BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Provisional IRA: War, ceasefire, endgame?
Intro
1969
1970
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979
1980
1981
1982
1983
1984
1985
1986
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
2004
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
Soldiers carry a coffin
Bobby Sands' funeral
Civilian deaths
profiles profiles profiles
profiles
Profiles:
Bobby Sands

IRA hunger striker

Bobby Sands was jailed in 1977 for 14 years after he was found with arms and other IRA men in a car. His death turned him into republicanismís most important martyr since the leaders of the 1916 uprising and he remains a modern day hero for young republicans today.

profiles
profiles profiles profiles
1981 Hunger strikes

In the 1970s, the UK government developed a new strategy to beat the IRA. Its new focus would be on defeating the IRA through the criminal courts rather than dealing with it as part of a political problem. Republican inmates of the newly-built Maze Prison were refused special status (akin to prisoner of war status) afforded to internees. The prisoners' campaign escalated into the hunger strikes of 1980-81.

While the IRA leadership had reservations about the tactic, it scored a massive international publicity coup when lead hunger strike Bobby Sands won a closely-fought Westminster by-election.

However, no compromise was found and Bobby Sands became the first of 10 republicans to die in the protest. At least 70,000 people attended his funeral. Violence erupted across nationalist areas of Northern Ireland and IRA membership jumped. UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher maintained a hardline throughout which left a bitter legacy.

The hunger strikes failed in their short-term goals - but it increasingly convinced the younger IRA leaders of the benefits of political action in tandem with a military strategy.

The strategy, led by the same members who had advocated the "long war", became known as the "Armalite and ballot box". It would define IRA tactics over the years to come.

Audio
Bobby Sands is buried with full IRA honours.
Bobby Sands elected: "Right from the start, the unionists knew they had difficulties"

Open Quotes
Who here really believes that we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in one hand and the Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?
Danny Morrison, Sinn Fein Conference, October 1981
Close Quotes

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific