Daniel Gerard Morrison (born 1953 in Belfast), known generally as Danny Morrison is an Irish republican writer and activist. He is also the secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust.
Morrison came from a strongly republican family. His uncles had been jailed for their part in the IRA’s Northern Campaign in the 1940s; one of his uncles was Harry White, a prominent IRA man.
He joined Sinn Féin in 1966 and helped to organise 50th anniversary commemorations of the Easter Rising in Belfast. At this time, he later recalled, ‘as far as we were concerned, there was absolutely no chance of the IRA appearing again. They were something in history books’.
However, after the 1969 Northern Ireland Riots, in which nationalist areas of Belfast were attacked and burned, Morrison joined the newly formed Provisional IRA. He believed that, ‘the IRA had been deliberately run down, so that when August 1969 came, there was little or no defence (of nationalist areas)’…(so) a new IRA was built to ensure that nationalists were never left defenceless again’.
After this time, Morrison was engaged in clandestine IRA activity, but as late as 1971, he was still attending Belfast College of Business Studies and editing a student magazine there. Danny Morrison was interned in Long Kesh in 1972.
Despite his family’s republican convictions, Morrison’s two sisters married British soldiers whom they had met when British troops were deployed to keep order in Belfast in 1969.
Morrison’s talents for writing and publicity were quickly recognised within the republican movement and after his release in 1975, Billy McKee, IRA O/C for Belfast, appointed him editor of Republican News. In this journal, he criticised many long standing policies of the movement, especially the Eire Nua, programme, which advocated a federal united Ireland, with autonomy for Ulster. At this time, he became associated with a grouping of young, Belfast based republicans, led by Gerry Adams, who wanted to change the strategy, tactics and leadership of the IRA and Sinn Féin. In particular, Morrison believed the IRA’s 1975 ceasefire was, ‘a disaster’. He was especially critical of IRA killings of other republicans and Protestant civilians, which enabled the British government to portray the organisation as a criminal or sectarian group.
With the rise of Adams’ faction to the leadership of the republican movement in the late 1970s, Morrison was made Director of Publicity for Sinn Féin. The new leadership wanted their political wing to fight elections in addition to their paramilitary wing’s armed campaign. However, they believed that in order to be effective, it required a change in the constitution of Sinn Féin, which at that time forbade the party’s members from taking seats in either British, Irish or Northern Ireland parliaments.
During the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike, Morrison acted as spokesman for the IRA hunger strikers’ leader Bobby Sands, who was elected to the British Parliament on an Anti H-Block platform.
At the 1981 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, Morrison made a famous speech in which he called for the constitution to be changed. He said, ‘Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in one hand and an Armalite in this hand, we take power in Ireland?’. From this speech the term ‘Armalite and ballot box strategy’, was coined to describe the two-pronged strategy of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin in advancing the cause of republicanism. In reply, Sinn Féin President Ruairi O Bradaigh argued that the Ard-Fheis should not “swop a slogan for a policy”, referring to Éire Nua.
In early 1982, loyalist paramilitaries attempted to kill Morrison and his wife, opening fire on them as they walked from a local bar. However, he survived the assassination attempt.
Morrison was elected as a Sinn Féin Member for Mid Ulster of a short lived Northern Ireland Assembly from 1982-6. He also stood unsuccessfully for the European Parliament in 1984 in which he received 91,476 votes and again in 1989. He also stood for the Mid Ulster Westminster seat in 1983 and 1986.
Morrison along with Owen Carron was arrested on 21 January 1982 whilst attempting to enter the United States illegally from Canada by car. He was deported and later both men were convicted on a charge of making false and fictitious statements to American immigration officials.
He was director of publicity for Sinn Féin from 1979 until 1990, when he was charged with false imprisonment and conspiracy to murder an IRA man who was working for the British, Sandy Lynch. He was sentenced to eight years imprisonment and released in 1995.
Morrison always maintained that he was there to organise a press conference for Sinn Féin. The conviction was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the convictions of Danny Morrison and the other defendants were overturned in 2008. Unusually, the reason was given in a confidential annex, which Danny Morrison and the others were not allowed to see. It was claimed that this was because it contained details of security-force agents among the IRA members in the house. British intelligence has come under severe scrutiny on various BBC documentaries in which Morrison and the Police Ombudsman spoke of MI5 secrecy and questioned the legality of many British operations.
Since 1989, Morrison has published several novels and plays on themes relating to republicanism and events in the modern history of Belfast. His latest play, The Wrong Man, opened in London in 2005. It is based on his 1997 book of the same name and deals with the career of an IRA man who is suspected by his colleagues of working for the police.
His first novel, West Belfast, has been described as “significant for its honest portrayal of a conflict which has been written on extensively by outsiders but rarely by the people involved…This is perhaps the first time that a modern Irish Republican has attempted to show in novel form what his community has gone through under British oppression.” His second book, On The Back of the Swallow, deals with homosexual relationships, loss and the taboo around such relationships during the conflict in Northern Ireland and the treatment of gay men by the RUC. His latest original work, Rebel Columns was published in 2004 followed by Hunger Strike, which features contributions, poems and stories from Christy Moore and Ulick O’Connor, with an international view of the hunger strikes from an Iranian man originally published in The Blanket.
The Belfast Telegraph reviewer wrote that his third book, The Wrong Man (1997), “should come to be regarded as one of the most important books of the Troubles”, while the Sunday Times called it “a powerful and complex piece of storytelling”. The book is discussed in the Oxford Companion to Irish Literature, which describes it as “a powerful evocation of betrayal, deceit and guilt”. It was adapted into a play that was produced in London in 2005.
His fourth book, ‘Then the Walls Came Down: A Prison Journal’ (1999), was described in the Irish Times as ‘remarkable as a human document’ and compared it to Brendan Behan’s ‘Borstal Boy’. Another review in the same newspaper called it ‘one of the most important books to emerge from the conflict in Northern Ireland… a vividly humane account of life in prison. ‘The Observer commented that in ‘post-ceasefire Northern Ireland…the new thinking has come from those involved in the republican war. Danny Morrison’s prison memoirs in an honest study of a man seeking fresh solutions to the stalemate the Provos found themselves in at the beginning of the Nineties.’ The Irish News said it was ‘invaluable as a rare look at prisoners as human beings.’
All the Dead Voices (2002) is a memoir. It was followed by Rebel Columns (2004), a collection of articles. Morrison edited Hunger Strike: Reflections on the 1981 Hunger Strike (2007), which features poems, stories, and reflections on the strike by such contributors as Tony Benn, Edna O’Brien and Christy Moore. The publisher describes the book as follows: “Well-known novelists and poets, former prisoners and activists reflect upon the deaths of the ten republican hunger strikers who died in protest to gain political prisoner status from the British government in Northern Ireland. Their deaths proved a turning point in relations between Britain and Ireland in the early 1980s. Most of the pieces here were specifically commissioned, and while they differ greatly, what they have in common is a sense of the intensity of the experience of the hunger strike at the time, and the intensity of the impression made by it even now.”
Morrison now lives in West Belfast with his Canadian-born wife, Leslie. He has two sons from a previous relationship.