When one receives a telephone call late at night, I always find myself picking up the receiver apprehensively, for fear of it being bad news. And so it was when I answered my telephone last night. A friend from Ireland was on the line calling to let me know that Brendan Hughes had just died. Not much was said between us, as Brendan’s death was too recent to reminisce about the man; we kept to facts, where, why and when, and then we both put the phone down and were left with our own thoughts.
For most Irish Republicans under sixty years of age Brendan Hughes was a towering figure. By this I do not mean he was worshiped or considered infallible, far from it, for it was his human frailties that partially made him the man he was. It was his total integrity and incorruptibility which set him above many of the current leaders of the mainstream Irish Republican Movement, and indeed the profession of politics as a whole. In many ways he was an Irish version of the Palestinian revolutionary George Habash. Neither men were interested in personal wealth and lived their wholes lives on a low income, both ending their days living in a small flat, George in Amman and Brendan in Belfast. Thus whilst sad, it was fitting that these two revolutionaries should die within weeks of each other.
Brendan Hughes was the opposite of today's leading SF Republicans: honest, whilst they can behave in a dishonest way; politically consistent, whilst they have become inconsistent; principled, whilst they are shifty; dignified, whilst they act in a clownish manner (Martin McGuinness' visit to USA, for example); modest, whilst they can be arrogant and autocratic; tolerant of dissent, whilst they practice the exact opposite. *
Having been the commander of the Belfast Brigade of the PIRA during the 1970s, O/C (Officer Commanding) of the PIRA in the Maze prison, participated in a Hunger Strike for 53 days and later the Blanket Protest, returned to the PRM after leaving jail in the 1980s, Brendan Hughes finally broke with the PRM over the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), and whilst he refused to join any other republican organization, he was withering in his criticism of his former close comrade Gerry Adams when he accepted in its entirety the GFA.
I will finish with the words of the man himself.
“I am not advocating dumb militarism or a return to war. Never in the history of republicanism was so much sacrificed and so little gained; too many left dead and too few achievements. Let us think most strongly before going down that road again. I am simply questioning the wisdom of administering British rule in this part of Ireland. I am asking what happened to the struggle in all Ireland—what happened to the idea of a thirty-two county socialist republic. That, after all, is what it was all about. Not about participating in a northern administration that closes hospitals and attacks the teachers’ unions. I am asking why we are not fighting for and defending the rights of ordinary working people, for better wages and working conditions. Does thirty years of struggle boil down to a big room at Stormont, ministerial cars, dark suits and the implementation of the British Patten Report?”