1981 Hunger Strike: Adams and the Irish News

UPDATE – This is the introduction to the Adams article as printed in this week’s An Phoblacht:

“Sinn Fein asked The Irish News for a full right of reply and the newspaper agreed. When the response from Gerry Adams was harshly critical of the Irish News itself, the article was blocked. An Phoblacht carries the article below. We are waiting for the Irish News to do the same.”

Interesting that the Stormont Press Officer, who tweeted the same allegation, and the North Antrim MLA, who retweeted it, have both removed their tweets, and the An Phoblacht website no longer carries the Adams article.

It is understood The Irish News was quite keen to publish Adams’ piece, but Sinn Fein withdrew it.

The Irish News’ special investigation on the Hunger Strike has prompted Adams to break his silence on the issue. Unfortunately, he says nothing new, or informative. In fact he actually repeats verbatim points made previously by Danny Morrison, Sile Darragh, and Martin McGuinness – it must be on the hymn sheet passed around Connolly House. It’s understood the Irish News chased Adams for months prior to the publication of their special double issue, being very keen for a one-on-one interview (as they got with former Taoiseach Fitzgerald). Instead, they were eventually given an article from Martin McGuinness. Once the issue ran, it was rumoured that Adams wanted his spake in. Nothing has been published yet, but this piece, tweeted yesterday morning by SF’s Stormont Press Officer Niall Ó Donnghaile, has now appeared in An Phoblacht – and is mysteriously absent from their website (Previously linked live here; it’s currently showing up in Google searches). Ó Donnghaile tweets, “it’s worth noting that despite agreeing to take a right of reply from Gerry, once they got the article the Irish News refused to publish it”, but it is understood that Sinn Fein withdrew the article from the Irish News for revision and have not yet resubmitted it. Its on/off presence at the AP/RN website is puzzling. UPDATE: Ó Donnghaile’s tweets, like Adams’ article, have now been removed from the web. The first tweet said: “reading an excellent article from Gerry Adams in this weeks AP/RN dealing with the Irish News’ recent ‘series’ on the 1981 Hunger Strikes11:25 AM Oct 8th from web”

Update, 10.09.09: North Antrim MLA Daithí McKay has removed his retweet of Ó Donnghaile’s tweet (see comment 3).

As to the content itself – basically, this is just a screed against the Irish News, playing to Republicans’ instinctual emotions – pure propaganda, no substance. It borders on the rant of a madman, taking a splatter approach Slugger readers following certain contributions in the comments section on this subject will recognise. This ‘splatter’ approach desperately throws whatever comes to mind in the hopes that something will stick, even if its only more confusion. It’s an approach that rarely contains any facts or addresses the issue head on. What is remarkable about this piece is the hodge-podge nature of it, how it is cobbled together, literally in some instances, from previous screeds of others. Nothing in it is persuasive or even addresses the core issue: why did Adams and his committee of people overseeing the hunger strike over-rule the prisoners themselves and refuse Thatcher’s offer?

The first paragraph gives a brief history of the lead-up to the hunger strike, then attacks the Irish News over its coverage (The Irish News did give a historical context to the Hunger Strike in its special issue, though one suspects that Adams’ first salvo is more over-arching than focusing on specific complaints about the content of the double issue).

The second paragraph has a go at Garret Fitzgerald, as the previous issue of AP/RN did, throwing in a quote from his 1991 memoirs for good measure. What is funny about this is the position, as if Fitzgerald’s Irish News article was radically different from what he had previously written. It wasn’t. The only thing new in his article was the revelation of a mole in the prison, and the agreement to participate in an inquiry should one take place. His 1991 memoirs are incredibly direct and clear as to what his position was, and his description of what happened in the crucial days of early July – written over a decade before O’Rawe wrote his memoir – starkly shows where O’Rawe was right, and was filling in the story from his own position inside the prison. What O’Rawe added to our knowledge of what happened was the prisoners’ acceptance of the deal. Each viewpoint adds more detail to the picture – most by what they say but some by what they do not. Adams just goes on a rant against Fitzgerald, using the “Everyone’s a bastard except for me” defence.

But he really ups the ranty-ness with his attack on the Irish News in the next section of his article. Playing fast and loose with facts – which the Irish News should be more than able of correcting – Adams again pulls the emotional strings, propping up the bravery of IRA (and, remarkably for him, INLA) volunteers against the Irish News ‘player’. “You must believe me,” he seems to be saying, “because I am standing on these volunteer’s wounds right now!”

Next, he moves onto the claim that the ending of the first hunger strike is why they didn’t accept Thatcher’s offer in early July. Only he doesn’t say, “During the first hunger strike, I was one of the people who were negotiating with the British,” nor does he say that he himself, and those who were working with him in those negotiations, were deeply distrustful of the British – and nor does he support Laurence McKeown’s theory of screw and civil servant rebellion being ‘the’ factor. He also doesn’t support the previous assertion that claims Morrison went into great detail when he visited the hunger strikers. This is key, as what he has written shows that Morrison was very general in his visit, which is what has been the understanding all along:

This was the prisoners’ mindset on 5 July, 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.

So we have confirmation, such that it is, that the hunger strikers themselves were told nothing of substance in regards to Thatcher’s offer. They didn’t know.

Here also, in the next section, Adams sings from the Morrison hymn sheet, going into the song and dance about the ICJP waiting for the NIO to send someone in to explain the offer to the hunger strikers:

“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.”

Previously:

Furthermore, if the NIO had really wanted to do a deal, even one based on the ICJP’s proposals, then all it had to do was send in the guarantor to the hunger strikers. Fr Crilly (ICJP) confirmed this on Thursday on BBC Radio Ulster. Six times the ICJP phoned Allison about the guarantor going in, but none ever appeared and Joe McDonnell died on July 8th, followed by five others. – Danny Morrison, March 5, 2005

However, the British would not verify to the hunger strikers their various ‘offers’. Six times they were asked by the ICJP to explain their position to the prisoners and six times they refused before Joe McDonnell died. – Danny Morrison, 2006

Jim Gibney also picked up that baton in 2006: “On the eve of Joe McDonnell’s death the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace six times asked the Northern Ireland Office to put to the hunger strikers what the NIO was claiming to be offering. Six times it refused. Joe McDonnell died and the ICJP left in disgust.”

And Martin McGuinness had it in last month’s Irish News: “Despite being a vehicle for the British government delivering a compromise and avoiding direct negotiations, even the ICJP’s expectations/demands that the British would send in someone to stand over what London was implying in messages was refused six times in the hours before Joe McDonnell died.”

But we know that is all totally irrelevant, a sleight of hand, a distraction. It is even more insulting coming from Gerry Adams, who according to his own autobiography was on the phone negotiating with the British at the time of Joe McDonnell’s death (See Timeline, 8 July). A reasonable person would think that is the sort of thing Adams should be talking about now, not more bollocks about how the ICJP were kept waiting, as if that leaving out the fact it was while the British conducted their secret negotiations with Adams explains why the it was somehow all the hunger strikers’ fault because they didn’t trust the British and the fact the ICJP were kept waiting six times is some sort of perfect example of why. This lame excuse for cover does not wash, Mr Adams.

Adams then again waxes Morrisonesque, in an impressive double steal:

Ex-prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who never left his cell, 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.”

This refrain of what O’Rawe never did, in comparison to all that Morrison did do, surfaces in a number of places, notably in Greg Harkin’s April 2008 piece: “Richard O’Rawe never met with the hunger strikers in the prison hospital, never met with the ICJP and nor was he dealing with the republican leadership outside the prison.” (Harkin’s piece also has the ‘six times’ refrain: “According to the ICJP, whilst Joe McDonnell was dying, the NIO promised the ICJP that it would send someone into the prison to discuss the offer and six times over this two-day critical period the NIO failed to do so.”)

It also appears in the Sile Darragh letter: “Mr O’Rawe didn’t speak to the hunger strikers, didn’t visit the prison hospital or meet the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace.”

And most recently, Martin McGuinness was joining in the chorus: “I would encourage people to read this book and the documents released in 2009 and compare it to the allegations of those who never visited the hunger strikers in the prison hospital, never dealt with the prison administration and the British government or liaised with the ICJP (which, on its terms, to be fair, was attempting to resolve the situation).”

The 1981 nugget first surfaced in An Phoblacht, 2006, with Danny Morrison producing “secret comms” purporting to show that O’Rawe believed there was no deal. These ‘secret comms’ were actually public press statements and in no way indicative of anything other than the propaganda war being waged at the time.

That President Adams is using them today in his first public statement addressing the issue of the Thatcher hunger strike deal is, frankly, pathetic. He should be better than that, his statement should be made up of more than regurgitated half-truths and bollocksology. This is a statement that, rather than showing the confidence of a man who can stand over the decisions he made at the time and is comfortable accounting for his leadership, is the emotional rantings of a madman, desperately cobbling together discredited statements in the hopes that something sticks. He is so desperate that he goes for the emotional jugular as his conclusion, and hides behind the skirts of the families of the hunger strikers who were so cravenly manipulated at Gulladuff.

Gulladuff was a masterclass in emotional censorship, politicians blatantly using families’ emotions to call for a cover-up of history. And this is President Adams’ conclusion – to once again use the families of the hunger strikers’ for his own gain. “The families blame the British,” is the logic, “Not me! And so should you….if my lies are good enough for them, they are good enough for the rest of you”.

It may buy him some time among the most faithful of his flock, but it won’t cut any ice with history and his place in it.

An Phoblacht

Sinn Fein asked The Irish News for a full right of reply and the newspaper agreed. When the response from Gerry Adams was harshly critical of the Irish News itself, the article was blocked. An Phoblacht carries the article below. We are waiting for the Irish News to do the same.

The Irish News and Garret FitzGerald’s ‘new memory’ about 1981 H-Blocks Hunger Strike deal – By Gerry Adams

TWENTY-EIGHT years ago, ten 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 status (“special category status”) for prisoners which had actually brought relative peace to the jails.

You would not know that from reading this series in The Irish News.

Nor would you know from reading Garret FitzGerald’s newly-found ‘memory’ of 1981 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 prisoners’ 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 Margaret Thatcher he embarked on the most intense round of repression in the period after 1985. Following the Anglo-Irish Agreement 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 in which he served renewed the state broadcasting censorship of Sinn Féin. This denial of information and closing down of dialogue subverted the rights of republicans. It also helped prolong the conflict.

The Irish News played an equally reprehensible role.

As far as I am concerned, this newspaper is ‘a player’ in these attacks on Sinn Féin. Oh, but had The Irish News given a series to the Hunger Strikers when they were alive! Instead, at the same time as The Irish News decided to publish death notices for British state forces, this paper refused to publish a death notice from the Sands family because it carried the words “In memory of our son and brother, IRA Volunteer Bobby Sands MP”.

The men who died on hunger strike from the IRA and INLA were not dupes. 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.

But you would not know that from reading this series in 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 wing shifts, during internal searches and the forced scrubbings.

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, to put pressure on the British internationally and, through the Irish Establishment, including the Dublin Government, the SDLP and sections of the Catholic hierarchy – although you would not know that from reading this series in The Irish News.

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 promised, allegedly liberal regime arrived in the jail, the Hunger Strike was called off by Brendan Hughes to save the life of the late Seán 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 5 July, 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.

Ex-prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who never left his cell, never met the Hunger Strikers in the prison hospital, never met the governor, never met the ICJP or Da nny 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.”

But you would not know that from reading this series in The Irish News.

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 the prisoners’ just demands.”

But you would not know that from reading this series in The Irish News.

Comprehensive archive site on the events of the Hunger Strike: July 1981

Earlier on Slugger:

1981 Hunger Stike: Feint and Retreat

1981 Hunger Strike: Continued Coverage

1981 Hunger Strike: Deconstructing McGuinness

1981 Hunger Strike: A Case to Answer

Gerry Adams and Kieran Doherty, 29 July 1981

Prolonging the Hunger Strike: The Derailing of the ICJP

Updated Timeline and Upcoming Discussion Brian Rowan and Brendan Duddy to speak at Feile

Gulladuff: More Heat Than Light Gerry Adams meets with some of the families of some of the hunger strikers.

Gerry Adams to meet Hunger Strikers Families; Inquiry Sought Families of the hunger strikers call for a public inquiry; Adams arranges meeting

“This is a huge opportunity and I feel there’s a potential here to end this” Bik McFarlane miraculously recovers his memory and completely backtracks on every denial he had made previously, while also making up new, contradictory details never before mentioned

“I will not be attending and will not send a representative” Gerry Adams refuses to attend public meeting about the hunger strikes; extremely revealing discussion in the comments section

1981 Hunger Strike Truth Commission Includes text of British document of July offer and transcript of Willie Gallagher’s speech at the Derry meeting

The Truth is a Heartbreaking Thing Initial summary of Derry meeting

Upcoming Debate: “What is the Truth Behind the Hunger Strike?” Announcement of public meeting and note of Radio Foyle debate between Raymond McCartney and Richard O’Rawe (also discussed on The Pensive Quill: A Shifting Narrative)

When in a hole… Contrasts between Danny Morrison’s position and previously published accounts of the time

What were the hunger strikers told? Questions emerge that cast doubt on what the hunger strikers knew when about what negotiations were being conducted on their behalf by the Adams subcommittee.

“Let’s have the whole truth” – Danny Morrison and Richard O’Rawe statements

Did Thatcher Kill All 10 or Only 4? – contains statements and interview excerpts