Northern Ireland news

State papers: Request for hunger strike interviews got mixed response

A 'H' Block demonstration in Dunville Park, Belfast in 1980
√Čamon Phoenix

AN IRISH-American historian's request for interviews over the 1980-81 hunger strikes at the Maze prison received a mixed response from Northern Ireland Office officials.

Pádraig O'Malley had made a request for a series of interviews with ministers and officials involved in the hunger strikes.

He met with NIO minister Nick Scott to discuss the matter in 1986, five years after the pivotal 1981 hunger strike in which 10 IRA and INLA men died.

But the professor's request elicited varying responses from officials, newly released files from the Public Record Office in Belfast show.

RJ Kendrick, director of prison operations at the NIO, was against offering any assistance to the project.

"We have already seen one hunger strike saga which in my view should not be allowed into our prisons," he said.

However, in a handwritten note dated July 1986, senior official SC Jackson felt that O'Malley's book "might well turn out to be a serious, not wholly unbalanced study of the 1980/81 hunger strikes".

"These were, in any view, significant events of legitimate public interest", he said.

O'Malley's request received strong backing from Nick Scott.

He wrote to two former ministers of the hunger stikes era, former Northern Ireland prisons minister Michael Allison and his successor Lord Gowrie.

Scott wrote to Allison on August 1986 commending O'Malley's motives and academic integrity.

"[He] has worked very hard in the past to try to bring a greater level of understanding between the people of the troubled north and his impartiality and intelligence are sought out by anyone who is responsible for the political future of Ireland," he said.

As a result, arrangements were made for the Boston-based academic to interview Sir John Blelloch, the deputy under-secretary at the Ministry of Defence (MOD), who had been the key advisor to Allison during the hunger strikes.

The discussion between Blelloch and O'Malley took place at the MOD in London on September 24, 1986 and was tape-recorded.

Transcripts exist in the file as well as a detailed aide memoir from Blelloch to Sir Robert Andrew, the permanent secretary at the NIO.

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