An address to the party’s Hunger Strike commemoration in Bundoran on Saturday August 28th by the President of Republican Sinn Fein, Des Dalton.
I have no prouder boast than to say I am Irish and have been privileged to fight for the Irish people and for Ireland. If I have a duty I will perform it to the full in the unshakable belief that we are a noble race and that chains and bonds have no part in us.” With these words addressed to the people of South Derry and surrounding areas Francis Hughes joined his comrade Bobby Sands on a Hunger Strike, which would end with his death after 59 days on May 12 1981.
There is much debate as to what is the legacy of the 1981 hunger strikers. We will not speculate as to what their position would be today - we leave that to others. We can only judge them on their words and actions during their lives. Let us not be accused of putting words in their mouths but rather let the men speak for themselves: In a statement on the commencement of the second hunger strike the POWs declared “We the republican POWs in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh, and our comrades in Armagh Prison, are entitled to and hereby demand political status, and we reject today as we have consistently rejected every day since September 14th, 1976, when the blanket protest began, the British government’s attempted criminalisation of ourselves and our struggle.”
The words of their leader Bobby Sands written in his diary as he embarked on his 65 day hunger for justice on March 1 1981: “I believe I am but another of those wretched Irishmen born of a risen generation with a deeply rooted and unquenchable desire for freedom. I am dying not just to attempt to end the barbarity of H-Block, or to gain the rightful recognition of a political prisoner, but primarily because what is lost in here is lost for the Republic and those wretched oppressed whom I am deeply proud to know as the ‘risen people”.
The heroism and prolonged sacrifice of the hunger strikers galvanised people in Ireland and throughout the world in support of the men and their cause. Bobby Sands like Kevin Barry for an earlier generation came to personify the struggle for Irish freedom.
The self-sacrifice, integrity and force of will displayed by these men are awe-inspiring and commands the respect of all who champion the cause of human freedom. With their bodies the only weapon available to them the men in Long Kesh and the women in Armagh jail pitted themselves against the forces of British imperialism and gave witness to the world that the Irish Nation was unconquered and unconquerable.
Today in Maghaberry prison the Republican prisoners have similarly resisted all attempts by the British Government and their puppet regime in Stormont to criminalise either them or the cause for which they suffer the loss of their liberty - Ireland’s right to national independence.
These men by their courage and determination in the face of the brutality of the British state have given the lie to those who claim that a line has been drawn under Irish history. That British rule and partition are now accepted and acceptable. The men in Maghaberry give testament to the lesson of Irish history. While England occupies Ireland there will always be a section of the Irish people to resist that occupation.
We salute the men in Maghaberry for their struggle and call now for the full implementation of the agreement secured by the Republican prisoners.
Westminster, Stormont and Leinster House are locked in an unholy alliance in order to reinforce British rule and the partition of Ireland. Over the past years they have attempted to sell the big lie to the Irish people and the world that British rule is normal. Next year they intend this process to culminate with a visit to the 26 Counties by the Queen of England. The symbolism of this visit is clear. Its intended message is that Ireland has been finally been either purchased or intimated into accepting the writ of the British Crown in Ireland.
Republican Sinn Fein will oppose this visit. We call on Republicans the length and breadth of Ireland to come out and show to the world that there remains a section of the Irish people who will never be purchased nor intimidated into accepting British rule in any part of Ireland.
Recently British Crown Minister Martin McGuinness claimed he had knowledge of secret talks between the British Government, the 26-County Administration and what were described in the media as “Dissident Republicans”. I can say now that Republican Sinn Fein has not engaged in any such talks. The only basis on which the leaders of Republican Ireland will engage in talks with the British Government will be to secure a full British withdrawal from Ireland. We cannot be any clearer. Mr McGuinness we suggest is playing his part in the machinery of British ‘black propaganda’.
A full British withdrawal from Ireland is the essential first step if a just and lasting settlement of the war between the British Government and the Irish people is to be achieved. Irish Republicans call on all sections of the Irish people to join us in building the New Ireland we set out in our proposals EIRE NUA.
We don’t want to create a 32-County Free State. We want to build the 32-County Democratic Socialist Republic and we call on those who would describe themselves as Unionists to take their rightful place in the historic Irish nation and join us in this task. We believe that EIRE NUA provides the framework within which this can be done.
I leave you the last lines of Bobby Sands’ diary One Day in My Life which sums up the message of heroic sacrifice but also of hope which Sands and his comrades have bequeathed to us: “They have nothing in their entire imperial arsenal to break the spirit of one single Republican Political Prisoner-of-War who refuses to be broken, I thought, and that was very true. They can not or never will break our spirit. I rolled over again freezing and the snow came in the window on top of my blankets. ‘Tiocfaidh ar la’, I said to myself. ‘Tiocfaidh ar la’.”
An Phoblacht Abu