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War of words over who said what will go on

Whatever the interpretation of these papers, this won't be the end of the war of words over the deaths of the hunger strikers.

There will be more questions, not just on the issue of deal or no deal, but on the secret contact channel that linked the government with the republican leadership.

In an interview in this newspaper in 2009, Brendan McFarlane clearly read considerable significance into the Morrison jail visit in the summer of 1981 and the fact that the British were in contact with the outside leadership.

"And I said to Richard (O'Rawe) this is amazing, this is a huge opportunity and I feel there's a potential here to end this," McFarlane said in that interview. But he also said: "Under no circumstances at any stage did I agree with Richard O'Rawe, this is a good deal, I'll write out to the Army Council and tell them we're accepting this ... I didn't have the authority, neither did he (O'Rawe)."

On the suggestion that he had been overruled, McFarlane responded: "Neither the Army Council, nor Gerry Adams, nor anybody else in that leadership wrote to me to tell me not to accept an offer. Under no circumstances. It never happened - never happened."

Now, Morrison points to the British papers as proof that there was no deal at the time of his jail visit.

It was many years later - not until 1993 and just months before the IRA ceasefire - that we first learned of the existence of the secret contact channel linking the government and the republican leadership.

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And, now, we read something else in the latest British papers - a paragraph about a phone call involving Duddy and his British contact on July 5, 1981.

"At the outset 'Soon' (Duddy) indicated by a pre-arranged code that he was accompanied by a representative of the Provisionals. He had previously suggested that in this situation we should adopt a hard line."

The question republicans will ask is: Why?

Is it possible that in 1981 Duddy knew that in the stand-off the five demands of the prisoners were not going to be met - that negotiation is about compromise.

And did he feel it important that republicans hear that directly from the British?

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