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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.