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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.