Bishop's attitude to strike seen as 'unhelpful'

THE Government thought Bishop Edward Daly's attitude towards the IRA/INLA dirty protest and first hunger strike in the Maze "not particularly helpful," according to secret state papers released under the 30-year rule.

According to an intelligence assessment compiled from "delicate sources" Bishop Daly and Cardinal 'Fiaich were offside as far as the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and Downing Street were concerned.

The assessment was a reaction to the first hunger strike at the Maze, which was led by infamous Belfast IRA man Brendan Hughes in late 1980, who had at the beginning of the Troubles spread republican propaganda in Londonderry on an An Phoblacht paper round.

The current Foyle Sinn Fin MLA and former IRA man Raymond McCartney and Dungiven native Tom McFeely - the latter served 12 years in the Maze for robbing a post office and shooting and wounding an RUC officer during a siege of a house in County Londonderry - were also on the strike.

Never-before-published documents show that the attitude of the Catholic Church was of some importance to the minds of the state authorities and that the Government would have preferred a more robust line from Cardinal 'Fiaich and Bishop Daly.

The sticking point appears to have been their attitude towards the prisoners' demand of the right to wear their own clothing - one of five which included rights to association, to one visit/one parcel per week, to refuse prison work and the restoration of remission.

Cardinal 'Fiaich and Bishop Daly had been involved in lengthy talks with the Government during 1980 in a bid to end the blanket protest.

But after an announcement by the Churchmen on October 24 that the authorities would allow the prisoners wear their own clothes and a subsequent disavowal by the Government who said they would be allowed to wear a 'civilian-type' uniform, Hughes announced the commencement of a hunger strike on October 27.

As the secret memo states: "Although individual priests (including Father Faul) are undoubtedly doing their best, the Church is not being particularly helpful.

"Cardinal 'Fiaich and Bishop Daly have not as yet taken a very constructive line. Father Reid, who would have been a helpful influence, is reported to be in Drogheda suffering from a nervous breakdown."

The NIO apparatchiks go on to elaborate on this saying that a concession on the prison uniforms point may get Bishop Daly and his superior back on side but there would be no grounds for such a concession even though the Provo leadership wanted "off the hook."

The communiqu states: "Even if things began to go wrong it is reasonable to believe that they would be brought back under control.

"There is certainly no ground, on the basis of the best assessment we can make, for considering that any concession (apart possibly from going the whole way on clothes in order to get Cardinal 'Fiaich and Bishop Daly back on side) would improve the situation.

"It is unlikely (even though the Provisional leadership want off the hook) that anything which could not be interpreted as special category status would be acceptable."

The same document also refers to an associated protest mounted by women prisoners in Armagh jail and to the plight of Londonderry republican Pauline McLaughlin - who was suffering significant health problems at the time.

McLaughlin's health had been deteriorating in jail and in October 1980 the British Socialist Feminist Conference had pledged its aid to campaign for her release, which was eventually achieved in January, 1981.

The newly released intelligence file shows the Government was acutely aware of this pressure. It also shows the Government believed the IRA leadership were not particularly interested in what the women in Armagh did.

"There has been some talk, at least among the campaign organisers, of the women in Armagh joining the hunger strike. "In fact the leadership have never shown much interest in what the women are up to but have left them to the feminist movement.

"However, they may consider it worth bringing in the women at a later stage and it is also quite possible that the women will take the decision themselves precipitately. the death of Pauline McLoughlin (sic] or indeed her release, would give the women a new emphasis."

The document also shows the IRA leadership was deliberating on a strategy to support the hunger strike through a campaign of terror outside the Maze.

The briefing refers to the shooting of a UDR member in Strabane on October 24, 1980, and to Gerry Adams' insistence on a "disclaimer of the shooting."

Apparently, members of the hunger strike Relative Action Committee (RAC) had also been concerned about the bad publicity of the "Strabane murder" which was an intelligence failure on the part of the Government's "delicate sources" as there is no record of a member of the UDR member having been murdered at this time.

The recently compiled Report on the impact of the conflict on the Lifford/Strabane Area - January 2010, does however, refer to a "part-time UDR member being shot twice in the back from a car on his way to work. He was seriously injured."

Nonetheless, the hunger strike assessment states: "There is, for example, intelligence that attacks on off-duty UDR, RUC and prison officers are to be suspended; and Gerry Adams is reported to have insisted on a disclaimer of the shooting of a UDR woman in Strabane on October 24.

"How firm this policy is or how rigorously it can be held to, remains to be seen: and it seems unlikely that it would be sustained indefinitely if only because it is in such conflict with leadership's earlier determination to intensify the campaign this winter.

"As a member of the Relatives Action Committee (concerned about the bad publicity of the Strabane murder) put it, 'how can we give up the war when that's what they are in gaol for.'

"What does seem likely is that Adams is giving the most careful thought to how and when best to use terrorism in support of the prisoners. A turning point could be the first death."

Scrawled in handwriting over one of the secret briefings is the telling note: "I wonder if we should now be thinking in terms of getting PIRA 'off the hook.'

"Our aim should be to break the strike (see pars 16-20 of the assessment) and we should only be driven off this if there is a very dramatic deterioration indeed in the situation."