Richard O’Rawe RFÉ 17 June 2017

Radio Free Éireann
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John McDonagh and Martin Galvin speak to author, political analyst and former PRO during the 1981 hunger strike, Richard O’Rawe, via telephone from Belfast, who provides his analysis on the results of the general election in the United Kingdom. (begins time stamp ~35:49)

Martin:   And on the line we have the author and a great political analyst, also – it’s one of the people that I turned to just for ideas or analysis – that’s Richard O’Rawe. He is the author of Afterlives, which was about the secret offer made during the hunger strike. He’s the author of Blanketmen, about what it was like in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. And also he is the author of a book that will be published soon, hopefully in September, In the Name of the Son, it’s about Gerry Conlon – somebody who was up in these studios and I believe it also includes a lot about Sandy Boyer, former co-host of Radio Free Éireann, and John McDonagh and some of Gerry Conlon’s work with Sandy and with Radio Free Éireann on behalf of other political prisoners and on behalf of other causes. Welcome back, Richard.

Richard:   Thank you so much, Martin.

Martin:    Okay. (station identification) Alright, Richard – last week we talked briefly about the results of the British general election and how Theresa May was short of a majority to go back as British Prime Minister – her party got three hundred and seventeen votes – and in order to put her over the top she needed the ten votes of the DUP, the Democratic Unionist Party, led by Arlene Foster, founded by Ian Paisley, formerly led by Peter Robinson, and that deal seems to be about to materialise behind what’s called ‘the Queen’s Speech‘. But I didn’t realise at the time – there were cartoons that we talked about last week in which Theresa May bends the knee to Arlene Foster and says ‘Your Majesty, can I form a new government’ and Arlene’s there with a crown – but I didn’t realise the way in which that deal would be viewed in England.  The Daily Mirror, for example has a front page picture of Theresa May with the headline, ‘Coalition of Crackpots’ – and you see pictures of – I believe it’s Peter Robinson wearing a beret and other members of the DUP. There was a cartoon in the London Times – ‘A Victory Parade’ – and you see a number of Orangemen with bowler hats and they hoisted up Theresa May being hung on a banner pole. The Independent said these are – they have a profile – these are the terrifying views of the party now propping up Theresa May.  There was a ‘Changes at Downing Street’ – it was put out by a DUP Councillor, where you have a UVF, an Ulster Volunteer Force, the Loyalist paramilitaries, in front of Downing Street and the kerbstones in front of Downing Street painted red, white and blue – not for the United States but for Britain. And finally there was another Twitter post that was put up: You see Theresa May out in front of Downing Street, behind her in view of the religious fundamentalism that many members of the DUP have – you have Moses with the Ten Commandments pointing at her and saying what to say. Richard, how is the DUP really regarded? I didn’t realise – I know how Irish Nationalists and Republicans think of them – but I didn’t realise how the British public would think of them. In fact, there’s already been a petition with hundreds or thousands of signatures, there was a big demonstration, Theresa May actually went to the scene of a tragic fire that occurred in London and was told to go back to the DUP – how is the DUP regarded now in England by some of the people who are going to see her in co – well, if not in coalition in a side deal with Theresa May to prop up Theresa May as Prime Minister?

Richard:  Well, the thing is – it’s very interesting, Martin, the revelations that have come out – and particularly what you were actually saying there, the fact that these guys, the DUP, are religious fundamentalists, right? Religious Christians. They believe in creationism, for example. They don’t believe in gay rights, right? They don’t believe in abortion. They have an ultra-right wing take on everything and the interesting thing that I have noticed is, just exactly what you said, all of a sudden simply because they’re talking to May about doing a deal to keep May’s government propped up they are an item of interest. And the item of interest that the British people are seeing they don’t like. And it begs the question: Did they never, ever, prior to this elevation of the DUP, did they never ever look into them properly and see the type of people they are…

Martin:  …and the type of people that the British government has always propped up and supported and used – just bowed to their influence where ever they could in terms of The North of Ireland.

Richard:   Absolutely! But here’s the point, Martin: Supposen they do do a deal, the DUP and the Tories, and the idea behind this deal is that there’ll be a pot of gold for Northern Ireland – that there will be extra money coming from the British Exchequer to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Even if they do do that deal the fact of the matter is, without an Executive, the DUP will not be able to disburse that money. They will have no control over because it will be disbursed, if there is no Executive, by civil servants and a British Tory minister and that is the key element in all of this. There is no Executive and, therefore, whatever deal they get is totally at the discretion, in terms of its disbursement, of British ministers.

Martin:   Okay, John McDonagh wants to ask you the next question, Richard. John, are you with us?

John: Yeah, Richard – I wanted to tackle it now even from the Sinn Féin point of view – now they have Members of the British Parliament and you know representing you know slash Derry/Londonderry – and to let our audience know that with these MPs of the British Parliament – that Sinn Féin has offices in Westminster, they collect the Queen’s shilling. But I thought it was a joke during the week when I was looking on Facebook and there was a picture of the representative of Sinn Féin from Doire – when she put up a picture of the hotel room saying just to show you people in Doire – you know we’re not living high on the hog – look how small my hotel room is and that this is like – it’s a disgrace – at this stage. And Richard, I can tell you when people in the Republican Movement came to New York they were staying on couches up in The Bronx, out in Queens and where ever they were being sent around the country. You know, people were driving them – they weren’t certainly going first class and now the attitude of Sinn Féin members complaining that they have to fly first class to Australia because it’s a very long trip. And now they’re complaining about hotel rooms in London and maybe you could explain to us the room that was that was given to Her Majesty – gave to you – when you were in Long Kesh – but it beggars belief that this is the complaint that Sinn Féin now has – is the size of their hotel room!

Richard:  Well, here’s the point, John: At the end of the day that is very succinct – this whole business – Oh! Look at the size of my hotel room! And what she’s trying to do there is to say: Look, I’m still ‘of the people’. I’m still working class. But the fact of the matter is they’re now of the political class. The fact of the matter is that her life has changed irrevocably and the whole Sinn Féin thrust in all of this, as far as I can see, is to make money. I don’t really see any reason why, John, they’re not taking their seats in Westminster. I mean, they take their seats in Stormont. They take their seats in Leinster House – what is the big deal with not taking them over in Westminster? And you know, there’s a, there’s a like a charade going on here where these guys portray themselves as working class and they’re not. I mean, they’re all on good money. They’re all on extremely good money. And their friends is on good money; their acolytes is on good money. There are people – the working class, by and large, have been left behind by them – they have moved on in terms of their own monetary value while people in The North are still – have the yolk of austerity around their necks, you know? And for Republicans, I mean for Republicans of any hue, Sinn Féin – a cornerstone of Sinn Féin’s whole ethos is that there are no principles and there are no principles that should stand in the way of progress – that was one of the things that came out of the 1986 Ard Fheis – Tom Hartley actually said it – and Martin McGuinness actually said at that time: ‘The war against the British must continue until freedom is achieved’, right?  He said we have no intention of going into Westminster or Stormont.  They’re in Westminster – sorry – they’re in Stormont. They’re in Leinster House. I don’t see no reason why they’re not in Westminster and whether they should or shouldn’t take their seats it’s a matter for them but I mean, I just don’t understand their position in all of this. And it’s not because it’s a ‘principled position’ because they really have no principles.

Martin:   Alright. Richard, Gerry Adams, during the week said – he was talking about going back to Stormont – and he said we think, strategically, that is the way to a united Ireland. And he also said that Theresa May is playing fast and loose with the Good Friday Agreement and he was supposed to have stood up to her to say that. Is there anything that Sinn Féin can do in terms of whether Theresa May makes this deal, number one, and number two, Sinn Féin was in coalition with the DUP for a number of years – how has that moved ahead any step forward towards a united Ireland? How is there any strategic way, out of any of this political success that you’ve talked about, that seems to be heading us towards, or leading us towards, a united Ireland?

Richard:   Well I don’t think there is to be quite frank with you. I mean what they have done is that they have replaced the SDLP (Social and Democratic Labour Party) as the dominant Nationalist party but other than that I don’t see much more that they have done in terms of a united Ireland. Gerry Adams said that Stormont is the way forward but he doesn’t explain how it’s the way forward. What is he talking about? Is he talking about Nationalists out-breeding Unionists and then coming to the position where they have more than fifty percent of the popular vote and then we’d have a border poll which’ll lead to a united Ireland? Or is he talking about trying to persuade Unionists not to be Unionists and to be Republicans? He doesn’t say.

And you know, I just keep coming back to the point that to me, there is a, there’s always a money aspect to this – I’m not saying that’s entirely the concept behind it all – but it is an element in this and there is, I mean there is no – Adams needs to explain to us, to the people who – to the Nationalist electorate – what he means by: ‘Stormont is the way forward towards a united Ireland’ because I don’t know how it is and I just don’t see – I just, I mean I can’t understand that statement at all.

Martin:    Okay. Now, originally or first, I think people are going to be looking at how much money – and the British are going to be handicapped because if they give money to The North of Ireland well, they’re going to have to turn around to people who voted for them in Scotland, they’re going to have to turn around to people who voted for them in Wales – they’re going to have to do similar things under British formulas, economic formulas, now to give any kind of money. But beyond that, they have re-appointed James Brokenshire to be May’s Secretary for The North of Ireland. James Brokenshire, one of those people from England, he gets to ‘audition’ for a job he’d rather have that would be located in some place he’d rather be by administering, or running, The North of Ireland for the British. He’s somebody who’s already come out on the side of no prosecutions for British troops, about the imbalance. He’s somebody, certainly, the Ballymurphy Families are very concerned about as they finally get a date for an inquest – their families were murdered by the British – shot down over three days – and how they finally have a date for an inquest – they’re concerned about that.

Quinn Brothers’ funeral 1998

People on the Garvaghy Road are worried about whether the British government, down the road – not up front, but might do something with the Parades Commission – allow Orange parades in areas such as the Garvaghy Road where they have been kept from for a number of years. What is it that, you know, you expect or what are some of the things we should be concerned about from this unholy alliance between the DUP and Theresa May as time goes by and Theresa May seems to, you know needs votes on certain issues, and needs to go back to the DUP for a supply of those votes?

Richard:    You’ve just highlighted one of the most contentious issues. And one of the most contentious issues in terms of the resumption of the Stormont regime is legacy. And both Theresa May has come out, and even before the election, and offered her support for an amnesty for British soldiers who were involved in, as you say, in Ballymurphy, the Ballymurphy Massacre and Bloody Sunday attacks and the New Lodge Road Massacre, etc – all these things and she supported that and the DUP most definitely supports it so I’d be very surprised if, after this process, after these talks finish that – maybe not immediately but certainly not long after – that you will find that there’ll be some indication that British soldiers are going to get an amnesty for the atrocities that they carried out – you know, the killing of young children with plastic bullets, etc, the mass slaughter in Doire on Bloody Sunday – I think that they’re going to get that, in honesty, for that. I also think that that in itself is going to be – if that were to happen – I think that again would, absolutely – well it should – but it could absolutely scupper any chance of resumption of the Stormont Assembly.

Martin:  Alright. Richard, after the last election it seemed that Nationalists were saying this shows there’s been a big surge forward, we’re a lot closer to a united Ireland – that was after the Assembly election. It seems as if Arlene Foster was on the way out in a very much weakened position. It seems now as if she has been in the strongest position of any DUP member for some time and it seems as if, now that the Unionist vote came out in response to those claims, that a united Ireland is as far away as it has been for many years. What’s your comment on that?

Richard:  Oh, I think that the person responsible for this is Gerry Adams. I think Gerry could not resist blowing his own trumpet when the Sinn Féin vote was so high and he made a statement that we’re now within sight – I’m paraphrasing him here – we’re now within sight of a united Ireland. And what he did, what he did – and by the way when he was doing that he was looking over his shoulder at the Ruairí Ó Brádaighs and the Mickey McKevitts and all those guys who split from the Republican Movement and formed their own movements over the last twenty-thirty years – and he was still like: I’m right. My strategy is right. Look where I’ve brought Republicanism – we’re on the thrust of a united Ireland. And what he did he woke a sleeping giant and that sleeping giant exercised itself at the last Westminster elections and you saw that the combined Sinn Féin-SDLP vote was only forty-one percent. It’s was about four percent for independence and all the rest was Unionist…

Martin:  …it seems like it…

Richard:  …and that is why Foster is in such a strong position now – that is why she got such a powerful vote – Gerry Adams galvanised their vote.

Martin:   Alright. John, I believe, has another question. John?

John:   Well you know what it is – Richard, it would be hard to explain to people here in America about the marching season that’s coming up – maybe when it’s finally here. Bundoren in Co. Donegal, they always said, looks like the Falls Road on July Twelfth. But maybe quickly explain what’s going to happen there, which probably wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else in the United Kingdom, but how Nationalists will now be fleeing in the next week or two to The South, and particularly over to Donegal. What’s it like to live there on July Twelfth?

Richard: Well it’s pretty, John – it’s pretty harrowing to say the least. Not in the least because the Orange Order has traditionally walked through Nationalist areas – and that would be akin to the Ku Klux Klan walking through Harlem or some coloured area in New York – it’s exactly the same synopsis. And these guys on The Twelfth they, I mean – it’s very intimidating. Belfast City Centre, for example, is not a place on the Twelfth of July were you’d find too many Catholics – I mean it just isn’t because there’s hundreds of thousands of Orangemen and Loyalists and Unionists, etc on the streets marching and everything else. 

Bonfire on the Shankill Road

And then there’s the bonfires and then some of these of these bonfire are very, very big and they’re very sectarian – they burn effigies of the Pope, they would burn effigies of Gerry Adams, Gerry Kelly, Bobby Sands – all of this. I mean it is a real – it is a real intimidating environment and it is usually a pain when Nationalists, and traditionally it’s still the same – Nationalists keep their heads down. And if you do have a house in Donegal, if you’re lucky enough to have the money to have a nice place in Donegal – well, it’s the place to go to get away from it.

Martin:   Alright, Richard, we’re just about out of time – we could go on with this for a lot longer. I want to thank you for being with us.

Richard:   You’re welcome.

Martin:   We’re looking forward – you’re going to have that book, In the Name of the Son, about Gerry Conlon. I believe you make some references in it to Sandy Boyer, our former co-host, and to John and some of Gerry Conlon’s work – his appearances in this studio, Radio Free Éireann, how the work and the progress and the fight for Irish prisoners that he made in these studios – that that plays a part in the book – we’re looking very much forward to reading it and we very much appreciate your analysis today and the analysis you give me whenever I call for a question about what’s going on for events so I can present it to the audience and pretend it’s my own ideas. Alright.

Richard:   You’re more than welcome, Martin. And it’s good to talk to you and John again. (ends time stamp ~ 55:39)

Richard O’Rawe RFÉ 6 August 2016

Radio Free Éireann
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John McDonagh (JM) and Martin Galvin (MG) talk to former blanketman Richard O’Rawe, (RO) the PRO during the 1981 hunger strike, via telephone from Belfast about the film, Bobby Sands:66 Days. (begins time stamp ~ 20:57)

MG: And we’re going to be going now, just in a minute, to get Richard O’Rawe. Richard was the PRO (Public Relations Officer) during hunger strike. And he had to, within the cell – and these were cells that were filled with human excrement because the prisoners were beaten if they left their cells to try to use toilets – the cells became filled with human excrement. They would have to smuggle out press statements. They would get that to the outside world. Richard O’Rawe, as the PRO during the hunger strike, would be the person to compose those press statements, that strategy, get it out. And somehow, this group – inside a prison, inside those conditions, with no access whatsoever to the outside world – were able to beat back everything that Margaret Thatcher and the British government had, all the resources they had in terms of…

JM: …And Martin, those messages that came out from him made its way to you that you were able to do press conferences here and state what was going on in Long Kesh because they would have had a tough time in Ireland getting the word out with Section 31 in the Twenty-Six Counties and the BBC just banning anybody from the Republican Movement. So a lot of that was geared to get it out to New York.

MG: Well what happened was press statements would be sent, they would get them to the Republican Press Centre in Belfast, they would put them out but the first place that they went were New York and we, in the Irish Northern Aid office or Irish People office – it was my job as the head of the National Publicity Director of Irish Northern Aid to get those messages around the country, to get the materials through the Irish People, through other sources around the country – and it became so effective, it became so emotional that thousands of people, each and every day, from five to seven o’clock on weekdays after work and from three to five on the weekends, would demonstrate – day after day after day – month after month – and when Prince Charles came to New York, as you remember, John, thirty thousand people were out there at Lincoln Center. Police officers from New York City who guarded him came to a demonstration afterwards apologising and said that they had to guard world criminals, they mentioned Idi Amin and some others, but they had never been so ashamed as when they had to guard Prince Charles and Lady Diana and gave interviews, put on IRA buttons at that time – that shows you exactly where the feelings were.

JM: Yeah, and with us on the line is Richard O’Rawe who was issuing those statements. Richard, when you were issuing those statements during the hunger strike did you know that they were ending up in New York and that Martin Galvin was holding press conferences about them?

RO: Actually John, I only found out the other day about how important that end of it was. You see where we were in Long Kesh – I was in the wing with Bobby and it was sort of a leadership wing – and it was actually a factory for churning out messages of sympathy around the world but seventy percent of the messages – we had been writing maybe two or three different comms a day and they were going out to the Press Centre and as you said, they were then going over to New York. We had been writing in to all the universities in America. America was always, in terms of the blanketmen and in terms of the message that we needed to get across, America was the number one priority. And we wrote to all the unions. We wrote to all the universities. We wrote to all the politicians. We were getting a list of people of influence who were from America and we literally just worked down the list and there was about maybe ten of us in our wing and that’s what we did. We had little cigarette papers, you know – that you’d roll a cigarette in – and the writing was minuscule and we wrote our message out – we’d have wrote our comm, we would have appealed for support and we’d have smuggled it out of Long Kesh, usually up our nose or in other more ‘intimate places’ but we smuggled them out and then they’d have went to the Press Centre and then they would have taken it on from there. And as Martin said they ended up on his desk in New York. So that was the process but it was crucial – you now, we were told at the time that it was crucial, that these comms were having a real effect – these little messages appealing for support so we were aware that it was an important aspect of the whole protest.

MG: Well Richard, you had gotten to the point from – I know when I was first asked to take over as National Publicity Director at Irish Northern Aid – at that time, of course, Brendan Hughes was in charge. He had made a special appeal. They wanted to go on hunger strike at that time. There was an initiative by Cardinal Ó Fiaich which broke down. And then they said: Look, give us time. Build up something in the United States and elsewhere – see if we can show enough support for the protest that we could win it without going on a hunger strike. And by 1980, the first hunger strike that was led by Brendan Hughes, and 1981, the feelings were so strong – it wasn’t just in New York with thousands of people every day. They would be there in Philadelphia. They would be there in Boston. They would be there in San Francisco, was a key area, they would be there across the United States. There were places where there were no British Embassies and people would be in front of places that sold British products demonstrating each and every day behind you. That was the feelings that Americans had. People were arguing – if you didn’t have your county banner there in front of the Consulate every day you would be embarrassed; somebody would shame you. That is the type of support which you and the men in Long Kesh, in the H Blocks and the hunger strikers particularly were able to inspire. And it just amases me that you, the other prisoners, in that small prison, locked away – Margaret Thatcher must have said you can’t ever do anything. She wanted to make everybody wear a criminal uniform and say that we now have no more political struggle or war or conflict or fight for freedom in Ireland. These are all criminals dressed up in criminal uniforms that we paraded before Diplock courts and been found guilty. And how was it that you and the other prisoners were able to beat all that, inspire such support in the United States and elsewhere and able to beat Margaret Thatcher on that?

RO: Well it all boils down to you, as an individual, and the collective. We were Republicans. We were Republican prisoners. We were fighting a war that was actually the second part of the War of Independence. The War of Independence was in 1919 to 1921 and it was a very bad settlement in terms of the people of The North. So this was the War of Independence Mark 2. We were political prisoners. We were never, ever going to wear the prison uniform. If we had got into that prison uniform the next day there wouldn’t have been no jail because we’d have destroyed everything in it. It would have been a tactic but we were never going to wear the prison uniform. We were Republicans. We were committed to the idea of a thirty-two county socialist republic. And when you have that sort of commitment you will die for it. And that is exactly what happened – ten men did die for it – and not just those ten men – hundreds and hundreds of other Republicans.

JM: Well Richard, what we’re waiting for now is the review and coming from your point of view. And I read Dixie Elliott from Doire and he said the two of you were going into like the lion’s den – and this is with other Nationalists to go see it! You weren’t on the Shankill going to see this movie! But you being so personally involved in this part of Irish history – what did you take away from the movie? How do you think it was done?

RO: Well John, I mean I think that Brendan Byrne did a very noble attempt to try and give a balanced account of what happened here. Over here Unionists, as you would expect, are saying that it was a pro-Republican movie. It actually wasn’t. I mean how could it be pro-Republican? You had the arch-Tory Charles Moore, Norman Tebbit, Thatcher’s best friend, you had Dessie Waterworth, a prison officer, you had people like that there so it was a very cross-party sort of narrative. However, from my point of view, and I have to say this – it was very moving. Bobby’s words were spoken by a helluva good actor – he’s actually from the Falls Road, Martin McCann. And Martin was, I don’t know, he didn’t actually…Bobby had a raspy voice but he wasn’t too far away. And it sounded to me almost as if Bob was speaking when he was saying the words and you know – I found it quite moving. And emotional. Yeah, certainly emotional. I mean it was actually – I was on the radio the other day in Dublin today for FM Today and they reminded me that this is history. This thing happened, this hunger strike happened thirty-five years ago and he says half the people in Ireland weren’t even born at the time. And from that point of view it is timely that this movie is out and I have to say…I don’t know..I always talk about my own, I don’t let anyone influence me – I think Brendan Byrne did a very, very noble job and I’m quite happy with it to be honest.

MG: Yes, how did he cover – one of the key areas was in the United States. We were always told the hunger strike would be won or lost in the United States – American pressure…

RO: …That was the way of it, yeah.

MG: And the amount of support, the people who came out here – it was unbelievable at that time – as I said Prince Charles comes out there’s thirty thousand people and police officers are ending up on the detail and coming over. How was that covered in the film, if it all?

RO: That was poorly covered I have to say. That wasn’t done. I mean, they brought on Father Seán McManus and there was a clip of the Four Horsemen, Tip O’Neill and those guys and Ted Kennedy and there was a sort of a clip of people marching along a street in New York and there was also a clip of people outside the British Embassy, etc. But I mean that could have been done far better in my view – that was a criticism I had of the movie. I don’t think that it adequately…I actually think, Martin, if you want to be honest, that that is a whole separate movie.

I think the American response to this is a totally separate entity and somebody really does need to sit down and put it together because people in Ireland don’t really know the extent of the effort that went on in America and the support that the hunger strikers had. I mean, it was America that broke Thatcher. Be under no illusions. It wasn’t Russia! It wasn’t Europe! It was America that broke Thatcher! It was America that forced Thatcher to come to us before Joe McDonnell died with an offer! Nothing else. The British couldn’t move in America and that was the reason why Thatcher was broke!

MG: Richard, I was asked to do an interview. I agreed to do one. They kept me for about an hour and the reason I wanted to do the interview for the programme – they were going to show film, they were going to show clips, they said they were going to show me being interviewed at that time as the Publicity Director for Irish Northern Aid, the person who was directly in touch – if somebody died in Ireland, a hunger striker, I would get a call at five o’clock in the morning and be expected to go in and get the statements. And what bothered me – it’s not that I was cut out but that all of the people that worked, came out, day after day. I mean when somebody died there would be around the clock guards of honour around British facilities around the United States – twenty-four hours a day – stand at attention by coffins that they had made. The thirty thousand people who came out at Lincoln Center. The people who came out day after day. And even when the hunger strike in Ireland ended, I announced that the picket was now over, the daily pickets, and there was a complaint made. The women on the Long Green Line called Michael Flannery and said: We want to keep going. We want to keep supporting the prisoners. The British are still in Ireland. And they did keep going for years afterwards. And I was just concerned they edited that out and I’m told it’s because my political views now – that I wouldn’t be associated with Sinn Féin. Father McManus had nothing to do with those demonstrations. I don’t think he was ever at them. And more than that, Mario Biaggi and the other members of Congress who fought for us, who fought for the blanketmen, who fought throughout the hunger strike, they were the people who were involved and the Four Horsemen that you just mentioned – they were actually against us. I wrote editorials at that time, they’re there in the Irish People, that were done contemporaneously with the hunger strike saying that if they had spoken out, if they had done anything at that time – the Four Horseman – Kennedy, Moynihan and O’Neill (ed note- and Carey) – the hunger strike would have been ended – the British would have caved into that pressure.

And the Sands Family did not participate in the film and they said that some of Bobby’s comrades are genuine – their efforts to tell their story – however they believe that part of it was that people wanted to perpetuate a myth that had been crafted to undermine Bobby and what he had died for. And they said that the cutting room can edit, manipulate, the facts to weave a myth that serves others who have ulterior motives and that they were mindful – they sent that to Brendan Byrne before the film was done to say they wouldn’t participate. And when I heard that all of that great material that I gave that would show some film but that they didn’t have anybody speaking on behalf of all of the people who had demonstrated across the United States – as crucial as those were. They went to somebody who didn’t have anything to do with those demonstrations and mentioned politicians who were actually against it at that time. I had the feeling that somehow I was on the cutting room floor just because I just take a political stand that’s a little bit different from Sinn Féin’s now and unfortunately a great part of that story, a great part of the support behind that campaign, the ordinary people, like the Long Green Line, who came out day after day in America, they were being put on the cutting room floor through me and I was just very disappointed in that and I just want to get your feelings on it.

RO: Well I mean, I do think…I mean, see on the blanket…there were names that we were hearing regularly – one of them was Mario Biaggi, right? Obviously. Another one was Teddy Gleason. He was a name that was cropping up fairly regular. See, we used to get some sort of briefs from outside about how things was going – they were never big, elaborate things but we used to get briefings. And the other big one was yourself; those were the three names. And the other one was the Longshoremen – somebody told me they were dockers.

MG: That’s Teddy Gleason – he was the head of the Longshoremen and they had actually called a one day strike that they wouldn’t unload any British ships to support the blanketmen – that was before the hunger strike began – which had a tremendous impact on the British worldwide. That was Teddy Gleason. That was the Longshoremen. They said that no British ships would be unloaded. And I’ll tell you during the hunger strike you couldn’t find a British flag except one that was being burned in front of the embassies in New York. You couldn’t find people advertising British products because the feelings behind you – it was like: These are world criminals. We’re not going to support them – that’s what was going on and I’m just sad that that had to be put on the cutting room floor.

RO: Well I have to agree. I have to agree. I think that was an absolutely crucial part of the hunger strike history. As I said, Martin, we always viewed America as the cutting edge in terms of our fight against the British. It was never going to be won in Ireland. It was always going to be America – the United States and United States pressure – if the British were going to break they were going to be broke by America. And I just feel so sad that your contribution did not end up in the movie. I think it would have been a very valuable insight and I’m not saying that because I’m just talking to you – I really believe this. I think it would have revealed a very, very valuable insight as to what was really going on on the ground in America and how America was able to influence Thatcher ie through the Longshoremen, through the pickets, etc and that’s a pity – I’m really sorry and sad – it’s a pity that you weren’t in this programme because I think you would have been great for it.

JM: Yeah Richard, all these years later now and you’re looking back at it, do you think it was it worth it? I mean now the way the manipulation of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness – I mean, I read something in the Belfast Telegraph – they’re almost saying that Bobby Sands went on strike so we could get involved with elections and things like that. But now looking back all these years later do you think it was worth it to have ten men die and to end up with the border copper-fastened the way it is and the way that Sinn Féin has become this political machine?

RO: John, Bobby Sands wouldn’t have done two minutes in jail for what we have now. No Republican would! So it wasn’t worth it. None of it was worth it. It would have been worth it if we’d had been living in a united Ireland. You could say: Well, we achieved our objectives – and we have finally united our country. And in all struggles people suffer – but it didn’t happen. And we’re now in the situation where the border is more entrenched than it ever was and no one in their right mind could turn round and say that it was worth it because it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t. And I’m so sad – it’s so sad to see the way it all turned out.

MG: Richard, just even more that that – the hunger strike was about criminalisation. It was about the British saying that you, the other political prisoners, the other Republicans like Bobby Sands and the others who fought against British rule – you’re just a bunch of criminals, you should dress up in a criminal uniform – and it was there for propaganda purposes. One of the things that really saddens me: Today you have Sinn Féin in government, you have them on policing boards, you have people like Barra McGrory, who is the Director of Public Prosecutions, and when they put somebody like Gerry McGeough, that we heard from a few minutes ago, on trial for fighting against British rule in 1981, when they put somebody like Seamus Kearney on trial and put him in jail as they did Gerry McGeough, in Maghaberry, for fighting against British rule in 1980 as an IRA Volunteer and when they charge somebody like Ivor Bell, who is now facing charges for things that happened in 1972, it just seems to me as if Sinn Féin and some Republicans are being part of a system which is going to criminalise people who were part of that struggle, part of the same struggle that you were a part of, part of the same struggle that Bobby Sands was a part of and saying today: Now go to jail as a criminal and we’re standing with the administration that’s putting you there. What do you think about that?

RO:  That’s self-evident. I mean that’s self-evident. Sinn Féin is the government. Sinn Féin and the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) are the government. They’re the guys who’s running Northern Ireland. And the bottom line is: Everything, in terms of the law, in terms of the police, in terms of the structures of state – the only thing that they haven’t got total control over is the security services, MI5 etc, but everything else they have control over. And they have, they have…I’m not saying they have real powers but Sinn Féin have been very, very timid in relation to Republicans going into prison for historical charges. I mean, 1972 – this was forty years ago! And this guy, Ivor Bell, is being charged with a murder that happened in 1972 which he didn’t do – the man’s totally innocent – but Sinn Féin are right up there. They’re very, very quiet. The Sinn Féin of old, Martin, would have had their people on the streets, hundreds, thousands of people…

MG: …And as many in front of New York Consulate as well.

RO:  Sorry?

MG: There would have been that many in front of the Consulates around New York and around the country as well. They would have had everybody out there picketing and saying: Show them we can do this all across the United States and other countries around the world. They would have been protesting about Ivor Bell.

RO: Well absolutely. But they’re not doing that, straight? They’re not doing that and it’s disgraceful that they’re not doing it! Ivor Bell was one of their comrades whether they like it or not and so was Gerry McGeough. They were great guys when they were in the movement and they were doing their best to remove the British. But now that they’re not in the movement, now that they’re not on board they’re throwaways! It’s disgraceful! The Sinn Féin of old, the party of faith – of a wee bit of pluck – is gone! All they want now is Stormont and money. It’s all about money!

JM: But Richard, you’re not going to get your pay raise like Sinn Féin just voted in that you can’t live on an industrial wage as a Republican – you need the full whack as a TD and an MP and a somebody up on the hill – I mean, come on! How are you going to get pay raises if you’re talking like you’re talking?

RO: Well, I don’t want no pay raises, John. I don’t work for them and never will and I’m quite happy with that but the point of the matter is: It’s all about money and it’s about career politicians. The very thing, the very thing that we always detested! We accused the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) – and it was one of our sort of a punch to hit them with: Youse are career politicians. Youse are in it for the money. And now, as you say, they’ve done away with their industrial wage, whatever that ever meant, and their politicians are getting the full whack and it’s disgraceful! In the meantime, Ivor Bell, Gerry McGeough and guys like that that are getting persecuted and they’re not saying a dicky bird about it!

MG: Richard, just, we’re almost coming to the end but just on that theme: I heard that there was mention of Brendan Hughes in the film, a treatment. Now Brendan was one of the first people who pointed out that people were getting too involved with positions and power within British administrations and money and prestige and ‘jobs for the boys’ type of thing and losing sight of the struggle. How was he treated in terms of the film?

RO:  Well he was treated very badly if you must know. Laurence McKeown, an ex-hunger striker – he didn’t have much of a contribution to the movie – I think he was only on it once – but he was asked about Bobby and he said he wasn’t too sure if Bobby had the strength to be OC (Officer Commanding) – this was after the first hunger strike ended. And then he heard that Bobby told The Dark, told Brendan Hughes, that he had messed up – and I’m saying ‘messed up’- he used a stronger word than that – that he had messed up the hunger strike and then Laurence McKeown said he was happy with that. I mean, that’s a slur on Brendan Hughes. It’s a cheap shot at a man who can’t defend himself because he’s dead. The fact of the matter was Brendan Hughes had given his word to Seán McKenna that he wouldn’t let him die. And I had this conversation with Brendan before he died – actually getting a way down to it because I knew he was feeling it and me and him went through this in quite – I mean, a couple of hours we were talking about it – and I told him that had he let Seán McKenna die after giving Seán McKenna his word that he would not let him die – and Seán McKenna making it clear that he didn’t want to die, then in my view – and Brendan agreed with this – Dark agreed with this – he would have been committing murder. So Brendan Hughes did the right thing. He took a man off hunger strike who didn’t want to die. And not only did Seán McKenna not want to die there were others on that first hunger strike who didn’t want to die, either. He was in an impossible position. So he didn’t mess up. He done the only thing he could do. And it’s disgraceful – that the likes of Laurence McKeown is having cheap shots at him!

MG: And it was just brought in gratuitously. It didn’t have to be part of the film. I don’t know what it was like for Brendan – I spoke to him about it just briefly – he was still pained in his voice when he talked about it years later – about being on hunger strike himself, being in jail, being in the H Block, being on protest – these people saying he didn’t want to die and having to make that decision. And hopefully…

RO: …What was he going to do? What was he going to do, Martin? Say: ‘To hell with you. I’m going to let you die whether you want to or not!’? I mean – that’s murder!

MG: Look, the man was a hero during that campaign. If he hadn’t worked so hard and set up or helped set up the mechanism which you would be allowed to take advantage of Thatcher would have never been beaten and I think it’s just because Brendan’s politics now – I ended up on the cutting floor and he did not – he got a gratuitous shot.

Alright, Richard. And by the way, Richard’s book, the definitive work on the H Block protest, Blanketmen, I think it was just re-issued. Go to you can get it. That’s Also, if you want to read about what was really happening in Ireland and in the United States during the hunger strike go to Get the link to the Irish People newspaper. Go to the issues in 1980-1981 – read what was written about at that time. Alright, Richard, we want to thank you for coming on, doing this great interview…

RO: …Martin, can I just say just before I go – can I just pay homage to Sandy Boyer? He was a lovely man. He interviewed me, the only one…Radio Free Éireann was the only people from America that came to me when Blanketmen came out and I was fighting my corner against dozens, well not dozens, but numerous guys who were coming at me from everywhere. Sandy Boyer and John were the only guys that stood in and said: Come on – we’ll give you a hearing. And can I pay my respects to Sandy Boyer? He was a lovely man and he was a great friend and he was a great co-conspirator of Gerry Conlon who was my best friend and I’d just like to say that.

MG: (fund raising announcements) And Richard, we want to thank you for coming on and we look forward to reading the re-release of Blanketmen and hearing from you in future.

RO: Guys, it’s my pleasure. Thank you so much. (ends time stamp ~ 49:37)