Belfast Telegraph

Files 'demolish' claim IRA spurned hunger strike deal

By Brian Rowan

Some of the secret Government papers published yesterday under the 30-year rule appear to demolish claims that the lives of six of the 1981 hunger strikers could have been saved if the IRA had accepted a British 'deal'.

For years the republican leadership has been locked in a war of words with former prisoner Richard O'Rawe, author of the controversial book Blanketmen.

In it he claims that in July 1981 the jail leadership, of which he was a part, accepted a British deal to end the hunger strike, but were overruled by the IRA 'army council' on the outside.

Four men, including Bobby Sands, had already died.

Six more would follow.

The secret British Cabinet papers dating back to the period shine a light on important telephone contacts over the weekend of July 4-6.

Businessman and former Policing Board member Brendan Duddy, who had the codename 'Soon', was the key contact in a chain linking the Government and the republican leadership.

His identity and role were not publicly known at the time.

The papers reveal negotiations to get the Belfast republican Danny Morrison into the Maze Prison.

"The foundation of his (O'Rawe's) allegation, upon which his book stands or falls, is what exactly happened on Sunday, July 5 when I visited the hunger strikers in the prison hospital and, separately, 'Bik' McFarlane," Morrison said.

"In his book he claims that I brought a message in from the British Government, a message that amounted to a 'deal', that I confided the details of this 'deal' to Bik McFarlane, who upon his return to his cell that Sunday night wrote down the details and sent it to O'Rawe," Morrison continued.

"However, with the publication of British papers from 1981 the British position which emerges is the position which I and Sinn Fein have been stating all along.

"At the time of my visit to the prison on the afternoon of Sunday July 5, 1981, the British Government had yet to even formulate its position, never mind proposing a 'deal'."

Morrison - a senior figure in the republican leadership at the time - points to a paragraph in the just-published Government papers.

Brendan Duddy is speaking to a British contact, and advises that Martin McGuinness has just arrived.

The papers read: "He (Duddy) said that time was of the essence and asked what the current HMG position was. We explained that it was important before drafting any document for consideration by ministers that we should possess the Provisionals' view.

"'Soon' (Duddy's codename) then undertook to seek clear views on their position, which would be relayed to us later after discussion in the light of Morrison's visit."

The paragraph seems to suggest that whatever possibilities there were, there was no formal British position when Morrison visited the jail.

"This statement demolishes Richard O'Rawe's claims of a deal, claims that have caused unnecessary suffering to the families of the last six hunger strikers to die," the veteran Belfast republican told this newspaper.

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