SF denies claims on hunger strike deaths

 

SINN FÉIN has rejected the latest claims that the IRA leadership prevented a deal that possibly could have saved the lives of six of the 10 republicans who died in the 1981 H-Block hunger strikes.

These claims follow on repeated allegations that the IRA and Sinn Féin leaderships in 1981 refused to countenance ending the strike in July in order to facilitate the election of hunger strike candidate Owen Carron in August 1981. The election of Mr Carron as MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone, which followed the election of Bobby Sands who died in May of that year, marked the rise of Sinn Féin as a political force.

The Sunday Timesreported yesterday that it had seen documents that showed the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, despite publicly being opposed to the prisoners’ demands, privately was prepared to make critical concessions.

These reported concessions, including a key demand that prisoners be allowed wear their own clothes, were made in July at a time when Bobby Sands and three other prisoners had died. By the time the hunger strike began to peter out in late August, six more prisoners had died. The last of the hunger strikers to die was INLA member Michael Devine, who passed away on August 20th, the day Mr Carron was elected MP.

The allegation that the republican leadership, driven by Gerry Adams, was prepared to prolong the strike in order to see Mr Carron elected, has been raging for a number of years now.

Four years ago former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe, in his book Blanketmen, said the IRA army council blocked a deal that possibly could have saved the lives of six of the hunger strikers. The Sunday Timesreport quoting documents it received under freedom of information legislation effectively supports Mr O’Rawe’s account of events.

Mr O’Rawe said that in July 1981, when four prisoners had died, the prisoners’ leadership accepted a deal to end the strike but that this was over-ruled by the IRA army council. Mr O’Rawe wrote that a British intermediary effectively conceded most of the prisoners’ five demands. In his book, Mr O’Rawe said that he and Brendan McFarlane, the IRA commanding officer in the Maze Prison at the time, agreed the offer should be accepted.

Both Mr McFarlane and Mr Morrison have repeatedly insisted the claims by Mr O’Rawe and others are wrong.

A Sinn Féin spokesman also said yesterday that the allegations were untrue. He said they emanated from British military intelligence “and ignore completely the actual timeline of events”.