Saturday 17 March 2018

Little light shed on politics behind hunger strikers

James Downey

James Downey

EVENTS in the North in 1980 dominated Anglo-Irish relations and hampered the efforts of the new Taoiseach, Charles J Haughey, to develop improved relations with his British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher.

The campaign for political status by IRA and INLA prisoners in Long Kesh (renamed the Maze) was in its fourth year. The prisoners had "five demands", including free association and the right to wear their own clothes. When the demands were rejected, they refused to wear prison clothes and went naked except for blankets. They smeared excrement on the walls of their cells.

Finally, in late 1980, a small and variable number went on hunger strike. By December, the condition of a number of them had become critical. Politicians and leading clergy, including Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich and Bishop (later Cardinal) Cahal Daly, grew alarmed. They feared the consequences if any of the hunger strikers died. Channels of communication were opened up, always without success.

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