Hume asked to help end Hunger Strike

John Hume. (3012BM04)
John Hume. (3012BM04)
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ONE of the top IRA prisoners in Long Kesh during the 1981 Hunger Strike wanted John Hume to act as an intermediary to end the protest, Irish Government papers revealed under the ‘30 year rule’ have revealed.

A priest urged the then Derry MP and SDLP leader to act as go-between and liaise with the British Government and inmates on an offer for new jail rules after nine men had died.

Fr Michael McEldowney, who had unrestricted access to the hunger strikers, said the proposal had come from “a prominent member of the Provisionals in the H-Blocks”.

Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane was the officer commanding’ of the IRA prisoners and the most senior republican inmate.

According to a memo to Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald dated August 19, 1981 and released under the 30-year rule, Mr Hume told Fr McEldowney he would not take any action unless specifically authorised by McFarlane. He asked the priest to put this to the IRA chief.

The memo was written the day before the death of a tenth hunger striker, 27 year-old Derry INLA member Michael Devine. It would be about six weeks before the strike was called off on October 3.

According to documents from files in the Taoiseach’s office, the MP for Foyle told the Irish Government that Gerry Adams had “sought a conversation with him” on or around May 14 after the death of Francis Hughes, the second to die.

Mr Adams told him that IRA prisoners would call off the hunger strike if allowed to wear their own clothes and enjoy some free association.

After meeting Margaret Thatcher in London, Mr Hume phoned the office of the then Taoiseach Charlie Haughey to relay what he had told the British Prime Minister.

He said prisoners would call off the hunger strike if allowed to wear their own clothes and enjoy some free association.

Mr Hume claimed he had been told the same offer by a priest who visited Hughes, on the morning of his death, and two other hunger strikers.

He also had harsh words for Mrs Thatcher, warning her that the Provos “held centre stage” and that she did not understand the meaning of Irish nationalism.