Five Crucial Points

In the conversations I have had with Richard O’Rawe on the alternative view of the 1981 hunger strike proffered in his book Blanketmen I have insisted to him that there are no knock out blows delivered in the type of battle he had entered into. Attrition rather than blitzkrieg would come to characterise his advance. He would face many setbacks, would be let down by those he expected a lot more from, and would at all times feel the breath of hostility hot on the back of his neck. Breakthroughs are always agonisingly slow in coming and when they do can seem anti-climatic. I suggested to him that he would find it a point by point slog first to retain his reputation and then to establish his narrative in the face of withering assault. His achievements would be incremental, his critics nasty and brutish. The hunger strike narrative was a coveted asset from which the fingers of its self-defined custodians would only be prised away one at a time; and with each one removed it would be free to try and gouge him in the eyes. He would be up against pugilists wholly unfamiliar with Queensbury Rules. But at the end of it all if he possessed the necessary stamina and was correct he only had to stay in the ring and the breaks would come his way.

While it might have taken four years it has come to pass. The Derry debate in the Gasyard Centre seems to have been a tipping point. And the narrative has firmly tipped the way of O’Rawe. Since that discussion almost a fortnight ago I have spoken with a number of people from different perspectives and political backgrounds and there is acknowledgement of a definite shift. They all accept that O’Rawe’s credibility as a witness in the eye of the storm, who testified to the turbulence he saw, is now beyond reproach, it being no longer plausible to contend that he manufactured his account. While few of them would go as far as to ascribe the malign or sinister motive, favoured by some, to those republican figures who overruled the prison leadership’s acceptance of the offer from the British to end the hunger strike, they agree that something happened which has yet to convincingly explained.

Despite claims to the contrary we have known for at least four years of the existence of evidence from the wing in which O’Rawe was housed during the hunger strike that would support his claims. Like all evidence it was inconclusive until tested by cross examination. But it at least shaded things the way of O’Rawe. So I was not at all surprised when the former blanket prisoner Gerard Clarke made the contribution in Derry that he did. He claims to have heard the conversation between O’Rawe and Brendan McFarlane, the jail’s IRA leader, on July 5 1981 in which they agreed to accept the British offer. This is nothing new from Gerard Clarke; merely the first time he has said it public. He volunteered it to O’Rawe two to three years ago in a shopping centre but O’Rawe never felt free to cite it until the man himself came forward. Moreover, during his Radio Foyle debate with Raymond McCartney days before the Gasyard event O’Rawe foresaw imminent egg on the face of the Derry MLA over the latter’s allegations that not one person on the wing heard the exchange between O’Rawe and McFarlane. It was a pregnant moment that burst to fruition in the Gasyard.

Important as Gerard Clarke’s intervention was, even more crucial was the contribution made by Brendan Duddy, the conduit between the British government and the IRA leadership in 1981. He not only confirmed that an offer had indeed been made by the British, the contents of which the journalist Liam Clarke produced on the night in documented form, he also claimed that he was told by his contact in the IRA leadership that the offer was not acceptable. The leadership asked for more concessions, not for a British official to be sent in to stand over what was already in the document. O’Rawe’s opponents often insist that a refusal by the British to send in a government representative was the ultimate deal breaker without which no deal could be nailed down.

The five crucial points to emerge from Derry are: documented evidence of a British offer; witness evidence that the document in question was the one handed to his interlocutor in the republican leadership; witness evidence that the offer was refused by the same interlocutor; witness evidence that the stumbling block was not the absence of a British guarantor but not enough on the table; witness evidence that Richard O’Rawe’s account of the conversation between himself and Brendan McFarlane in which they agreed to accept the British offer was correct. The aggregated weight of evidence from Brendan Duddy, Gerard Clarke and Liam Clarke provide a linear account wholly consistent with O’Rawe and seriously at variance with those who would rather Blanketmen had never seen the light of day. Only a rogue intellect could continue to claim that O’Rawe is a falsifier. Too much is falling into place for him.

Against this critics of the O’Rawe perspective are being sorely tested and increasingly found to be wanting. They now sound more raucous than reassured. No new revelation supports their case, not Blelloch, not anything.


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  2. Has the document which Liam Clarke produced on the night been placed in the public arena yet, by PA I mean on the internet of in published form.

  3. Kate, Bik's new statement has been discussed on Slugger O'Toole:

    “This is a huge opportunity and I feel there’s a potential here to end this”

    Basic points is he's completely changed his tune from total denial to conceding something was there. He also contradicts Danny Morrison (who has been building a get-out clause pointing towards the outside leadership taking the decision to reject the offer because they didn't trust the Brits) by claiming it was the hunger strikers themselves who rejected the offer. Morrison has accepted that the prison leadership had approved the offer and has moved towards justifying ignoring that and the Adams group taking it upon themselves to reject it for the prisoners. As Anthony observes, the actual rejection from the Adams group was 'more was needed', which, coupled with the British notes of the same referring to 'tone not content', does not support the idea that all that was needed was a British official to go into the hospital; rather that they were still wrangling over wording.

    What Bik's statement really shows is that those defending the party line are all over the place; they are contradicting themselves, each other and their own historical records.

    What may have once been something rather simply and understandably explained given the context of the time has been made into something much larger and worse from the moment the relevant comms were removed and the cover-up began. Now the cover-up has gone too far and taken on a life of its own.

    I'd read Bik's statement as moving the SF position closer to O'Rawe's, in order then to defend the rejection of the offer. I'd also say the timing of the statement, election day, was a deliberate burial.

    Mick, the text of the document is available in this thread on Slugger: 1981 Hunger Strike Truth Commission


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  5. I wasn't being rude Kate. I'm sure there are alot of people out there who think that this would never happen in a western society but this is Northern Ireland. It's a murky place!

  6. I have always believed Richard O'Rawe's account of the events and am disgusted by the fact that Sinn Fein and the Republican Leadership chose to lie and set about discrediting Richard O'Rawe.

    But I also find myself wondering, if the truth had been told to the Hunger Strikers would they really have agreed to deal. I would never presume to know what any of the Hunger Strikers felt or thought, and perhaps Mackers you would be a better person to speak to this, but based on the failure of the first Hunger Strike, I would have thought that the Hunger Strikers would have been very sceptical of any deal put in front of them.

    Reading through the document provided by Liam Clarke, I can find several instances that would have required clarification based on the promises that lead to the end of the first Hunger Strike and the goals set out by the second.

    However what is not in dispute, is that if there was a deal on the on the table it should have been presented to the Hunger Strikers and they should have been the ones to deceide if it should have been accepted or not. The leadership had no right to take that decision away from them.

  7. ''However what is not in dispute, is that if there was a deal on the on the table it should have been presented to the Hunger Strikers and they should have been the ones to deceide if it should have been accepted or not. The leadership had no right to take that decision away from them.''

    It's a bit worse than that Kathy and if you go to the link Carrie provided you will see that. Not only did the 'leadership' take that decision away from hunger strikers they also lied to them. From an IRSP point elements of this leadership have claimed that the INLA hunger strikers and their representatives were made aware of the mountain climber initative and the details of that. This too has been conclusively proved to be a lie in a long list of lies.

    Kate, just like you, we too did not believe Richard's claims when they first surfaced nor did we want to believe them to be quite frank. It was very difficult to even contemplate that this could be true. That all changed when the IRSP were given compelling evidence in 2006 which supported the claims and ever since even more compelling evidence, as discussed at the Gasyard, has surfaced. Richard's position has never deviated and only grew stronger with the passage of time and of course new emerging evidence. Whereas PSF's position/version has been all but completely demolished.

    If PSF had have claimed, at the beginning of this controversy, that Richard was indeed telling the truth but x,y and z happened and that's why the initiative collapsed then there would have been no controversy. It was the denials, contradictions and lies from PSF which fuelled this controversy and fuelled speculation, whether rightly or wrongly, that there was something more sinister in the cover-up.

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  9. Kathy, I think there is always a temptation to write the past from the perspective of the present and transfer emotions we have now to another place and time. So, I am very cautious about that. The British offer looks enough from today's point of view but then there was a lot of emotion and steel like determination amongst the prisoners. In a recent conversation with somebody at the heart of the thing he made the point that what we got at the end of the hunger strike was no more than was on offer to end it. That we took it he points out was because we had no choice; the hunger strike as a weapon had been rendered redundant by the intervention of the families. He felt that had we been stronger we would not have accepted what we got as a means to end the strike.

    As against that we have the evidence of others at the heart of things who felt had they known about the offer it would have been an acceptable deal.

    So, there are different takes on it.

    What should always be stressed is that any suspicions about Brit motives in the second strike were not based on what happened at the end of the first. The Brits actually gave nothing to renege on. There was terrible anger in certain parts of the blocks on the night of the 18th of December not at the Brits but at the decision of the strikers to end. That is why Bobby wrote out on the same evening saying he would begin a strike on January 1st.

    I think it is important to get things as accurate as we can. The sensitivity of the issue means that a scatter gun approach would be very wrong. Getting it exactly right is not easy. The passage of time is a strange medium. What I am in no doubt about is that Richard O’Rawe is providing a very honest account and many of his critics are not. His story has remained consistent while theirs has shifted. The tilt is all his way.

  10. ''The full hunger strike story is beginning to dawn, whether any of us try to put our hands over our ears or not.''

    Indeed it is Kate and as Carrie pointed out the debate is now moving to the rejection of the prisoner's acceptance by the 'kitchen cabinet.' PSF are preparing the ground work by claiming what was needed was a british official to stand over the offer by going in to the hunger strikers. They may even attempt to cite the 'reneged deal' during the first strike. However, the evidence will again blow those lies away.

    Will we ever get the truth behind the motivation behind the rejection is the big question? It may not have been as sinister as some of the speculation suggests but how can we believe anything these people say so we may never know.

  11. Willie G, this is the problem - they have told us so much over the years which was completely untrue that they have become instinctively unbelievable. I would like to believe them but would be daft to take them at face value. Everything they say has to be validated by some other evidence.

  12. A very well worded article of course some may argue different giving the subject matter and the well established sides on the issue.
    I at first did not believe anyone would betray the prisoners which in turn would not be an objective opinion but one based on old loyalty.
    As the debate continues it becomes clear the only way to read or hear the matter is without bias.
    Reading the article there is no personal or emotional strings attached which in turn removes the subjective and remains objective.
    It would be simple to lose the rag over the matter as it is highly charged with emotional opinions.
    There is only one way to follow the issue and that is to objectively hear both sides without bias.
    It is clearly one of those three sided issues, the two main sides and the side people choose to believe. Considering there are more questions than answers the argument either kills the messenger or the message coincidental or crafted? Opinions are helpful to establish support though tend to be counter productive as we engage in speculation.
    The longer the debate drags on the further from the issue people become, lost in a maze of who is right and who is wrong?
    The issue is one of truth or in this case what is the truth and those who deserve to know the truth are the families of the hunger strikers and the prisoners and to a lesser degree republican history itself.
    The facts seem well established and with changing answers and a general lack of interest of the leadership to address the issue responsibly one can only assume that politics will again win over truth.

    As I was writing this an article was posted that makes more sense as I wanted to finish with the line that a serious inquiry is needed.

    Today The Pensive Quill carries an article by guest writer, Gerard Hodgins on the topic of the 1981 hunger strike

    Time For An Inquiry By Gerard Hodgins

    This article is well worth reading.

  13. Tain Bo, I can only put it out as I see it at any given moment and the sentiment expressed in it could change if there is evidence that comes along to show it to be off the mark. Speculation will always be present in the debate - it is how people think things through. But speculation is about placing dots on the map. Quite often we see dots and forget that they are not joined up and speculation then becomes passed off as fact. There is a need to minimise that as much as possible otherwise the accuracy of what we end up with will be dubious. And of crucial importance in the discussion is that if anything comes up in the O’Rawe perspective that would exonerate his critics or prove Richard wrong that must be put out in the public domain; otherwise it is not truth being sought, just something to beat someone else over the head with. I firmly believe O’Rawe would put out this type of information if he were to come across it.

  14. AM said...
    Tain Bo, I can only put it out as I see it at any given moment and the sentiment expressed in it could change if there is evidence that comes along to show it to be off the mark.
    Addressing my comment on “speculation” I should have been clearer regarding my thought and should state it was based on speaking with a small number of people. For their own reasons tend to “seesaw” on the issue even though it is well documented and if we follow the map all roads from the H Blocks lead directly to West Belfast.
    I apologize to anyone who may have found my comment out of order as I am in no manner an authority on the subject. I read all the articles I can find along with all the comments (all sides) as the issue is an ongoing learning experience.
    I read from a de-constructionist point of view looking at what is presented in a factual manner that is not to dismiss any person’s opinion.
    I just see the issue becoming bogged down which is typical in politics using the Machiavellian principals of separate divide and control.
    Until those who held control at the time present some definitive proof to settle or even out the debate it becomes a “what if” issue, much like a dog chasing its own tail as the owner looks on laughing knowing the dog will tire.
    To date the facts are established and perhaps it is time we look at the Hunger Strikers and the men and women prisoners with a human face, those who engaged in the prison struggle for basic human dignity and the right to establish a “truth” that they were not criminals and endured a living hell to defend their belief.
    It would be appropriate for the leadership to remove the political implications and dignify the prison debate with facts and truth.
    Again I apologize on my “speculation” comment and Thank you Anthony for posting my comment and putting it in perspective. I fair better at reading rather than commenting

  15. Tain Bo, your post was fine and I had no criticisms to make of it. It was just an opportunity to raise some points of my own. I doubt if you offended anyone with your comment on speculation. I know what you mean - just as I know what Sean Mor means when he says he wishes the debate had never seen the light of day. Point is, it is here - both the debate and speculation - and there is no putting the genie back into the bottle.

  16. I was not sure Anthony, though I have no problem in admitting I am wrong. I think I was just past hearing the "he said, she said" and after reading my own post I could see the word speculation was not explained based on my use.
    Considering there are those better politically versed than myself one word can indeed change the course of a point.
    There is a great difference between opinion and speculation.
    I just did not want to sound like I was dismissing other opinions.