have not converted a man because you have silenced him.
Sean Mac Stiofain sent the following comment.
It was first published as a letter in Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism June-July 2001.
In his article, Liam O Ruairc wrote: 'Cardinal O'Fiaich, no real friend of Republicans'. I strongly object to this insult to a true friend to Republican prisoners and their dependants.
Archbishop O'Fiaich visited H-Block late in 1977. He communicated strong feelings about the situation in the H-Blocks. On 30 July 1978, he visited again Long Kesh prisoners including those protesting for political status. In his statement afterwards he compared the conditions of prisoners in H-Block to those of the poor in Calcutta; his statement related not only to the prison conditions themselves but to the system of justice which landed most of the men in Long Kesh:
'They were sentenced by special courts without juries. The vast majority were convicted on allegedly voluntary confessions obtained in circumstances which are now placed under grave suspicion. Many are very youthful and came from families which had never been in trouble before. They lived in areas which suffered discrimination in housing and jobs.'
On this, the London Times commented: 'Dr O'Fiaich could hardly have composed a more comprehensive endorsement of the IRA's position.'
Only one other bishop, Bishop Daly of Derry, visited Long Kesh at this time.
When a volunteer from South Armagh died on hunger strike, Archbishop O'Fiaich issued a very strong statement not only about the deplorable conditions in the prison but also the conditions which made the armed struggle inevitable.
The next day, a unit of the IRA killed four British soldiers in South Armagh in a land mine operation and Tomas O'Fiaich didn't comment.
In my opinion, Tomas O'Fiaich was the most nationalist-minded man who was appointed Archbishop of Armagh for hundreds of years.
Sean Mac Stiofain,
Unfortunately, we failed to check the changes made before we went to press. We have apologised to Liam O Ruairc for not consulting him about this change. Likewise, we offer an apology to our readers.
At the time of the hunger strikes there was, however, some criticism of the role 'moderate forces' such as Cardinal O'Fiaich were playing in attempting to resolve the prison protest. For example, on February 1981, a statement jointly issued by the blanket men and the women on protest in Armagh prison announcing a second hunger strike to commence on 1 March said:
"Our last hunger strikers were morally blackmailed by a number of people and politicians who called upon them to end the fast and allow the resolution of the protest. The hunger strikes ended seven weeks ago and in the absence of any movement from the British we have not seen or heard from these people since.
"It needs to be asked openly of the Irish bishops, of Cardinal O'Fiaich and of politicians like John Hume, what did your recommending ending of the last hunger strike gain for us?" (cited in Ireland, the key to the British revolution, Larkin Publications 1984, p348).
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