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Death fast back to haunt republicans

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 30/12/2011

The past continues to haunt senior republican leaders including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

Classified files released in London add weight to the claims that republican leaders allowed the 1981 hunger strike to continue for political advantage even though the British government was willing to accede to many of the prisoners' demands. The offer was made after four hunger strikers had died in the Maze prison. Another six were to die after the offer was rebuffed.

The claim that a number of the hunger strikers died needlessly was first made by former IRA prisoner Richard O'Rawe who in 2001 revealed the rejection of the government's offer by an IRA Army Council committee. He was ostracised by mainstream republicans for expressing this view. But papers from Brendan Duddy, the Londonderry businessman who acted as an intermediary between the government and republicans, and now these London files appear to substantiate his claim.

It is clear from the files that the government became more and more concerned about the impact of the hunger strike by republican prisoners refusing to be classified as criminals and being subjected to the same prison discipline as ordinary prisoners. But it also seems that republicans were more alert to the potential benefits arising from the death fast. The election of Bobby Sands as an MP on his death bed provided a huge political fillip for republicans as well as acting as a recruiting agent for the IRA. It gave the campaign of violence renewed vigour and prolonged the Troubles.

Meanwhile, in America, statements from a prominent republican, Dolours Price, given as part of an oral history project with Boston College allege that Gerry Adams played a pivotal role in the death of Jean McConville, perhaps the most famous of the Disappeared - people murdered by the IRA and secretly buried. Mr Adams has denied any involvement but this drip feed of accusation is bound to eventually tarnish his image. History, it seems, is never really consigned to the past.

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