Republican News · Thursday 24 Novemeber 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Armagh prisoners' decision final


THE republican women protest prisoners in Armagh Jail have taken a decision in principle to hunger strike in an intensification of their campaign for political status, despite appeals from the Republican Movement advising them against such action.

The women's decision to hunger strike is not a solidarity action with the seven H-Block hunger strikers, nor a limited token gesture, but is being taken in their own right to political status, one which they have underpinned by resisting criminalisation since the first prisoner to be sentenced after the withdrawal of political status, Mairead Farrell, went on protest on 9 December 1976.

Since then, she has been joined by 30 other women, who have refused to be criminalised by doing prison work. They have confronted the British penal regime and have spent months, if not years, locked up 23 hours a day and they have been denied food parcels, newspapers, cigarettes and the same rights to visits and letters as other prisoners.

The women have never taken a back seat in the political status protest, and last February - after they were viciously assaulted by male prison warders and denied access to toilet and washing facilities - they were forced into a `no wash' protest, which backfired on the prison regime. For the last nine months they have been living in extremely austere conditions, and have always reserved the right to resort to the hunger strike weapon.

However, whilst the women will be demanding political status in their own right, the timing of their decision is not entirely unconnected with developments over the H-Block hunger strike.

The grave decision of the Armagh women to join the hunger strike, which willl commence shortly after those who intend to participate have finally informed their close relatives, will remove the single concession of civilian clothes from being a central issue and will clarify their demands and those of their comrades in the H Blocks as a package of five demands amounting to political status.

The British Government has stated that no hunger striker will be force fed and there is no doubt that if the British Government does not abandon its criminalisation policy (which has only succeeded in creating suffering and death) then may the unbridled anger of the Irish people be upon its head.

Phoblacht, 22 November 1980

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