Sunday 25 February 2018

Sands willing to suspend hunger strike for deal, new book claims

Bobby Sands: IRA prisoner died after 66 days on hunger strike in the H Blocks
Bobby Sands: IRA prisoner died after 66 days on hunger strike in the H Blocks

John Spain Books Editor

BOBBY Sands was willing to come off his hunger strike for five days at a critical stage in his fast, it has emerged in a new book.

The offer by the hunger striker was made through Fr John Magee, the Newry-born priest who went on to be papal secretary to three popes.

The revelation that Sands may have been looking for a way to avoid his death comes in a new book published yesterday by Irish Academic Press.

'Hunger Strike – Margaret Thatcher's Battle with the IRA 1980-81', by Professor Thomas Hennessey, forensically examines the hunger strikes of 1980-81.

The book reproduces and draws extensively on newly declassified British government documents from the Prime Minister's Office, among others.

It reveals new details of the secret back channel between MI6 and the IRA and reinforces assertions that there was a potential deal to end the hunger strike sooner.

Most interesting is the disclosure that Bobby Sands offered to come off his hunger strike for five days at a point when his condition was becoming life-threatening.

Fr Magee had asked Sands to take a break from the strike for three days to allow a visit from a Northern Ireland Office official to discuss the whole question and try to find a compromise solution.

Sands was so keen to proceed with this that he offered to halt his hunger strike and eat again for five days. But the opportunity was lost when Humphrey Atkins, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, refused to accept the offer because it was "conditional".

The conditions made by Sands were that the discussions should be witnessed by two priests and three non-hunger-striking prisoners (presumed to be the IRA OCs – officers commanding).

If this had been allowed, there is a possibility that a deal could have emerged, Bobby Sands would not have died and the history of the North would have been different.

In his book (below) Prof Hennessy painstakingly goes through the hunger strike period and claims that there was a deal on the table that could have ended the dispute in July 1981.

Supporting documents in the book show that Margaret Thatcher penned notes on negotiation documents herself, despite her official line of not negotiating while the hunger strike continued.

Prof Hennessy's overall view is that there was no justification for armed struggle when the Troubles started as there was a reforming British Labour government in power that delivered all the demands of the civil rights movement.

Irish Independent

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