Sands vote still border raw nerve

26 Sept 2008

Provisional IRA men at the funeral of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands

The 1981 election of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands as MP remains a sore point for Protestants in County Fermanagh, a new study has claimed.

The Church of Ireland report interviewed Protestants living in the Clogher Diocese about the Troubles.

It has recommended more be done to deal with the legacy of pain in the area's Protestant community.

It said the community felt it was being wiped out during the Troubles and remains uncertain of the future.

Some of those interviewed pointed to a fragile peace between the minority Protestant population in Fermanagh (35%) and the majority Catholic population (65%), but warned a neighbourliness based on delicate compromises avoided addressing difficult and unresolved issues of power, hurt and history.

Bobby Sands was elected as an MP in 1981 while in the Maze prison

"The question of whether or not there had been a concerted campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' in the border regions was for most interviewees an accepted fact," the report said.

The report added: "What was in no doubt was the vicious finality and painful legacy visited upon the few and observed from a distance by the many."

The study was funded by the Irish government and the International Fund for Ireland to help develop Protestant communities in cross-border areas.

The church report found elements of political history remained a sore point.

In 1981, IRA prisoner Bobby Sands led a hunger strike that eventually saw 10 republicans die in the Maze prison.

The decision to stand Sands as a candidate in a by-election for the Fermanagh/South-Tyrone Westminster seat provided an outlet for nationalists who were sympathetic to the hunger strike and angry at the refusal of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to negotiate a settlement.

But the Protestant community saw the vote as support for an IRA terrorist.

Sands received 52% of the vote against (unionist candidate) Harry West's 48%.

'Purging of Protestants'

"Many Protestants and unionists saw it, both then and now, as a clear and unambiguous vote of support for the retention of the 'armed struggle' and the purging of Protestants from the land," the report said.

"They couldn't understand it then and they still can't. The collective 'nailing of the colours to the mast' was stark and shocking, but made things very clear - whatever about our previous neighbourliness, whatever about our friendly and co-operative arrangements, all of that is now over."

The report revealed a complex picture where personal grief and anger have become intertwined with the history of the Troubles.

But the report added: "A number of lay people reported that they had a strong sense that their Roman Catholic neighbours did not approve of or support the campaign of terror and violence that the IRA waged against the border Protestant people but that they suspected that their neighbours were unable to communicate as much or reach out a hand of friendship for fear of possible repercussions."

The report points to a further gulf in understanding when it tackles the issue of nationalist unease at Protestant neighbours joining the B-Specials police reserve and, later, the Ulster Defence Regiment.

Some contributors suggest the motive was often economic, with rural Protestant families keen to earn the extra money offered by part-time security force jobs.

But the report said dialogue was crucial and suggested using the 400th anniversary of the Plantation of Ulster next year "to creatively raise and proactively seek to address some of the historical legacy issues".


H Block group slams criticism of Bobby Sands tee-shirts

Ballymoney Times
4 September 2008

A REPUBLICAN group in north Antrim has slammed criticism of the sale of Bobby Sands tee-shirts at the Lammas Fair.

Several people hit out at the sale of political items at the Fair saying the event had a proud reputation for attracting all sections of the community and they felt a 'neutral' atmosphere should be maintained.
But in a statement to the Times, the North Antrim 1981 H-Block Committee said: "Was it a day for the whole community in Ballycastle when Loyalists tried to blow it up a few years ago?"

The statement added: "At the present moment in time, we have Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Anniston, and Alec Baldwin to name just a few, along with many other celebrities from across the world heading to the Toronto Film Festival just to see the film about the final six weeks in the life of Bobby Sands.

"On the other hand we have Mervyn Storey and a shocked visitor to the Fair who say they were disgusted at the T-Shirts they saw on sale at a stall on Quay Road.

"Do Mr Storey and the shocked visitor ever attend Nutts Corner Market on a Sunday, where Republicans are constantly having Loyalist memorabilia, including that of loyalist killers, some of whom who tried to explode a car bomb at the Fair not so many years ago, being shoved in their face every week? Would this not be a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

"Bobby Sands and his comrades were in a war situation (even Mr Storey called it the "old war") in the North of Ireland for many years, and without men and women like this I dread to think the situation Republicans would find themselves in today.

"These are iconic figures that Republicans admire for their commitment and courage, and let's not forget some of these men were elected reps both in the Six Counties and the Twenty Six Counties.

"To myself and the wider Republican community here in North Antrim, and lets remind Mr Storey that we are growing rapidly in this area, we will never forget the courage that Bobby and his comrades had, and we will continue to commemorate these brave soldiers for many years to come, just as I'm sure the "nutts" at the corner will with their colleagues.

"The stall at which the t-shirts were on sale was off the main road and highly recognisable with Irish Tri-colours on all sides of it, so why on earth did they go to it in the first place?

"After 27 years, I'm still glad to see everyone is still taking an interest in what happened at that traumatic time," the statement said.

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