiliation when he is seen for whast he is.

  • John O’Connell

    Just saw Gerry Adams on the RTE news trying to put the blame for the child abuse on “the government”. It was nauseating.

    The hypocrisy is breathtaking when you consider that he let six of his “brothers” in the struggle starve themselves to death just for his political career.

    You know, like the abuse scandals affecting all clergy, this hunger-strike scandal blights all republicans. None are completely untarnished. There is in my opinion something deeply flawed about republicanism that it produces people like Gerry Adams. And Gerry Adams is in my opinion just very good at being a republican. It is the philosophy that is flawed in the first place.

  • GC

    I know bik very well and he certainly is not a liar and would not lie about some of the things said.I wish more would have respect and loyalty like he has always shown.People are trying to lay blame in the wrong place here.O’Rawe must be writing another fictional book to get involved again with this.