**from the 20th anniversary of Bobby's death:
“CONTRARY to allegations made in the news media, there was not a straight line from the election of Bobby Sands in 1981 to the Stormont Agreement of 1998”, said Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, President of Republican Sinn Féin at a seminar in Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh (2pm, Donn Carragh Hotel) on Saturday, May 5, the 20th anniversary of Bobby Sands’ death on hunger strike.
Other speakers included former hunger strikers Tommy McKearney, Tyrone and John Nixon, Armagh. The commemorative lectures were organised by Fermanagh Comhairle Ceantair, Republican Sinn Féin.
“Rather was the line from March, April and May 1981 to the same months in 1998 disfigured and distorted by an internal power-struggle for the leadership of Sinn Féin accompanied and followed by deceit and artifice as the ideals of Bobby Sands were steadily perverted and a section of the then powerful revolutionary Republican Movement turned into a constitutional party.
Those who had opposed any electoral intervention during the 1970s and were initially against Bobby Sands being a candidate in the Fermanagh-South Tyrone by-election, when ultimately convinced of nominating the hunger striking prisoner did a complete volte face on his election and sought to contest every and any election regardless of the circumstances.
They organised a section of the political prisoners and Sands’s elected successor as H-Block representative for Fermanagh -South Tyrone to throw weight against the ÉIRE NUA policy of a new Federal Ireland of the four provinces, including a nine-county Ulster, and succeeded in having it jettisoned at the Ard Fheis of Sinn Féin in the autumn of 1981. This forward-looking policy of the movement for more than 10 years was thrown out to the slogan that it was “a sop to the unionists”.
Bobby Sands commenced his hunger strike on March 1 and Frank Maguire MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone died on March 5. Following the British government’s reneging on the settlement of the 53-day hunger strike of late 1950 and the start of another fast, it was felt that a new factor was needed to galvanise support in Ireland and abroad.
The idea of putting forward Sands as a candidate was the brain-child of a man of vision, Dáithí Ó Conaill, a long time friend of the Maguire family. It was he who proposed it to a meeting of the Ard-Chomhairle of Sinn Féin and the opposition was finally persuaded to support the move.
Incidentally, the “armalite and the ballot-box” strategy was nothing new. It dated from 1917 and as a younger man I was active in Fermanagh-South Tyrone in the campaign which elected Philip Clarke, a prisoner candidate, in 1955. Later, in 1966 I was the Republican candidate in the same constituency. Its place in history is now well marked out due to the events being commemorated today. Twenty years subsequent to the sacrifice of Bobby Sands and his nine comrades, the political status they sought and achieved has again been withdrawn from Republican prisoners.
Tommy Crossan of Belfast leads the struggle in Maghaberry Prison, Co. Antrim and was on May 2 selected as candidate for West Belfast in the coming Westminster election in order to highlight and build support for the restoration of political status to political prisoners.
Those who are loud in their support for the hunger strikers of 20 years ago are silent today in the face of the plight of Republican prisoners in Maghaberry whose physical safety even is in danger from loyalists and ordinary prisoners. The former Republicans who rebuilt the Stormont assembly are now part of the British system in Ireland and have turned their backs on the successors of Bobby Sands and his comrades.
Their progress since 1981 was not a line of advance but a gradual retreat from the ideals that motivated the hunger strikers of 20 years ago. Their policy of acceptance of Leinster House and Stormont and of the Unionist Veto on Irish national independence has now become a classic counter-revolutionary stance.
Yet the unsullied ideals of the hunger strikers who suffered such painful and agonising deaths continue to motivate and inspire young people to strive for Irish freedom. Sands, like Pearse, Connolly and MacSwiney before him has left us copious writings which makes it very difficult to misrepresent him.
He did not die for mere civil rights under English rule nor for a spurious equality, but for human dignity and prisoner-of-war treatment as part of the on-going struggle for Irish national liberation and the liberation of all humankind.
He has amply documented his case for those who wish to be aware of it.
May his noble spirit and those of all our hunger strikers enjoy the peace denied to them on this earth.