07 May 2006

Flowers for Bobby Sands after 25 years


Press Association
Friday May 5, 2006

Sinn Féin's current electoral strength is part of the "enduring legacy" of the 10 republican hunger strikers who died in the Maze prison 25 years ago, Gerry Adams said today.

The Sinn Féin president made the remarks on the anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, the first hunger striker to die in 1981.

Mr Adams spoke as he visited a republican memorial at Hackballscross, Co Louth, on the southern side of the Irish border. The MP for West Belfast left a wreath in tribute to the hunger strikers and described them as role models for his movement.

Events were being held on both sides of the Irish border in tribute to Sands, who died aged 27 on the 66th day of the hunger strike, which made headlines around the world.

A month before his death Sands was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in a by-election. He is now regarded as an icon of the Republican movement.

As well as paying tribute to Sands, Mr Adams also remembered around 50 other people who died during the hunger strikes, including three children struck by plastic bullets.

Mr Adams said: "The determination of the men in the H Blocks and the women prisoners in Armagh ultimately defeated the British government's criminalisation strategy.

"The enduring legacy of the hunger strikers is to be found all around us. Like the Easter Rising 65 years earlier, it is a watershed in modern Irish history.

"The political growth of Sinn Féin and of Irish republicanism is in no small measure a result of their courage."

Mr Adams argued the peace process and changes in Irish society were a legacy of the hunger strikes. "That process of change continues. It is taking place every single day," he said.

Meanwhile, speaking outside the Maze prison in Lisburn, Co Antrim, Sinn Féin's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, said the hunger strikers continued to be an inspiration.

In contrast, former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher was not admired by her own party and did not "even inspire [current Tory leader] David Cameron", Mr McGuinness said.

Seven IRA prisoners and three from the Irish National Liberation Army died during hunger strikes aimed at forcing the Thatcher government to recognise them as political prisoners.

Sands was the first to refuse food in March 1981. His death was followed by those of Francis Hughes, Patsy O'Hara, Raymond McCreesh, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee and Michael Devine.

The hunger strike ended the following October after families sanctioned medical intervention to save prisoners' lives.

At the Maze today a bouquet of lilies was attached to the main gate of the prison. A message on the cellophane wrapping read: "Bobby Sands 1954-81. RIP. My children laugh."

This was a reference to a famous quote by Sands that features on the main mural honouring him on the Falls Road in West Belfast: "Our revenge will be the laughter of our children."

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