Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Adams rejected chance of early end to hunger strike

Claims that the Sinn Fein president could have stopped the 1981 fast in July are vindicated by newly-released papers, says Carrie Twomey

The controversial claim that Gerry Adams and his committee controlling the 1981 hunger strike from outside the Maze prison refused a substantial offer from then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - an offer accepted by the prisoners - has been proven true.

The allegation is substantiated in the notes of Derry businessman Brendan Duddy. Duddy, the 'Mountain Climber', was the messenger between the British Government and IRA during the hunger strike.

Duddy previously confirmed he delivered an offer from Thatcher's Government to Martin McGuinness. Along with Danny Morrison and Jim Gibney, McGuinness was a member of Adams's clandestine hunger strike committee.

The content of that offer was the same as was revealed in FOI documents obtained by the Belfast Telegraph's political editor, Liam Clarke. These documents show most of the five demands prisoners were hunger striking for would be met.

In his books Blanketmen and Afterlives, Richard O'Rawe, PRO of the IRA prisoners during the hunger strikes, wrote of the acceptance of that offer by himself and Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane (in charge of the hunger strike inside the prison).

This claim was vehemently denied by Morrison and Sinn Fein. O'Rawe faced vilification, threats and intimidation for revealing this information, as it meant six of the 10 hunger strikers need not have died had the offer been accepted.

Duddy's notes of talks between Thatcher and Adams over the weekend of July 4-5, 1981 conclusively prove O'Rawe's account was true.

After a conciliatory statement from the prisoners, Thatcher sent Duddy details of an offer with the potential to end the hunger strike.

Danny Morrison went into the prison to convey this offer to McFarlane, who discussed it with O'Rawe. McFarlane then sent word out that they would accept it.

Written in code on the morning of July 6, Duddy's notes reflect this significant movement.

Adams and his committee were the 'Shop Stewards', the prisoners were the 'Union Membership' and the Government was 'Management'.

The message Adams wanted conveyed to Thatcher was: "The S.S. fully accept the posal [sic] - as stated by the Union MemBship [sic]". In other words, the prisoners had endorsed the proposal.

The rest of the message added conditions to the acceptance that gave the Adams committee, not the prisoners, a veto over the deal.

Crucially, the message added, if the British published the offer without Adams having prior sight, and agreeing to it, he would publicly 'disapprove' it.

In spite of the prisoners' acceptance of the offer negotiations continued over the next two days, with Joe McDonnell close death.

The demands the prisoners were seeking via hunger strike had effectively been granted. Before implementing the agreed proposal, the British were waiting for word from Adams that the prisoners would end their hunger strike. Once that word was given, the proposal would be read to the prisoners by the NIO and released to the Press.

It was not to be. On July 7, the Adams' committee sought to alter the 'tone' of the agreement, not the content. The substance had already been met. Adams and his team were concerned with presentation.

Negotiations continued throughout the night. At 4.50am on July 8, while Adams was in mid-discussion with the British, Joe McDonnell became the fifth hunger striker to die. Five more were to die before the hunger strike's end in October 1981.

All the proposals made by Margaret Thatcher in early July were implemented immediately after the hunger strike ended.

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