Daily Ireland

Author defends his account of Hunger Strike deal

Author of The Blanketmen, Richard O’Rawe has asked for a Right to Reply to the Danny Morrison article carried in Wednesday’s Daily Ireland entitled Hunger Strikers’ story brought to book. This is a service we are happy to provide to all our readers.

In Reply to Danny Morrison

Danny is correct in saying that I asked his advice on getting a book published - and why not? Is he really saying that only certain people in the Republican family are allowed to write books and that others must remain silent? If so, he should say so clearly. Danny has written more books about his experiences as a republican than almost anyone else in the movement. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed some of his books. He is also correct in saying that writing and publishing is a tough circle to break into if one has not got a high profile. No one has broken that circle better or more often than he. Who better to consult than the master himself?
Danny does a good job of mixing up the offer that the ICJP believed they had and that of Mountain Climber and doubtlessly this is to confuse people and cloud the real issues. I repeat what I’ve already said in my book; the ICJP seemed to have had more in terms of a settlement than the Mountain Climber inasmuch they believed that a degree of free association was on offer. But, as Bik has said, we couldn’t see any proof that they had anything at all. As opposed to the ICJP, we were led to believe that this Mountain Climber had been authorised by the British Foreign office to conduct negotiations with the outside leadership. This does not appear to be in dispute. What is disputed is whether or not there was an offer on the table at all from the Mountain Climber, and whether Bik and I had a positive view on that offer. In relation to whether or not there was an offer, I would refer to page 292-293 of David Beresford’s seminal book Ten Men Dead. Beresford was briefed by leading republicans about the Mountain Climber contact. He says that “While the commissioners (ICJP) 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 was talking directly to the external leadership of the IRA, through the medium of the same middleman as had been used in December”. Beresford goes on to say that ‘The Mountain Climber’ told Adams, through their middlemen, that provided it led to an immediate end to the hunger strike, the government was prepared to issue a statement setting out agreed terms. Can Danny provide me with a reason why Beresford might have gotten this wrong, considering he is being so specific? The words don’t lie. Secondly, when the Mountain Climber came back on July 19 and again contacted the IRA leadership through the middlemen, according to Beresford, the Mountain Climber sent the IRA leadership a lengthy statement, which contained ‘little new, other than a placatory tone’. So, if there was little new in the offer, other than a placatory tone then we must assume that what was now on offer was the old offer, the offer that had been made before Joe McDonnell died. Beresford goes on to say that on July 29, Gerry Adams went into the camp hospital and spelt out to the hunger strikers what the offer was. Beresford says that Adams told the hunger strikers, “Prison clothes would be abolished, and they would get their own clothes. Their demands would be met on visits, letter and parcels. There would be effective, although unofficial segregation. Work would be ambiguously defined, to include educational courses and handicrafts. There would be free association throughout weekends and for three hours every weekday. And the government would phrase the deal in conciliatory terms”. I don’t believe there is any dispute that there was also a measure of lost remission being returned in the package. This was the essence of the offer that Bik sent down to me to consider and which we agreed we should accept. Why wouldn’t we accept it? Was the difference between this offer and the entire five demands worth one more comrade dying? I don’t think so. No matter what way one looks at it, that was a Brit capitulation.
If Danny Morrison’s account is correct why did the republican leadership go to such lengths to try to stop David Beresford learning about the existence of the Mountain Climber?
As I wrote in the book, two other people were asked to help me vet all the comms before they were given to Beresford to weed out any references to the Mountain Climber, but that, unknown to me, one slipped through.
This is the only reason why Beresford found out about the Mountain Climber and if it hadn’t been for that mistake his existence would have remained yet another untold facet of the hunger strike.
Why keep the secret if Mountain Climber was a fraud? Wouldn’t it have been better for the leadership to get it into the open and show the Brits up for being frauds? Or was there another reason to keep the Mountain Climber hidden? Perhaps the fear that the truth might come out?
Along with Bik McFarlane and others, Danny concentrates his criticism of my book on the Mountain Climber episode and the Army Council rejection of our acceptance. He ignores completely the equally damning episode in the prison hospital. Why did Pat Beag say in Padraig O’Malley’s book Biting at the Grave that “Adams and company should have been more flexible and met the Foreign Office negotiator halfway”?
Why not Bik and Company? Why didn’t the Army Council order an end to the hunger strike sooner that they did?
Danny has accused me of being oblivious to the feelings of the families. Let me say that’s rich.
This man went into a meeting with the families on July 28 with the Mountain Climber offer in his back pocket and yet he didn’t think the families should be made aware of the offer. Why did he do that?
In all of this, I am the only person who has had the decency to publicly apologise to the families for my inexcusable cowardice in not speaking up to end the hunger strike sooner. Does Danny think that he has nothing to apologise for?
I know why I wrote this book. I did so because I believed my dead comrades, the heroic ten, deserved to be honoured with the truth.
I also believed their families deserve the truth and I have had indications that my book has been welcomed by some families.
My head is held high, and it is not I who should hang my head in shame.

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