No answer as to why this needless sacrifice happened

Guest writer Tony O'Hara with a piece on the hunger strikes in which he fills in some of the gaps in our knowledge of the event. This had earlier appeared as a comment but it is a contribution of such value that it merits being constituted as a stand alone article.

On the comment in response to a piece by Martin Galvin that 'there could not be any deals as a result of negotiations unless the INLAs representative had taken part in them', let me expand on this. Firstly I was never interviewed for the Deadly Divisions book so the following will be new.

I was 2nd in command of the Republician Socialist POWs on the Blanket Protest. John Nixon was the O/C. As far back as late 1978 we came to a conclusion that it would take a Hunger Strike to win a return to Political Status, with me and him starting it.

Miriam Daly and a lot of family members were organising as the Relatives Action Committee.The leadership of SF has no interest in this and just paid it lip service. They would not come on board until 1979 when they seen a huge crowd of 5000 outside Dublin's GPO.When Bobby came on the protest he started organising a writing campaign. Then the Dark came on and we escalated the protest in 1978 by wrecking the cells and after a few weeks beginning the no wash/no slop out phase of the protest: all in a bid to avoid a Hunger Strike as we knew it was the last resort.

When the Hunger Strike was planned with 7 men, we wanted the INLA to have 2 places.The Dark negotiated us to having one. We, The INLA POW's, wanted the 5 demands but also an extra demand - our own wing. And for that we may have stayed on Hunger Strike if feasible.We also wanted a Rep in all negotiations.

When my brother Patsy and Mickey Devine joined the 1st Hunger Strike in Dec along with the other prisoners, I took over as O/C. I didn't like the thought that my good friend and Comrade Nixy would have to stay on Hunger Strike for a bit longer to achieve our autonomy that our own wing would have brought us, and would not have put his life in Jeopardy if he neared death over our own win.

When Bobby was allowed to visit the Hunger Strikers and others, I was refused by the Regime. So really the only contact we had was from outside.When the Hunger Strike ended without anything being won, we were planning a second Hunger Strike on our own.

When Bobby visited my brother Patsy and was told of this he told Patsy 'If you go on this alone, you will be forever on your own in this Prison.' So a joint 2nd Hunger Strike was being planned. Patsy wanted to follow Bobby a week later. but Francis kicked up such a fuss that we agreed to him going on 2nd. Patsy followed on the 3rd week. To our astonishment Raymond was put on the same day to minimise the impact of the 1st INLA joining the protest.Whoever in the IRA leadership decided that should hang their head in shame as it resulted in Patsy and Ray dying within hours of each other on the same day.To this day I have never got a answer as to why this needless sacrifice happened.

I was asked to resume as O/C of the INLA at this time but declined out of fear that I didn't know how I would respond in negotiations (If any) if my younger brother neared death. I would have been the weak link in the chain. And the Brits would have exploited that to the fullest.

And now looking back after all these years, losing a brother and 9 other Comrades, and still awaiting for the then leaders of SF to come out and admit that they let 6 men died.

I still tell people that for those heartbreaking months between March and September 1981 we did something that united us all in a common struggle And it was sad to see that dissolve when the Hunger Strike ended.


  1. Tony powerful account of that tragic time a cara,as for waiting for the leadership of quisling $inn £ein to admit that they allowed those men to die,it will be a long wait,they cannot afford to tell the truth now,it would open up so many other questions on what exactly went on in the succeeding years,more and more people are becoming aware of the events surrounding that period and they are coming to the conclusion based on the evidence at hand that indeed six men were sacrificed for political gain,the INLA will have to live with the fact that their volunteers were considered as nothing more than pawns in quisling $inn £eins political aspirations,republicans aligned to the PRM have to swallow the bitter pill that these men(Adams and his kitchen cabinet) disregarded the rules and regulations of the "Green Book"to which many people lost their lives to. they began ripping the pages out during the hunger strikes and finished with throwing the cover into the hole that the decommissioned weapons were dumped into. such treachery as has been mentioned here on TPQ before was only ever equaled by the events at Ballyseedy, Tony the truth is at last out there at long last ,hopefully justice is on a following wind...

  2. Tony,

    this is very informative and injects new knowledge into the field.


    when Richard's narrative first surfaced in book form and survived the opening salvo from the keepers of the fame (forget about the flame, that burned out a long time ago with them) the IRSP moved to engage Richard and asked him some very probing and penetrating questions. They were far from convinced. I guess like many of us they did not want to believe it. But once he presented his case and they delved further into it they knew he was telling the truth. And they have been very helpful in getting this matter raised.

    Overall, the IRSP did what the membership of SF should be doing were it not for the roll over syndrome - they took the bull by the horns and opted to find out the truth about the fate of not only their own volunteers but also of the IRA volunteers who were sent into the valley of death without knowing what lay at either side.

    In my view the IRSP deserve praise for what they have done.

  3. Tony-

    As you now admit yourself-the INLA wanted a 6th demand with thoughts of going on even if the 5 demands were achieved and no matter what Sinn Fein agreed or did not agree to-the INLA were the soldiers of their own destiny-if you have nothing to hide then you should make a request
    for all the INLA comms between the INLA leadership on the outside to the inside to be made public-and vice-versa-let everyone see all the truth-

  4. michaelhenry, the INLA comms are our Ace in the hole. We're keeping them for the Inquiry and hopefully we'll get a look at the mountain climber comms your lot kept hidden from Beresford and as you say 'let everyone see the truth'-though I suspect you and your lot don't know the meaning of truth.

  5. michaelhenry,

    the INLA comms are our Ace in the hole which we're keeping for the Inquiry when hopefully we'll see the mountain climber comms your lot kept hidden from Beresford and the we can all "let everyone see the truth". Though I suspect you and your ilk don't know what truth really is but we'll keep pointing it out to you all the same.

  6. michaelhenry have you told Adams or Morrison about these comms yet? As a SF councilor I feel it is your duty to inform them that you've made a startling breakthrough.

    You seem convinced that you have made the all important breakthrough yet you keep it from the Kitchen Cabinet.

  7. Anthony could you even fathom a quisling $inner having the balls to ask the leadership for the truth in this matter,I mean they couldnt even be truthful to the on the runs,another party member is now going down thanks to the inept and useless negotiating skills of that leadership.pathetic egotistical wasters.commandant Kelly said that the brits through the NIO issued those men with a piece of paper saying noone wanted them for any PIRA actions,not worth a northern bank note with Gerry Itwasntme,s coupon on it I,m afraid. looks like the brits are doing to the masters what the masters did to their comrades.!

  8. Marty,

    I think Kelly is telling the truth regarding what the Brits promised them. It is like the promise the Brits made to the family of Pat Finucane. They are simply reneging on them. They are covered for the reneging too by the two year jail stint allowed for by the GFA. So the Brits are really telling the Shinners 'just bend right over and take this big red, white and blue phallus right up your fundament.'

  9. Willie G-

    " the INLA comms are our Ace in the hole."-

    Then they Will make a difference in your good opinion-

    " We're keeping them for the Inquiry "

    Or yous could release one or two of the comms to give people a taste for them-they could maybe force a Inquiry that you say you want-prove it then-

    Its starting to sound like-You show me yours-i'll show you mine around here-

    I would like to see the comm made public which the INLA dropped the 6th demand that Tony talked about-was it during the Hunger-Strike or just after Vol Devine died-the truth is out there-

  10. Its a pity that "our" poison dwarf the director of public prosecutions Barrabroy Mc grory would not be as enthusiastic as his English counterpart in his efforts to bring crown force members before the courts for crimes committed including murder, there is no doubt that the leadership of the PRM have bought a pig in a poke with the gfa, and now the pigs are giving the lads a quare poke

  11. "I would like to see......"

    Really? Be careful if you take Dixie's advice as you might get disappeared for being stupid.

  12. Tony:

    There is a lot in your great piece , thank you for putting it on TPQ.
    It's best to hear things from the horses mouth (so to speak). You were there , you tell it as it was.

    IRSP went out of there way to get evidence regarding Richards Book , they painstakingly went through everything and came to the logical conclusion that Richard was telling the truth, for that they have my full appreciation. As for the 6th demand , to me , it's neither here nor there if it was before the tenth Hunger Striker died or not.

    Willie G:

    I doubt if we will ever see any of the hidden Comms from PSF , unless , Knowing what lying pieces of garbage the leadership was , and , still is , they might make some Comms up and put into circulation. we don't have to go to far to see some of them , Like Biks pristine Comms he published regarding the dispute between himself and Richard.

    I'm wondering if MH is really a SF councilor, could it be he reads and blogs more to keep up with the jones's.
    Dixie recons he knows him by another name maybe he can shed some light on my thoughts , because his grammar is surely not that of a councilor.

    Thanks again Tony for that insight.

  13. I am not sure were I read or heard the following, that during his hunger strike Bobby Sands met with the British to discuss an agreement outside of the discussions that were taking place with the Provo Kitchen Cabinet. What I do remember is Danny Morrison saying that he knew Bobby and would not believe that had happened,
    Maybe some of the more informed people on the TPQ could help me here

  14. itsjustmacker said...

    "I'm wondering if MH is really a SF councilor..."

    This is from another forum cara...


    Posted 20 May 2013 - 11:25 PM

    "So some are looking for a full Republican inquiry where everything will be made public except the INLA comms of 1981 will not be made public-"

    Michael McIvor first come to my attention in an interview he gave to the Irish News away back in 2006. I couldn't believe a councilor was talking such childish nonsense which smacked of 'My daddy could beat your Daddy a fight' in regards to PIRA and the various armed groups today. In fact he is still pushing the same nonsense to this day.

    I later saw him posting as Michael- mcivor on where he kept repeating the same nonsense over and frigging over again.

    Of course using the name Michaelhenry he began to post that and other repetitive stuff on Slugger etc.

    The IN interview can be seen on the link below...

    At the time Slugger did a piece on it which can be seen here....

  15. Boyne Rover I can't say I've ever heard that about Bobby myself.

  16. Dixie:

    Thanks for those links , He is some joke , I would say it's back to secondary school for MH.

    We killed more Brits than you lot. lol , how pathetic is that for a so called councilor . Childish to say the least.

  17. The British seem to have a history of reneging on agreements.

    My thoughts on the matter are: There was no way Sinn Fein, at the time, would have known the political path would have taken off so spectacularly after the Hunger Strikes. It is easy for our judgement to be clouded by hindsight.

    If we assume there was a deal and it was rejected was it for:

    lack of substance; or

    to gain political ground.

    If the offer was substantial enough and the IRA leadership could see the future and see the political project taking off if they sacrificed six of the Hungerstrikers would they do so?

    I think not as, even if we assume they were callous enough, they can't see the future.

    They can't even see that no more than six would die since it was planned to continue but for Father Faul's intervention. Would they be callous enough to make the decision to allow possibly dozens to die?

    Nobody, no matter how callous, at that time could think any political power would be worth that risk particularly in a Unionist dominated statelet like Northern Ireland.

  18. Itsjustmacker
    Michael Henry's boss better not hear him making those statements. The big man said murder is murder is murder. Wonder does that still stand if someone else does it for you?

  19. Simon.

    I think it's now beyond doubt that there was an offer which contained the most important of the 5 Demands, the right to wear our own clothing.

    Clearly Bik and Ricky saw that offer and accepted it. Why would Ricky claim such a thing if it were untrue? In fact others on the wing backed him up having heard them both say it was enough to end it.

    Adams knocked it back. Why knock something back that was acceptable to the prisoners? Could we say he was gambling with Joe's life for a few more concessions and Joe lost out to the cost of his life?

    We could, only the negotiations continued after Joe died. In fact they were still continuing according to Brendan Duddy's notes until 2-25 am on July 20th...

    Then Duddy said: 'The British are asking for their plan to be accepted. 'A' won't move [...] I am so tired I can't save K Doherty's life. It is so tragic...'

    12 days after Joe's death Adams is still holding out for more while men are dying. Not only that, Simon they are dying not knowing about the Mountain Climber and the 5th July offer. They were never given the chance to decide if that offer was enough to end it.

    How do we know Simon? We know because Laurence McKeown told us in his book, Nor Meekly Serve my time that on July 29th 1981 Adams visited the Hunger Strikers and Kieran Doherty's parents and told them....

    "that there was no deal on the table from the Brits, no movement of any sort.."

    Look at the proof - he lied to dying men because the Brits had been moving since July 5th right up to 20th July at least.

    What do I think? I believe they got a taste for politics after Bobby's victory and those of Keiran and Paddy Agnew down South. According to the Thatcher Papers the Brits clearly knew this at the time.

    However they needed to overcome a Movement that was primarily opposed to contesting elections and there was one more by-election looming in August. That for the Seat of Bobby Sands.

    They knew had the Hunger Strikes ended beforehand that the SDLP would have stood against Carron and the seat would clearly have been lost and this would have dampened any enthusiasm for taking such a route in the future.

    As happened, the Hunger Strike continued, Carron won the seat on the same day that Micky Devine died and...

    three days later Sinn Fein announced (Clearly without consulting the Movement) that they would be standing in all future elections in the North.

    In fact, given that they announced this three days after Micky's death they were using the emotion surrounding Micky's death as a smokescreen to sneak through their announcement.

  20. Dixie,

    as much as I might be tolerant of Michaelhenry and enjoy him I found myself cringing when reading that interview. It just invites ridicule. But at least we get what it says on the tin. He is the same there as he is here.

  21. Having read the facts of how the unfortunate hunger strike unfolded it appears to me what comes from the Richards version is a very human tragedy, were as listening to and reading the Sinn Fein/ IRA version it smacks more of a cover up.
    Another story which hit the headlines this week was the arrest of a man in England John Downey, a prominent Sinn Fein member and a supporter of the “peace process “whatever that is, according to the police this man was part off the unit that bombed Hyde Park, the Sinn Fein party jumped right in with condemnations of wrongful arrest based on some deal they had thrashed out with the British at Weston Park. John Downey was given a letter by the NIO in 2007, what it contains I know not but what now seems very clear is that it is as worthless as the paper it’s written on. What beggars believe is that the people who agreed to accept this were the very same guys who recommended to men on their death beds not to trust the brits, but when they got the slightest sniff of power then were now willing to accept the British and their good faith. Perhaps if they had of trusted the British in 81 men would not have needlessly died

  22. Dixie-

    "Why would Ricky claim such a thing if it were untrue?"

    The absence of any contemporaneous accounts and the 25 year gap leaves too much chance for inaccuracy on both sides of the argument. I don't believe Richard is lying when he described what happened. His evaluation of why it happened doesn't make sense to me.

    Also, there is no detail on the offer available at the time. There have been different versions released, the original draft and Thatcher's amended version. There may be a different final version. That seems lost to history.

    A lot is open to speculation. There are many possibilities about why it was rejected. I am sure someone knows why and I agree that everyone particularly family members need to know the truth, in detail and with accompanying evidence.

    "three days later Sinn Fein announced (Clearly without consulting the Movement) that they would be standing in all future elections in the North."

    There was an Ard Feis where this went to a vote.

    Also, at previous Ard Feis, in 1978 and 1980 standing in partitionist elections in the North was debated. At Bodenstown, in June 1979 Gerry Adams said Republicanism had to build a "strong political alternative to so-called constitutional politics", that Republicanism had to be "updated to suit today's conditions".

    Electoral politics was being debated within Republicanism and in his book "Sinn Fein 1905-2005" Kevin Rafter explains that "the 1981 local elections presented a scenario that if Sinn Fein did not step forward to represent the Republican constituency, the vacuum would be filled by others."

    Did the Sinn Fein leaders sacrifice Hunger Strikers' lives for votes? I don't think so.

    Does there need to be an open and engaged truth process around this debate? Absolutely. In fact this is an area which perhaps needs a truth recovery process most as it is shrouded in mystery. But where there is mystery and disagreement and bad feeling there doesn't necessarily have to be malevolence.

  23. Simon,

    The British seem to have a history of reneging on agreements.

    I think recent days show that with the London arrest. But there is nothing to show that they reneged on the first hunger strike.

    The Committee would not need to have known the fine detail of the roadmap that the republican struggle would end up following. In fact some people on that committee were so foresight deficient that their role could never have been more than that of water carriers. But the Brit papers from the time indicate that Brit thinking was being in part informed by Brit knowledge of a pro ceasefire tendency emerging within the leadership. My own reading of the history leads me to feel we can be certain that the tendency was canvassing for an unarmed strategy by 1982 at the spine of which were ideas not far removed from the key tenets of the peace process. All that those who sabotaged an end to the hunger strike needed to know was that political strength was a necessity and that dead hunger strikers was a plausible way of achieving it.

    If we assume there was a deal and it was rejected ...

    We are safely at the point where we no longer need to assume. There was an offer and it was rejected by the Committee having initially been accepted by the prisoners. The evidence on this is overwhelming.

    Would they be callous enough to make the decision to allow possibly dozens to die?

    I think there are few moral inhibitors at play in their thinking that would prevent them from seeing life lost in pursuit of their ambition. The contempt they have treated the grassroots with for decades would easily allow a callous attitude to develop.

    The absence of any contemporaneous accounts and the 25 year gap leaves too much chance for inaccuracy on both sides of the argument.

    Not at all. O’Rawe has never flinched with his argument, has been backed up at every juncture and by contemporaneous accounts. How do we explain his demonstrable consistency against Morrison’s equally demonstrable lying?

    I don't believe Richard is lying when he described what happened.

    But you can hardly say the same of Morrison.

    O’Rawe’s evaluation of why it happened doesn't make sense to me.

    I think there are grounds there for a different interpretation. O’Rawe has stated his position on this is interpretation. In my view had Morrison not rushed his fences in an opening gambit to destroy O’Rawe in 2005, the issue would have petered out. The media would have maintained a silence for the sake of the peace process. Morrison has been the Achilles heel from day one. I am amazed that they let him near it given the sensitivity of the issue and their knowledge of it.

    Also, there is no detail on the offer available at the time.

    This seems the weakest link in your argument.

    There are many possibilities about why it was rejected.

    At the same time, in this statement you acknowledge that it was rejected.

    There was an Ard Feis where this went to a vote.

    After the imprimatur had been sealed across the intent.

    Did the Sinn Fein leaders sacrifice Hunger Strikers' lives for votes? I don't think so.

    Yet for many it seems so easy to accept that they would.

    But where there is mystery and disagreement and bad feeling there doesn't necessarily have to be malevolence.

    Where they kill republican prisoners through one booby trap or another at either Ballyseedy or the H Blocks Prison Hospital, they will forever and a day face malevolence. They were not a bit slow in showing plenty of it to O’Rawe.

  24. AM- "the tendency was canvassing for an unarmed strategy by 1982". My thinking is that the debate on ending abstentionism was the sign of a nascent unarmed strategy.

    "The contempt they have treated the grassroots with for decades would easily allow a callous attitude to develop." I agree that often the grassroots weren't allowed their say but I wouldn't say this led the attitude to being anywhere close to callous.

    "'Also, there is no detail on the offer available at the time.' This seems the weakest link in your argument." What I meant was: Thatcher's amendments made the original leaked draft weaker. Who knows if the final offer was weaker still. Where it gets foggy is on the part of prisoners' leadership acceptance and outside's refusal. There could be a myriad of possible reasons for this. Was it too weak for the outside? Were they hoping to extract more rights for the prisoners as they saw the British on the ropes? There are too many "unknown unknowns" to use a much maligned Donald Romsfeld phrase. That is why there needs to be some explantions.

    "you acknowledge that it was rejected." I can't acknowledge anything at all- I can only speculate as I don't know for a fact that anything did or didn't happen. I can only evaluate what I am told or what I read. Judging human nature I can't see anybody sacrificing their own men's lives for something ethereal, for something like future electoral success the extent of which they necessarily can't know.

    "Yet for many it seems so easy to accept that they would." The many who accept tend to be more likely to be against Sinn Fein today and the opposite is true of those who don't. This is where it falls on both sides as no-one seems to be able to bridge the gap.

    I agree there was malevolence at Ballyseedy but the prisoners weren't killed by their own side. Gerry Adams is no Kevin O'Higgins although that doesn't say much as nobody is like Kevin O'Higgins. ;)

  25. Simon,

    The decision to end abstentionism was indeed a sign of an unarmed strategy. But it was not the germination of the idea but the outworking of an idea developed much earlier, maybe even before the hunger strike but one which had certainly been formulated by the 1982 assembly elections.

    Volunteers were treated with such contempt they were sent out on operations in pursuit of a cause already abandoned by the leadership. They died and went to jail as a result. If that does not amount to callous, I am not sure how we can define callous in any agreed sense.

    Where it gets foggy is on the part of prisoners' leadership acceptance and outside's refusal.

    Again you accept the suggestion that the offer was refused. What right had the outside leadership to refuse an offer that the prisoners had accepted? Even if we accept that they acted in good faith (a defence Morrison has destroyed) they are left in a position of having lied about it ever since and in doing so have made themselves look suspect. We can speculate about the unknowns but there are many knowns that are easily addressed.

    I can't acknowledge anything

    But you keep referring to the leadership rejection.

    I can't see anybody sacrificing their own men's lives for something ethereal

    People take lives frequently. And they are only your ‘own men’ when a concept of comradeship exists. That would seem not to apply to the committee men. I would never regard Morrison as someone who behaved in a comradely fashion on July 5, 1981.

    The many who accept tend to be more likely to be against Sinn Fein today and the opposite is true of those who don't.

    Talk to the journalists, academics or observers who claim O’Rawe has been vindicated but who did not feel so at the start.

    The killers of the hunger strikers were never on the side of the prisoners. So in that sense the Committee are no different from the killers of Ballyseedy. The H Block killers were not yet Staters at the time of the killings but before too long they would be.

    What would be a difference between Adams and O’Higgins that would make us sit up and take notice? Many of us feel both are war criminals. Both were Staters who turned on republicans. O’Higgins insofar as we are aware did not cover for and traffic a man he believed to be a child rapist. And O’Higgins did not stay around long enough for us to be able to say, as we can of Adams, that he was driven by an unprincipled power lust.

    I fully understand that you are sympathetic to Sinn Fein and in challenging your opinion I am not trying to put you down for that sympathy. I just don’t feel your argument adds up. But you have every right to make it to us and challenge ours where you feel it has failings. All we can hope for is to call it right more often than we call it wrong.

  26. Boyne Rover, is this what you were referring to?

    A Drogheda guy said to me when he learned of this that it was a clear indication that Bobby suspected the leadership might be out to shaft him. I would not be surprised. I think there is a bit more to come out about this than we have in the public domain at present.

  27. Thanks AM for sending me on this link which shows us more interesting information
    The response from the physics in the Sinn Fein party was Bobby would never have done such a thing, I am sure that as Bobby lay on his death bed he would have said the same about them as they handed in guns and semtex and also go about their daily business of administering British Rule
    I believe like others that Bobby while being a very honourable republican would have had doubts about the Kitchen Cabinet and their handling of the discussions with the British , of course it very believable that he did seek discussions to bring some form of a deal , Bobby had obliviously no problem giving up his young life for others but he was the leader of men who because of a decision taken by himself and others were likely to die, so as a true leader he lead from the front in the hope that his sacrifice would be enough to broker a deal , at the same time he still felt that surely I can do more to break the deadlock hence the reason for trying to open discussions with the British.
    What happens to some people while reading about the Hunger Strikes is they become bogged down in the rights and wrongs and forget this whole sorry episode in our history is of a very sad human tragedy

  28. 6-6-81 bik sends comm asking for Paddy Quinn to be put back from 2nd to 4nd in escalation and Laurence McKeown swap places as Paddy Quinn was getting tests and x-rays on kidneys due to issue that caused his father's death and hospitalised his brother and which bik had given him permission to get done.This was refused by outside leadership, question is why?Thankfully his kidneys were fine but imagine the suffering he would have went through while on hunger strike if kidneys were not fine the pain would have been unbearable I would imagine.In there version of the truth book ten men dead they then write it was Paddy's idea not to have tests done but page 246 the comm confirms he having both tests and x-rays.Could it be that whoever over ruled bik wanted Paddy Quinn to really suffer terribly.