Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Somebody wants to twist the truth - but it's not me

Accounts of what really happened during 1981 hunger keep changing, says former IRA prisoner Richard O'Rawe

In an article in the Belfast Telegraph last week republican spokes-person Danny Morrison said that the recently released British government papers "demolishes" the assertion in my books, Blanketmen And Afterlives, that the lives of the last six 1981 hunger strikers could have been saved had an outside committee of senior republicans not overruled the prison leadership's acceptance of a British offer to end the hunger strike in early July.

I also wrote in my books that the committee, of which Mr Morrison had been a leading member, had run the hunger strike over the heads of the prison leadership and the hunger strikers. Mr Morrison refuted that in 2005, saying: "The prisoners were sovereign; it was their call."

Clearly, Morrison is saying that neither he, nor the committee, bear any responsibility for the deaths of the last six hunger strikers.

In relation to the July 5 1981 offer, Mr Morrison said that he could not have relayed the offer to the hunger strikers, or to the IRA prison OC, Bik McFarlane, when he visited Long Kesh/Maze, because "...the British government had yet to formulate its position, never mind proposing a 'deal'".

That sounds fairly reasonable and straightforward ... but was Danny Morrison always so sure that he did not tell McFarlane about the offer? Well, no....

On March 2 2006, Morrison and McFarlane confronted me during a TalkBack debate, which was chaired by the late David Dunseith. During that debate, Morrison said of his July 5 meeting with the hunger strikers: "After I had seen the hunger strikers, we all agreed that this [the British offer] could be a resolution, but we wanted it guaranteed."

The question arises: what else, other than a British offer - obviously conveyed by Morrison - would have prompted the hunger strikers to seek a guarantee?

It gets worse for Mr Morrison ... In an article on the Bobby Sands Trust website on April 7, 2009, he wrote: "...I went into the prison hospital on Sunday July 5, and told Joe McDonnell, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee, Micky Devine, and Brendan McFarlane, the leader of the prisoners, separately, that we were in contact and THE DETAILS OF WHAT THE BRITISH APPEARED TO BE OFFERING IN TERMS OF THE FIVE DEMANDS" (my emphasis).

I don't think Danny Morrison could have put it any clearer than that: he knew what the British were offering, and he conveyed that knowledge to the hunger strikers.

Yet, just this week, when asked on RTE radio if he had been "in receipt" of an offer when he went into the prison hospital to see the hunger strikers, he said: "No, not on the Sunday [July 5 1981]."

Before moving on, I would like, for the sake of argument, to assume that Mr Morrison's present position is his final one and that he isn't going to flip again. Can he let us know if the hunger strikers were ever told the details of the British offer?

Or perhaps he can explain why his committee decided that the Secretary of State's July 5 1981 statement that was passed to Gerry Adams (right) by Martin McGuinness, and which contained the offer, was never shown to the hunger strikers, their relatives, or the prison leadership?

Bik McFarlane, who accompanied Morrison on the 2006 TalkBack show, fares little better than Morrison in this fiasco.

He was interviewed by UTV's Fergal McKinney on March 2 2006.

McKinney: Who took the decision to reject [the British] offer?

McFarlane: There was no offer of that description.

McKinney: At all?

McFarlane: Whatsoever. No offer existed.

McFarlane, in numerous press interviews since then, remained resolute - Morrison had not conveyed any offer from the British at their meeting on July 5, 1981.

Then, during an interview with Belfast Telegraph reporter Brian Rowan on June 4 2009, he said: "The man from the outside [Danny Morrison] was allowed to explain the Mountain Climber contacts [Mountain Climber was the codename for the go-between] and the offer the British had communicated."

The offer? What offer? I, and everyone who had followed this debate, thought Bik's position had been that Danny had not relayed an offer!

In another astonishing volte-face, Bik told Rowan:

"And I said to Richard, this is amazing, this is a huge opportunity and I feel there's the potential here [in the British offer] to end this."

The hunger strike didn't end - even though Bik and I accepted the British offer that Danny Morrison had brought into the prison hospital on July 5 1981.

But then, if the 30-year documents show anything, it is that the prison leadership and the hunger strikers were not 'sovereign'; it was the committee that decided what was good for the prisoners - not their immediate leaders - and certainly not the hunger strikers.

The committee ran the hunger strike.

My father-in-law, Paddy 'Skin' Loughran was a deep-sea docker all his life and he was never known for his silver tongue, but he had old-style Belfast morals, and he had a saying: 'Give a liar his head and he'll stick it in a noose.'

It won't be my head in any noose.

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