Top Provo in H-Block sought Hume as broker

ONE of the top IRA prisoners in the Maze during the hunger strike wanted John Hume to act as an intermediary to end the protest, state papers have revealed.

A priest urged the then 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 haddied.

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

Brendan “Bik” McFarlane was the officer commanding 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 plan, the SDLP leader said, was to ask officials in London to inform himand the Irish government in identical terms what prison reforms were on offer.

Mr Hume said he would tell the hunger strikers the plan directly and confirm ithad been passed to the Irish government.

The taoiseach, who had already warned Margaret Thatcher that her attitude to the hunger strike was divisive, urged Mr Hume to be the one to approach the British government with the plan.

The memo was written the day before the tenth death, 27-year-old INLA member Michael Devine from Derry. It would be about six weeks before the strike ended on October 3.

According to documents from files in the taoiseach’s office, the MP for Foyletold the Irish government that Gerry Adams had “sought a conversation withhim” on or around May 14 after the death of Francis Hughes, 27, from Bellaghy,south Derry, the second to die.

The Sinn Féin chief told him IRA prisoners would call off the hunger strike ifallowed to wear their own clothes and enjoy some free association.

After meeting Margaret Thatcher in London, Mr Hume phoned then taoiseach Charlie Haughey’s office to relay what he had told the British prime minister.

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

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

Elsewhere, papers confirm Bobby Sands offered to suspend his hunger strike for five days on or around April 30 1981 after meeting Pope John Paul II’s envoy John Magee, the former Bishop of Cloyne.

The offer was conditional on an official from the Northern Ireland Officecoming to the Maze to negotiate with prisoners on their five demands in thepresence of “guarantors.”

According to the documents, the Northern Ireland Office would not discuss Sands’ offer.

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