1981 hunger strike plans revealed

Published Friday, 28 December 2012
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The IRA's hunger strikes could have spread to English prisons, it has been revealed in newly released state files.

1981 hunger strike plans revealed
The ten men who died in the 1981 Hunger Strike at the H-Blocks. (© Pacemaker)

A high profile prisoner in Leicester jail asked Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams to serve as his link to the IRA's ruling army council in an effort to break the deadlock with the British authorities.

Brian Keenan wrote in 1981 to his "old comrade" Adams, outlining his thoughts on ending the hunger strikes.

Describing his proposal, he wrote: "A possible basis for the solution of the relevant crisis in the H-blocks and also a long-term solution to the potential danger of a hunger strike amongst republican prisoners in English prisons.

"That potential hunger strike would be motivated by a desire for repatriation to Northern Ireland prisons and I have reason to believe that it would be imminent, pending any resolution of the H-blocks crisis."

He continued: "I say only that I am surprised a hunger strike has not started already and suppose that the majority of republican prisoners in England do not wish to distract from the H-block crisis."

Mr Keenan received an 18-year prison sentence in 1980 for conspiring to cause explosions, however, he went on to play a key role in the peace process.

He was in the IRA's army council and served as that organisation's delegate to the disarmament body which oversaw the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

His 1981 proposal was for a wing of a cell block at the Maze to be occupied by a pilot group of republican prisoners, possibly life sentenced inmates transferred from Great Britain.

He believed this could allow a fresh attempt to arrive at an accommodation on key hunger strike issues of prison work and rights of free association.

Mr Keenan wrote to Mr Adams pledging fealty to the IRA leadership - but said he felt there was not enough good will between the existing protagonists at the Maze.

His letter was sent by the prison authorities and was released along with other papers from the archive.

"While realising I may be infringing on army jurisdiction, I felt it was my duty to make some effort," he wrote to Mr Adams.

Ten men, including Bobby Sands, died in their 1981 campaign to secure political status for republican prisoners. Seven were members of the IRA, three from the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

A senior Northern Ireland Office official said: "Keenan's comments about the general question of republican and loyalist paramilitary prisoners in Great Britain are another reminder that this issue is simmering away and may erupt at some time."

Brian Keenan died in 2008.

© UTV News
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8 Comments
Gerard in Belfast wrote (669 days ago):
In reponse to "charles the culchie". Beat them into submission? Seems you might want to clue yourself into what actually happened. Last i checked 10 men died for what they believed in, so much for thatcher "beating them into submission".
william in coleraine wrote (669 days ago):
i think utv are a disgrace to let people praise these violent brain washed murderers, disgracefull
Frosty in Here wrote (669 days ago):
@ Eamo in Ireland wrote (3 days ago): "This just shows us that the IRA were not againsf the protestant people just the occupying government and army. The 10 brave men secured rights for both sides and done so with bravery and conviction." Is that why they burnt Protestants out of their homes and murdered innocent civilians (Protestant and Catholic)? Methinks your hero-worship is gravely misplaced.
Matt in Newry Ireland wrote (671 days ago):
Those who went on hunger strike could only be described as incredibly brave. With so much against them they are an inspiration world wide, shocking that more could have died.
jimmymac in canada wrote (672 days ago):
The hunger strikers were the bravest of men. their amazing courage spoke volumes during those turbulent times, in our deeply troubled North."Rest In Peace"
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