02 May 2006

Interview from a 1981 hunger striker

Indymedia.ie

1981 Hunger Striker Talks About Sinn Fein of 2006

Posted by ok
Tuesday May 02, 2006 16:21

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBrendan McLaughlin sits jack-knifed in his wheelchair, a knot of gathered anger, and snaps the filter off another cigarette. He hasn't been able to taste tobacco, or much else, since the stroke he suffered seven years ago, so breaks the tips off before smoking them . . . 40 a day . . . right down to his kippercoloured fingers.

Old photo of Brendan McLaughlin from >>Larkspirit

Photographs and republican paraphernalia wainscot the walls of his council bungalow . . . photographs of volunteer graves, pictures of famous IRA men, a bodhran made in Portlaoise jail. But it's a pencil sketch of the 10 men who carried their protest right to the end that draws his eye.
"You see them boys up there?" he says. "They died for nothing."
He's angry about a lot of things . . .
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness ("scum bastards"), the peace process ("a sell-out") and the Brits ("no business being here . . . never had, never will").
"They're all getting ready to sit in Stormont, " he says, "when there's still a war to fight."
Paralysed down one side, he's no longer capable of prosecuting that war, but it goes on in the theatre of his head.
"I haven't changed, " he says. To him, it's a badge of honour. "See the rest of them . . . all them other boys you're talking to . . . they have changed.
They're supporting what's going on.
McGuinness and Adams . . . accepting the 26 counties! Accepting the six!
They're sitting in Dail Eireann. Now they're sitting up in Stormont.
"The next thing they're going to do is go on the police board and you know what that means. They're following the same lines as Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera. It's Irish history repeating itself, that's what it is. What did Michael Collins do? He turned the gun on his own men in Dublin. De Valera . . . what did he do? He got into power and done the same thing in the '40s. IRA men killed. The same thing will happen when they go on this police board. You can take it from me."
His two teenage boys come in and out at regular intervals. He's separated from their mother, who lives just a few doors away.
"We still get on okay. I'm easy-going.
I try not to get down, " he says, anxious not to sound like an ornery old man trapped not only in a wheelchair but in a perpetual past.
To him, the Troubles were part of a long continuum that started eight centuries ago and will only end once the last British soldier has left and Ireland is unified. Ten or 15 years ago just about every republican he knew believed this. Now, all he sees is compromise and fudge. "Money, big jobs, big houses . . . that's all it's about, " he says.
In 1981, he was 29 and well into a 12year sentence for possession of a pistol when he was chosen to replace Francis Hughes, the second man to die, on the hunger strike. But less than a week into his fast he was rushed to hospital suffering from a perforated ulcer and internal bleeding.
The aim of the hunger strike was to crank up the moral pressure on the British government by way of a series of drawn-out, highly publicised deaths. A sick hunger striker was a liability. The doctors said that a combination of gangrene, blood loss and oxygen starvation to the brain would have killed McLaughlin within 48 agonising hours. The IRA took him off the protest.
"I'd have gone the whole way, " he says. "I'd have done it. They [the prison authorities] were putting the food in the cell every day, hoping I'd have a nibble. I was too f**king hard for that. I'd no fear of death. I've been around too many corners in my time."
Would he have gone on hunger strike had he foreseen where the republican movement would be 25 years on? "Probably not, no. It's sad that 10 men died. And for what? See, I knew the best of them boys. Joe McDonnell was in the cell next to me. I knew Bobby Sands as well. I think they'd turn in their graves, them 10 there, with the way things are now."
His voice rises an octave. "Hit them in England, that's what I say. Forget about this country. I said that over 30 years ago. Hit them in their own country, where it hurts."
Some of his old comrades, who ask about him and still think fondly of him, say that it's being largely housebound and cut off from the mainstream of republican thinking, that has him still thinking about the conflict in abstract terms.
"No, it's just that they've changed and I haven't, " he adds, flashing a proud smile, then twists a cigarette in the bottom of the ashtray and lights another.

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