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?
Terrible. It has been terrible.
Can you elaborate?
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
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?
I saw a wrong here. It was a gut-wrenching wrong.
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.
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.'
That must have sounded like a foreign language to
him. How did he respond?
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.
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.
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?
It is a way of looking at it.
What happened that his book wasn't published?
I don't know. An interesting question though.
Do you think the leadership told him to bin it?
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!
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
That's a point.
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!
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.
This is the book that no one including themselves
knew about until it appeared on the shelves?
I wasn't going to allow that to happen.
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?
I've answered that in Monday's
Irish News. You know as well as anybody
else the status of Gibney's Irish News column.
I take it you are referring to it being widely viewed
as the 'I love my leader' column?
Homer Simpson! Do you ever read it?
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.
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.'
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
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
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?
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
What is the significance of this? Would Bik not
have a right, even an obligation to be there?
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).
This seems to suggest that the prison leadership
had a very tenuous grip on the actual negotiations.
They left it to outside leaders.
Outside was always in control. Whoever claims otherwise
is talking bullshit.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Especially the type of books he writes.
That's another matter. They even accuse me of taking
a position of being close to those who supported
Thatcher during the hunger strike.
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.
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,
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.
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?
I don't think that is correct. People have difficulty
believing Danny at the best of times but
Ed Moloney recently wrote that he 'had caught Danny
telling so many lies' that he could believe him
but my book has to stand on its own. I think
it has done that.
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?
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?
And not a sub-committee specifically tasked with
running the hunger strike?
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?
At the time, no.
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?
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.
I have nothing to add to that.
But do you still hold to the view, despite the protests
from O'Bradaigh, that the Council actually prevented
a satisfactory outcome being reached?
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.
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?
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.
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
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?
Could they not be covering for their own role?
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.
So what do you think did happen?
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.
what he said in relation to the Mountain Climber
in the RTE Hunger strikes documentary,
Are you now suggesting that Adams may have withheld
crucial details from the Army Council?
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.
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.
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.
When you say 'those' you presumably mean Adams and
Liam Og who was also sending in comms coming to
the prison leadership?
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.
That would be the case.
How can we be sure that Adams rather than Liam Og
was responsible for withholding information from
the Army Council?
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.
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.
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.
Was he a gofer?
Not at all. He was a major player.
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?
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.
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
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.
Which in your estimation was sufficient to end the
How close were they to the five demands?
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
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?
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
Then why has Bik McFarlane held to his position
that there was no offer?
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.
Yet he knew that a deal was on offer?
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!
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
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!
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.
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?
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
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.
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
Truth from them - some would say you are losing
We have a right to know.
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?
Maggie Thatcher had the responsibility for bringing
this all to an end.
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,
You are trying to tie me down.
I should not have to. You should be telling us directly
if as you say you believe in our right to know.
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.
What could be the possible motive for Adams and
the sub-committee wanting to prolong the hunger
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.
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.
I floated it as a possibility, yes.
John Nixon from the 1980 hunger strike team was
very forthright in asserting this perspective on
the RTE documentary.
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.
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
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
But the logic of your book is precisely that?
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
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.
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
Do you as a leading republican strategist during
the hunger strike feel any sense of guilt over what
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
How do you feel when former hunger strikers like
John Pickering and Laurny McKeown try to minimise
your role in the hunger strike?
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
What does the future hold in terms of where this
debate is going?
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.
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
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
undauntable thought, my friend
that thought that says 'I'm right!'