Republican News · Thursday 11 May 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Thousands march in memory of the hunger strikers

Most republicans will have been happy with the large turnout in Belfast for the 19th commemoration march for the 1981 hunger strikers on Sunday, 7 May.

The various exhibitions and commemorative events brought back many memories of those heady and terrible days of 1981 and encouraged people to come onto the streets. Needless to say, the good weather also encouraged people to attend the march and make it a family day out.

That so many young people paraded, many of them walking the whole route from Twinbrook, was also welcome. As with so much about the conflict, what is a ``living memory'' for so many is history for so many young people.

At the rallying point in Dunville Park, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams paid tribute to the part played by the 1981 H Block hunger strikers in the struggle for Irish freedom.

``Nineteen years ago on this day, we buried Bobby Sands. Yesterday, by one of those strange coincidences, we buried Kieran Nugent. It's a strange irony that the first man to defy Thatcher's criminalisation policy would die 19 years later and be buried within a day of Bobby Sands, who led the second hunger strike.

``I suppose to all of us who survived all that, it is as if it was yesterday, but it was actually 24 years ago when Kieran said `if they want me to wear a convict's uniform they'll have to nail it to my back'. And all of that which arose from his defiant stand shows that one person can change things.''

Adams said that in commemorating the hunger strikers, it was important to remember that the only fitting monument to those who died is the ending of partition and British occupation and for Irish people to live in unity and peace.

``It's our responsibility to join the struggle. It is our responsibility to find some little thing to do, selling An Phoblacht, being involved in commemorations, being active in your own community.''

Speaking about the 26-County state, Adams said a Dublin elite had taken over from an old British elite: ``This lends itself to a type of corruption, to a type of deceit, to a type of brown envelope culture that passes for politics. Is that the kind of Republic we want? Of course it isn't.''

The kind of Republic envisaged by republicans, he said, ``won't happen unless we make it happen and it won't happen unless we get power and a sense of our power and unless we use that power''.

Commenting on the recent IRA statement, Adams praised the IRA for taking the initiative to ease the fears of those unionists with genuine concerns and of those fearful of change.

``What we have to get our heads around, what unionism has to get its head around,'' he said, ``is that an IRA which has not been defeated in 30 years of war is not going to let itself be defeated in the course of a peace process.''

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