Irish Republican News · March 3, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Hunger strike claim rubbished

Republicans have angrily rejected claims in a new book that a British offer to concede most of the demands of the 1981 hunger strikers was rejected for political gain.

Richard O’Rawe claimed that the prisoners’ leadership accepted a deal in July 1981 to end the hunger strike -- following the deaths of Bobby Sands and three others -- but that this decision was over-ruled by the IRA army council.

Mr O’Rawe has insisted he wrote the book to try to set the historical record straight, and not for personal gain.

O’Rawe, who was the IRA public relations officer during the hunger strikes, said he and Mr McFarlane agreed that the offer from an intermediary should be accepted.

“I thought that the offer was sufficient for us to settle the strike honourably.”

But he claimed the IRA Army Council rejected the deal. Mr O’Rawe said he and Mr McFarlane were shattered by the response, but that they felt bound to accept the IRA’s findings.

He said the army council acted in an “inexcusable manner”.

“No matter which way one views it, the outside leadership alone, not the prison leadership, took the decision to play brinkmanship with Joe McDonnell’s [the fifth hunger striker to die] life.

“If Bik and I had had our way, Joe and the five comrades who followed him to the grave would be alive today.”

But Bik McFarlane, IRA commander in Long Kesh during the hunger strikes, angrily rejected the claim and accused him of causing great hurt and distress to the hunger strikers’ families.

McFarlane said: “As the officer commanding in the prison at the time, I can say categorically that there was no outside intervention to prevent a deal.”

O’Rawe suggested the decision was made to build support for the republican candidate Owen Carron in the Westminster by-election to be held following the death of Bobby Sands.

“A more sceptical view would be that perhaps they didn’t miscalculate at all,” said O’Rawe.

Ruairi O Bradaigh, who was president of Sinn Féin during the strike, said that the terms for the settlement were a matter for the H-Block prisoners themselves -- not the IRA Army Council.

“If some one or more persons in those areas of responsibility invoked the name of the Army Council without authorisation to support private or personal views, then that is a very serious charge which needs to be answered even at this late stage,” he said.

Danny Morrison, a former Sinn Féin press officer who was also involved with the hunger strike negotiations at the time, said the claim in the book that the army council had turned the deal down was “totally untrue”.

“After the disgraceful things that were written in that book, Richard O’Rawe should hang his head in shame for what he has said and for the allegations he has made,” he said.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News