O'Rawe's Attacks Untrue

From Daily Ireland, 9 March 2005


Having quickly run out of argument, having found his account rebuffed by former hunger strikers and blanket men, Richard O’Rawe has resorted to personal, untrue and hurtful attacks. His claim that in 1981 the army council of the IRA turned down a deal from ‘Mountain Climber’ (a British representative) which could have saved six hunger strikers lives in order to gain a sympathy vote for Owen Carron in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election has been demolished.

Few believe his plea that he wrote the book for the families of the hunger strikers (but forgot to tell them). Instead of conceding that his memory might be false, or that being only partly privy to the talks in 1981 led him to misinterpret events, he persists with his myths because his book and its sales are his primary concern.

The fact that during all the propaganda wars successive British governments have never in the intervening 24 years claimed the IRA squandered a deal in 1981 speaks for itself. It would certainly have been in British interests to level such a charge – after all, the allegation is of such a magnitude that were it true it had the potential for stopping the struggle in its tracks.

In this paper last Saturday Richard wrote: “Danny [Morrison] has accused me of being oblivious to the feelings of the families. Let me say that’s rich.

“This man went into a meeting with the families on July 28th with the Mountain Climber offer in his back pocket and yet he didn’t think the families should be made aware of the offer. Why did he do that?”

On July 10th at Joe McDonnell’s funeral I collapsed in Milltown Cemetery. I was taken into hospital in Dublin with hepatitis, which is an infectious disease, and kept in an isolation ward at Cherry Orchard hospital in Ballyfermott. That’s where I was on July 28th. In hospital I was humbled to receive a message from the hunger strikers asking about my condition. A month after Joe McDonnell’s death I returned to the North to speak at the funeral of IRA hunger striker Tom McElwee in Bellaghy. My point is that Richard’s memory isn’t as sharp as he claims.

Interestingly, in his ‘Daily Ireland’ right of reply Richard also had the opportunity to rebut criticism of him the day before from Laurence McKeown but chose not to. Laurence was one of those on hunger strike at the time in 1981 when Richard alleges that the IRA refused ‘a deal’ to end the fast. Richard seems incapable of grasping the distinction between an offer and a confirmed deal. Yes, offers were made and discussed and clarified but when we tried to tie the British government down on a mechanism for ensuring they could not renege (as they had at the end of the first hunger strike) they procrastinated. The hunger strikers – as Laurence McKeown made clear the other day - “wanted definite confirmation, not vague promises of ‘regime change’.”

Richard was a blanket man and a PRO for the prisoners in 1981. He was not a negotiator and was never in the prison hospital with the hunger strikers, though he elevates his importance in his book. He was a good PRO and upon his release from prison he worked for a year in the Republican Press Centre in Belfast at the time when I was Sinn Fein’s Director of Publicity. So, we saw each other at briefings every day for a year until he decided to go into business for himself.

Since then there have been a dozen occasions when we’ve discussed politics late into the night. During and after the hunger strike, and in all the time I have known and spoken to him, Richard never made this allegation.

He says that in 1991 he privately criticised the role of the IRA Army Council in the hunger strike but was told that he could be shot and so he kept quiet. He explains that because of the new atmosphere following the ceasefire and that because he believes there will be no return to armed struggle he now feels free to say these things. Even if for the sake of argument we accept that Richard felt threatened in 1991 that doesn’t explain why in the interests of accuracy he would not now have consulted Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, his former OC, whom throughout the book he has recruited to his position, other hunger strikers who survived, Gerry Adams or myself. Bik, like Laurence McKeown, repudiates Richard’s allegation.

Richard deceived many people into believing that he was writing a book about growing up in West Belfast. When the book was published last week any merit it had for former comrades, as one blanket man’s grim experience of jail, was destroyed by his implicit insult to the intelligence of the hunger strikers and his scurrilous attack on the IRA leadership and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

As a result of his attacks Richard has been feted by the ‘Sunday Times’ and lauded by revisionists, anti-republican journalists and the usual suspects. Had his book been called ‘Blanketmen – Thatcher kills hunger strikers’ I think we can guess at how little media coverage he could have expected.

Richard’s book has helped no one but the enemies of the struggle. Not the hunger strikers’ families, not the blanket men, not the republican cause, not his friends and comrades, and, certainly, not himself. What Richard O’Rawe has written is repugnant but it has exposed him as a minor figure against the inviolable memory of the hunger strikers, their sacrifices and their greatness.

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison