The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

'The Blanket' meets 'Blanketmen'

All truth passes through three stages.
First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is accepted as being self-evident

- Arthur Schopenhauer

Anthony McIntyre speaks with Richard O'Rawe • 16 May 2006

Q: This month marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, Frank Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O'Hara. How has it been for you emotionally?

A: Terrible. It has been terrible.

Q: Can you elaborate?

A: Bob has been in my thoughts all the time. He left from our wing. The others were in different blocks. And I just get this vision of him. I see him in the wing canteen for mass just before he went up to the prison hospital. He was smiling at me. He knew he was going up there to die. I knew it too. It was just so unbelievably heartrending and it has never left me. That smile has been with me for over a week; that smile of pathos. I went over to his grave and just looked around me. There was Joe and big Doc, Bryson and our Mundo, wee Paddy Mul, Todler and all the dead volunteers. It was just horrific.

Q: Bobby was very much the master of his own destiny once he decided that he would face down the Brits in the sure knowledge that Thatcher was determined to see him to the grave. And in a sense you and the jail leadership had less control over the first four hunger strikers than you had over the rest. There was effectively little you could do. But the real story of the hunger strike for you begins with Joe McDonnell. You claim that in the final days of Joe's hunger strike the British made an offer substantive enough to end the protest and save the lives of Joe and the other men. In your account the prison leadership recommended accepting this but that the republican leadership outside the prison effectively overruled you. The hunger strike continued and six other men lost their lives. This is what makes your book Blanketmen so important and in the eyes of many critics controversial. What prompted you to write it?

A: I saw a wrong here. It was a gut-wrenching wrong.

Q: Despite attempts by Jim Gibney to pull the wool over the eyes of people with his spurious claim in the Irish News that you never raised your concerns with any ex-prisoners until last year, it is well known within the republican constituency that you had been giving off on the matter for years - long before the book came out. In fact Brendan Hughes would often rib about it - a 'quick, hide, here he comes again, complaining about the hunger strike' type thing. You actually claim to have raised the matter with Danny Morrison in the Rock Bar while he was in the company of Gibney.

A: I remember that. Danny and Jim had just finished a game of squash in the Beechmount Leisure Centre and had come in for a pint. I was only in a couple of minutes before them and I joined them in one of the wee boxes. During our conversation, Danny said that he was writing a book about the hunger strikes. I then asked him to write 'the truth.'

Q: That must have sounded like a foreign language to him. How did he respond?

A: When he asked me what I meant, I told him about us accepting the deal. You know, his mouth dropped open. I was left with the impression that he didn't know about this. Either that or he's a better actor than Robert de Nero.

Q: Or he was amazed that you knew about it. He may have thought up until the Rock Bar discussion that only one person in the prison knew - the camp O/C.

A: A possibility.

Q: One which may place him in the frame as being complicit in the events, whatever they were, during the final days of Joe McDonnell's life?

A: It is a way of looking at it.

Q: What happened that his book wasn't published?

A: I don't know. An interesting question though.

Q: Do you think the leadership told him to bin it?

A: I don't know. One thing's for sure, if he had been writing anything contentious, and been silly enough to show it to them, they'd have put the squeeze on him to pull the book. We're talking in the conditional tense here, but it takes a bit of balls to publish and be damned - especially when those who might be criticised are the IRA leadership. One criticism that was directed at me, was that no one knew Blanketmen was coming. In fact, a member of the GHQ staff, a former blanket man, visited me about a year before the publication date, and asked me about it. Specifically, he asked me if I was going to 'hurt Gerry Adams?' I told him I was going to 'tell the truth.' I asked him if he knew the real story of the hunger strike, that we had accepted the Mountain Climber offer, and he nodded his head. Do you know what he said? 'Sometimes hard decisions have to be taken in times of war, Ricky.' Well fuck that. I don't mind hard, strategic decisions being taken. I mean; who would want to be a general? They have a thankless task. But when brave men die needlessly - that's crossing the line; that's not on, as far as I'm concerned anyway. You know, the GHQ staffer wired me off not to be influenced by yourself!

Q: Despite all their nonsense that you never told anyone about your concerns he must have suspected that you had vented them to me. Why else say that? How did he learn you were publishing a book if you didn't tell anyone?

A: That's a point.

Q: And of course I'm the advisocrat working tirelessly to undermine the peace process! Maybe myself and Catherine McCartney wrote the book in the month after her brother was butchered just to wreck Gerry Adams' chances of getting a knighthood!

A: Anyway, I told the GHQ staffer I was my own man, that neither you, or anyone else would force me to do something that my conscience didn't feel was right. Then he asked if I'd like to speak to Gerry Adams. I said no. Now, in fairness, this guy didn't threaten me in any way, nor did I feel threatened. What he was trying to do was to start a process that was aimed at persuading me to pull the book.

Q: This is the book that no one including themselves knew about until it appeared on the shelves?

A: I wasn't going to allow that to happen.

Q: If I can take it back to Jim Gibney. He was there in the Rock Bar, yet he put out that dissembling cant in his column that you never raised the issue with anyone over a 24-year period?

A: I've answered that in Monday's Irish News. You know as well as anybody else the status of Gibney's Irish News column.

Q: I take it you are referring to it being widely viewed as the 'I love my leader' column?

A: Homer Simpson! Do you ever read it?

Q: I wouldn't make a point of looking for it. But every now and then somebody points to something in it where he seems to reveal something he shouldn't have. He wrote one time that the peace process does not want truth and cannot function with it. Another time he claimed that Bobby Sands wrote out on the evening of the end of the 1980 hunger strike that he would begin a new hunger strike on the 1st of January. Which meant the Brits had no time to renege on the offer they supposedly made to end the first strike. This was an admission that the first strike collapsed and the Brits did not renege. It also means that Gibney is contradicting himself when he wrote in the Irish News that 'the document could have been the basis' to end the protest. Why otherwise would Bobby have written out stating his intention to start a new strike when there was absolutely no time to test the Brits for sincerity? I look for the faux pas rather than the intent in what he writes. I am waiting on you to be labelled a securocrat in that column. The problem is that you support the peace process.

A: Firstly, let's look at what Gibney said in the first part of his 11 May article. In relation to the Brit document that was delivered to the hunger strikers after they had come off the 1980 strike, he said, 'hours before the document arrived the strike was ended rather than let Sean McKenna die. The document could have been the basis on which the prison protests ended. However the document was an offer from the British to the prisoners not an agreement. There is a huge difference.' How right he is! But if there was no 'agreement' between the two parties at the end of the first hunger strike, then how could the Brits be accused of 'reneging' on an agreement? That's why Bob immediately wanted a second hunger strike. He knew there was no agreement. We all did. The first hunger strike collapsed. The Dark told the Daily Mirror, that the boys had indicated they were not prepared to die. So all this stuff that Big Laurny McKeown is going on about, you know, the 'we wanted to avoid a repetition of what happened at the end of the first hunger strike, when the Brits reneged on a agreement/deal,' is pure bullshit. Understanding that is crucial to removing the gobbledygook that Laurny, Morrison and Co. have thrown up to cloud the issue in the second hunger strike. They are talking what Mick Collins called 'ballsology.'

Q: It seems that you are right and that once again Gibney has put his foot in it. I have written elsewhere that the need to have firm guarantees on any offer from the Brits was understandable but not because of what happened at the end of first hunger strike. 1980 failed before the Brits made any offer that needed to be guaranteed. If the leadership is inaccurate about the ending of the 1980 hunger strike then its account of the 1981 hunger strike depreciates in value.

A: To answer the second part of your question, of course I support the peace process. Like or dislike Gerry Adams, he has to be given credit for ending the un-winnable war.

Q: I think there is some confusion that you could help clear up. It relates to the decision making process during the hunger strikes. What was the chain of command and what say if any had the prisoners in the decision making process?

A: Anyone listening to the likes of Laurny would think that the hunger strikers had the ultimate say in this. Let's get real here. Laurny is trying to protect Big Gerry. The foot-soldiers in the trenches never dictate strategy. Why, even the majors and the colonels - in this case, Bik and myself - didn't have that power. Tactics come from afar; from people who are removed from the field of conflict, but who have the power to determine strategy. People should read Bik's comm to Adams on page 336, Ten Men Dead. On that page Bik told the hunger strikers that, 'I explained the position about my presence being essential at any negotiations …'

Q: What is the significance of this? Would Bik not have a right, even an obligation to be there?

A: Let me give you an example which shows the real purpose served by Bik's presence. It also illustrates their tactic of dictating the ground on which the debate will take place - and they've done this rather successfully, I think. Right, they have restricted the whole debate to the four days before Joe died. But 11 days later, the Mountain Climber came back with the same offer. Adams was on the blower to him. Adams told the hunger strikers about this offer when he visited the camp hospital on 29 July, so there is no disputing that this offer was genuine. Yet when the Mountain Climber came off the mountain for the second and last time, Bik didn't even know what had been rejected on his behalf. This is evident from Bik's comm to Adams, dated 22.7.81, written after the Mountain Climber had gone. Bik said, 'you can give me a run-down on exactly how far the Brits went.' (Page 330 Ten Men Dead).

Q: This seems to suggest that the prison leadership had a very tenuous grip on the actual negotiations. They left it to outside leaders.

A: Outside was always in control. Whoever claims otherwise is talking bullshit.

Q: It certainly reveals the true nature of the balance of power between the leadership and prisoners. I consistently argued within the prison in the mid-1980s that the jail leadership was a mere extension of the outside leadership into the ranks of the prisoners. Its primary function was to represent the interests of the leadership against the prisoners and then only to represent the interests of the prisoners against the regime. They did both quite well.

A: Bik was Adams' man. When Bik spoke, Adams spoke. Everybody knew that. The hunger strike was in safe hands when Bik was in control. The frustrating part in all of this is that the likes of Laurny and Bik know the score. But rather than confront the leadership and ask for an account as to why their last six comrades died, they feel a perverse duty to defend that leadership. It's part of the shameful cover-up to protect the leadership from acute questioning. The first four lads knew the score. They accepted that there was little chance of them surviving. But Joe reaching critical point was different. And this was eating away at me. What made it all the worse was that people were running around as if the history of the hunger strike was a beautiful box of chocolates wrapped in roses. I knew that the roses were nettles, there to jag your finger if you tried to open the box. Everyone could look at and admire the chocolate box but no one was ever really allowed to open it up and look inside to see what was really there.

Q: You took massive criticism for your book from Sinn Fein apologists. To rework a phrase from the Czech writer Milan Kundera, they all lined up against you, right from the president of lies to the idiots of writing. They vilified you, tried to demonise you and to this day they are vitriolic in their condemnation of you. Can you explain the type of tactics that have been employed against you?

A: Nobody knows more about demonisation than Sinn Fein. For decades republicans have been demonized and marginalised and made out to be the ghouls of society. Now they are doing the same thing with me.

Q: Such as?

A: They needed to bring me down from the status of former blanket man to the level of the gutter, where it would be all the easier for people to kick me as they passed by. They had to ensure that I was something people would kick off their shoe. Right from publication day, I was persona non grata, someone who was to be ostracised. The smears started. People who I had been friends with avoided me. A former cellmate on the blanket refused to speak to me. Friends I had all my life blanked me out and made it clear when I went in to a pub that I was not welcome in their company. All The President's Men cut the tripe out of me on television, radio, newspapers - anywhere they had the chance. They tried to attribute false motives to me. They said it was about money. All of this was bullshit. As Danny could testify there is hardly a washer to be made from books.

Q: Especially the type of books he writes.

A: That's another matter. They even accuse me of taking a position of being close to those who supported Thatcher during the hunger strike.

Q: It's ironic then that Thatcher's colleague Michael Portillo should turn up at a play by Danny Morrison and not at your book launch. And no one has heard you call, in true Thatcheresque manner, for the comrades of Bobby Sands to hand themselves into the Diplock courts like common criminals in order that they may be whisked off on the conveyor belt to Maghaberry Prison by the British justice system. The IRA chief of staff and adjutant general at the time of Bobby's death have been doing just that in the past week.

A: Enough said.

Q: But you must have known that this is what you would face. It is their form. They have tried it on John Kelly, Brendan Hughes, Brendan Shannon, Tommy Gorman, Martin Cunningham, Marion and Dolours Price - the list is endless. And these republicans were not challenging the most sacred cow of Adams-style republicanism in the way that you were. You knew that there was little in the way of reward in what you were pursuing, only grief.

A: Some times in life you need to stand up and tell the truth. When the lack of truth is used to camouflage the facts surrounding the deaths of the most sacred of comrades we all need to take stock. These are our kith and kin. These six men should have been enjoying a life with their families like the rest of us; maybe the unmarried ones would have found wives and had the pleasure of enjoying watching their kids grow up. No, there is a wrong here and it has no respect for creed, ideology, tradition or simple humanity. Six people need not have died. They should never have died. Human life is important. So is humility. I see no humility at all from those who made the crucial decisions, not an ounce of it. I see no contrition, or adequate explanation given to the families as to why their sons died. What we get instead is the jackboot on our necks. For why?

Q: You know why. They cannot stand the slightest modicum of dissent. They view any alternative idea as some sort of dangerous illness, the spread of which must be halted by a range of means. Some people, including former members of the movement, think they are fascistic. But you emerged robust. Every TV studio or radio station that I happened to be at in the wake of the book's publication - usually for discussions about the murder of Robert McCartney - I heard comments that you must have a point given the track record for unreliability of some of those who attacked you. The morning your book hit the shelves you featured on Talkback. Danny Morrison came in heavily but unpersuasively against you. His performance in a sense won the argument for you or at least gave you the space to develop your argument. The following Sunday I was in the BBC in Belfast and all the talk was of how unconvincing Morrison sounded. This week at a book launch just after the RTE documentary, it was the same thing, essentially: 'O'Rawe must have a point as Morrison simply does not sound credible.' In essence, without Morrison protesting too much you would not have made the impact you did?

A: I don't think that is correct. People have difficulty believing Danny at the best of times but …

Q: Ed Moloney recently wrote that he 'had caught Danny telling so many lies' that he could believe him about nothing.

A: … but my book has to stand on its own. I think it has done that.

Q: There are many memorable pages in your book. It is a moving account of how naked men for years defied a vicious and brutalising prison management working for the British government to brand the mark of the criminal on republicanism. But the real point of controversy is your assertion that the Army Council stopped a deal being reached that would have delivered to the prisoners the substance of the five demands. Army Council people of the time seem to dispute this. Ruairi O'Bradaigh, for example, is on record as saying that the council did no such thing although he does state that your claims must be explored further. It seems clear that he suspects you are right in what you say but wrong in whose door you lay the blame at. What have you to say to this?

A: At the time we had no reason to believe we were dealing with any body other than the Army Council of the IRA. What reason was there to think otherwise?

Q: And not a sub-committee specifically tasked with running the hunger strike?

A: Whether they called it a sub-committee or not, we were of the view that everything went to the Army Council. Nobody led us to believe any different. Did you think any different?

Q: At the time, no.

A: We all felt it was the Council. Brownie was representing the Council and he wrote the comms. Why would we think we were dealing with anything less than the Council when he was the man communicating with us?

Q: You might not wish to say it but for the purpose of the reader - and this has been publicly documented in copious quantities - Brownie is Gerry Adams, who was a member of the Army Council and the IRA adjutant general during the hunger strike.

A: I have nothing to add to that.

Q: But do you still hold to the view, despite the protests from O'Bradaigh, that the Council actually prevented a satisfactory outcome being reached?

A: No, I do not. Army Council was the general term I used to describe the decision makers on the outside handling the hunger strike. I was not privy to Army Council deliberations. But I believed they were the only people who had the authority to manage the hunger strike from the outside. So it seemed safe then to presume that when we received a comm from Brownie it was from the Army Council as a collective.

Q: But what has happened to lead you to change your mind and accept that the Council may have been by-passed on this matter by Gerry Adams?

A: I have since found out that people on the Army Council at the time have, after my book came out, rejected my thesis and refused to accept that the Council had directed the prisoners to refuse the offer.

Q: Bypassing the Council as a means to shafting it and ultimately getting his own way would seem to be a trait of Gerry Adams. Do you believe then that the bulk of the Council did not approve blocking an end to the hunger strike before Joe McDonnell died?

A: Absolutely. The sub committee managed and monitored the hunger strike. Given that comms were coming in two and three times a day it is simply not possible to believe that the Council could have been kept informed of all the developments. Could the Council even have met regularly during that turbulent period?

Q: Could they not be covering for their own role?

A: I have not spoken to any of the council of the day. But those that have claim that they appeared genuinely shocked that my book should implicate them. And they do allow for the possibility that the wool was pulled over their eyes by the sub-committee handling the strike.

Q: So what do you think did happen?

A: As I said in my book, Adams was at the top of the pyramid. He sent the comms in. He read the comms that came out. He talked to the Mountain Climber. As I said earlier, we know that he, and possibly the clique around him, decided to reject the second offer, at least, without telling Bik what was in it. Nobody knows the hunger strike like Adams knows it. And yet he is maintaining the silence of the mouse, the odd squeak from him when confronted.

Here's what he said in relation to the Mountain Climber in the RTE Hunger strikes documentary,

'There had been a contact which the British had activated. It became known as the Mountain Climber. Basically, I didn't learn this until after the hunger strike ended.'

He didn't learn what? About the contact and the offers, or the Mountain Climber euphemism? If he's saying he didn't know about the offers, then why did he show the offer to the Father Crilly and Hugh Logue in Andersonstown on 6 July 1981? And if he's saying he didn't know of the Mountain Climber euphemism, I'd refer your readers to Bik's comm to Adams on pages 301-302, Ten Men Dead, where Bik tells Brownie, who is Adams, that Morrison had told the hunger strikers about the Mountain Climber: 'Pennies has already informed them of "Mountain Climber" angle…' So he knew about the Mountain Climber euphemism, and he knew of the offers. As a defensive strategy, this lurking in the shadows, this proceeding through ambiguity, can only work for so long. At some point academics and investigative journalists are going to ask the searching questions and Gerry Adams is not going to be up to them.

Q: Are you now suggesting that Adams may have withheld crucial details from the Army Council?

A: I don't know the procedural detail of the relationship between Adams and the Army Council. What I do know is that my account of events is absolutely spot on. You said yourself on RTE on Tuesday that there was independent verification of the conversation between myself and Bik McFarlane.

Q: Indeed. I think you realise there is a bit more than that. As you know I have enormous time for Bik. It goes back to the days before the blanket. But I can only state what I uncovered. I am not saying that it is conclusive. These things can always be contested. But it certainly shades the debate your way. If Morrison and Gibney continue to mislead people that there is no evidence supporting your claim from that wing on H3 I can always allow prominent journalists and academics to access what is there and arrive at whatever conclusions they feel appropriate. That should settle matters and cause a few red faces to boot. We know how devious and unscrupulous these people have been in their handling of this. They simply did not reckon on what would fall the way of the Blanket. Nor did I for that matter. A blunder on their part.

A: If the Army Council say they received no comm from us accepting the deal, and also say that they sent in no word telling us effectively to refuse the deal, then I think the only plausible explanation is that those who sent in the 'instruction' to reject the Mountain Climber's offer were doing so without the knowledge or approval of the Army Council.

Q: When you say 'those' you presumably mean Adams and Liam Og who was also sending in comms coming to the prison leadership?

A: Yes.

Q: Liam Og has been identified by Denis O'Hearn, author of the biography of Bobby Sands, as Tom Hartley. It appears that Hartley was privy to every comm between the leadership and the prisoners.

A: That would be the case.

Q: How can we be sure that Adams rather than Liam Og was responsible for withholding information from the Army Council?

A: Because, while we might not know the procedural detail, Adams had a relationship with the Army Council that was vastly different from Liam Og. You point out that this is well recorded in public.

Q: Despite Jim Gibney's assertions in the Irish News that you never discussed your concerns with anyone prior to the publication of the book, you claim to have raised them with Hartley in 1991.

A: I did. He didn't think pursuing it was the wisest course of action. Immediately after the conversation with him I told my wife Bernadette about it. She recalls it to this day.

Q: Was he a gofer?

A: Not at all. He was a major player.

Q: If his role in the hunger strike was so central and he is aware of your concerns but has chose to say nothing he leaves himself open to the allegation that his main concern lies in protecting his master and his own role in what seems to have been a sordid exercise in manipulation and deception. Why were you still expressing your doubts to people like him ten years after the hunger strike?

A: I liked Tom. And it wasn't just him. I had serious reservations about our boys dying on hunger strike. I didn't like the way the army council, as I believed it then was, had handled the matter. I was angry. I just felt that the six boys had been used and abused. I felt that my six buddies had died on hunger strike for nothing. I raised it with a lot of people some of whom have admitted to you that this is so. And nobody could tell me why the boys died. They became pawns in a wider battle. These were people who had lives, feelings, and families. They did not deserve this.

Q: There is an irreconcilable tension between your account of the days prior to the death of Joe McDonnell and Brendan McFarlane's. Can you take us through that?

A: Bik was called up to the camp hospital on Sunday the 5th of July to meet Danny Morrison. I knew nothing about what was happening up there. He returned and sent me up a comm telling me that there was some guy called the Mountain Climber on board. He was from the British government and he had offered us a package of concessions.

Q: Which in your estimation was sufficient to end the hunger strike?

A: Absolutely.

Q: How close were they to the five demands?

A: We had eight men on hunger strike. To go beyond Joe took us into an abyss that I could see no way out of. I looked at the Mountain Climber offer for three hours. It was a fantastic offer. I never expected it. Remember, Danny Morrison told RTE's Good Morning show on 5 May, Bobby's anniversary, that what the Brits 'were offering us was more than they were, publicly or privately, offering the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace …'

Q: Was the fact that you were desperate to prevent your colleagues from dying not colouring your judgment and allowing you to overstate what was on offer?

A: Obviously not, if we're to believe Danny's account of the offer. No. I repeat that what was on offer was enough to honourably end the hunger strike. We had our own clothes - we didn't care if the ordinary prisoners had their own clothes as well. We had made this crystal clear in our 4th of July statement, written by myself. It was a bit like Eamonn De Valera - he deleted the idea of a republic in order to break deadlock with the Brits during the War of Independence, and we took out the term political status to also break the deadlock with the Brits during the hunger strike. After that everything was possible.

Q: Then why has Bik McFarlane held to his position that there was no offer?

A: I don't know why he started out from this position in the first place given that Morrison contradicted him so thoroughly. Since his initial claim that there was no offer he has shifted his position though to try to come into line with Morrison. He is now saying there was no deal. They want to river dance between deal and offer and blur the issue.

Q: Yet he knew that a deal was on offer?

A: Morrison told him the offer was made. In the RTE Hunger Strikes documentary, Danny said he visited the prison hospital on 5 July 1981. 'I went in and I think there were eight people there. Joe McDonnell was brought in as well. Joe was blind and was in a wheelchair. We told him what they were offering at that stage…' Is it possible that Morrison didn't tell the O/C of the prisoners about this Brit offer? Come on!

Q: It seems clear that Adams was the main point of contact with the Mountain Climber. Why do you think he has been so reticent in responding to your charges? While trying to dismiss you his intervention has nevertheless been minimalist. He has preferred to leave it to the sandbags - people like Morrison and Gibney.

A: Because he has got so much to hide. He pretended on the RTE documentary that he only found out who the Mountain Climber was after the event. He was the man who was talking directly to the Mountain Climber on the phone. He was the man who was making the decisions as to what was a good deal and what wasn't. And what was good for him was by no means good for the boys. And he has avoided this like the plague. It is about time we knew exactly who the Mountain Climber was, the nature of the contacts, and the detail of the offer that he made. Was that offer sent into the prisoners? Twenty-five years on, and we still don't know the detail!

Q: Which would invalidate Morrison's point that if the leadership had prevented a deal the Brits would have been trumpeting it from the rooftops. The Mountain Climber was presumably told that the prisoners had rejected it. And Thatcher, with her reputation for facing down rather than parleying with opponents, was hardly going to let it out that she was making offers to the deadly enemy, the IRA.

A: Of course.

Q: Is it your view that the offer from the Mountain Climber was relayed to the jail leadership by Morrison in the hope that the prisoners would reject it and that when they decided to accept it elements within the leadership had to effectively overrule yourself and Brendan McFarlane?

A: Yes. We accepted the deal. Why would we not? We were offered a way out which meant comrades would not have to die. Who in their right mind would not take it?

Q: It has been a difficult time for the Sinn Fein leadership. Instead of arriving like conquering heroes carrying the flame lit by the hunger strikers they now have to answer media questions implying that they may have had a hand in killing the hunger strikers. No matter what answer they give it is swamped in the tidal wave of reverberations caused by the question. The leadership has been less than sure footed in its media management.

A: All they have done from day one is stick the knife in me. And that is not a successful PR strategy. At the end of the day for all these guys that know what happened I have one thing to say to them: you should have some contrition and acknowledge that we deserve the truth. That is the least our dead comrades deserve.

Q: Truth from them - some would say you are losing it?

A: We have a right to know.

Q: If you absolve the Army Council of the day, as a collective, of responsibility for sabotaging a conclusion to the hunger strike that would have saved the lives of six men, who do you hold responsible?

A: Maggie Thatcher had the responsibility for bringing this all to an end.

Q: But given that she made an offer, which would have brought it to an end, and which was sabotaged, who then on the republican side, if not the Council, was responsible?

A: You are trying to tie me down.

Q: I should not have to. You should be telling us directly if as you say you believe in our right to know.

A: Let's put it like this. The iron lady was not so steely at the end. She wanted a way out. The Army Council, I now believe, as a collective were kept in the dark about developments. The sub-committee ran the hunger strike. Draw your own conclusions from the facts.

Q: What could be the possible motive for Adams and the sub-committee wanting to prolong the hunger strike?

A: I don't know for sure. I can only speculate and this time it would be wrong for you to try to nail me down on what is only opinion.

Q: Yet one way of reading your book is to see the decision to sabotage a successful conclusion to the hunger strike in the context of Sinn Fein needing to strike while the electoral iron was hot.

A: I floated it as a possibility, yes.

Q: John Nixon from the 1980 hunger strike team was very forthright in asserting this perspective on the RTE documentary.

A: John Nixon demonstrated that it is probably the most persuasive argument made in relation to the longevity of the hunger strike. The absence of an Army order to end the hunger strike, when it was blatantly obvious that nothing more was to be got from the Mountain Climber, reinforces this opinion. It is impossible to believe that Gerry Adams did not see the bigger picture and did not realise how omni-important Owen Carron's election was to the future of republican strategy. He would have been a fool not to. And Gerry Adams is no fool.

Q: But being a fool not to see the electoral opportunity does not mean that it is ethical to follow such a premise to the point of allowing six comrades to die in order to fulfil the potential of that opportunity?

A: It would be an absolute disgrace if it were the case that six men were sacrificed to bring Sinn Fein onto the constitutional altar. I just find it impossible to believe that any republican would let six of their comrades die so they could work partition.

Q: But the logic of your book is precisely that?

A: It is one of a range of possibilities. I am not going to be dogmatic on it. I can only state what I know and anything after that is speculation. I know that there was an offer made and somebody outside rejected it.

Q: Bik, I have always seen as a very humane and compassionate guy. I know this may jar with the way the media often depicted him. But I knew him well. To me he loved his comrades. The image of him as someone who would not fight to save the lives of the hunger strikers against the wishes of a malign and ambitious leadership element jars with my experience of him.

A: I feel sorry for Bik. He has been thrown to the wolves. And he is hoping that this dies out before any more serious questioning takes place. I can live with that. He did what he did at the time and that's it. The problem he has is that he has never learned to question; he has never learned to think outside of the movement structure. And that is a tragedy.

Q: Do you as a leading republican strategist during the hunger strike feel any sense of guilt over what happened?

A: Well, yes. I feel guilty that I didn't call for it to end sooner. But I did try to prevent the last six men dying, to save lives. I did put out the conciliatory 4th of July statement. Bik had about 5% input into that. I tried to stop the thing. But it was patently clear that it didn't matter what I said. It just did not matter. The leadership called the shots.

Q: How do you feel when former hunger strikers like John Pickering and Laurny McKeown try to minimise your role in the hunger strike?

A: It's not nice, not nice at all. In fact, some of the attacks on me have bordered on the fascist. It's as if no one else is allowed to express a view contrary to the leadership's line. Their sole intent - not just them, but Morrison, Gibney and cohorts - is to de-intellectualise the discussion, engage in name calling and smearing and that way either drag the debate down into the gutter where people will switch off, or force me off the field so they can continue to have it to themselves. I'll tell you one thing, they are wasting their time. I'll always oppose those who try to suppress truth, whether from inside the republican Movement or outside of it.

Q: What does the future hold in terms of where this debate is going?

A: The leadership had better get used to the idea that this debate is going to expose them. Their troubles won't soon blow away, you know. The debate will explain how they have got to where they are. Did you ever think back then, as we debated socialism and republicanism, that we'd see the day republicans would be nominating Ian Paisley for first minister in a Stormont Assembly? Jesus, what a debacle! Bobby Sands, socialist, secularist, republican bears no resemblance to any of this. None of the boys did.

Q: Thanks for your time. What you have done is to remain consistent with the precept of Danny Morrison who urges republicans not to let anyone else take authorship of our history. As you make clear in your Irish News Platform piece it is a battle between your audacity and their mendacity. They have failed to intimidate you. You are right never to yield to these leadership screws, any more than you did to the blanket screws, the self-appointed custodians of a hideous and terrible secret. To give way would allow them to prohibit you from expressing now what you expressed during the blanket protest - in the immortal words of Bobby Sands:

the undauntable thought, my friend
that thought that says 'I'm right!'



Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

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

16 May 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

'The Blanket' meets 'Blanketmen'
Anthony McIntyre speaks with Richard O'Rawe

Former Blanketman Speaks Out Against ‘Vitriolic Attack’
Richard O'Rawe

"What Future for Republicans?"
Public Meeting Announcement

An Open Letter to Gerry Adams and the IRA's Chief of Staff of the Army Council
Dr John Coulter

Paper Over the Cracks
John Kennedy

The Famine Season
Russell Streur

DUP Pressure Cooker: About to Blow?
Dr John Coulter

Oil Prices
John Kennedy

Profile: Ibn Warraq
Anthony McIntyre

The Muslims America Loves
M. Shahid Alam

Freedom of Speech index

11 May 2006

The Incorruptible
Anthony McIntyre

Ruarí Ó Brádaigh: Robert White's biography of a Republican idealist
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Can of Worms
John Kennedy

The Wrong Man
Martin Ingram

Gotta Be Cruel to be Kind
Dr John Coulter

Revising the Rising?
Forum Magazine Editorial

Solving the Irish Problem
Michael Gillespie

Geoffrey Cooling

Thank You, Bobby Sands
Fred A. Wilcox

Welcome Back, David. Now, Go Away Again!
Eamon Sweeney

Give Them That Auld Tyme Religion
Dr John Coulter

Meal Ticket
John Kennedy

Examples of Dialogue
Conn Corrigan

Two-State Solution
Mick Hall

Peter King - Still Irish America's Champion
Patrick Hurley

Statements on the Murder of Michael McIlveen
RSF; 32 County Sovereignty Movement

Profile: Chahla Chafiq
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index



The Blanket




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