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Hunger strikers' deaths must be fully explained, says author

(Irish News)

Richard O'Rawe, author of Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike, replies here to a letter printed yesterday from Magherafelt councillor Oliver Hughes and criticism by other republicans of his claims that the IRA may have blocked a deal to end the 1981 protest before six of the 10 men died.

Mr Hughes is right when he says that the IRA strenuously opposed the hunger strikes when they were first suggested, but can he be sure that attitude didn't change when Bobby Sands won the Fermanagh/South Tyrone by-election and the opportunity came to enter electoral politics if that seat could be retained after Bobby's death?

He is correct when he says the hunger strikers were not forced unto the strike.

It was a voluntary process and those courageous men that came forward are worthy of the utmost respect.

Mr Hughes is also right when he says that volunteer Francis Hughes (his brother) remained a dignified and courageous Irishman. He was a giant in every sense of the word.

But he is wrong in almost everything else he says about my book.

Mr Hughes expressed outrage and disbelief when I revealed the republican leadership had opposed our accepting the first 'Mountain Climber' offer.

It must be remembered that Oliver Hughes had no first-hand involvement in the hunger strikes after the death of his brother.

As PRO for the prisoners, I did.

No doubt Mr Hughes, a Sinn Féin councillor, is taking his guide from Bik McFarlane, who said on UTV news on Monday night that there was no offer from the Mountain Climber before Joe McDonnell died.

Mr Hughes is entitled to his opinion, but Bik is wrong.

All he needs do is refer to pages 292-293 of the book Ten Men Dead, which was written with the co-operation of the republican movement.

David Beresford, the author of that book, was briefed by the republican leadership about the Mountain Climber initiative and he says: "While the commissioners (Irish Commission for Justice and Peace) were occupying centre stage, at least in their eyes and those of the media, the hard bargaining was in fact going on behind the scenes.

"The Foreign Office had re-launched the 'Mountain Climber' initiative."

As the ICJP left the stage immediately after Volunteer Joe McDonnell died, there can be no ambiguity about the timing of this offer.

Mr Beresford goes on to say that "The Foreign Office in its first offer had conceded the prisoners' main demand of their own clothing".

He then gives a definition of a reformed work regime, as well as conceding everything on parcels, visits etc.

He also offered segregation and a portion of lost remission back.

So there is no doubt that Mountain Climber was involved, separately from the ICJP, and that he made an offer on behalf of the British government to end the protest.

I am sorry that Mr Hughes does not appreciate why I wrote this book.

I did so because I believe that the hunger strikers' deaths should be fully explained; in my opinion they deserved no less.

My book is not an outrageous slur on the hunger strikers. Not once in any part of it did I question the integrity, honour or courage of the hunger strikers. The hunger strikers were my comrades and while I didn't meet Frank during the protest, I nonetheless knew that he was a great Irish patriot.

I was privileged to have been on the protest with such men.

I stand by what I wrote, which is that Bik and I accepted the Mountain Climber offer but that the "advice" purporting to come from the army council was to reject it.

I have no reason to invent this story.

I have no reason not to tell the truth about what really happened. Can those who now deny this story say the same?

March 4, 2005
________________

This article appeared first in the March 3, 2005 edition of the Irish News.


This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News



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