Five Crucial Points
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.