02 January 2006

IRA pledges to honour Maze hunger strike men

Irish Independent

**See also >>this post and >>this post concerning the death of Matt Devlin

Senan Molony
Political Correspondent

SINN FEIN and Provisional IRA members are planning to wrong-foot the Government's reclamation of the Easter Rising by reviving the spectre of the hunger strike.

This year not only marks the 90th anniversary of the 1916 rebellion but also the 25th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strikes at the Maze, which claimed 10 IRA and INLA lives.

While the Taoiseach has announced plans to "take back" the commemoration of the 1916 rising with a major Easter parade in O'Connell Street, the latest message from the IRA pledges to match that move with its own revisting of the era of the hunger strike - the most divisive period in recent Irish political history.

A hunger strike march on the British embassy in 1981 resulted in the Ballsbridge riot in which scores of gardai were injured, repeated baton charges were made and dozens of cars and houses extensively damaged.

The IRA New Year statement, issued yesterday and signed P O'Neill, declares: "We are mindful that 2006 marks the 25th anniversary of the hunger strikes and 90th anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic in 1916. We look forward to popular celebrations and commemorations of these events."

The Government events are scheduled for April, whereas the Sinn Fein/Provo commemoration of the hunger strike seems destined for May. Bobby Sands was the first hunger striker to die, on May 5, 1981.

Unmasking

The IRA's New Year message makes no reference to the recent "Stormontgate" developments and the unmasking of senior Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson as a long-term British spy.

In the first IRA message since the witnessed decommissioning of the entire IRA arsenal in September, the Provos "salute the discipline and commitment of IRA volunteers". The message hails the decisions by the "Army leadership" in 2005 as "momentous", adding that its membership remains "wedded to our republican objectives".

Although not spelt out in the message, those objectives will be pursued by peaceful means if they are to reflect the groundbreaking announcement last July that the IRA ordered an end to its armed campaign.

"We are confident that these objectives will be achieved," the IRA message adds, although its release is likely to anger unionists, who are unhappy that the organisation still hasn't "gone away".

The declaration commends the IRA's "comrades" in Sinn Fein, adding: "We send greetings to the republican activist base which has been so steadfast in the face of severe provocations this last 12 months."

It appeals for continued unity and determination in the year ahead.

"There is an onus on all political leaders to play their part in achieving the essential political progress desired by all the people of Ireland," the declaration says.

Released through the republican newspaper, An Phoblacht, the IRA leadership also sends New Year greetings to friends and supporters at home and abroad.

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