The year of 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the historic events of 1981 when ten brave Irishmen gave the ultimate sacrifice so that their comrades, and the wider republican struggle, would not be criminalised. As the 40th anniversary of the events of ’81 approached a group of socialist republicans grouped together to form a committee we named ‘Stailc 81’ (Irish word for ‘Strike 81’) to remember, commemorate and celebrate with pride the patriots who took part in the Hunger Strike (Stailc Ocrais) of that year.

Join with Stailc 81 as we mark the occasion with a series of events.

stailc 81, h block, long kesh, 1981

On August 9th, 1971, when internment without trial was introduced those arrested, convicted without trial and imprisoned had Special Category Status which gave the right to be treated as a Prisoner Of War. Irish republican prisoners who had been sentenced were refused the same rights as internees until July 1972, when Special Category Status was granted following a hunger strike by the Belfast republican Billy McKee in Crumlin Road jail.

Special Category, or Political Status meant that all prisoners were treated on similar terms as POW’s and had the right not wear prison uniform or engage in prison work. On 1 March 1976, the British Secretary of State announced that people convicted of political offences no longer would be entitled to Political Status. The policy was not introduced for existing prisoners, but for those convicted after March 1st, 1976, who would be imprisoned in the newly designed H-Blocks.

The first republican prisoner to enter the H-Blocks was Kieran Nugent. On entering “The ‘Blocks” Kieran refused to wear the prison garb explaining to the prison authorities that he would not be branded as a criminal and as such would not wear a criminals uniform. When handed a uniform Kieran stated to the screws; “you’ll have to nail it to my back”. Kieran went unclothed, bar to wrap himself in the prison-issue blanket.

By 1978, prisoners leaving their cells to wash and “slop out” (empty their chamber pot) were met with increased brutality. To protect themselves, and as form of protest, prisoners refused to wash and smeared their excrement on the walls of their cells. These protests aimed to re-establish their political status by securing what were known as the “Five Demands”:

1. The right not to wear a prison uniform

2. The right not to do prison work

3. The right of free association with other prisoners

4. The right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week

5. Full restoration of remission lost through the protest

This was the beginning of the events that would culminate in the 1980, and ultimately the 1981 hunger strikes when ten young brave Irish republicans gave their lives for better conditions for their comrades and play a momentous role in the Irish freedom struggle.

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