Where I Live
A-Z Index
BBC News Front Page | World | In depth | Northern Ireland

The search for peace
Dirty Protest
Profiles Themes

• Prison protest
Dirty Protest
• Hunger strike
• Direct Rule


Events Parties and paramilitaries
Piece together the puzzle of the Northern Ireland conflict by clicking the related subjects above.

• The dirty protest

• Kieran Nugent, IRA prisoner/protester

Dirty Protest

A republican prisoner in a cell smeared with excrement

In 1976 the British government changed its position on the "special category status" given to paramilitary IRA prisoners. Newly convicted prisoners were to be sent to the new Maze prison (known as the H-Blocks) which was replacing the former internment units at Long Kesh.

The prisoners immediately began a protest against the removal of their status, saying that they were being treated as common criminals when they were really political prisoners imprisoned for fightinng a war against the British military presence.

The first protests saw the prisoners smashing furniture. They soon began to refuse to wear prison uniform and choose to "go on the blanket" - covering themselves only in bed linen.

Staying in their cells 24 hours a day, by 1978 some 300 men were taking part in the protest.

At that point the protest escalated as they smeared their own excreta on cell walls, bringing international attention to the prison.

The men's supporters said that they believed that they had no choice but to take part in a debasing experience - but it was far less debasing than the denial of what they believed were their rights in a condition of "war".

By 1979, the new and more hardline government of Margaret Thatcher had taken office. It was intent on winning the war of words as it became clear that international attention was focusing on the H-Blocks.

While the dirty protests ultimately failed in gaining concessions, the republican prisoners' resolve had not been broken. They chose to step up to the ultimate protest and one familiar to Irish history - the hunger strike.

To explore developments in the search for peace,
select a subject in a pull-down menu and click Go.

^^ Back to Top
 © MMV | News Sources | Privacy