Today The Pensive Quill carries an article by guest writer, blanketman Thomas 'Dixie' Elliott on the topic of the 1981 hunger strike
Blanketmen: No Agenda Only The Truth by Thomas 'Dixie' Elliott
I feel I must respond to Donncha Mac Niallais who in his recent letter to the Derry Journal ‘defied’ any prisoner who was in the blocks at the time to deny that if a shouted conversation between Bik McFarlane and Richard O’Rawe happened it wouldn’t have been repeated at mass and on visits. Well I in turn wish to put my recollection on record just as I already did in the Gasyard debate.
I was in that wing with Bik and Richard at the time and I had previously shared a cell with Bobby Sands in the wing. As anyone who was on the protest would know I also shared a cell in H4 with Tom McElwee and we remained close friends. Tom gave me his rosary beads before he went on Hunger Strike and I still have them today. As I said at the Gasyard debate I did not hear the acceptance conversation between Bik and Richard as I was at the other end of the wing and I wasn’t going to lie about it. What I do remember is that there was a rumour at the time that the Brits had made an offer and Joe McDonnell wouldn’t have to die. I spoke to at least two other former blanket men from Derry recently and they too remembered the rumours. However rumours don’t prove anything neither does Donncha’s claims that he spoke to someone from Bik’s wing and he said that person didn’t mention an alternative offer direct from the British. How could that person know that the IRA were negotiating with the British Government if the ICJP didn’t know until told by Gerry Adams on the 6th July?
But lets get to the facts……When Richard O’Rawe first made these claims he stood alone against everything that Sinn Fein threw at him. At the Gasyard debate people were pushing to get in the doors. On the panel besides Liam Clarke and Brendan Duddy there were Willie Gallagher, Tommy Gorman, and Richard O’Rawe himself, all former Blanket Men; and someone who was actually on that Hunger Strike, Gerard Hodgins. A document was produced that was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act which outlined what the British were offering: four of the five demands. Brendan Duddy the Mountain Climber confirmed that this was indeed the offer he passed to the IRA and which they rejected. Gerard 'Cleeky' Clarke then came forward and admitted that he was in a cell beside Bik and Richard and that he had heard the acceptance conversation between the two, which was always denied by Bik. The whole Gasyard debate was filmed and is online if anyone wants to view it for themselves.
From the outset Bik said there never was an offer what-so-ever, then no concrete offers and he also said that the conversation between himself and Richard never took place. He actually said, “Not only did I not tell him. That conversation didn’t take place.” However Cleeky Clarke stood up and stated that it did indeed take place and Brendan Duddy confirmed that he took an offer containing four of the five demands to the IRA. Therefore this left a question mark over the claims of no concrete offers etc. Now after all this we now have Bik coming out and admitting that a conversation did take place and his comment was, “And I said to Richard (O’Rawe) this is amazing, this is a huge opportunity and I feel there’s a potential here (in the Mountain Climber process) to end this.”
This leaves us with the question, why weren’t the Hunger Strikers themselves fully informed of these developments? In a comm to Gerry Adams [which is reproduced in the book Ten Men Dead] dated 7.7.81, Bik said that he told the Hunger Strikers that parts of their offer was vague and the only concrete aspect seemed to be clothes and in no way was this good enough to satisfy us. Surely four of the fives demands amounted to a lot more than a vague offer and contained a lot more than just clothes? Not only that, the INLA members who were on Hunger Strike and their representatives stated they were never made aware of any offers from the British that contained what amounted to four demands. Gerard Hodgins, who was also on Hunger Strike and a member of the IRA, also publicly stated this. As well as all this, Bik told the Hunger Strikers on Tuesday 28.7.81 that “I could have accepted half measures before Joe died, but I didn’t then and wouldn’t now.” What he failed to say was that these half measures contained four of the five demands, as I’ve already pointed out.
The Hunger Strike eventually fell apart after the families started taking the men off the Hunger Strikes when they lapsed into unconsciousness, yet three days after it ended James Prior implemented four of the five demands.
During an RTE Hunger Strike documentary which was aired in 2006, Gerry Adams stated that he was unaware of the Mountain Climber initiative until after the Hunger Strikes had ended; surely as everyone who was part of the Prison protest or who even read the comms from Ten Men Dead would know this is untrue?
The whole argument has now gone from the Prison Leadership accepting what was on offer on July 5th to its rejection from outside and just why was it rejected. The families are entitled to these answers as are the friends and comrades of the men who died. What we don’t need is the usual attempt to smear those who ask these questions as ‘cheerleaders of an anti-republican journalist’, nor do we need Bloody Sunday brought into the debate. Those asking these questions are former Blanket Men with no agenda only the truth. I myself am not a member of any group nor party and I am now firmly opposed to the use of Armed Struggle as I saw too many give their lives for what was effectively on the table in 1973. We need closure in this and I feel that both sides need to come together in a debate open to all so that answers can be obtained.