We, the protesting Republican prisoners in the H-Blocks, being faced with the reality of sustained family intervention, are forced by this circumstance, over which we have little control at the moment, to end the hunger strike.
After four years of continual protest, and after the failure of the Cardinal O’Fiaich/Humphrey Atkins talks, and having exhausted all other means of protest to bring about a settlement, we embarked on hunger strike on October 27th, 1980.
That hunger strike ended on 18 December 1980, when the British government intimated to the hunger strikers that they would implement a workable and just solution which was forwarded to the hunger strikers on 18 December 1980.
In the course of the immediate post-hunger strike period it became increasingly clear that the British government had reneged on their commitment to implement that solution and so we were back in a pre-hunger strike predicament and thus forced to go back on hunger strike.
On 1 March 1981 Bobby Sands embarked on hunger strike.
On 23 April 1981, 30,492 people in the Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency elected him as their MP and by doing so, they recognised him as a political prisoner and demanded that the British government respect the mandate given by them and by the entire nationalist community on the streets by implementing the five demands.
The British government, caught in the hypocrisy of their own ‘democracy’ jargon, ignored the people’s wishes and mandate.
On 23 April 1981 Charles Haughey, then Dublin premier, met relatives of Bobby Sands and, by playing on their distress, convinced them that the intervention of the ECHR (European Commission on Human Rights) could, and would, solve the issue. Bobby’s sister, Marcella, acted on Haughey’s advice and signed an intervention document.
The ECHR delegation came to Long Kesh and Bobby Sands said he would meet them providing Brendan McFarlane, OC of the prisoners, Mr Gerry Adams and Mr Danny Morrison were present. This reasonable proviso was refused and the ECHR left Long Kesh. Bobby released a statement that night attacking Haughey for unscrupuously exploiting his family’s anxiety to cover his own inactivity.
On 5 May 1981 Bobby Sands died on hunger strike, murdered by British callousness and vindictiveness.
Frank Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara were soon to follow Bobby to the grave, and still the British government remained steadfastly and inhumanly infiexible.
On 11 June nine prisoners stood in the Southern general election. Of these, Paddy Agnew topped the poll in Louth, and Kieran Doherty was elected for the Cavan/Monaghan constituency. In the other seven areas the prisoners polled exceedingly well considering the lack of organisation and the short period of time there was to organise the election campaign.
The ordinary people of the South cast their votes in thousands. In Cavan/Monaghan, Kieran Doherty polled first preference 9,121 (15%); Paddy Agnew, Louth, 8,368 (18%); Joe McDonnell, Sligo/Leitrim, 5,634; Martin Hurson, Longford/Westmeath, 4,573 (10%); Sean McKenna, Kerry North, 3,860; Kevin Lynch, Waterford, 3,337; Tony O’Hara, Dublin West, 3,034; Mairead Farrell, Cork North Central, 2,751 and Tom McAllister, Clare, 2,120.
On 4 July 1981 we issued a major policy statement outlining our five demands, and emphasising the fact that we wanted our five demands to be available for all prisoners (rejecting an assertion to the contrary, made by the British, which we regarded as nonsense and a red herring to justify the barbarity of the British government). This statement was almost universally accepted as ‘remarkably conciliatory’.
On the same day, the ICJP (Irish Commission for Justice and Peace) entered the prison and put proposals to the hunger strikers. They put the same proposals to Brendan McFarlane the next day.
On 8 July Joe McDonnell died and the British government issued their policy statement.
We released a statement rejecting the government’s statement and ambiguous proposals as even less than what we were originally led to believe was offered via the ICJP. We also rejected the ICJP’s proposals which totally evaded the crux of the issue and we expressed our belief that the government had used the ICJP to foster the impression that a settlement was imminent.
The government’s renegal on their own commitment to the ICJP compounded our belief that the ICJP were being used, and the ICJP dismissed the government’s proposals as not a genuine attempt at a settlement.
On 13 July we were shocked and dismayed to hear that Martin Hurson had been violently ill and had died unexpectedly and prematurely.
The next significant development was the British government-sponsored intervention of the IRC (International Red Cross). The IRC tried to initiate direct dialogue between the Brits and ourselves, but the British rejected this and suggested mediation based on their July 8th statement, which was aimed at defeating us and unproductive, and we rejected this as futile.
We pointed out to the IRC that, as the Brits were not interested in an honourable settlement, their interest in the IRC must logically be to use them. A Red Cross delegate asked for a further breakdown of our 4 July statement and was initially refused. However, after discussion, we compiled and issued our 6 August statement and asked the British government, the Dublin government, the SDLP and the Catholic Church to respond to our statement.
Soon Kieran Doherty, Kevin Lynch and Thomas McElwee were to be murdered by Britain.
The British government, having been exposed for the hypocrites they are at the first Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, had instigated and passed legislation which erased our right to participate in elections and, this done, they fixed the by-election for Bobby Sands’ seat for 20 August.
By this time, a new, active, treacherous, and vigorous campaign was under way to break the strike. This campaign was orchestrated by clerics who received approvalfrom the Catholic Church. On occasion other individuals were involved also.
Attempts were made to discredit the prisoners and the National H-Block/Armagh Committee. More damaging was the promotion of the ‘hopeless’ syndrome. The projection of this ‘hopeless’ syndrome, plus the private lobbying of relatives to effect intervention when strikers were going into a coma, was proving to be a serious threat to the continuation of the hunger strike.
On 20 August 1981 Owen Carron was elected with an increased majority as proxy political prisoner MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Even so, the British premier, Thatcher, again spurned this mandate for us prisoners and with encouragement from Dr Fitzgerald went further, by refusing even to meet with him to discuss the continuing spiral, and gruesome spectre, of death.
On 20 August Mickey Devine was the tenth hunger striker to die.
Mounting pressure and cleric-inspired demoralisation led to further intervention and at present five strikers have been taken off their fast. We accept that it is almost a physical and psychological impossibility to recommence hunger strike after intervention. Also, two men ended their fast to avoid a premature, non-hunger striking death.
The situation exists at present that a considerable majority of hunger strikers’ families have indicated that they will intervene and under these circumstances we feel that the hunger strike must, for tactical reasons, be suspended.
We feel that it is of paramount importance that the political revelations, lessons and consequences of the hunger strike are recognised and perpetuated in the minds, the hearts and demeanour of the nationalist population of Ireland.
One of the primary lessons to emerge from this second hunger strike is that the rationalist community is politically inconsequential and impotentin the context of the six-county statelet.
Despite the electoral successes, despite the hundreds of thousands at hunger strikers’ funerals, despite massive and unprecedented displays of community support and solidarity, the British government adhered rigidly to the precept that ‘might is right’ and set about hammering home that nothing has really changed since thefall of Stormont or from the inception of this state. That is, that nationalist Ireland must always be subjected to the British and Loyalist veto.
On the same theme, the lesson of Fermanagh and South Tyrone is that the self exalted ‘British Democracy’ is an expediency manufactured – again from the setting up of the border (the ‘first and biggest gerrymander’) – to preserve a continued British presence in Ireland.
When defeated by their own rules at the polls the British government’s concept of democracy altered and the rules were changed to suit them. When they are defeated even by their own rules, they ignore the democratically expressed voice of the electorate and thus undermine the entire principle and purpose of using their ‘democratic’ processes to effect social or political change.
The logical conclusion of this analysis is that nationalist pacifism in the Northern Ireland context dooms the nationalist population to subserviency, perpetuates partition, and thwarts the quest for a just and lasting peace in Ireland.
Another facet of this hunger strike was to expertly expose the true face of the present lrish Establishment, consisting of the Catholic Church, the Dublin government and the SDLP.
From the outset the Catholic hierarchy opposed the hunger strike even though they offered no alternative course of action.
We contend that their position has at all times been established by political consideration rather than the Christian values of truth and justice. Therefore, their stance has been extremely immoral and misleading.
At no time did the Church publicly support the five demands or for that matter reject them. Equally, when specifically asked to respond to our 6 August statement, they kept silent – even though hunger strikers were dying virtually on a weekly basis.
We contend very strongly that the reason that the British didn’t respond to our 6 August statement is that the prison regime we proposed was inarguably superior and better than the present Victorian regime and that the Church accepted this, but to support our demands would be to oppose the British government.
And the logical conclusion, again, would be to consciously incite the Irish Catholic population to oppose the British policy. Therefore, they remained ambiguous on the entire issue and the reason, as we stated, is that they are intricately immersed in the field of politics and deceit.
It was the Catholic clerics, more than anyone, who were involved in the back door and public pressuring of families to get them to intervene.
We believe that the Dublin bloc of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour are accessories to the legalised murder of ten true and committed Irishmen who died heroically in the long tradition of republican resistance to British occupation, oppression and injustice inlreland. They are accessories to murder by virtue of the fact that they sat idly by and thus encouraged the British to continue with the death policy.
The sheer hypocrisy of their position is that at no time did any of these three parties unequivocally or even tacitly support our demands, even though our five demands are implemented in their entirety (even more than we were looking for) in jails in Southern Ireland.
Well may they hang their heads in shame, for they are a pathetic reflection of republicanism and the spirit that traditionally earmarked the Irish patriot’s pursuit of nationhood and justice, and by their cowardly collaborationist and quisling stand on the H-Block issue they have debased the memory of generations of Irish freedom fighters who fought for a separatist Ireland.
If John Bull doesn’t actually rule the twenty-six counties physically, he still rules it in spirit.
And it must not be forgotten that Garret FitzGerald’s concept of democracy parallels with Maggie Thatcher’s.
There was only one positive injurious action available to the SDLP which would help to save lives in the H-Blocks and that was to isolate the British administration by withdrawing from the council chambers. This they consistently refused to do, preferring instead to cling tenaciously to their role of imperialist lickspittle.
Rather than take action to secure an honourable solution and save lives, they occupied their time trying to make political gain by attacking those who did genuinely endeavour to end the issue honourably, namely the National H-Block/Armagh Committee and those councillors who answered ourcall to withdraw from the councils.
This party should now be recognised for what it is, an amalgamation of middle class Redmondites, devoid of principle, direction and courage. This party is spineless and weak and is very capable of selling out to unionist intimidators for imperialist perks. Their whole leadership combined do not possess a fraction of the moral fibre demonstrated so valiantly by our comrades.
There were several reasons given by our comrades for going on hunger strike. One was because we had no choice and no other means of securing a principled solution to the four year protest. Another, and of fundamental importance, was to advance the Irish people’s right to liberty. We believe that the age old struggle for Irish self-determination and freedom has been immeasurably advanced by this hunger strike and therefore we claim a massive political victory. The hunger strikers, by their selflessness, have politicised a very substantial section of the lrish nation and exposed the shallow, unprincipled nature of the Irish partitionist bloc.
Our comrades have lit with their very lives an eternal beacon which will inspire this nation and people to rise and crush oppression forever and this nation can be proud that it produced such a quality of manhood
We pay a special tribute to the families of our dead comrades. You have suffered greatly and with immerse dignify. Your loved ones, our comrades and friends, were and would be very proud of you for standing by them. No tribute is too great.
Also, we give a special mention to those families who could not watch theirloved ones die in pain and agony. We prisoners understand the pressure you were under and stand by you.
We thank the National H-Block/Armagh Committee, the H-Block movement, the nationalist people of Ireland, and all those who championed our cause abroad. We are indebted to you and ask you to continue your good work on our behalf.
Lastly, we reaffirm our commitment to the achievement of the five demands by whatever means we believe necessary and expedient. We rule nothing out. Under no circumstances are we going to devalue the memory of our dead comrades by submitting ourselves to a dehumanising and degrading regime.