Ending a False Narrative

... only to end up ourselves beneath the blade of a Committee of Public Safety or some Dictator of the Proletariat … Nicos Poulantzas

When Bobby Sands died on hunger strike 32 years ago today, for a short time he pushed republicanism into a moral stratosphere from where it could gaze down on its critics, detractors and opponents. It was a commanding height, attained courtesy of interminable suffering, that was never going to be held for long despite the enormous selflessness of the Sands action.  The exigencies of armed conflict, the persistently ebbing support for armed struggle, the relentless attrition and unremitting war fatigue all combined to paint armed republicanism into a corner where strategic versatility was heavily circumscribed. Yet for all of that Bobby Sands and the nine comrades who followed in his wake left a footprint which has never been erased from public consciousness.

Before Richard O’Rawe came along and began his lonely endeavour of chipping away at the block lie, a narrative was set in stone that helped keep the public misinformed. In addition to mediator Brendan Duddy two groups of people knew how fallacious the narrative was and for different reasons these two bodies had little incentive to be forthcoming about the events of 1981. The Committee for Prisoner Safety that ran the hunger strike, to the exclusion of the prisoners on strike, banked all the capital that accrued from ten men dead, using it to promote the political career of its leader to whose wagon it was firmly hitched.  It wasn’t going to rain on its own parade. Until lately the British maintained radio silence although it is inconceivable that they did not put their wealth of  knowledge to major strategic use even though the public might have to wait a while yet to discover the finer details of whatever nefarious transaction occurred there.

The false narrative depicted the British Prime Minister of the day as the Iron Lady who would neither yield nor turn, her intransigence tactile rather than tactical:  despite their best efforts the hunger strikers had failed to break the woman and in the end her malevolence won the physical battle while their victory was a moral one

Since the 2005 publication of Blanketmen, clarity has displaced the manufactured clouds that shielded the false narrative. The Committee has fulminated and fumed against O’Rawe but was possessed of neither the punching power to take him out nor the ring craft to evade his hand speed. Now the ring is his to discourse freely from without any fear of serious challenge. As the late Springhill republican Harriet Kelly was fond of saying, there is a hundred ways to lie but only one way to tell the truth. It has been the one way with O’Rawe since his counter narrative emerged. Assailed by a barrage of lies from the managers of mendacity it has withstood everything hurled at it.

Margaret Thatcher outlived Bobby Sands by almost 32 years. Yet there is a certain irony in that she of all people, the bane of the hunger strikers, has posthumously acknowledged their victory though the release of her archive. She has restored to them the victory the Committee robbed them of. The lady who was not for turning was forced to turn by the moral force of the hunger strikers combined to British state strategic acuity which was even at that juncture moulding a leadership that in the language of diplomacy it could do business with or, in the language of counter insurgency, bring to heel and co-opt.

What is galling about documentation that has been making its way into the public domain is that the British interlocutors dealing with the Committee were ‘appalled’ that the Committee men would continue to refuse an offer that would have ended the hunger strike and saved six lives. The prisoners had already accepted the offer and transmitted this to the Committee which overruled them and sabotaged the transmission of their acceptance to the British, thus ensuring only one outcome: coffins on the streets. The Committee had objectives other than saving prisoners’ lives on its agenda.

Richard O’Rawe, comrade of the hunger strikers, foil of the Committee of slayers, no longer requires vindication. His case is proven beyond all doubt. The Committee cannot even take shelter behind the Scottish legal verdict of 'not proven'. Exposed in its disgusting betrayal of great men its own sorry lot could never hope to match, it can claim its rightful spot in the Hall of Shame.

It is a place where Bobby Sands will never be afforded space.


  1. Thank you for this brilliant essay, Mackers. You say here what really needed to be said today. You write with great command and aplomb and I appreciate it very, very much. Well done.

  2. Thoughtful post Anthony and once again turns the spotlight on the actions of Gerry Itwasntme and his cronies in what is in my opinion the worst example of treachery in any episode in our sad history, Richard O Rawe has been vindicated and this is clearly seen and heard by the silence of the supporters of the master and his kitchen cabinet,had this parcel of rouges been before a military court and given the evidence at hand ,then there would be no doubt of the verdict, and the verdict ,firing squad at dawn would be a lot less painful and by far a more humane demise than that which they inflicted on their own comrades.how right you are a cara that by their ignominious actions they shall remembered in the hall of shame.

  3. Geraldine and Marty,

    much appreciated.

  4. As usual Mackers you say it better than any of us could.

    Truly this so called 'peace process' is soaked in blood.

  5. Anthony.

    After reading that, I can state that it came from your heart.

    The last line got to me though.


    I would also say the same for the other nine hunger Strikers , there Blood is still warm in Republicans , yet so so cold in the SF leadership who continue to this day to make money out of TEN BRAVE MEN.

  6. There must have been more than those 4 who knew what was afoot? I don't for one minute believe that they operated in isolation - that's not possible. There are others out there supping the soup with this lot who are every bit as guilty.