ADDRESS AT 1995 HUNGER STRIKE COMMEMORATION IN THE LOWER ORMEAU ROAD
When we republicans assemble at locations such as the present one to commemorate the hunger strike of 1981, we not unreasonably focus on the ten republican volunteers who lost their lives in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh in that year. And because those who died there were the contemporaries of we who gather here, there may develop a tendency to isolate that hunger strike out from others. But if we are to achieve a real sense of our own history then it is important that we do not allow this tendency to become all-consuming.
Irish republicans losing their lives on hunger strike in both British controlled prisons and those run by the partitionist nationalists of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, in the course of my own involvement in the republican struggle I can also recall the deaths of Michael Gaugan and Frank Stagg. In prison, at the time of Michael Gaughan's death for republican activity performed on this very road, I was denied the opportunity to engage in the anti-British protests taking place on our streets. Not so with Frank Stagg's death. On that occasion I stood alongside other volunteers of the IRA, some of whom are here tonight, in resistance to those who had killed him.
Twenty years later it is heartening to know that we are still on this road and still resisting.
So there is an important sense of continuity in our struggle. A sense that can be traced through the history of imprisonment and which stretches back beyond the deaths of all the volunteers on hunger strike in the present conflict. We need look no further than the names of those hunger strikers who have died to get a feel for that sense of continuity.
Thomas Ashe 1917;
Michael Fitzgerald 1920;
Joseph Murphy 1920;
Terrence MacSwiney 1920;
Joseph Witty 1923;
Denis Barry 1923;
Andy Sullivan 1923;
Tony D'Arcy 1940;
Sean McNeela 1940;
Sean McCaughey 1946;
Michael Gaughan 1974;
Frank Stagg 1976;
Bobby Sands 1981;
Frank Hughes 1981;
Raymond McCreesh 1981;
Patsy O'Hara 1981;
Joe McDonnell 1981;
Martin Hurson 1981;
Kevin Lynch 1981;
Kieran Doherty 1981;
Tom McIlwee 1981;
Micky Devine 1981;
This address is not a history lecture. So there is no purpose in saying of the distant past other than what is necessary and directly relevant to the points that have to be made tonight. Each of you understands why we are here this evening, why the north exploded in the late 1960s, why the sectarian killers of the unionist groupings were unleashed upon us and nowhere more ferociously and savagely than in this little area; You also understand why the British battered us but not into submission - why they introduced internment, torture, the curfew, shoot-to-kill, criminalisation and a whole host of other repressive measures. And what have those measures succeeded in achieving ? They have succeeded in bringing everyone of us to this spot on a May evening to say to the British state 'up yours'.
It is sometimes said that history has a tendency to repeat itself. No complicated political, statistical or historical analysis is necessary to convince us that in simple terms, the same blackguards will screw you twice if given half a chance. And for that reason the hunger strikes provide us with a valuable lesson which we hope to touch upon in the following sentences.
Britain has had one overriding objective throughout the prosecution of its war against northern nationalists. It is an objective which I repeatedly return to when afforded the opportunity to address fellow activists. That objective has been to render ineffectual the military capacity of the IRA and/or, more importantly, the military capacity of the IRA to effect political change, foremost that change which would bring about a united Ireland without the consent of the unionists.
One of the main weapons in the British armoury has been the marginalisation of the IRA. The ending of Stormont in 1972 was the first major attempt by the British state to marginalise the IRA from international sympathy, from its own support base and from those who gave political allegiance to the partitionist nationalist parties, but who at least understood why the IRA did what it did.
When that failed to secure Britain's strategic objectives the British, with the aid of the Dublin partitionists, introduced Sunningdale. Just prior to the collapse of that particular project the British secretary of State, Merlyn Rees, legalised Sinn Fein. What Rees hoped to achieve was the creation of a republican political party which would either condemn the IRA, take support away from the IRA or, almost as usefully from the point of view of the British, find it impossible to defend the actions of the IRA in public. This would have proved crippling to the IRA in terms of international legitimacy and prestige and consequently bolstered the British policy of marginalisation.
Sunningdale collapsed because the Unionists brought it down. Republicans quite rightly rejected it also on the grounds that it was a partitionist solution. Gerry Adams made the very telling point that Sunningdale produced for the first time a catholic partitionist party - the SDLP, precisely because they agreed to and were prepared to work Sunningdale. After the collapse the British faced a political vacuum and some senior British ministers including the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, favoured a withdrawal. Once it was decided that such a course of action was not available the British pursued their strategy of marginalisation through the process of criminalisation. Had republicans have given up at the time the British would have left it at that and all the deaths on hunger strike would not have occurred.
But because Sunningdale was a partitionist solution republicans resisted it. When the British did not withdraw republicans fought on. Those deaths on hunger strike, all the republican and nationalist deaths, from the collapse of Sunningdale have occurred because republicans rightly refused to accept a partitionist solution.
And now, so many years on, the British and the partitionist nationalists with the Framework Document have the audacity to offer us the very thing our comrades died refusing to take - a Sunningdale mark 2. They wish to make Sinn Fein the second catholic partitionist party. They wish to trap republicans by having them leave their fingerprints firmly on the partitionist arrangement that is constituted by the Framework Document. Republicans can have none of it.
Of course, it will be said by some in political life that the Framework Document is a major departure by the British state from its partitionist position and that it does not amount to an internal solution.
Republicans must always be alert to such claims. When people tell us that there will be no internal solution we must respond by saying 'so what'. For ourselves the key question is not whether there is no internal solution but whether the 'non-internal' solution that is being offered abolishes partition. Sunningdale was not an internal solution. But it was completely unacceptable to republicans precisely because it did not abolish partition.
Partitionist nationalism whether of the Fianna Fail, SDLP or Fine Gael variety is partitionist because it subscribes to the notion that the consent of the unionists is necessary before a united Ireland can be brought into being. This is a partitionist fudge. Partitionist nationalism cannot take us toward a united Ireland. Their bottom line is an agreed Ireland. But an Ireland subject to the agreement of the unionists cannot, by definition, be a united Ireland.
In this respect the statement by the republican prisoners at the end of the 1981 hunger strike is instructive. The prisoners claimed that 'the Dublin block of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour are accessories to the legalised murder of ten true and committed Irish men....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'.
Of the SDLP the prisoners said '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'.
Of the British the prisoners said nationalist Ireland must always be subjected to the British and Loyalist veto'.
The lesson drawn by the prisoners from their experience was simple. In their own words; 'the logical conclusion of this analysis is that nationalist pacificism in the Northern Ireland context dooms the nationalist population to subserviencE, perpetuates partition, and thwarts the quest for a just and lasting peace in Ireland'. The past two years have so demonstrably shown the prisoners to be right.
These issues were crystal clear in 1981. Let none of us do our noble cause a grave dishonour by fudging them now.
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