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3 March 2005 Edition

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Bik rubbishes Hunger Strike claim

Members of Ógra Shinn Féin in Omagh mark the anniversary of the start of the 1981 hunger strike

Members of Ógra Shinn Féin in Omagh mark the anniversary of the start of the 1981 hunger strike

Bik McFarlane, OC of the republican prisoners in the H-Blocks during the 1981 Hunger Strike, has rubbished claims that the IRA Army Council rejected an offer made by the British that could have brought the protest to an end in July, preventing the deaths of six men.

Former H-Block prisoner Richard O'Rawe, in a book published through the British Sunday Times, alleges that a British Government contact, Mountain Climber, put forward proposals that he, O'Rawe — the prisoners' PRO at the time — and Bik McFarlane had agreed to.

However, speaking to An Phoblacht this week, McFarlane dismissed O'Rawe's contention that a substantive offer was made and totally rejected the notion that he, as OC of the H-Block protestors and the person in direct contact with the Hunger Strikers and the Republican Movement on the outside, accepted any such offer.

Before outlining the events of that crucial week in July when the hunger strike was entering its sixth month and just days before Joe McDonnell became the fifth man to die, McFarlane made it clear that "no one should be under any illusions that it was Margaret Thatcher and the British Government who are responsible for the deaths of the Hunger Strikers and no one else. For Richard O'Rawe to try and shift the blame on to the IRA is scurrilous."

McFarlane went on to explain that Danny Morrison met with Joe McDonnell, Kieran Doherty, Kevin Lynch, Tom McElwee and Mickey Devine in the prison hospital on Sunday 5 July. Martin Hurson was too ill to attend the meeting.

McFarlane was brought to the hospital wing as Morrison was meeting the Hunger Strikers but was not allowed to be present, although Morrison did brief him after his talks with those on fast.

Morrison explained to the prisoners that the British had been in contact through Mountain Climber and outlined what was on offer.

The prisoners, already wary of British brinkmanship and bad faith from the 1980 Hunger Strike, wanted to explore the offer and tie the British to their word.

"We wanted guarantees," said McFarlane. "We didn't trust the Brits."

According to O'Rawe's version of events, McFarlane returned from the hospital and briefed him on Mountain Climber's proposals. He claims that, in a conversation with McFarlane, both agreed the proposals amounted to an acceptable deal.

"That did not happen," insists McFarlane. "No deal was offered to the Hunger Strikers whereby they could say it was acceptable.

"Richard's whole thrust is to say that the Army Council was responsible for the deaths of six of the Hunger Strikers. That is scurrilous, it is wrong and absolutely inaccurate."

Also scathing about O'Rawe's claims was Danny Morrison. The former Sinn Féin Director of Publicity, who liaised with the prisoners during the Blanket Protest and the Hunger Strikes, was adamant that the IRA did not intervene to prevent a deal.

"After the disgraceful things that were written in that book, Richard O'Rawe should hang his head in shame," said Morrison.

"He claims to have written the book because the families had 'a right to know the facts', yet he did not have the courtesy to forewarn them."


An Phoblacht
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