Maze inmate insists IRA blocked hunger strike deal

By Alan Erwin
Irish Examiner

A FORMER IRA jail chief attacked for claiming the
organisation blocked a life-saving deal to end the
1981 hunger strike last night declared: “The truth’s
on my side.”

Richard O’Rawe, the Provisionals’ spokesman inside the
Maze Prison, revealed he has been ostracised for
alleging the leadership refused a package of British

Margaret Thatcher’s administration was prepared to
meet nearly all of the demands in a move that would
have halted the protest just before the fifth prisoner
died, he insisted.

But the IRA’s Army Council refused to call off the
fasts until 10 of their men were dead.

Mr O’Rawe’s claims that the ruling body wanted to use
public sympathy to win a by-election have provoked a
republican backlash.

Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, leader of the H-Block
prisoners during the hunger strikes of 1981, denied a
deal was rejected before the death of Joe McDonnell,
the fifth prisoner to die.

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

“Once the strike was under way, the only people in a
position to agree a deal or call off the hunger strike
were the prisoners, and particularly the hunger
strikers themselves.”

Danny Morrison, former head of Sinn Féin publicity,
also hit out at Mr O’Rawe’s claims, insisting they
would only cause further distress for the families of
those who died. “He should hang his head in shame,” Mr
Morrison said.

But Mr O’Rawe, 51, stood by his account, contained in
a new book, Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block
Hunger Strike, published yesterday by New Island.

According to the west Belfast man four key demands
were conceded by the British Government: prisoners’
right to wear their own clothes, segregation from
loyalists, more visits and education as part of their
work regime.

“This hasn’t been said for 24 years because it would
be a massive embarrassment if they accepted the Army
Council of the IRA refused to acquiesce with the
prisoners’ acceptance of the deal,” he said. “The
consequence of that would be that responsibility for
the deaths would shift from the Brits to the IRA.”

Mr O’Rawe, who was freed in 1983 after serving six
years of a sentence for armed robbery, said he was
devastated when the compromise broke down.

Although many of his friends are still in the
republican movement, he severed ties in a bid to spend
more time with his family.

The outrage at his version came as no surprise, he
said. “They are rallying the troops and it won’t stop
here,” he said.

“But this is a battle they can’t win because I have
the truth on my side.”

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