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Letters to the editor - Former blanketman slams Hunger Strike memoirs

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I read with deep anger the extract from Richard O’Rawe’s book Blanketmen where he stated that the IRA Army Council acted in a inexcusable manner by using the last six hunger strikers as cannon fodder for election purposes by blocking a deal that would have ended the hunger strike and saved their lives.
As a former blanketman who joined the protest the same month as Kieran Nugent, I can speak with some authority on the protest.
So I ask myself one question: Why is O’Rawe peddling this line on the 24th anniversary of the Hunger Strike and putting the families through this unneeded turmoil and anguish?
Especially now when the Irish government, the SDLP and media are trying to reinstigate the criminalisation policy for electoral purposes
O’Rawe was only a ‘press release officer' and would therefore not have been privy, anymore than the rest of the blanketmen, nor had any more say than us, if a deal was acceptable or not.
I can only assume that those years of solitary confinement have affected his memory to the extent he gives himself a role and importance he never had.
O’Rawe has no credibility.
Does anyone honestly think that a man who was prepared to swallow his convictions and put on the prison uniform and criminalise himself while his comrades lay dying would be negotiating for us?
Martin Hurson was never in O’Rawe’s wing as he claims in his book.
Martin, from the day and hour he was sentenced until a few weeks before his death, was always on my wing in H Block 5 along with Francis Hughes and Raymond McCreesh who was next door to me.
I stated I could speak with some authority on the Hunger Strike and the facts are these:
On the night the first Hunger Strike ended, Bobby Sands as officer commanding republican prisoners was taken from his cell and escorted around H blocks 3, 4 and 5 at the request and accompanied by Fr Murphy, the then prison chaplain, a chief screw and prison governor to inform us the strike had ended.
This was only a cover for Bobby as we had our own line of communication within the blocks.
It was Bobby’s way of speaking to Francis Hughes, Ray McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara. The only cells Bobby visited in H block 5 that night were Raymond’s and Francis’ who were cell mates and Patsy O’Hara’s.
The plans were laid out that night by Bobby, that failure by the Brits to implement the deal offered that night to end the Hunger Strike would commence in a new one by these four men. Francis Hughes himself, who was a personal friend of mine, later confirmed this to me.
They planned the Hunger Strike that night – not the IRA Army Council. When the new Hunger Strike was announced Bobby as OC laid ground rules which we were all made aware of and supported, inside the prison.
No 1: He appointed Bik McFarland as OC of republican prisoners extracting a promise, against Bik’s own personal wishes, that at no time was he to go on hunger strike but to remain in command until our five demands were met and to liase with the hunger strikers, which he faithfully did.
No 2: He ordered that no one could order the men off Hunger Strike or agree without their input and consent – only the hunger strikers could take themselves off.
Before embarking on hunger strike, Bobby and Francis were sent written commands by the IRA, the written command for Francis was passed to me to pass in through a gap in the heating pipes that ran along the back wall of our cells to give to Francis.
I was unable to do this, as the gap was too tight so I was given permission to open Francis’ command and to read it to him through the gap in the pipes with the instruction to burn it afterwards and to keep the contents secret.
I hope the IRA will forgive me now for disclosing the contents of their command but I feel I owe it to the Hunger Strikers' families and the blanket men to knock O’Rawe's version on the head.
The contents were as follows. The IRA leadership did not agree with the Hunger Strike, so soon after the first one as they felt there would be apathy among grassroots support on the ground outside, that Thatcher’s government would dig their heels in and allow volunteers to die, and that this could be detrimental to the future of the armed struggle and they therefore advised Francis not to go on hunger strike.
That is fact and proof, if needed, that at all times the hunger strikers controlled their destiny – not the IRA as O’Rawe claims.
The very fact these men broke army orders and embarked on hunger strikes showed how courageous and farsighted they were in their thinking that no one must be allowed to criminalise our struggle for justice, peace, equality and freedom and like their comrades in the past right back to the Fenians, who gave their lives rather than criminalise the struggle.
We must honour their memory by ensuring that O’Rawe, the SDLP, the Irish government and the media do not succeed either.
The responsibility for the deaths of the hunger strikers lies with no one but the British government who created the conditions to allow it to happen.

Paul McGlinchey
Co Antrim

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