Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Plea to Hume over hunger strike

Masked gunmen fire a volley of shots beside hunger striker Bobby Sands coffin, at Milltown Cemetery.
Former SDLP leader John Hume was urged to act as an intermediary during the Maze hunger strikes, State papers reveal
A young boy plays against a wall in North Belfast on the eve of the 1994 IRA ceasefire. Picture by Crispin Rodwell

One of the top IRA prisoners in the Maze during the hunger strike wanted John Hume to act as an intermediary to end the protest, Irish State papers have revealed.

A priest urged the then SDLP leader to act as go-between and liaise with the British Government and inmates on an offer for new jail rules after nine men had died.

Fr McEldowney, who had unrestricted access to the hunger strikers, said the proposal had come from "a prominent member of the Provisionals in the H-Blocks".

Brendan "Bik" McFarlane was the officer commanding the IRA prisoners and the most senior republican inmate.

According to a memo to taoiseach Garret FitzGerald dated August 19 1981 and released under the 30 year rule, Mr Hume told Fr McEldowney he would not take any action unless specifically authorised by McFarlane. He asked the priest to put this to the IRA chief.

The then taoiseach, who had already warned Margaret Thatcher that her attitude to the hunger strike was divisive, urged Mr Hume to be the one to approach the British Government with the plan for new jail rules.

The memo was written the day before the tenth death, 27-year-old INLA member Michael Devine from Derry. It would be about six weeks before the strike ended on October 3.

According to documents from files in the taoiseach's office, the MP for Foyle told the Dublin Government that Gerry Adams had "sought a conversation with him" on or around May 14 after the death of Francis Hughes, 27, from Bellaghy, south Derry, the second to die.

The Sinn Fein chief told him IRA prisoners would call off the hunger strike if allowed to wear their own clothes and enjoy some free association.

After meeting Margaret Thatcher in London, Mr Hume phoned then taoiseach Charles Haughey's office to relay what he had told the British prime minister. He had harsh words for Mrs Thatcher, warning her that the Provisional IRA "held centre stage" and that she did not understand the meaning of Irish nationalism.

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