The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Mark of Cain

Not all the armies of all the Empires of earth can crush the spirit of one true man. And that one man will prevail
- Terence MacSwiney

Anthony McIntyre • 11 June 2006

Sitting in a car going through Belfast last week, a friend indicated the presence of a copy of Daily Ireland. It is a paper I rarely see although I would read some of its items if they appear on Newshound. As I showed no inclination to reach across and pick it up, it was pushed my way to the comment that Danny Morrison had a lengthy piece in it aimed at challenging Richard O'Rawe's account of the 1981 hunger strike.

In a week that saw other news items pushed to the side by the shooting of Mark Haddock and the spy accusations thrown the way of Martin McGuinness, here we were back again, going over the contentious ground of the hunger strike. While the discussion it generates is welcome, why Morrison should persist in promoting O'Rawe's book, Blanketmen, escapes me. Every time it drops off the radar screen along he comes to remind us all of its central argument - which amounts to a claim that an element of the then republican leadership sabotaged a satisfactory conclusion to the hunger strike. The rest is history - the strike claimed the lives of a further six prisoners. If ever I decide to write a book I hope I have O'Rawe's good fortune and find a persistent but lame critic to inadvertently act as a book promoter.

Despite the much vaunted definitive rebuttal of O'Rawe being a torturous read, I trudged my way through it. Little there but press statements 'discovered' in a Dublin Library. The day was hot, the car was uncomfortable, the article flowed like treacle. By the time I finished it I had forgotten how it started. My friend asked for an opinion. None was forthcoming. The heat and tedium combined to frazzle my mind. I would try wading through it again later.

When I eventually did get around to completing the struggle, I knew instinctively why Daily Ireland is not exactly a paragon of success in the newspaper industry. My first thought was 'there goes that cute hoor Noel Doran of the Irish News paying people to write for Daily Ireland so that they may put it out of business.' Mairtin O'Muilleoir, however, is not so slow. In an astute counter he has let the Irish News have Jim Gibney.

Morrison isn't normally given to writing boring tracts. Perhaps on this occasion he felt governed by the need for detail; an indication that O'Rawe's command of the minutiae has delivered damaging blows to the official narrative. Even here Morrison promised without delivery. This time amongst the eyebrows raised are those of former prisoners still loyal to Sinn Fein who have questioned the value of travelling to Dublin to access documents already in the public domain.

Morrison is winning the debate hands down. His dilemma is that he is winning it for O'Rawe. It has been this way from the start. Each of Morrison's interventions have put wind in the sails of O'Rawe. True, there are some people who think Morrison has taken O'Rawe out of the game. But the last anyone saw of them was as they staggered from the bar shouting 'Celtic for the World Cup, O'Rawe is a rascal, the Ra won the war, freedom 2016'; the type of things easy to believe before 10 pints and six vodkas yield to the clarity of sobriety. Somehow, I imagine O'Rawe benefits from that as the opposition.

Few appear to have bought in to the Morrison initiative to 'close this sorry episode.' O'Rawe - who for legal reasons has been advised to refrain from commenting at this juncture - is depicted by Morrison as having been the personal author of the 'discovered' documents despite Morrison's own admission that 'they were released as press statements.' As press statements they were not secret nor do they provide a window on the mind of any individual, neither Richard O'Rawe who was tasked with penning them, nor Brendan McFarlane who would presumably have vetted them prior to release. They reflected a general line not a particular opinion.

That propaganda is not meant to resemble the truth should be clear enough from the PR role Morrison played at the end of the 1980 hunger strike. RTE recently broadcast footage of him shot on December 19, the day after that strike ended. He can be viewed expounding on how he 'was in with Bobby Sands, the O/C of the political prisoners, and he was extremely buoyant this morning, and very, very happy about the outcome.' How likely is this? If true, Bobby went through a rapid mood swing. When he entered the H6 cell occupied by myself and Laurence McKeown on the evening of the 18th, he conveyed nothing of his buoyancy. He was wrongly directed there by the screws who in their rush to get home, failed initially to guide him to the cell of the block O/C, Pat McGeown. Bobby told us three things; the boys were off the strike; things were in a bad way; Cardinal O'Fiaich was being asked to intervene.

He left us to proceed to Pat McGeown's cell just across the narrow corridor. Immediately after the rosary was said, Pat announced the same thing out the door to the rest of the wing. That night Bobby sat down in his own cell and according to Jim Gibney wrote to the leadership on the outside informing it of his intentions to begin a new hunger strike on the 1st of January.

In his biography on Bobby Sands, Denis O'Hearn quotes from a comm by Bobby to Gerry Adams on 18 December 1980: 'for what it's worth, comrade, we seen the move coming but the boys just blew it. We were beat by a few lousy hours which were critical.' O'Hearn also described Bobby as 'livid' which, given the circumstances, seems a more appropriate characterisation of his mood than the buoyancy ascribed to him by Morrison.

Can we really be expected to believe that Bobby was 'buoyant and very, very happy' after a major defeat to which his response was to chart a course of action that he knew would make his own death inevitable? Nevertheless, in the wake of a defeat, PR kicked in and a 'victory' parade was organised in Belfast aimed at massaging the public mood. The same thing O'Rawe was doing with his own PR statements.

Which serves to rubbish Morrison's assertion that O'Rawe's press statements are 'contemporaneous accounts of the time.' They are in fact contemporaneous propaganda constructs of the time that no more provide an accurate account of the era than Morrison's PR which attributed buoyancy and great happiness to a man facing certain death. Morrison and O'Rawe can plead guilty to the same charge: that of using PR with intent to mask and spin. Instead, what we have is the pot calling the kettle black.

Morrison states that 'in July 1981 the British government had various public and private positions.' Just like every other party to the dispute. Are readers expected to believe that republicans were any different? Had O'Rawe as PRO put out a statement saying some republican leader rather than the Brits was the obstacle to a solution the paper it was written on would have ended up with the comms referring to the Mountain Climber - far beyond any public scrutiny. It is those comms that Danny Morrison really needs to produce in order to end the discussion generated by O'Rawe's book. But to do that might end the discussion on terms anathema to Morrison and co. This is most likely why they are not in Dublin and the very unrevealing statements of O'Rawe are.

Danny Morrison's Dublin odyssey is suggestive of a desperate PR exercise designed to manufacture public bias against Richard O'Rawe. As the interest in O'Rawe's claims continues to grow, so too does the bias and vitriol directed against him. It is an attempt to force him off the field. If he is steely enough he will remain undeterred. There is absolutely nothing his opponents can do to shift him if he is certain he is right and is determined to prevail.

This week's frantic waving of worthless bits of paper has done nothing to 'close this sorry episode.' On the contrary, it has ensured that there are more episodes to come, at the end of which it is unlikely that the portrait of Richard O'Rawe will take pride of place in the Great Hall of Blame.

No matter what way the future of this dispute goes O'Rawe's tenacity has ensured that the hunger strike of 1981 will never be viewed in the same light again. The once seamless narrative has begun to unthread. The courage and integrity of those who died will remain unsullied; the inhumanity of the British penal establishment shall stay carved in granite; some republican leaders, however, are likely to walk through the annals of history carrying the mark of Cain, judged by many to have done something unspeakable to their brothers.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

6 June 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Mark of Cain
Anthony McIntyre

Debris of the Dirty War
Mick Hall

More Claims
Martin Ingram

Case Unproven
Anthony McIntyre

Chain Gang
John Kennedy

Better to Put the Past Behind US
David Adams

The Gamblers
Dr John Coulter

Diarmaid Ferriter's The Transformation of Ireland
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Profile: Caroline Fourest
Anthony McIntyre

Le «manifeste des douze» fait réagir
Caroline Fourest

Reaction to the Manifesto (English Translation)
Liam O Ruairc

Freedom of Speech index

28 May 2006

Humpty Dumpty
Anthony McIntyre

Eamon Sweeney

Political Status
Geoffrey Cooling

Enough, Enough of Stormont
David Adams

Joined at the Hip
John Kennedy

Loyal to What
Fred A Wilcox

No Rest In Peace
John Kennedy

'Penetrated' Has Become the Sinn Fein Brand Mark
Anthony McIntyre

Code Red
Dr John Coulter

Review of the Field Day Review 1: Debut Issue, 2005
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Profile: Salman Rushdie
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index



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