Families of those IRA and INLA Volunteers who died during the 1981 hunger strike have issued a statement condemning those who have relentlessly hurt them by making false allegations that their loved ones died needlessly.
The families privately met with Sinn Fein and a representative of the Bobby Sands Trust last Wednesday, 17th June, at the invitation of the party’s president Gerry Adams. Those present included relatives of Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee and Mickey Devine (his nieces and his son Mickey óg). Bridie Lynch, sister of Kevin Lynch, was unable to attend but sent Gerry Adams a note expressing her support. The Hughes’ family were represented by two nephews of Francis. Francis’s brother, Oliver, who was unable to attend, sent a letter to be read out. The meeting took place in Gulladuff, South Derry.
Representatives of all the families, including two nieces of Mickey Devine, participated in the discussion, as did Gerry Adams, Brendan McFarlane and Danny Morrison. All family members who spoke, except for Tony O’Hara, were united in their anger at the relentless campaign alleging that the hunger strikers died needlessly. The families were clear that the British had made no deal with the hunger strikers or their representatives in 1981. Some suggested that a statement should go out appealing to people such as Richard O’Rawe, who instigated the campaign with the serialising of his book in the ‘Sunday Times’, to stop hurting them, but other family members doubted if he would listen.
After the meeting, an offensive and false account of what was said was issued by Willie Gallagher of the IRSP, who was not present. One of the more outrageous things he claimed was that “Mickey Og walked out of the meeting after being shouted down, said he felt he was being bullied”. This angered the families so much that the following day they then decided to go ahead and put out a statement. Whilst Tony O’Hara agreed that Gallagher’s report was false he declined to join with the other families. In their statement the families repudiated the Gallagher version of the meeting and rejected any suggestion that Michael óg Devine, who remained silent throughout, was ‘shouted down’ or ‘bullied’. Michael óg Devine did not in fact speak during the meeting.
The families 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.”
The letter read from Oliver Hughes to Wednesday night’s meeting was met with widespread applause. It said: “I would like to thank Gerry Adams for the invitation to this meeting but unfortunately I cannot make it as I have a prior engagement. However, the Hughes family will be represented.
“I don’t believe there is a need for such a meeting and I find it scandalous what people have been saying about the hunger strike. They have no consideration for what it is doing to families like ours. It was twenty-eight years ago and we thought we could have some closure, some rest, even though we will never forget what our Francis and his comrades went through, not just in 1981 but from the time the British withdrew political status. I am referring to the blanket protest, the beatings, the dirty protest, the solitary confinement, all that.
“Margaret Thatcher and her government killed those men, it is as simple as that.
“Our Francis was a soldier and he went on hunger strike for five just demands. That decision was his and we admire his courage and are proud of him and stand by his memory and will not let it and the hunger strike period be sullied by the likes of Liam Clarke and the Sunday Times and others.
“Those who are now trying to say that Mrs Thatcher was interested in giving in to the prisoners demands are talking rubbish. The British pretended they were going to do a deal in Christmas 1980 and we all know what happened there.
“From all that I witnessed and heard the prisoners comrades on the outside always followed the men’s wishes and worked day and night to defend them and help them win their demands.
“It is disgraceful what is going on from people none of whom I ever met or heard of before, people like Richard O’Rawe who publishes a book which the Sunday Times serialises. The Sunday Times which called Francis Hughes and Thomas McElwee and the other hunger strikers ‘criminals’ and ‘terrorists’.
“I’ll not be listening to their propaganda. Signed, Oliver Hughes.”