New 1981 hunger strike documents disclosed
Never before seen documents related to the hunger strikes in Belfast in 1981 have been kept secret until now.
The recently discovered documents, which were released by the Northern Ireland Office, revel how the English government dealt with the IRA hunger strike.
The documents, which were released under the Freedom of Information Act, show how the Margaret Thatcher's government was determined to present a strong face in public while trying to come to an arrangement with the IRA in secret.
It had been alluded to in the past that the IRA sacrificed the hunger strikers to boost their electoral strategy and that they never told the strikers about offers provided by England to end the strikes.
The documents show that the government worked on many levels with various Irish organizations including the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP) as well as the IRA directly.
The documents also reveal that offers were made directly to the IRA rather than the hunger strikers themselves.
They also reveal the central role played by Provisional IRA leader Brendan McFarlane.
Other information in the documents show that two weeks before the death of Kevin Lynch, a member of the INLA, the hunger strikers were offered a chance to clarify the latest position in front of relatives and clergy, but the prisoners' insistence that they would only meet in McFarlane's presence was rejected by the Northern Ireland Office officials.
The 32 new documents say that the government felt the prisoners were acting under orders and that McFarlane would not accept any negotiations excpet for the "five demands."
The five demands were: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits; the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week; full restoration of remission lost through the protest.
A few days before the death of famous hunger striker, Bobby Sands, communication to the NIO mentioned talks with an Irish government representative, saying that: "Nally agreed that while there was a concern in the south over the consequences of Sand's death, support for the hunger strikers was very limited. However, Sand's death, particularly if followed by Hughes, could change things."
An extract from a letter - previously released to the Sunday Times - dated July 8, 1981, from 10 Downing Street to the NIO stated that Thatcher had met with the Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins to form an agreement.
The Secretary of State, "had concluded that we should communicate with the PIRA over night a draft statement enlarging upon the message of the previous evening but in no way whatever departing from its substance. If the PIRA accepted the draft statement and ordered the hunger strikers to end their protest the statement would be issued immediately.
"If they did not, this statement would not be put out but instead an alternative statement reiterating the Government's position as he had set it out in his statement of 30 June and responding to the discussions with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace would be issued. If there was any leak about the process of communication with PIRA, his office would deny it."
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