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1981: Hunger striker elected MP

VIDEO : Scenes and interviews from the election victory

Imprisoned IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands has been elected to Westminster as the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Sands stood as a candidate of the "Anti-H Block" campaign - the section of the Maze prison in Belfast reserved for republicans and loyalists convicted of terrorist offences.

He won just over 52% of the vote in the Northern Ireland by-election compared to 49% for the candidate of the Official Unionist party, Harry West.

Sands' winning margin was 1,400 but over 3,000 ballot papers were spoiled.

Recriminations have already begun over his victory.

Unionist parties have come under fire for not mounting an effective challenge.

There has also been sharp criticism of the failure of the moderate Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party to contest the seat.


"It is time Britain got out of Ireland"

Owen Carron
Bobby Sand's agent

Many believe the absence of an alternative Catholic candidate ensured victory for Sands in a seat with a Catholic majority.

Bobby Sands' election agent, Owen Carron, said the British Government had been sent a message.

"The nationalist people have voted against Unionism and against the H blocks.

"It is time Britain got out of Ireland and put an end to the torture of this country," he said.

Sands, 27, has served four years of a 14-year sentence for possessing firearms.

He began his hunger strike 41 days ago to press the republican prisoners' claim to be treated as prisoners of war.

The government must now decide how to respond to Bobby Sands' victory.

It could try to have him expelled on the grounds that he is an "unacceptable member".

However, unless he starts to eat again, Sands is not expected to live for more than another few weeks.

He has already lost two stone and is too weak to leave his bed in the prison's hospital wing.

In Context
Bobby Sand's victory was the second time the voters of Fermanagh and South Tyrone had elected a republican prisoner as their MP.

The first, Philip Clarke, in 1955, was disqualified because the law then did not allow convicts to take up political office.

In spite of attempts by the European Commission on Human Rights to mediate, Bobby Sands died on 5 May 1981.

He was the first of 10 republican prisoners to die after hunger strikes.

They attracted international media attention and sympathy for the republicans.

The hunger strikes came to an end in October 1981.

However, the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher granted the republicans only a few minor concessions.


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