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1981: Violence erupts at Irish hunger strike protest
Nearly 200 people are in hospital in Dublin after a hunger strike demonstration turned violent.

The march through the Irish capital began peacefully as 10,000 took to the streets in support of republican hunger strikers in the Maze Prison, Northern Ireland.

IRA paramilitary prisoners at the Belfast jail - also known as the H-blocks - began their fast in March claiming the British Government had failed to carry out promises made to the first wave of hunger strikers last year.

Five rights

The men want five rights established:

  • to wear their own clothes
  • to refrain from prison work
  • freedom to associate
  • freedom to organise their own leisure activities
  • to have lost remission restored

As the marchers dispersed about 500 confronted a police force of 1,000 massed 12 deep in front of the British Embassy.

Demonstrators threw missiles at police who stood their ground for about half-an-hour before responding with a baton charge.

Women and bystanders were among the injured, but most of the casualties treated in hospital were police.

The riot lasted almost an hour and left the streets looking like a battleground.

New Irish Prime Minister Dr Garret FitzGerald said: "What was done was the minimum necessary to protect the situation."

In the evening, police burned the protesters' banners and showed evidence to suggest violence was pre-meditated.

Representatives from the International Red Cross have held talks with the hunger strikers and other Maze prisoners over the past two days.

The IRA have already released a statement to say this intervention will do nothing to break the deadlock between hunger strikers and the British Government, which refuses to talk to the fasting inmates.

Six prisoners have already died from starvation.

Kieran Doherty, 25 - MP for the Irish Republic constituency of Cavan/Monaghan - has been fasting for 58 days and Kevin Lynch, 25, enters his 56th day today. Prison authorities do not expect either of them to survive the week.

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Photograph of police attacking demonstrators with batons
Police waited for the demonstrators in front of the British Embassy

Irish police display the tonnes of rubble used in riot

In context
Kevin Lynch died on 1 August and Kieran Doherty on 2 August 1981.

The first hunger striker to die - in May 1981 - was the leader of the imprisoned IRA paramilitaries and elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Bobby Sands, 27.

The hunger strikes achieved international media attention and sympathy as Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government remained intransigent.

The hunger strikes finally ended on 3 October 1981, 217 days after they began.

Ten Maze inmates died in the process but the British Government and IRA both claimed victory.

The British Northern Ireland Secretary, James Prior, proceeded to grant some of the requests made by the hunger strikers.

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