06 May 2006

IRA was offered deal, says Bradley

Sunday Times

Kate Butler and Liam Clarke
April 30, 2006

THE claim that the IRA was offered a deal by the British government that could have saved the lives of at least six of the 1981 hunger strikers has been supported by Denis Bradley, the former deputy chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

In an RTE documentary to be broadcast this week, Bradley, who later acted as an intermediary between the IRA and the British, says the deal offered by Margaret Thatcher’s government was similar to the one that was eventually accepted.

Bradley said his information came from people involved directly. “The memory, and there is some dispute about this, is that there was a phone call on a particular night direct to Maggie Thatcher as she was on her way to a conference in Portugal,” he says in the programme.

“What she was offering that night was basically what the hunger strikers settled for. There are some disputes around that, and I wasn’t there and I can’t be authoritative. But the story I heard is that the representative of the republican movement who was in the room was offered the settlement basically on the grounds of what was ultimately settled for.”

The British government representative recommended that republicans “should take this offer”, but Bradley says it was left to the prisoners in the Maze to decide. “It didn’t happen, and it went on. I think at that stage about three people were dead on the hunger strike, and it went on to become more.”

Bradley’s comments support claims made last year in a book by Richard O’Rawe, the IRA spokesman in the Maze prison at the time. O’Rawe said he and Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, the IRA prisoner’s commanding officer, accepted concessions offered by the Foreign Office on July 5, 1981, before Joe McDonnell, the fifth prisoner, died.

He says four key demands were conceded by the government, including prisoners’ right to wear their own clothes; segregation from loyalists; more visits; and education courses. Only free association for IRA prisoners was refused. But the IRA army council would not accept the deal.

According to O’Rawe’s book: “I said: ‘Bik, there’s enough there’, and his response was, ‘I agree with you, I’ll write to the outside and let them know’.”

McFarlane has denied this. “I would certainly, on no occasion, tell Richard O’Rawe, or anyone else, that a deal was there,” said McFarlane. “In his book he quotes me agreeing with him that this is a good deal, and that I would write to the (IRA) army council and tell them we’re accepting it. It never happened.”

Yesterday O’Rawe said Bradley had vindicated his position. “One of the points that I was denigrated on was the fact that I said that the offer came from the horse’s mouth, ie Maggie Thatcher. Bradley has now confirmed that,” he said.

“It was an offer. McFarlane had been adamant that there was no offer whatsoever. Bradley has now said that there was. Gerry Adams has yet to say. Who rejected this offer and by what authority did they do so?” O’Rawe suspects that Adams himself may be the republican to whom the offer was made. “It is time Adams got off the fence and came out and told us what happened here,” he said.

But Danny Morrison, a former Sinn Fein spin doctor, has also disputed O’Rawe’s claim. “If there was this sensational offer that the republican leadership had influenced the hunger strikers against, one would have thought that someone from the Northern Ireland Office would have used that against Sinn Fein,” he said. “Anyone who could read the papers knew that an offer was there, but no deal.”

John Nixon, a former INLA hunger striker, has told the RTE documentary that after the death of Bobby Sands on May 5 there was talk of calling off the protest. “People were saying, ‘let’s call it off, we have made our point’,” he said.

Denis Faul, the former chaplain to the Maze prison, has criticised Sinn Fein’s use of the protest to promote itself. “Sinn Fein were doing very well,” he said. “They were having a ball when men were dying in jail.”

Garret FitzGerald, who was taoiseach during the hunger strikes, says the combination of the intransigence of the IRA and their desire to get more than the prisoners would have been willing to settle for, and the British concern to deal with them, led to the hunger strike going on. I was in despair about it, the stupidity of both sides.”

Additional reporting: Nicola Tallant

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