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May 26, 2006

British May Put Assembly On Hold

News About Ireland & The Irish

EX 05/26/05 British May Put Assembly On Hold
EX 05/26/06 SDLP Accuses Britain Of Pandering To DUP
BN 05/25/06 Calls For Paisley To Engage In Preparations For Government
SF 05/25/06 SF Group Will Meet To Decide On Hain Committee Proposal
SF 05/26/06 Gerry Adams - Taoiseach Must Honour Commitments
BN 05/25/06 SF Mayor's Vow Over Canada Visit
CB 05/26/06 Former IRA Member Turned Back At The Border
EX 05/26/06 Memorial Planned For Loyalist Bomb Victims
BB 05/26/06 Man Admits Banned UDA Membership
BN 05/26/06 RTE To Mark McCabe Killing With Documentary
BB 05/26/06 Soccer Passport Move Sparks Anger
BN 05/25/06 Accused 'Was Wearing Óglaigh Tee-Shirt'
BN 05/25/06 Tánaiste Hints At Government Decentralisation Backdown
SP 05/26/06 Bk Rev: Bobby Sands Nothing But An Unfinished Song


British May Put Assembly On Hold

The British government is believed to be planning to put
the work of the Stormont Assembly on hold just two weeks
after recalling the body as part of efforts to restore
devolved government.

The move comes amid fears that the SDLP may decide to join
Sinn Féin in boycotting debates at the Assembly.

Sinn Féin is refusing to take part in the debates because
it claims the Assembly has been established without any
real powers to make decisions on the items brought before

Pictures of empty nationalist benches are not the message
the British government wants the world to see and northern
secretary Peter Hain is believed to have planned no
business for the Assembly next week.

Letters may shortly be sent to assembly members telling
them the body will be on hold for the foreseeable future.


SDLP Accuses Britain Of Pandering To DUP

The SDLP has accused the British government of pandering to
Ian Paisley's DUP.

The accusation follows the establishment of a Stormont
committee to identify the issues that need to be addressed
before devolution can be restored in the North.

London apparently wanted the committee to have strong
powers to negotiate solutions to the various issues, but
DUP leader Ian Paisley said he wouldn't take part if it
meant having to negotiate with Sinn Féin.

The British government has now backtracked and says the
committee will not have any negotiating powers.

SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell has criticised the u-
turn, saying there is little point in having a committee if
the real action will be taking place elsewhere.

Sinn Féin is also considering whether to take part amid
concerns that the body will be nothing more than a talking


McGuinness Calls For Paisley To Engage In Preparations For Government

25/05/2006 - 18:46:28

The Northern Secretary Peter Hain has given the main
parties in Belfast until Tuesday to decide if they will
take part in a committee to discuss devolved government.

Mr Hain said he hoped all the parties would do so in order
to restore power-sharing by the November 24 deadline.

Sinn Féin says it will only decide on Tuesday after an
internal meeting of its assembly group, with Martin
McGuinness calling for Ian Paisley, the DUP leader, also to
take part.

“The public has a right to expect that all leaders take
their responsibilities seriously and I think Ian Paisley
has as much a duty as Gerry Adams has to do that at this
critical time,” Mr McGuinness said today.

“Leaders should be leading from the front, and I would like
to see a situation where Ian Paisley was prepared to sit
down and engage on the essential work of preparing for


Sinn Féin Assembly Group Will Meet To Decide On Hain Committee Proposal

Published: 25 May, 2006

Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP has said
that Sinn Féin will judge Peter Hain's proposal for a
committee on its ability to contribute to the restoration
the power-sharing Executive.

Mr McGuinness said:

"Sinn Féin have made it clear that the only reason we are
taking part in the Hain Assembly is to deliver a power-
sharing Executive.

"We are not interested in a talking shop. Sinn Féin will
not be participating in a talking shop.

"The real work of preparing for government needs to be
addressed urgently. This could be taken forward through a
committee representing all the parties. That is the
criteria that Sinn Féin will judge this committee against
and our participation will be dictated entirely by this

“The Sinn Féin Assembly group will meet in Stormont on
Tuesday to discuss the detail of this proposal and we will
decide upon our approach to this committee after that


Gerry Adams - Taoiseach Must Honour Commitments

Published: 26 May, 2006

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP is in Waterford today,
with party representative, David Cullinane, for a series of
public events, including the launch of the party’s Health
Policy document, hosting a health forum, meeting with local
community and resident associations and addressing a public

Speaking in Waterford this morning Mr. Adams said that ‘the
issue of northern representatives participating in the Dáil
is of key importance’ and he said that on this issue ‘it is
time for the excuses to end’.

He said “In the last fortnight the unelected EU Agriculture
Commissioner Mariann Fisher Boel, and the Australian Prime
Minister John Howard were invited to speak to the Dáil.

If it is good enough for the EU Agriculture Commissioner
and the Australian Prime Minister to speak to the Dáil, why
can’t representatives from the Six Counties – elected Irish
citizens representing Irish citizens - speak to a committee
of the full house on matters pertaining to the Good Friday
Agreement and which have a direct effect on citizens in
this state?”

The Sinn Féin leader was critical of the Taoiseach’s
reneging of commitments on this matter, and revealed that
he intended writing to all of the political leaders in
Leinster House asking them to support current efforts to
restore the political institutions of the Good Friday
Agreement, as well as facilitating elected representatives
from the Six Counties speaking in the Dáil."

Mr. Adams said:

’The future of the Good Friday Agreement is in the balance
and will be determined by the approach which the British
and Irish governments, and the political parties, in
particular Ian Paisley’s DUP, adopt to current efforts in
the time ahead.

The Irish government in particular has a central role to
play in defending the Good Friday Agreement and promoting
Irish national and democratic rights. The issue therefore
of northern representatives participating in the Dáil is of
key importance.

During the Good Friday negotiations the Taoiseach committed
to facilitate this. Last July he re-iterated this
commitment and pledged to use the report of the all-party
committee as the basis to introduce this in September.
Earlier this year the Taoiseach publicly reneged on his
commitment to proceed with northern representation in the

The fact is that it is now four years since the all-party
Oireachtas committee on the Constitution recommended
speaking rights in the Dáil for MPs elected in the six

Such a forum would have been invaluable in recent years in
providing a space in which political, social, economic,
justice and cultural matters could have been discussed and
progress made.It would have helped significantly advance
the all-Ireland and United Ireland agenda of all of the
republican and nationalist parties, while allowing for a
process of reaching out to unionists.

Providing for northern representation in the Dáil in the
time ahead would strengthen this positive agenda for change
while sending a clear message to negative unionism that the
old days and old ways are finished.

It is time for the excuses to end.

In the last fortnight the unelected EU Agriculture
Commissioner Mariann Fisher Boel, and the Australian Prime
Minister John Howard were invited to speak to the Dáil.

If it is good enough for the EU Agriculture Commissioner
and the Australian Prime Minister to speak to the Dáil, why
can’t representatives from the Six Counties – elected Irish
citizens representing Irish citizens - speak to a committee
of the full house on matters pertaining to the Good Friday
Agreement and which have a direct effect on citizens in
this state?

I intend to write to all of the leaders of the political
parties in Leinster House to ask them to personally
intervene and to do all they can to support efforts to
restore the political institutions established under the
Good Friday Agreement.

I will also be asking them to stand by the all-party
Oireachtas committee recommendations and to accord Irish
citizens living in the north meaningful opportunities to
participate in the democratic life of the nation. This
includes, as a first step, a facility for northern
representatives to speak in the Dáil.

In doing so I am fully aware that some political leaders in
Leinster House, including the Taoiseach, who initially
supported this proposition have done a u-turn in recent
years because of a perceived electoral threat from Sinn
Féin. This is not good enough. If they are serious about a
United Ireland – and they all claim to be; if they are
serious about building the peace process; then they must
urgently reconsider their position and support speaking
rights in the Dáil for MPs elected in the north.”ENDS


SF Mayor's Vow Over Canada Visit

25/05/2006 - 16:02:14

The Sinn Féin Mayor of Monaghan today said he hoped to
visit Canada before his term in office ends, despite being
refused entry to the country.

Pat Treanor, who was on his way back to Ireland this
afternoon, said he would contact the Canadian Embassy on
his return and he was confident the issue could be

Mr Treanor was leading a cross-party delegation to Prince
Edward Island in eastern Canada, which is twinned with Co
Monaghan, for engagements with the Irish community when an
official at St John’s Airport turned him away.

Councillor Treanor, who had been in Canada twice in the
last 12 months in his capacity as mayor, said he was very
disappointed that he could not fulfil the engagements that
had been arranged by the people of Prince Edward Island.

“In my role as Mayor of Monaghan I have visited Canada
twice in the last year, most recently for St Patrick’s Day,
and the engagements were very successful,” he said.

“It is my intention to contact the Canadian Embassy on my
return and I am confident that this matter can be resolved.

“I hope that I will be in a position to return to Canada
before the end of my term in office.”


Former IRA Member Turned Back At The Border

Last Updated Fri, 26 May 2006 16:56:12 EDT

CBC News

A former member of the Irish Republican Army was sent back
to Ireland this week while en route to Fort Augustus,
P.E.I., for Irish heritage celebrations.

INDEPTH: IRA disarmament

Pat Treanor, the mayor of County Monaghan in Ireland, had
been to Canada twice in the past year. But when he flew
into St. John's on Wednesday, border security officials
asked him whether he had a record.

He told them he was convicted once — for being a member of
the IRA. He was refused admittance to Canada and sent back

"I'm disappointed and I would like to be part of the
celebrations on Prince Edward Island," he told CBC News in
an interview from his hometown.

But he expects he'll get this travel problem straightened
out. "I do believe it was just some kind of a cock-up at
the airport, seeing that I got in twice before. I will be
meeting with the Canadian ambassador and I'm fairly
confident we'll resolve whatever difficulties there are

The IRA officially ended its armed struggle against British
rule in July 2005.

Treanor said he was a member for a few years in the 1970s,
but that he's never committed any crime. He remains a
member of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing.

The Canadian Border Security Service won't talk about the
case. But spokeswoman Jennifer Morrison said people can be
turned away for a number of reasons, such as having a
criminal record or belonging to a terrorist group.

Treanor was travelling with three other members of the
Monaghan county council, who were able to continue on to
Fort Augustus.


Memorial Planned For Loyalist Bomb Victims

26/05/2006 - 14:56:17

A memorial for two teenage victims of a loyalist car bomb
is to be built in a small Cavan town, it emerged today.

Geraldine O’Reilly, 14, and Patrick Stanley, 16 were killed
instantly when the no-warning car bomb exploded in
Belturbet on December 28, 1972.

The Remembrance Commission, which is funding the
construction of the memorial with Cavan County Council,
said the death of the two teenagers had deeply affected
their families.

“As the years have passed there has been no dilution of the
grief they have endured and Christmas and the New Year are
times of sadness for them and a constant reminder of their
loss,” said a spokesman.

Patrick Stanley, from Clara, County Offaly, was working
with a gas delivery lorry and was due to leave Belturbet
that day. But he had to stay overnight due to bad weather
conditions and he was calling his family from a phone box
to tell them this when the car bomb went off.

He played as a goalkeeper in soccer, gaelic football and
hurling and had been nominated for an under-21 GAA All-Star
award before he died.

Geraldine O’Reilly lived two miles outside Belturbet and
was travelling to the town to get a bag of chips at the
time of the bomb. She was a keen Irish dancer and her
mother left her dancing costume and school uniform hanging
on her bedroom door for years afterwards.

The new memorial in Belturbet will show the teenagers
sitting back to back on a pile of books, with Patrick
holding a football and Geraldine a pair of dancing shoes.

It will be designed by the artist, Mel French.

“The memorial will be placed in a central location in the
town so that it will serve as a reminder to the community
and visitors to Belturbet of the two young people who lost
their lives on that awful evening in 1972,” said the
Remembrance Commission spokesman.

The Belturbet bombing was one of several investigated on by
Judge Henry Barron, who found that loyalists were the most
likely culprits. However, no-one was ever charged in
connection with the bombing.

The families of Geraldine O’Reilly and Patrick Stanley both
gave moving evidence about the effect of the bombing to the
Oireachtas sub-committee on Justice in January last year.

His sister Gretta Farrell told how her parents had learnt
about the bombing through a television newsflash.

“As it was Christmas, they were all up quite late at home.
Mam and dad said to them, “We will say the Rosary now,
before we go to bed, for those two people.”

After learning that it was his son involved, her father
mounted a 30-year campaign to get justice without success.

“Over the years he has written to every Minister for
Justice but has never received any help or any indication
of why it happened. One Minister for Justice told him to
forget it, that it had happened a long time ago and to move
on,” said Mrs Farrell.

The sister of Geraldine O’Reilly, Frances McCann, told the
committee how her family had never been able to enjoy
Christmas since the December 28 bombing.

“Geraldine was a very happy young girl of 15. Occasionally
she would be allowed to go to a dance with a sister or a
couple of friends. She had lovely friends and was very
happy at school and had everything to live for.”


Man Admits Banned UDA Membership

An automatic pistol and live ammunition have been found at
the Fife home of a member of the banned loyalist
paramilitary organisation, the UDA.

Steven Moffat, 45, from Buckhaven, pleaded guilty to
belonging to "a proscribed organisation", within the
meaning of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Moffat admitted a further breach of the Terrorism Act by
possessing handgun ammunition, clothing and other items.

He was remanded in custody until his sentence next month.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard how Ulster Defence
Association paraphernalia was found in Moffat's flat.

First offender Moffat originally denied membership of the
banned organisation but when detectives drew attention to
the UDA tattoo on his arm he admitted he had been asked to
join in a Belfast pub three years earlier.

The charge said that the discovery of the handgun gave rise
to suspicion that it was for the purpose of preparing or
instigating an act of terrorism.

Moffat also pleaded guilty to two Firearms Act charges
relating to the 9mm Browning pistol and two magazines of
9mm ammunition found during the search of his flat on 10

Solicitor advocate Gordon Martin, defending, said jobless
Moffat had family connections in Northern Ireland and had
been a long-standing member of the Orange Order and
sympathetic to the notion that Northern Ireland should
remain within the UK.

He said: "He appears to have been a frequent visitor to
Northern Ireland to visit family, in particular his son,
and met individuals in licensed premises and became
involved in conversations with those individuals.

Remanded in custody

"Perhaps in drink and in bravado he was persuaded to join
that particular organisation."

Mr Martin said once a member, the UDA was not the kind or
organisation one could easily leave.

"He involved himself in something way over his head," the
lawyer added.

Advocate depute Adrian Cottam, prosecuting, said that in a
football boot bag under the mattress they found the
Browning wrapped in cling film.

Firearms experts said it was in full working order.

Moffat claimed he had been given the bag to keep for
someone else.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/05/26 12:37:23 GMT


RTE To Mark McCabe Killing With Documentary

26/05/2006 - 23:00:19

The 10th anniversary of the killing of Detective Garda
Jerry McCabe will be marked with a new RTE documentary.

True Lives – Jerry McCabe: Murder on Main Street – will
retell the story of the bungled post office robbery in
Adare, Co Limerick, and the hunt for his killers.

The 52-year-old detective was gunned down by an IRA gang in
June 1996.

It will also focus on the effect his death has had on his
family and the political consequences of the entire affair.

The programme, to be screened on RTE One on Tuesday, June
6, is part of the station’s summer schedule unveiled today.

Promising hundreds of hours of home-produced programming,
it will deliver a range of lifestyle, entertainment and
young people’s shows, alongside an array of dramas.

Gardening From Scratch will see the return of Diarmuid
Gavin for a brand new six-part gardening series combining
expert design with do-it-yourself graft, with Life Without
Me giving people the chance to discover whether their loved
ones would be able to function without them.

Saturday Night with Mirian will be the second series of the
hugely popular chat show, exploring the lighter and more
personal side of life with some key Irish and international

Brian Kennedy will come fresh from the Eurovision Song
Contest to present 1 to Remember, singing the number one
hits of the Irish charts from 1962 – 2006, as chosen by the

The summer will also see the fourth run of the Cracking
Crime series, which features the investigation of real
Irish crimes incorporating reconstruction, expert
witnesses, scene of crime material and news footage.

Highlights for sport fans include 56 live football matches
over 35 days from the World Cup in Athens and extensive
coverage of GAA championships.


Soccer Passport Move Sparks Anger

The Irish foreign minister has said football's governing
body should not insist Northern Ireland players carry
British passports when going abroad.

FIFA has written to the Irish Football Association to say
its officials cannot determine whether footballers with
Irish passports can play for NI.

Dermot Ahern said Northern Ireland players should be able
to travel on Irish passports if they want.

The SDLP and Sinn Fein have also criticised the FIFA

Previously, it had been acceptable for players to have a
British or Irish passport and Northern Ireland officials
had hoped this would continue.

They pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement recognised
that all people born in Northern Ireland could opt for
British or Irish citizenship.

But the world governing body said the dual passport system
presented problems for their match commissioners.

"FIFA sees no alternative but to require players to hold
the passport of the national association they are seeking
to represent in order to allow the match commissioner to
verify their eligibility," said a statement.

"The fact that a player holds an Irish Republic passport
does not demonstrate conclusively that he or she is
eligible to play for Northern Ireland."

This decision is discriminatory, it is damaging, and in
the context of the Good Friday Agreement, it is illegal.

Pat Ramsey, SDLP

However, Mr Ahern said: "I accept that FIFA and the IFA in
order to improve eligibility would have to have some proof
of am British passport.

"But from a travelling point of view if a player wishes as
he is entitled to under the Good Friday Agreement to
produce an Irish passport, in my view that should be
accepted at the receiving country."

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness also criticised FIFA.

"This is a human right, a national right for Irish citizens
to carry an Irish passport," he said.

"If the logic of this ruling was to be followed through by
other sporting organisations it could have far reaching
ramifications for sport in all of Ireland."

The SDLP's Pat Ramsey said: "It is clear that the Irish
government and the IFA must take a stand against what is
essentially the sporting marginalisation of half the
community in the north.

"This decision is discriminatory, it is damaging, and in
the context of the Good Friday Agreement, it is illegal."

The Irish FA's chief executive Howard Wells described
FIFA's verdict as unfortunate for Northern Ireland.

"It is a seriously difficult issue to deal with but we have
to deal with it," said Wells.

"I need to take stock, and take advice from a number of
people as to how we might address it and move forward."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/05/26 12:34:34 GMT


Accused 'Was Wearing Óglaigh Tee-Shirt'

25/05/2006 - 19:00:51

The prosecution in the trial of a man arrested when gardaí
found a handgun hidden inside a van in north Dublin in June
last year, has claimed he was wearing a tee-shirt with
‘Óglaigh na hÉireann’ written on it at the time.

Vincent Kelly (aged 21) of Empress Place, Ballybough,
Dublin, pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful
organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army,
otherwise Óglaigh na hÉireann, otherwise the IRA, on June
7, 2005, at the Special Criminal Court today.

Opening the case for the prosecution, Mr Tom O’Connell SC
said that at around 10pm on June 7, three uniformed members
of the Garda were in an unmarked patrol car when one of
them looked down Marino Avenue and noticed a well-built man
with dark clothing getting into a black BMW with a Dublin
number plate.

He said there were three men inside the BMW and gardaí
watched it drive onto the Malahide Road, in an apparent
convoy with a white Astra Estate van with a Laois number

He said gardaí followed both cars before they both did a u-
turn opposite the entrance to Mount Temple School.

Mr O’Connell alleged the accused then got out of the
passenger side of the Astra and seemed to be walking
towards the BMW when it's likely the occupants of the BMW
became aware the gardaí were behind them and pulled away
from the scene.

He said Garda Ann Marie Gilmartin got out of the unmarked
Garda car and approached the Astra while the driver of the
car she had been in chased the BMW, before it also stopped
on a nearby street.

He said that as Gda Gilmartin asked the accused to get back
into the van she saw an unknown male crouched in the rear,
who then got out and ran across the road, climbing the
railings into the grounds of the school.

She thought the driver and the accused seemed nervous and
summoned assistance to the scene.

Mr O’Connell said the accused was then required to go
Clontarf Garda Station to be searched for drugs.

The Astra van was also driven back to the garda station and
a small black canister, later identified as CS gas, two
balaclavas, a pair of black woollen gloves and a handgun
were found.

The handgun had been partially concealed under another
black glove.

Mr O’Connell said the accused was later released and
arrested on suspicion of the unlawful possession of a
firearm before he was again released and arrested on
suspicion of being a member of an illegal organisation.

He said the accused denied on a number of occasions that he
was a member of the IRA. He said in the course of Mr
Kelly’s time in Garda custody his clothes were taken away
for forensic examination.

Underneath his outer garment Mr O’ Connell said evidence
would be given that the accused was wearing a tee-shirt
with ‘Óglaigh na hÉireann' printed on it, which showed an
image of a number of men in combat gear.

A slogan printed on the label of the tee-shirt read:
“Unbowed and unbroken.”

Garda Brendan O’Sullivan agreed with Mr O’Connell that he
had detained the accused at the scene on the Malahide Road
for the purpose of a drugs search.

When he later arrested him on suspicion of membership of an
illegal organisation he said the accused made no reply.

The witness agreed with Mr Diarmaid McGuinness SC,
defending, that when he saw Mr Kelly alighting from the
Astra van he did not have anything in his hands.

Gda O’Sullivan also agreed there was no reference in his
first statement to the grounds for detaining Mr Kelly and
said he had made his second statement, possibly on the 20th
of this month.

The trial continues before the three-judge court.


Tánaiste Hints At Government Decentralisation Backdown

25/05/2006 - 16:26:01

The Tánaiste has hinted that the Government might be about
to row back on plans to move certain staff from semi-state
bodies to locations around the country under the
decentralisation programme.

Foun hundred employees at the state training body FÁS are
in conflict with the Minister for the OPW Tom Parlon over
plans to move staff to Birr in Co Offaly.

Speaking in Dublin today Mary Harney implied that the FÁS
issues may need to be looked at again.

She said her plan is to reach the targets identified in a
longer time-frame.

“With a little imagination and everyone's support, I think
we can reach the targets,” she said.

“But there is an issue, and I acknowledge there's an issue,
of people working in an organisation and not having the
opportunity to move to another organisation, and I think
there's a real issue there.”


Bk Rev: Bobby Sands Nothing But An Unfinished Song

Twenty five years ago in May, Bobby Sands, MP, died on
hunger strike in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. Over
the next few months, nine other young republican prisoners
followed him, demanding jail reforms.

Niall Mulholland reviews Bobby Sands Nothing but an
Unfinished Song by Denis O'Hearn (Pluto Books).

The 1981 hunger strikes provoked enormous sympathy from
Catholics towards the prisoners and huge anger towards the
vindictive, intransigent Thatcher government. Deep
alienation amongst Catholics prepared the way for the rise
of Sinn Fein, which today is the largest nationalist party
in the North.

For my generation of Catholic youth, 1981 was an intense,
radicalising year. Today, the hunger strikes are still a
highly-charged subject and Bobby Sands is an iconic symbol
of ultimate resistance to extreme prison repression. By a
distressing twist of history, the 25th anniversary
coincided with a desperate hunger and thirst strike by
Afghan refugees in Dublin.

This book is a well-paced, often harrowing, read that
captures the horrors of prison life and the charismatic
Bobby Sands - who, by the time of his death, at 27, was a
talented writer, propagandist, poet and song-writer.


Sands was brought up in a mixed Catholic and Protestant
council estate near Belfast and played football with
Protestant friends. However, the start of the Troubles led
to increased sectarian tensions, and the Sands family were
forced to flee their home, moving to West Belfast.

As the Troubles worsened, Sands joined the local
Provisional IRA, to hit back against state repression. Like
many working-class youth, Sands was let down by the leaders
of the labour and trade union movement, who failed to take
a lead in the civil rights struggle, allowing right-wing
nationalists and unionists to dominate 'politics'. O'Hearn
says Sands was "enthusiastic but militaristic". After a few
minor local IRA actions, Sands was arrested, convicted, in
1972, and sent to Long Kesh prison camp, on the outskirts
of Belfast.

Political transformation

Jail transformed Sands into a "radical student". While the
Provos' "conservative leaders" of Cage 18 held "burnings of
Marxist books and pornographic magazines", Sands and other
young prisoners "...were reading and talking about the
Communist Manifesto, Trotsky, Animal Farm, Frantz
Fanon...everything." Sands studied struggles of the
oppressed worldwide. His heroes were Che Guevara, and Liam
Mellowes, the 1920s left-wing IRA leader.

Sands also learnt to speak and write fluently in the Irish
language, which he then taught to other prisoners (partly
so they could communicate without the prison warders

Sands argued that armed struggle was not enough and called
for "grass roots" politics in local communities. On his
release, in April 1976, he tried to put this into practise.
According to a fellow republican, "Bobby's attitude was
different from other IRA men. He believed strongly in
socialist revolution and political mobilisation".

But whatever Sands' intentions, democratic self-
organisation and resistance by a united working class, in a
modern, urban society, was incompatible with the IRA's
secretive organisation and individual terror methods. The
campaign of bombs and bullets could never defeat the might
of the British state - in fact, it provided excuses for the
state to increase repressive powers - and only deepened
sectarian divisions amongst workers.

It was also counter-productive to developing mass, class
struggles. This was brought home by a terrible incident,
when an IRA volunteer friend of Sands was shot dead by the
army while driving a car in West Belfast. The car went out
of control, killing three children. This sparked the 'Peace
People' mass movement, which temporarily put the republican
movement on the back-foot.


After a failed IRA robbery, Sands was once again
imprisoned. Under a Labour government, the state cracked
down on jails, to try to break the morale of prisoners. The
right to wear their own clothes, and other concessions,
were withdrawn from those convicted of offences arising out
of the Troubles committed after 1 March 1976.

Republican prisoners responded by refusing to wear prison
uniforms and were left naked in their cells with only a
blanket. The protest escalated under a brutal prison
regime. In March 1978, the 'no-wash' protest began.
Prisoners lived in intolerable cell conditions - the walls
smeared with their own excreta - and were subject to
constant humiliating body searches, beatings and torture.

Despite the inhumane prison conditions, Sands developed as
a writer and organiser. His optimism and determination
spread infectiously to other prisoners.

Although there was considerable sympathy among Catholics
for the prisoners' plight, the IRA's campaign stunted an
effective support campaign. Militant (the forerunner of the
Socialist Party) took up the issue of the H Blocks within
the labour movement and the working class, in Ireland and

Class position

Militant called for an end to oppression in the prisons,
for the right of all prisoners to wear their own clothes
and to have a choice of work or study. Militant also called
for a labour movement review of the cases of all those
convicted of offences arising from the Troubles to
determine who was a political prisoner.

This position found a good response among both Catholic and
Protestant workers. A resolution moved on the British
Labour Party NEC, by the Young Socialist representative and
Militant supporter, Tony Saunois, committed Labour to this
position. But the trade union leaders in Northern Ireland
did not campaign on the issue of prisons. The result was a
sharp rise in sectarian polarisation

After several years, the Maze protests had not won prisoner
rights. The increasingly desperate inmates organised a
hunger strike. In October 1980, seven prisoners refused
food. In return for vague promises from the government,
they called it off in December. Characteristically,
Margaret Thatcher refused to move and the prisoners were
left angry and demoralised.

But Thatcher vastly underestimated the prisoners'
desperation and determination. Sands, now the IRA's OC
(officer commanding) in the Maze, led another hunger strike
from 1 March 1981, although the republican leadership again
opposed it.


His courageous and defiant stand inspired the Catholic
community and the H-Block protests drew mass support across
the North. When the independent nationalist MP for
Fermanagh/ South Tyrone died suddenly, Sands was nominated
to fight the seat. His victory, with over 30,000 votes,
registered the deep sympathy and support amongst Catholics.

O'Hearn's book covers the last weeks of Sands' life in
harrowing detail. His sense of smell grew as he became
feeble; prison warders taunted him with ever-larger
portions of food; Sands' body organs failed until his
bowels burst, leaving him in terrible agony.

After 66 days starvation, Sands died on 5 May. Over 100,000
attended his funeral and Northern Ireland was convulsed by
heavy rioting and brutal state repression. His death had a
big international impact: "motions of sympathy, minutes of
silence, and days of mourning were declared in national
parliaments of Italy, India, Portugal, Iran and

After Sands, nine other prisoners died (six IRA members and
three INLA) : Francis Hughes, Patsy O'Hara, Raymond
McCreesh, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran
Doherty, Tom McElwee and Mickey Devine.

Without a prospect of prison reforms, families of the
remaining hunger strikers intervened to end the fasts in
October. No concessions were given but the Thatcher
government had only won a Pyrrhic victory.

The hunger strikes restored the morale of the republican
movement. There was no mass influx of youth to the
Provisionals but enough recruits for a long campaign. Most
importantly, Thatcher's refusal to budge deeply alienated
Catholics and prepared for the political rise of Sinn Fein.
Later, prison reforms were introduced quietly.


Some commentators criticised O'Hearn's book for its
perceived pro-Gerry Adams leadership position. Another
author, Richard O'Rawe, the IRA public relations officer in
1981, sparked controversy amongst republicans with the
recent publication of his book, Blanketmen: An Untold Story
of the H-Block Hunger Strike (New Island Books, 2005).

O'Rawe said a deal was offered by the British government,
in July 1981, which addressed most of the prisoners'
demands for political status. O'Rawe claims the IRA Army
Council effectively prevented the prisoners from accepting
the deal to ensure republicans kept the sympathy of
Catholics and won a Westminster seat.

However, Brendan "Bik" McFarlane, the IRA commander in the
Maze during the hunger strikes, completely refutes O'Rawe's

Whatever the truth, this very public row reflects growing
unease and opposition by republicans to the Adams
leadership, including those opposed to the leadership's
continuing shift to the right.

For socialists, the way forward in Northern Ireland lies in
developing a powerful, united working-class movement that
opposes sectarianism, injustice and capitalism, and which
fights for a socialist solution - the ideal which Bobby
Sands and many young working-class republicans believed
they fought for.

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