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Living To Tell The Tale

January 28, 2012 by  

Today, 28th January, I bought a lot of books on one of my regular raids on the War on Want & Oxfam bookshops on Botanic Avenue; and in NO ALIBIS shop got a hardback copy of ‘Chandler – Later Novels & Other Writings’.

So, for £8.75 in the War on Want shop I got ‘Living To Tell The Tale’ by Gabriel García Márquez, the first volume of his autobiography; ‘The Golden Notebook’ by Doris Lessing; and ‘The Finkler Question’ by Howard Jacobson, who won the Man Booker Prize with this novel in 2010.

And, for just over £11 in the Oxfam shop (which has a great selection of biography and antiquarian books), I got ‘Novels and Novelists’ (large hardback) edited by Martin Seymour-Smith, and worth it for the photographs and illustrations alone; ‘Closely Observed Trains’ by Bohumil Hrabal; ‘A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers’ by Xiaolu Guo (because I loved the title and laughed at the first page I opened at random); and ‘Clair de Lune’, a novel about Claude Debussy by Pierre la Mure, author of the 1950 novel ‘Moulin Rouge’.

And now I am in clover!

27th January.  Interviewed on Skype by Peter Breheny on the subject of prison writings.

18th January. Finished ‘The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments’ by George Johnson. Apart from Chapter 1 about Galileo measuring the acceleration of a ball down a smooth, inclined plane [!], it was very disappointing.

15th January. Phoned into Radio Ulster’s ‘Sunday Sequence’ whilst Anthony McIntyre was being interviewed about the Boston College archive fiasco. On the programme he admitted to William Crawley that he had not sought independent legal advice about the security of the interviews he was carrying out with former IRA Volunteers.

12th January. Wrote a piece rebutting Richard O’Rawe’s claims about the 1981 hunger strike which was published in today’s Andersonstown News.

11th January. Attended the official opening of the newly refurbished Falls Library. In the afternoon I attended the funeral of veteran republican, Brigid Hannon.

8th January. Participated in panel discussion, Radio Ulster’s ‘Sunday Sequence’, on the subjects of the Boston College archive and how we deal with the past. Other guests included security commentator Brian Rowan, former Ombudsman Dame Nuala O’Loan and, on the line, former loyalist prisoner William ‘Plum’ Smith. Summing up at the end I said something along the lines that the writing of History “is the continuation of war by other means.”

6th January. Interviewed on the Pat Kenny show (RTE) along with Dr Eamon Phoenix and Eamonn Mallie about the state papers from 1981.

Wrote a short piece for the News Letter on ‘The Iron Lady’:

Meryl Streep is Margaret Thatcher’s doppelganger in this film, to such an extent that she arouses deep-seated feelings of hostility towards what is really only a character, so powerful and persuasive is the performance. Equally, I suppose, for one ignorant of the real Thatcher, the opening scenes of the film with its close-up examination of the cruelty and tragedy of dementia can be quite moving. I can understand why her family would consider this aspect an invasion of their mother’s privacy and vulnerability, and why David Cameron would much prefer the film to have been more about her ‘political’ success – and perhaps more a hagiography?

 The film is about three days in the life of a frail, isolated and fairly lonely old woman with dementia, who was once one of the most powerful leaders in the West, and who looks back on her life in fragments, the fame and the glory, the Falklands victory, but not the infamy and the inglorious, or the suffering that her policies inflicted on people in Ireland and mainly the working-class in Britain.

To say that Thatcher was controversial would be an understatement. The way she is depicted in the film mistreating her own ministers, humiliating Geoffrey Howe to such an extent that reportedly he was reduced to tears, is telling of the way she would treat those beyond her circle, beyond her experience, beyond her class. Ironically, she herself emerged from the lowly, lower middle-class, but she had plenty of attitude and ambition, took on the Tory grandees to overcome their resistance to a female leading the party, only later to be ditched by the men in grey suits when she became an electoral liability.

Her policies in Ireland, her obduracy and intransigence, was, of course, responsible for many deaths (and not just the ten hunger strikers). She was PM during the shoot-to-kill operations, was PM when Pat Finucane was assassinated and when collusion was at its height (to judge by the limited extracts Sir John Stevens was permitted to publish).

For me, the most enjoyable parts of the film, were, surprisingly, those scenes involving Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent) playing the knave, the jester, and sometimes rebuking her for ignoring the home. If that was the ‘real’ him, it was a side we rarely witnessed.

5th January. Attended Movie House, Dublin Road, at invitation of BBC television to review, along with unionist commentator Alex Kane, the biopic on Thatcher, ‘The Iron Lady’.




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Thatcher’s Defender

January 12, 2012 by  

A feature I wrote for the Andersonstown News about the recently released 1981 state papers was published today (12th January). In it I disprove Richard O’Rawe’s allegations that the leadership of the Movement allowed six prisoners to die in order to get Owen Carron elected. Here is the piece:

In writing this article I am conscious of the suffering already experienced by the families of the hunger strikers and I regret the distress they are being put through again, despite their appeal three years ago to Richard O’Rawe to stop hurting them.

Rather than continually changing my mind, as alleged by Richard O’Rawe, I have known the truth for thirty years: Mrs Thatcher and her intransigence were responsible for the deaths of ten hunger strikers.

O’Rawe has tried to change that fact. He presented his argument in his 2005 book, ‘Blanketmen’, which he “wrote for the relatives” (but forgot to tell them): they could read its serialisation in the ‘Sunday Times’ for what he said. When writing the book he also forgot to ask Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane or me about our recollection of events on the 5th and 6th July 1981.

Richard O’Rawe was the PRO in the H-Blocks and was part of a collective leadership (he has since elevated himself to ‘second-in-command’) who contributed to strategy. Bik was the O/C.

On 4th July 1981 the Sinn Féin committee which advised the prisoners received a message that the British side had contacted the intermediary, Brendan Duddy. All that Duddy could say was that the contact (believed to be attached to the Foreign Office) was talking about giving the prisoners their own clothes and parcels, letters and visits, if the hunger strike ended. The London contact agreed on Sunday 5th July that I could meet the hunger strikers in the prison hospital. We considered this the opening of negotiations.

What I have just stated is exactly what I told the hunger strikers at the meeting and, separately, Bik. Laurence McKeown who was at the meeting and survived the hunger strike agrees that that is what I said.

In exchanges between Duddy and London, while I was in the jail, the British had also agreed that we would have sight of their eventual offer to point out any omissions or problems.

Just after 6pm Deputy Governor John Pepper ordered me from the jail. We realised that there were divisions between the NIO and the Foreign Office. Eamonn Mallie later spoke to David Gilliland (NIO) who told him that there would have been mass resignations if there was a deal with the hunger strikers.

On Monday at 11.30pm the telephoned British offer did not address the issues of work or lost remission. We sent a message back, as had been agreed we could, about these omissions. The return call said that there would be no changes and that they were closing down the contact.

Now, Richard O’Rawe’s account is that on Sunday Bik told him that I brought a deal into the jail from the British and “that the underlying substance of our demands was being conceded to us.”

Of course, the problem Richard now has is that the recently-released government records of the phone calls to Duddy make clear that on Sunday afternoon (while I am in the jail) the British have not yet even formulated their offer!

It reads: “We [the British] explained that it was important, before drafting any document for consultation by ministers, that we should possess the Provisionals’ views. Soon [Brendan Duddy] then undertook to seek clear views on their position, which would be relayed to us later after discussion in the light of Morrison’s visit.”

Richard’s book then claims that the following day, Monday afternoon, the IRA’s army council sent Bik a letter rejecting the Brit offer as unacceptable and that “Bik and I were shattered.”

No such letter could have been written that Monday afternoon because Duddy (see his handwritten notes, above) has noted the time that the offer actually arrived – 11.30pm, Monday night, and shortly afterwards he phoned it through to us. Furthermore, a letter written by Bik at 11pm on Monday night (published in ‘Ten Men Dead’), comprehensively discussing that day’s events makes no mention of such an IRA order.

Richard’s book then claims that on the 5th/6th July, 1981, the leadership took a decision to allow men to die so that it could get Owen Carron elected in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. But the writ for the by-election was not moved and passed by the Tories until the 28th July.

I have relied on documents, letters and notes recording events as they happened. The statements that Richard wrote in July 1981, published in An Phoblact and ‘Ten Men Dead’, also support my position – that the British killed our hunger strikers.

Twenty five years after these events Richard wrote a sensational book.

Having been roundly proved wrong on every count, he now relies on bamboozling readers by taking out-of-context mine or Bik’s remarks, by moving dates around, in the hope that confusion will reign.

There is no confusion.

Margaret Thatcher and her government killed the hunger strikers.


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State Papers

January 3, 2012 by  

On 30th December I wrote a short piece for the Irish News re the state papers.

Did a number of interviews re the release of state papers under the thirty-year rule with specific reference to the I981 hunger strike. Was interviewed by BBC Radio Foyle, RTE television, the Irish Independent, the Irish Daily Star, Radio Ulster’s ‘Evening Extra’ and RTE radio’s ‘Drivetime’.

Finished ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ by William Maxwell, a taut little novel, not un-reminiscent of the atmosphere depicted in ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird’.

29th December. Interviewed by Barney Rowan for Saturday’s Belfast Telegraph on revelations contained in the state papers from 1981 concerning the hunger strike. The transcripts of telephone calls between Brendan Duddy of the ‘back channel’ and London show that, contrary to Richard O’Rawe’s allegations, the British hadn’t even formulated their position when I visited the hunger strikers in the prison hospital on Sunday, July 5th.

28th December. Finished ‘Conversations in Bolzano’ by Sándor Márai, a fictionalised account of the encounter between Casanova, after his escape from the Doges Palace, and a former love rival. He goes in for longeurs, monologues which challenge the suspension of disbelief to breaking point. He used the same style in ‘Embers’, which I was going to say, from memory, was tiresome but I see from my review last February that I actually praise it. Funny thing – memory!

26th December. Finished my review of Tommy McKearney’s book, ‘The Provisional IRA’, for An Phoblacht which I was supposed to have written months ago!

22nd December. Finished ‘A Sad Affair’ by Wolfgang Koeppen, his first novel. Just okay.

15th December. Finished ‘Soul Mountain’. Full of stories and insights into village life, and interesting pieces about the topography of parts of China, but disjointed and not as enjoyable as, for example, ‘The Wanderer’ by Knut Hamsun.