BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Republicans recall hunger strike
Sinn Fein MPs Martin McGuinness and Michelle Gildernew at the Maze
Sinn Fein MPs Martin McGuinness and Michelle Gildernew at the Maze
Sinn Fein leaders have been marking the 25th anniversary of the death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

He was the first of 10 republicans to die during the 1981 campaign to win political status in the Maze prison.

The 27-year-old was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone the month before his death.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the hunger strike had been a "watershed", with his party's growth in "no small measure" due to events in the prison.

Mr Adams said it was a time to "reflect on the lessons of the past".

Speaking on Friday, as he laid a wreath in memory of Sands, at Hackballscross in County Louth, Mr Adams said: "The enduring legacy of the hunger strikers is to be found all around us."

Senior party figures including Martin McGuinness and the Sinn Fein MP, Michelle Gildernew, joined Sands's former cell mates at a memorial on the site of the former Maze prison.

The Sands family were expected to hold their own memorial.

BBC Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport said the importance of the hunger strike to Irish republicanism "cannot be overestimated".

"The prisoners took on Margaret Thatcher in a bid to change their conditions inside jail," he said.

Nigel Dodds, DUP MP
The government ought to be ashamed of themselves for allowing their property to be used in a way that is grossly offensive to the greater number of people in Northern Ireland
Nigel Dodds
DUP MP

"But by securing election as an MP the month before he died, Bobby Sands also propelled republicans towards an ever greater involvement in fighting elections."

Bobby Sands began a hunger strike in support of political status on 1 March. On 11 April he won the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election.

He died on 5 May, the 66th day of his fast. Riots followed on both sides of the border and 100,000 attended his funeral.

The hunger strike ended eventually on 3 October after the deaths of 10 republicans. All prisoners were then allowed to wear their own clothes.

Republicans revere the hunger strikers as martyrs, but others take a different view.

Roberta Guiney, whose husband and son were killed in riots sparked by Sands's death, told the BBC her family would still be with her if it had not been for the hunger strike.

Eric Guiney, 45, and his son Desmond, 14, died three days after their milk lorry crashed following an incident in which it was stoned by a crowd of people at the junction of New Lodge Road and Antrim Road in Belfast.

'Propaganda' concerns

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said he was furious at the government "for permitting the former Maze prison to be used for this republican jamboree".

"After the farcical collapse of the terrorist amnesty legislation, I thought that the government had learnt its lesson. Patently they have not."

Mural of Bobby Sands in west Belfast
Bobby Sands is a martyr to republicans

He added: "The government ought to be ashamed of themselves for allowing their property to be used in a way that is grossly offensive to the greater number of people in Northern Ireland."

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey expressed concern that the hospital at the former jail could end up being used as "a republican shrine".

The Ulster Unionists have so far not joined a cross party panel on the Maze because they are seeking assurances about the future role of the interpretive centre planned for the site.

Sir Reg said the centre is meant to be a place for conflict transformation "not a platform for republican propaganda".

The Northern Ireland Office Minister David Hanson is due to meet members of the Maze panel for a briefing on the future of the project on Monday.


SEE ALSO:
Hunger strikes: 25 years on
05 May 06 |  Northern Ireland
What happened in the hunger strike?
05 May 06 |  Northern Ireland


RELATED BBC LINKS:

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific