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Hunger strikes 'could have spread'


Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams

The IRA's hunger strikes could have spread to English prisons, it has been revealed.

A high profile prisoner in Leicester jail asked Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams to serve as his link to the IRA's ruling army council in an effort to break the deadlock with the British authorities. Brian Keenan went on to play a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

He wrote in 1981 to his "old comrade" Adams, outlining his thoughts on ending the hunger strikes.

He described his proposal as: "A possible basis for the solution of the relevant crisis in the H-blocks and also a long-term solution to the potential danger of a hunger strike amongst republican prisoners in English prisons.

"That potential hunger strike would be motivated by a desire for repatriation to Northern Ireland prisons and I have reason to believe that it would be imminent, pending any resolution of the H-blocks crisis." He added: "I say only that I am surprised a hunger strike has not started already and suppose that the majority of republican prisoners in England do not wish to distract from the H-block crisis."

Mr Keenan received an 18-year prison sentence in 1980 for conspiring to cause explosions but went on to play a key role in the peace process. He was in the IRA's army council and served as that organisation's delegate to the disarmament body which oversaw the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

His 1981 proposal was for a wing of a cell block at the Maze to be occupied by a pilot group of republican prisoners, possibly life sentenced inmates transferred from Great Britain, which he believed could allow a fresh attempt to arrive at an accommodation on key hunger strike issues of prison work and rights of free association.

Mr Keenan wrote to Mr Adams pledging fealty to the IRA leadership but said he felt there was not enough good will between the existing protagonists at the Maze. His letter was sent by the prison authorities and was released along with other papers from the archive.

"While realising I may be infringing on army jurisdiction, I felt it was my duty to make some effort," he wrote to Mr Adams.

A senior Northern Ireland Office official said: "Keenan's comments about the general question of republican and loyalist paramilitary prisoners in Great Britain are another reminder that this issue is simmering away and may erupt at some time."


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