1981 Hunger Strike – did Britain offer a deal?


Perhaps the most important historical year in the course of the Troubles was 1981, when ten republican prisoners died on hunger-strike, in their attempt to be recognised as political prisoners. Because this was such a significant event, showing courage beyond most people’s imagining, there have been energetic efforts by opponents of republicanism to discredit the men’s death – some by focusing on what they did before they were incarcerated and embarked on the hunger strike, some by claiming that the British government offered a compromise which was secretly rejected by Sinn Féin, allowing many of the men to die needlessly. This piece offers a rebuttal of the latter claim.


No Change, No Deal – Brit Confirmation

25 Responses to 1981 Hunger Strike – did Britain offer a deal?

  1. Dixie Elliott August 26, 2016 at 8:26 pm #

    “Opponents of republicanism.” – Republicanism as in those who toast the British Queen and chase her offspring for handshakes every time they show up in Ireland?

    I was on that wing with Bobby Sands as was Richard O’Rawe and I’d firstly like to know what you were doing at that time Jude which might give you the right to refer to anyone, especially those of us who were there, as “opponents of republicanism”?

    Let us now deal with Blelloch. The Irish News carried an article today on the documents released this week in regards to a memo from Stephen Leach of the NIO to Blelloch. In the memo it is confirmed that ‘Adams told the ICJP in confidence about the ‘Mountain Climber’ and indicated that a ‘good offer’ had recently been received via this channel.’

    If this was the case why did the likes of Bik tell Fergal McKinney, then a reporter, that there was no offer whatsoever? Why did Danny Morrison repeatedly deny the existence of an offer? Surely Gerry would have told them there was indeed a ‘good offer’ instead of letting them get caught out lying?

    Danny and company lied they even used the Blelloch document, released a few years back, to back up their lies.

    However in the recent document we can see that Blelloch knew very little about the ‘Mountain Climber’ back channel. In a note he stated that…”I did not myself believe that there were in effect two government positions, one being deployed by the NIO and one by somebody else.”

    Surely anyone having read ‘Ten Men Dead’ would see that there was indeed two different positions, the negotiations between the NIO and the ICJP and on the other hand the negotiations between the Foreign Office/Thatcher and Adams through the back channel, the ‘Mountain Climber’.

    Not only does Leach confirm that Adams told the ICJP about a ‘good offer’ but David Beresford includes this fact in ‘Ten Men Dead’. Therefore, despite what Blelloch believed, there was indeed two government positions and this hardly puts him in a position in which anyone, like Danny Morrison, can rely upon to back him up.

    Now if Adams believed that the offer he received via the ‘Mountain Climber’ was a ‘good offer’ it stands to reason he would have passed it on to the OC on the inside which was of course Bik, who orginally told Fergal McKinney that there was no offer whatsoever.

    Despite Bik’s initial denials he in fact later stated in the Belfast Telegraph… “And I said to Richard (O’Rawe) this is amazing, this is a huge opportunity and I feel there’s a potential here (in the Mountain Climber process) to end this.”

    So despite the claims to the contrary there was an offer on July 5th, days before the death of Joe McDonnell, and of course Bik discussed it with Richard O’Rawe and would have sent word outside. Richard said they accepted that offer and other prisoners in cells near them backed this up.

    So who rejected it. And why?

    ‘Ten Men Dead’ was written largely relying on comms between Bik and Adams yet on the date of that offer and days after there is no comm between the two discussing this offer. In fact the only comm on or around that date refers to a meeting with the ICJP.

    Why is the July 5th offer comm missing from ‘Ten Men Dead’ as it was surely of great importance?

    Finally the Irish News article states that an MI6 agent, Michael Oakley, was the ‘Mountain Climber’, whether or not this was Blelloch’s belief is not made clear. However all concerned, including Martin McGuinness, agree that the ‘Mountain Climber’ was indeed Brendan Duddy a Derry business man. Duddy backed Richard O’Rawe up in Derry’s Gasyard Center and stated in Belfast having pointed out Danny Morrison in the audience that he, Morrison; was tasked with taking the offer into the prison.

    • MT August 26, 2016 at 9:25 pm #

      I doubt you’ll get much of a reply from Jude. He doesn’t like to engage in discussion much.

      You might get a sarcastic couple.of lines out of him.

      • Jude Collins August 27, 2016 at 7:57 am #

        How well you know me, MT…

        • MT August 27, 2016 at 8:10 am #

          “How well you know me, MT…”

          So it would seem. Maybe yoI’ll prove me wrong and address Dixie’s points?

  2. fiosrach August 26, 2016 at 10:29 pm #

    To convince a man against his will is to leave him of the same opinion still. I don’t think it will ever be cleared up satisfactorily whether there was a concrete offer from Thatcher but I cannot accept that Adams etc al dragged their heels and deliberately let men die to advance the electoral prospects of Sinn Féin.

  3. giordanobruno August 26, 2016 at 10:30 pm #

    Only those who were involved in the grim events of the hunger strikes can really say what happened and even many of them will not have known the full picture.
    For the rest of us it is down to which version we believe and that is no doubt partly influenced by who we want to believe.
    I can only say that I have always found the detail offered by the likes of Dixie Elliott and Richard O’Rawe to be very convincing,and it is surprising to see the word of a minor British official being offered up as a trustworthy source.
    Are British officials now reliable sources of what happened?
    Or only when their version of events is agreeable?
    It is interesting though that Jude considers it a discredit to the hunger strikers to look at what they did before those events. Is that not part and parcel of who they were?
    And as Dixie Elliott points out why is anyone questioning the SF version of events an opponent of Republicanism? Sinn Fein do not own Republicanism.

    • Argenta August 27, 2016 at 10:28 pm #

      Very fair comment.It seems strange that we are still waiting on Jude to give a considered response to Dixies post.Maybe he has to consult with Danny Morrison first!

      • Jude Collins August 28, 2016 at 10:49 am #

        Sometimes, Argenta, I think you’re still in short trousers. How much time do you think it takes me to write a daily blog? To Ok comments by you and others? To put up guest blogs? The fact that I occasionally will comment or even engage in mini-debate does NOT mean that I’m therefore compelled or required to respond to any and every question that some comment-writer comes up with. You may lead a life, Argenta, where you loll about on a velvet couch having peeled grapes dropped into your mouth. Not all of us are so blessed…

        • Robert August 28, 2016 at 10:55 am #

          It would have been simpler to say no Jude 😉

        • Argenta August 28, 2016 at 7:27 pm #

          My apologies if I’ve touched a raw nerve there.Most of us (Gio included,I’m sure) would not demand a response to each and every post.But the failure to respond to the major poster(Dixie Elliot) certainly baffles me.

      • giordanobruno August 28, 2016 at 11:06 am #

        I think we can’t compel Jude to respond to our comments, or at least I have’n’t yet figured out how we can compel him.
        I have always felt that the discussion below the line draws out more considered views (as well as plenty of ill-considered views) and can force us to examine why we believe what we believe. So I am genuinely disappointed that Jude is restricting his input these days.
        Having said that I suppose it is time consuming and must be tedious waiting for each response to be processed through Connolly House (joking Jude,please don’t ban me!).

        • Jude Collins August 28, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

          Sorry to take so long coming back, gio – I was paralytic with laughter at your wit…Again (and I hope for the last time) – sometimes I get the time to respond to posts – as I’m doing right now; more often I don’t have the time. I figure I’ve probably invested enough of time, energy and other stuff in setting up the site, writing a blog, encouraging others to do so (why don’t you, gio? Then I could criticise you for not responding more to respondents), checking for abuse/libel, and other stuff. And yet I have people – you included it seems – who figure I’m being evasive/lazy/hostile by not hopping in and answering any question they may choose to ask me. Sorry, I’ll have to stop again – paralytic fit returning…

          • giordanobruno August 28, 2016 at 2:13 pm #

            I thought my post reflected my sorrow rather than criticism.
            I certainly never used the terms evasive, lazy or hostile.
            I understand your reasons I was simply saying it is better (when you do have the time) when you do respond.
            “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter” ee cummings..

  4. billy August 26, 2016 at 10:47 pm #

    your first point dixie explains a lot,draft dodgers taking the word of blelloch says enough.

    • Dixie Elliott August 27, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

      The recently released documents in fact prove that ‘Sir John Blelloch’s’ previously released interview with Padraig O’Malley, five years after the Hunger Strikes, isn’t worth the paper it was written on…

      These recent documents are a memo written to Blelloch from NIO official Stephen Leach telling him that Padraig O’Malley wanted to question him, Blelloch, about the ‘existence of an intermediary.’

      Leach told Blelloch in this memo, about Gerry Adams telling the ICJP that a ‘good offer’ had recently been received via this channel’. Blelloch in a note replied… ”I did not myself believe that there were in effect two government positions, one being deployed by the NIO and one by somebody else.”

      But here was Leach confirming that another channel (The Mountain Climber) existed and had passed a ‘good offer’ to Adams. Therefore previous to his O’Malley interview Blelloch was either still unaware of it, five years later, or he was in denial of it thus making this interview invalid as a means of backing up any form of argument.

      Note: The NIO were in contact with the ICJP during the Hunger Strikes so it stands to reason that this body informed their NIO contacts of what Adams had told them at the time. This is in actual fact mentioned in ‘Ten Men Dead.’

  5. Brian Patterson August 27, 2016 at 7:01 am #

    I hold no brief for SF or Adams but would point out that an “offer” from the British Government seldom constitutes a guarantee that that offer will be honoured. Britain had made previous offers and renegued on them. This was a time of much confusion, suspicion and even panic. As a hurler would be inclined to put down any strategic failure on the part of SF to confusion and uncertainty rather than Machiavellian intent.And I think it significant that the late Ruairí O’Brádaigh, no friend of the current SF or of Adams, denied that any credible offer had been made by the Brits.

    • Dixie Elliott August 27, 2016 at 3:27 pm #

      Brian Ruairí O’Brádaigh’s exact words were:

      “Sinn Fein’s task in 1980-81 was to campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

      Sinn Fein knew nothing of conditions alleged to be on offer for settlement of the strike.

      – I do not believe that the army council of the IRA was aware of such alleged conditions either.”

      He ‘knew nothing’ and ‘did not believe’ is in actual fact telling us that both SF and the AC of the IRA were kept in the dark in regards to the offer.

      How does it you might ask?

      Well we have Stephen Leach of the NIO telling Belloch that Gerry Adams told the ICJP that
      a ‘good offer’ had recently been received via this channel. In the book ‘Ten Men Dead’ there is a reference to this meeting between Adams and the ICJP during which he told them of the ‘offer’. Then in more recent times Brendan Duddy (The Mountain Climber) was doing an interview with Brian Rowan during the Féile when, during the course of it, he pointed Danny Morrison out in the audience and said that he, Danny, had been tasked with taking the offer into the prison.

      So everything points towards the fact there was an offer on July 5th 1981 which could have ended the Hunger Strike, so we must conclude that either O’Brádaigh wasn’t aware of it at the time or he was simply in denial of one. I believe he wasn’t made aware of it.

      In regards to your point that… ‘Britain had made previous offers and renegued on them.’

      If you are referring to the First Hunger Strike and how it ended, this is certainly not true and the fact that Bobby returned to our wing that night after meeting with The Hunger Strikers and told us, as he walked down the wing to his cell, ‘Ni Fuaireamar Feic’ (We got nothing). Now why would he tell men that, within the hour of meeting with the Hunger Strikers, if he believed the Brits had made an offer which might have ended it?

      It makes no sense. Also that night he wrote out saying he would be starting another Hunger Strike. This is also in ‘Ten Men Dead’. Not the actions of someone who believed an offer had been made.

  6. Brian Patterson August 27, 2016 at 7:03 am #

    “As a hurler on the ditch I etc…..” (sorry for omission)

  7. michael c August 27, 2016 at 8:16 am #

    Is “Dixie” or whatever he calls himself on his multiple twitter accounts on temporaryrelease from Slugger.

  8. Wolfe tone August 27, 2016 at 9:33 am #

    If people don’t believe that there was the possibility some within the republican movement would allow others to do the dying for them to further their cause/interest/agenda then you have not been paying attention at all.

  9. michael c August 27, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    Billy ,your use of the word “draft dodger” is somewhat ironic as every time you post here an image of your good self comes to mind, that of a well nourished “bar stool Republican” .

  10. Cal August 28, 2016 at 10:12 am #

    I don’t buy into the idea that prisoners died as part of a propaganda war and that a good offer was turned down.

    Firstly with Sands’ election and death, the propaganda value had already reached its zenith. There was absolutely nothing to gain from a SF perspective of prolonging the strike – history bears this out.

    The experience of the first hunger strike ensured a reluctance to end the strike without guarantees. Guarantees the British were not prepared to give for fear of being accused of defeat.

    • Dixie Elliott August 28, 2016 at 5:08 pm #

      Ah but there was something to gain Cal. The by-election for Bobby’s seat. If the Hunger Strike was over come the time of that election then the SDLP made it clear they’d stand against Owen Carron thus splitting the vote and giving it to a Unionist.

      In this comm we can see Bik discussing elections with Adams while the Hunger Strike is still ongoing…. (Note the date)

      “To Brownie from Bik Sun 26.7.81

      The climate now is ripe to make significant progress and establish a firm base down there which is a necessity for future development and success in the final analysis.

      To allow opportunities to slip by [opportunities which may not present themselves again] would be a grave mistake. We are examining the possibility of contesting elections and actually making full use of seats gained-ie participating in Dail. Such an idea presents problems within the Movement. How great would the opposition be and what would be the consequences of pursuing a course which did not enjoy a sizeable degree of support?”

  11. Brian Patterson August 30, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    Belated reply to Dixie. I knew Ruairí O’Brádaigh. The idea that he and the IRA Army Council would have acquiesced in being kept in ignorance of the minutest detail of developments affecting comrades on hunger strike simply does not wash with me. As an old superannuated Stickie I have no axe to grind. People closely will adopt attitudes on this to suit their agenda. Sad.

    • Dixie Elliott August 30, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

      Brian, with due respect to Ruairí O’Brádaigh and I have the greatest respect for the man, but he didn’t see what Adams and McGuinness were doing behind his back on the run up to the 1986 Ard Fheis and their eventual take over of both the Army Council and SF. This was happening in the five years following the Hunger Strikes so it stands to reason that there was a movement within the Movement and that was the Adams’ Kitchen Cabinet, the same group which ran the Hunger Strikes from outside the jail.

      Saying you know Ruairí doesn’t mean you know what he knew…. And more importantly what he didn’t know.

      Finally I don’t know if you are a Sinn Fein supporter or a member but I notice you used one of their over-used words… ‘agenda’…to sum up, implying that I have an ulterior motive in saying what I say. When people like yourself resort to using such words or accusing my likes of being no better than the Independent newspaper etc it simply proves you have no other argument other than to hurl the dirt. Why don’t you attempt for example to tell me how I’m wrong in regards to this Sir John Blelloch interview which SF is holding up as the be all and end all in regards to what went on in the H-Blocks in July 1981?

      The simple fact is that the Blelloch interview came into the possession of the BST, it wasn’t sourced, otherwise, as is the case in things like this, the source is acknowledged. Where did it come from or more importantly who passed it on to the BST?

      Also the interview was unpublished, which means that Padraig O’Malley who conducted it as research for his book on the Hunger Strikes, Biting at the Grave, saw no value in it, despite the lengths he went to get it, and he didn’t use it.

      That in itself says everything….