Saturday, June 6, 2009

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Time For An Inquiry

Today The Pensive Quill carries an article by guest writer, blanketman and former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins on the topic of the 1981 hunger strike

Time For An Inquiry by Gerard Hodgins

In 1976 the British introduced the criminalisation policy which decreed that captured Republican volunteer soldiers would henceforth be treated as criminals, being forced to wear a criminal uniform and having no recognition whatsoever as political prisoners. This led to the Blanket Protest and subsequent hunger strikes which convulsed our society, but which did open a window of opportunity to develop a political alternative to armed struggle.

Those of us who were intimately involved in those dark days still carry with us each and every day a reminder of what that all entailed. The horrors of the H-Blocks leap into our consciousness at some point of each and every day; memories of Bobby, Francie, Raymey, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Kevin, Kieran, Tom and Red Mick and their horrific deaths through starvation are a constant. It is an indelible mark upon our lives and one we endured through a comforting prism that our ten friends and comrades were part of a greater struggle to achieve independence and freedom against an intransigent enemy who would not buckle and instead seemed to gloat in the deaths of Irishmen in British prisons on Irish soil.

The comforting narrative ran that the combined intelligence and commitment of the Republican Movement could not bend the Iron Lady, but won honour and political legitimacy through our combined efforts at resisting and exposing criminalisation as the fallacy that it was. The cost was high: five years held naked in extreme conditions of brutality and sensory deprivation culminating in two hunger strikes which claimed ten of our friends, fellow Blanket Men.

That narrative has been seriously challenged in recent years with stories of deals being offered by the British and accepted by the prison O/C, only to be overturned by the Leadership on the outside, thus prolonging the hunger strike and creating a question mark over the deaths of the last six hunger strikers to die.

Events surrounding those dark days were examined at a meeting in Derry recently, organised under the auspices of The Republican Network for Unity. Unfortunately Gerry Adams and the Provisional leadership of the day refused to attend or send a representative to contribute to the proceedings. I find it ironic Gerry can run to meetings in New York and San Francisco to discuss Irish unity with the diaspora yet cannot find the time or courtesy to attend a meeting in his own back yard with ex-Blanket Men and other interested parties of the day, about an issue so crucial to those of us who endured the Blanket protests and hunger strikes.

Recent revelations have pointed to the need for clarity, full disclosure and honesty on the part of all who were involved in those secret negotiations/discussions. I would appeal for all these people, for the sake of our memories and in the service of truth, to agree to co-operate with an inquiry into all aspects associated with this traumatic time in our history which has been thrown into such question with the reports and evidence that a deal could have been secured before Joe McDonnell died.

A genie has been let out of the bottle and thrown the perceived narrative of the horrors of 1981 into question. One thing is certain of those days and which no question mark hangs over: the Blanket Men fought courageously and the hunger strikers died martyrs and their commitment and sacrifice can never be sullied, questioned or diminished in any way.

The final piece of the jigsaw which has remained hidden from view to this day is the actions and reasons for those actions on behalf of the leadership who guided us. It is time for answers and explanations to be offered.

I am not a member or supporter of any political party, grouping or organisation. I am a supporter of peace and politics and don't advocate any sort of return to the days of war: I am not on a Sinn Fein bashing exercise and have tried to be measured with my words. I am an ex-Blanket Man who was there and would welcome some insight into the secrets of 28 years ago.


10 comments :

Tain Bo said...

Reading the article I find it very persuasive, extremely well balanced and focused on the prisoners struggle!
The absence of any representation from SF does raise questions, questions only they can answer.
The next question being, will SF agree to an inquiry?
The debate has passed by who is right and wrong which leaves only one issue "truth."

Interested said...

I dont know anyone whom would disagree with what you have written Gerard, but and its a big but would as we have seen in most all other enquries held within the North what the chances of the "Truth" really coming out, Sinn Fein have learned greatly from their English masters about the art of deception and truth telling ,you can be rest assured that the great republican truth machine is hard at not working at this very moment. A question a lot of people would ask is which organisation represents the Hunger Strikers,Blanket Men and prisoners. On a lighter note how can you expect a "non IRA operative " to represent you.

Seán Mór said...

While I regret that this debate ever seen the light of day, because I can see no positive outcome as a result of it, I would agree with Hodgies' call for an inquiry to try and put the record straight, lay the matter to rest in a balanced way, and allow us all to get back to honouring the hungerstrikers from both republican traditions. While no-one is trying to deliberately take away from the integrity and courage of the hungerstrikers (and that includes supporters of O'Rawe and Morrison's account of things), there is no doubt that an unintended consequence of this debate has been to leave a massive questionmark in the public consciousness over a part of our struggle that had won the hearts and minds of many Irish people.

Sometimes unintended consequences have a bigger impact than the issue you genuinely intended to raise in the first place.

Tain Bo said...

I have to disagree with you Sean; the issue is politically regrettable though vitally important to republicanism. You seem to fracture your own point by dividing republicans into the new republican (or followers of the former PSF) and old republicans (wrongly classified as dissidents). Is there a positive outcome by introducing division now on a subject that was not split then?
The Hunger Strikes cannot be translated into PIRA and INLA the same applies to the prison struggle. The respective organization effectively maximized support by standing united under the banner of political status (a republican cause). Even the mighty British propaganda machine could not reduce the international political embarrassment the POW’s inflicted upon the British government.
Now Sinn Fein are a legitimized political party they are wide open to political scrutiny unfortunately with this issue it is a political embarrassment for the party.

If we look at republicanism over the years it has suffered many blows with splits and worse feuds that killed republicans, we tend to forget how menacing the secret power struggles become. Murdering republicans in the name of republicanism sounds more politically destructive than questioning the politics behind the prison issue.
Finger pointing and character assassination will never produce answers. The war is over and with any conflict political debate follows.
If republicans cannot debate amongst republicans we fail and defeat republican ideals.
In any struggle tactical change is a necessity the republican movement has made numerous blunders over the years and giving the tenacity of republicans I doubt the prison issue will break the backbone of Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein needs to accept they made a tactical error as they failed to unite republicans beneath one banner splitting the movement at a crucial point in time was a foolish move, this could be contributed to the lack of political experience and of course dealing with the political masters within the well established British government is like watching a child go from kindergarten to university on the same day.
Peace in Northern Ireland is tentative republicanism has come a very long way from being defenseless to proving itself a formidable force and in time can become a viable political voice.
It is a necessity to engage in debate even if there is no positive outcome republicanism needs to address republican issues. Removing political distrust can only strengthen republican ideology.
After a long bitter struggle we tend to have tunnel vision and see only republicanism as fissured, if we look at other political parties well they have their own problems blunders and faults; democracy is not an exact science.

Returning to the prison struggle it could be construed as hypocrisy on behalf of Sinn Fein for not addressing their fellow republicans on the question(s) arising out of the hunger strike?
The only productive and positive outcome of this being we are able to fire of questions and not bullets, if we refuse to examine the past then we will always have a problem identifying a future.

The original article is crystal clear the sentiment is honest:

“The final piece of the jigsaw which has remained hidden from view to this day is the actions and reasons for those actions on behalf of the leadership who guided us. It is time for answers and explanations to be offered.”

“I am not a member or supporter of any political party, grouping or organisation. I am a supporter of peace and politics and don't advocate any sort of return to the days of war: I am not on a Sinn Fein bashing exercise and have tried to be measured with my words. I am an ex-Blanket Man who was there and would welcome some insight into the secrets of 28 years ago.”

Kate. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fionnchú said...

Hodgins' article and the previous commentators all express themselves with eloquence and precision. SF's absence from inquiries may not surprise us, but such insults-- given the always pressing need to hit up NY & the other SF again for electoral cash--does represent exactly the lessons that Shinners learned from the Brits when it comes to ensuring their place in power and sustaining the status quo. Not much to say from me new otherwise, but TPQ allows us all to say what we must. And for that opportunity, Anthony and friends, I again offer my thanks.

regie said...

As a young man who became politicised by the hunger strikes 28 years ago, I still feel the rawness of the period. I like many others feel that perhaps it is still too soon to be revisiting the details. However, as someone not directly involved, I can fully understand the questions being asked and the reasons for doing so. We need to know the truth and that truth will in no way diminish the integrity of the hunger strikers.

regie said...

As a socialist republican, the defeat by the brits was hard to take. In simple terms, We lost the war and we also lost the political campaign because of the complete capitualisation by the sinn fein provo leadership. As such, I feel many republicans are seeking out "heroic" moments of the campaign to convince ourselves that our ideals and aims had some relevance or reason to our pursuit of unity. The role of the hunger strikers is part of that process and we almost want their sacrifice to remain "untainted" so as to give us some positives from a failed campaign.

JulianaG said...

My wish for you and all those who deserve nothing less than all of the truth, is continued courage to love and live with or without it. It's weight will only prove heavy on the backs of those who have the knowledge. You have done your part. It's their turn. Sending peace from across the pond and hope for a life without shadows.

red said...

“Wednesday evening’s meeting was a very emotional and difficult occasion for all of us, particularly in light of the allegations coming from Richard O’Rawe and the IRSP.
“All of the family members who spoke, with the exception of Tony O’Hara, expressed deep anger and frustration at the ongoing allegations created by O’Rawe.
“Tony O’Hara’s suggestion that we should meet with Richard O’Rawe and Willie Gallagher got no support and we asked Tony to express to Richard O’Rawe and Willie Gallagher our wish for them to stop what they are doing and to give us peace of mind.
“The account of the meeting published by Willie Gallagher is inaccurate and offensive.
“Our loved ones made the supreme sacrifice on hunger strike for their comrades. They were not dupes. They were dedicated and committed republicans. We are clear that it was the British Government which refused to negotiate and refused to concede their just demands.”
statement endorsed by the families of nine of the ten Hunger Strikers after a meeting in June 20009.