ESCLUSIVA. GERARD HODGINS, HUNGER STRIKER NEL MAZE
La seconda parte dell’intervista rilasciata da Gerard Hodgins a Flavio Bacci. Il 14 settembre 1981 smise di essere uno ‘spettatore’ iniziando lo sciopero della fame dopo la morte di 10 suoi compagni, tra cui Bobby Sands. Il ruolo giocato dai familiari dei prigionieri e soprattutto le presunte offerte del governo britannico che avrebbero garantito il soddifascimento di 4 delle 5 richieste avanzate dai pows. Venti giorni di astinenza dal cibo, che segnarono per sempre la sua vita
Part 2 – HUNGER STRIKE 1981
F.B. You are a former hunger strikers and Blanket man, while on the protest you lived with just a blanket to clothe yourself. Can you explain to us the symbolism behind the refusal to wear the prison uniform or the ‘prison civilian style clothes’?
G.H. We always considered ourselves to be politically motivated soldiers, we fought for our freedom and while we voluntarily gave our times and our services to the cause of Irish freedom we never profited from our endeavours. The British declared in 1976 that captured soldiers of the IRA and INLA would no longer be accorded political status while imprisoned; instead the British declared we would be treated as common criminals and forced to wear prison uniforms.
Our identity as Irish republican volunteers was under attack, our historic claim to sovereignty and independence was under attack and our integrity as human beings was under attack. We refused to wear any criminal uniform and fought the prison system over the next six years to reassert our rights. They were hard times in the prison struggle and we faced much brutality from the screws.
Irish republican history is littered with poignant tales of prison struggle and the sacrifices of ordinary men and women in extraordinary situations. Twenty-two republican prisoners died on hunger strikes during the 20th Century in British and Irish prisons, conditions have always been harsh for our people in the prisons but the repression only made us more defiant and determined to fight rather than surrender.
F.B. You started your hunger-strike on 14th September until its end. What was your main fear? Were you sure to going to die like your ten comrades?
G.H. Paradoxically it was not fear that was in my mind. If anything I felt a surge of relief once I was short-listed to join the hunger strike; sitting about waiting for my turn was difficult for me, I felt like an impotent bystander. When I was on the hunger strike I was no longer a bystander watching my friends waste away.
F.B. In 2008, Richard O Rawe’s book ‘Blanket men’ was published. In that book he claimed that the British government made substantial offers on 5th July 1981 in order to end the hunger strike. According to his assertion, four of the five demands were effectively being conceded. Bik McFarlane and the Sinn Fein leadership have denied these allegations. What is your position regarding this issue? Were you aware of negotiations with the British officials around this time?
G.H. The revelations about the clandestine talks between Gerry Adams and the British is an area which needs more openness and scrutiny; this stuff is a tightly guarded secret which neither Adams nor the British are too willing to discuss. To answer your question unambiguously: no, I was not aware of these contacts while on the hunger strike and none of the hunger strikers were made aware of the extent of the British offers either.
This information was kept to a tight circle of people with Adams at the apex; in essence Adams run the hunger strike for his own political objectives and this is demonstrably clear from not only his rejection of the 5TH July offer, but his failure to inform all men on hunger strike the extent of his communications with the British and the nature of the offers the British had been making.
F.B. In 1972 Sean MacStiofain, former IRA chief-of-staff, suspended his hunger-strike, under IRA pressures. It’s believed the IRA leadership were not in favour of hunger-strike at the time, but if the Army Council had given a direct order to suspend the hunger-strike, would you have done so?
G.H. The Army Council ordered us off the hunger strike on 3rd October 1981. We obeyed. Why would we not obey the Army Council, they were the supreme authority of the IRA.
F.B. Your abstinence from food ended with the hunger-strike suspension with 5 other comrades on 3rd October 1981. Before this however, 5 men had been taken of the hunger strike by their family. What was your family’s mentality at the time, were they ready to stop your strike? How do you think you would have reacted in the hypothetical scenario that they had taken you off?
G.H. The family interventions were a major stumbling block to the efficacy of the ongoing hunger strike and something we had no real power or control over. We made our families aware we did not want them to authorise medical intervention once we lapsed into a coma, we explained our motivations and reasons to them and asked them for assurance they would abide by our wishes, but it is surely a very hard thing for a family to watch a son/husband slowly starve to death.
It was a tragic time in our history and it put families in an impossible position. Right up to the end though the dynamic amongst us was still one of defiance and a forlorn willingness to fight on, we didn’t want to suspend the hunger strike and towards circumventing the family interventions I had suggested to our O.C. that we arrange marriages of convenience with female volunteers in the IRA who would then become our immediate next of kin and thus the ones with the responsibility of either sanctioning medical intervention, or standing by our express wishes.
F.B. Every surviving hunger striker has had or is still suffering from health problems as a result of their hunger strike. Can you describe what kind of ailments or problems the legacy of hunger strike has had on your health?
G.H. 1981 is a year that never ends; inside my head it is yesterday. I have difficulties with it sometimes but deal with it in my own way.