British prime minister Margaret Thatcher personally sanctioned concessions aimed at ending the 1981 hunger strike at the Maze Prison, Long Kesh, but the deal was rejected by the IRA, documents released under the 30-year rule have disclosed.
The papers, in the British national archives, create a picture of confusion in the Provisional IRA leadership at a critical stage of the prison fast, with “every type of neurosis imaginable surfacing”, just when a compromise seemed imminent.
The documents confirm Mrs Thatcher approved a message to the IRA leadership, after four of the 10 hunger-strike deaths had occurred, which laid out the concessions the British were prepared to make. Contrary to British expectations, the Provisionals rejected this offer, although the latter suggested the objection was to the “tone” not substance.
Documents show the British were prepared to give the IRA an advance text of the arrangement, if they agreed to abide by the terms. The documents neither contradict nor fully corroborate claims by former H-Block inmate Richard O’Rawe that the British offer was acceptable to the prisoners’ leadership but was turned down by the IRA to secure the election of Owen Carron as MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone in succession to Bobby Sands.
Later that year, the British embassy produced a lengthy report on the relationship between the Provisional IRA and the Irish media, following a claim by Fianna Fáil lord mayor of Cork Paud Black that RTÉ had been “infiltrated” by republican sympathisers. Shortly afterwards, Mr Black met the British ambassador and said that, while he had received many messages of support, he now feared for his personal safety.
British diplomats were sceptical about the claim of Provo influence in RTÉ. They had previously concluded that the group with most sympathisers at the station was Sinn Féin the Workers Party (“the stickies”), who were “bitterly anti-Provisional”.
However PR Whiteway, an official at the embassy, suggested there was a “scattering” of republican sympathisers in the print media, such as the late Seán Cronin at The Irish Times , a former IRA chief of staff, and Deasún Breathnach at the Irish Independent , a former editor of Sinn Féin weekly An Phoblacht.
Mr Whiteway writes: “Most professional Irish journalists feed off the North. Death and disaster keep them busy and brings fellow journalists from all over the Western world to see them – offers of syndication rights, bylines abroad and so on.”
He points to “widespread irritation” with the media, “particularly in well-to-do and Fine Gael circles, and the belief that if they ceased rubbing everyone’s nose in the problem, it would, if not go away, at least be more manageable”.
Commenting elsewhere on the Fine Gael-Labour coalition formed under Garret FitzGerald on June 30th, British officials said there was no huge ideological difference between them and the “only one true socialist in the Labour Party” was future president Michael D Higgins.
Former Republican prisoner Jim Gibney today dismissed as "absolutely bogus" the suggestion in 1981 documents that Sands offered to suspend his hunger strike just a week before his death.
The papers released under the 30-year rule suggest the offer was conveyed to the British Government by the Pope's secretary, John Magee.
Mr Gibney said he and others had been visiting Sands at the time and at "no stage" had he mentioned that he had made such an offer.
Another Irish Republican prisoner who was on 200 days hunger strike was force fed by the British is currently interned without trial by the British in collaboration with Gerry Adam's party. For details see link:
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