Row over hunger strike goes on
Ten prisoners died in the 1981 H Block hunger strike, but could the last six lives have been saved?
That debate has been raging for some years.
State papers released last week confirm claims by former inmate Richard O’Rawe, prisoners’ PRO at the time, that the Government made a substantial offer in July 1981 after four deaths.
It was personally approved by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and passed to the IRA.
Most people agree with that. The papers make it undeniable.
Mr O’Rawe said he believed it could have ended the strike and saved up to six hunger strikers.
He has also claimed that it was outlined to Brendan McFarlane, the IRA commander in the Maze, by Danny Morrison on July 5.
O’Rawe has said that he and McFarlane approved the offer, but were overruled on the outside. Mr Morrison has denied this.
He said that the papers “demolish” Mr O’Rawe’s case because they show the offer was made the day after he visited the jail.
But today O’Rawe has claimed vindication and has accused Morrison of changing his story. He quotes a 2009 article in which Morrison wrote that he visited the hunger strikers and gave them “details of what the British appeared to be offering”.
In a 2006 interview Morrison said hunger strikers agreed the offer was a “resolution but we wanted it guaranteed”.
McFarlane has veered between denying that there was any offer and saying he told O’Rawe: “This is amazing, this is a huge opportunity and I feel there is the potential there to end this.”
If Morrison’s earlier accounts are accurate, he had the gist of the offer when he visited the jail and then got further clarification from the British the next day.
If his recent version, that the Government “had yet to formulate its position” is nearer the truth, then the offer came a day later.
Either way, there was an offer which would have allowed the prisoners to wear their own clothes — a central demand.
The papers show that the British tried again on July 18, after two more deaths. Whatever the precise timing, prisoners continued to die without winning any improvement on the original offer.
Hunger strike war of words sparked by State files
The release of State papers under the 30-year secrecy rule have highlighted crucial differences between two republican spokesmen during the 1981 hunger strike when Bobby Sands and nine other prisoners died.
Richard O’Rawe was spokesman for the prisoners. Danny Morrison was the spokesman for outside the prison.
On July 5 Morrison visited the jail to brief the hunger strikers and Brendan McFarlane, the IRA’s overall prison OC, on secret contacts with the British Government.
In his book Blanketmen, O’Rawe claimed that Morrison outlined a substantial offer from the British.
O’Rawe added that he and McFarlane agreed it would be enough to settle the hunger strike with no further deaths, ids he overheard the conversation.
He said he was then overruled by an outside committee including Morrison and Gerry Adams.
Morrison has argued that the State papers show the British offer was not made until a day after his visit the next day. They also show it was personally approved by Margaret Thatcher.
In today’s Belfast Telegraph O’Rawe claims that Morrison is changing his story, and he brought details of the offer when he visited the jail.