Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Adams starved hunger strikers of the truth

Did the Sinn Fein president prolong the 1981 campaign to improve the party's electoral prospects? Richard O'Rawe outlines the case for the prosecution

In a recent column in the Belfast Telegraph, Eamonn McCann said of my 1981 hunger strike book, Afterlives: "O'Rawe - perhaps like Ed Moloney - stretches his argument too far in suggesting that Gerry Adams personally drove the decision to keep the (hunger) strike going in order to build Sinn Fein's support. Personalising the debate around the Sinn Fein president does little to advance understanding of the factors in play."

This is a reference, I assume, to the suspicion the hunger strike had been kept going to ensure that the republican candidate, Owen Carron, would be elected to replace Bobby Sands as the MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone (an important step in Sinn Fein's journey into electoral politics).

At the heart of the matter was a British Government offer to settle the hunger strike which had been made through secret contacts just weeks before the by-election for the Fermanagh-South Tyrone seat.

The fact that the offer was spurned determined the outcome of that election, because the on-going hunger strike motivated angry nationalist voters in the constituency to turn out for Carron and he won the seat.

Just weeks later, Sinn Fein adopted the 'Armalite and ballot-box' strategy.

Unfortunately, Eamonn does not say on what basis he reached the conclusion that it was going "too far" to suggest Gerry Adams personally drove the decision to keep the hunger strike going until the by-election.

But, clearly, he thinks I was too hard on the Sinn Fein president.

Was I? What did I write in Afterlives about Gerry Adams' part in the hunger strike?

That Gerry Adams - and not Martin McGuinness, Danny Morrison or anyone else - had been tasked by the IRA Army Council to set up and manage a committee of senior republicans to help out with publicity and to advise the prisoners on a variety of matters.

That he was told by the army council that the prisoners were to be the final decision makers in regards to any approaches or offers from the British Government - yet he ignored that edict.

That he had been the main negotiator with the British Government when, on July 4 to July 5 1981, their representatives made an offer to settle the hunger strike.

That when the prisoners' leadership accepted that offer, Adams wrote a communique to the prison leadership which effectively overruled their acceptance of the British offer (my then-cellmate confirmed the rejection of this offer "by the outside leadership" in an interview with Eamonn McCann which was published in the Belfast Telegraph on February 27, 2008).

That either in his role as the main negotiator, or as the senior republican on the committee, Adams did not tell the army council about this contact with the British Government.

That he did not tell the army council the British had made an offer considered to be good enough by the prisoners to end the hunger strike.

That he led the army council - and the republican community at large - to believe the opposite of what was actually the case, claiming the prisoners were implacable and would not settle for any less than their five demands, when he knew from the acceptance of the British offer that this was not true.

That he met Monsignor Denis Faul and members of hunger strikers' families on the evening of July 28, 1981, but did not tell them about the British offer.

That he did not tell the families the prison leadership had accepted the offer.

That he did not tell the IRSP/INLA leadership about the offer (even though two of their members were among the last six hunger strikers to die). That he met the hunger strikers in the Long Kesh hospital on July 29, 1981 and told them "...there was no deal on the table, no movement of any sort...".

That he did not tell the hunger strikers of the British offer at that visit and that, consequently, he deliberately misrepresented the situation to these dying men.

So, am I stretching my argument too far in suggesting Adams personally drove the decision to keep the strike going in order to build Sinn Fein's support? I don't think so.

Still, it would be easy enough for Adams to prove me wrong - he could follow my example and agree to participate in a republican inquiry into the hunger strike.

Or he could refute - point by point - what I have written in this article.

But I'd be surprised if he did either.

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