Withstanding the Regime
During our pre-publication discussions I cautioned O’Rawe that if he was right his book would prompt a certain reaction. On one occasion I suggested he consider withholding the final product on the mistaken grounds that he might not prove robust enough to face the onslaught that would come his way and told him as much. I felt there was a moral obligation to ensure that he considered the widest range of options because of the consequences. I often joked with him that I could do the solitary, was setting no example for him, and that he was under no obligation to swell the ranks of the ostracised and keep me company. While the party apparatchiks and its military goondas might have been somewhat slow in getting out of the traps when others including myself first began publicly expressing misgivings about what they were telling us regarding the potential of the peace process, by 2005 they had got their bullying act together and would hardly spare O’Rawe their wrath. He was indifferent to it all. I seemed to have forgotten he was a Spartan and was not about to hide behind his shield once the poisoned arrows began raining down on him. He would come out and fight. Once made I welcomed his decision, feeling it was the right thing for him to do.
I had seen it all before and sure enough it came pretty much as expected. It is always the way with them when they are challenged, and particularly so when the challenge has some merit to it. It is the perennial give-away and invariably produces the very outcome their response seeks to avert; the observer infers from the response more so than the challenge that the challenger must have a case. Richard O’Rawe, the former blanket man, once the authentic voice of protesting prisoners, was now to have the blanket ripped from his waist and stuffed in his mouth; it no longer a symbol of potent defiance but a gag to suffocate and produce meekness. He had to be demonised and cut adrift from the social sustenance of the Provisional community; a man who penned ‘scurrilous’ nonsense, who should have called his book ‘on another man’s hunger strike’, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Margaret Thatcher, a liar, a money grabber, a self-promoter, a frustrated entrepreneur seeking another enterprise, an unpardonable creature who should hang his head in shame, even a ‘traitor’, long before Martin McGuinness immortalised the term by hurling it at people who carried out killings without his approval. The sort of things that will be said about you, when you voice concerns, by the staffers of any institution whose sense of power, prestige and privilege are best served by silence in the face of their dubious authority.
A recent example is to be found in the Catholic Church where the senior clerics labelled people much the same as O’Rawe was labelled because a bit of public exposure was not to their liking. So, in O’Rawe’s case the slander campaign was cranked up while the whisper weasels and graffiti vandals set forth to savage his reputation. Meanwhile the muscle flexed itself and filled the doorways of those who might at one time have eaten from the tree of forbidden knowledge and who just might say something in his favour. That would never be allowed to cross the porch and enter the pubic arena.
In spite of all the attempts to generate the power of shame against him O’Rawe simply refused to submit to it. At no time was he prepared to accept the order to sit at the back of the bus. As per usual for those who resist whatever is hurled their way, endurance brings validation. And so it has been for the author of Blanketmen.
Long, arduous and acrimonious the struggle to establish a counter-narrative to the ‘regime of truth’ has survived the regime attempts to demolish it. If the facts of the matter still need to be established definitively Richard O’Rawe’s integrity and reputation do not. On that he has prevailed. For long enough it had been like watching a game of tennis with each point contested as the ball zipped back and forth across the net. After the Derry event there is a sense of the umpire having called game, set and match to O’Rawe. No judgement has been passed on the motives of those who are said to have overruled the prisoners’ decision to accept the British offer; just the fact that they did. All O’Rawe ever needed to prove, really.