Unionists have reacted badly to news that the bed in which IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands died remains intact inside the former Long Kesh prison.
Veteran reporter Peter Taylor spoke about Sands’ death while sitting on the bed for his film ‘Who Won The War?’, which was screened last week.
Confirmation that the bed has not been scrapped angered unionists who fear that preservation of the site could see a section of the former jail become a “shrine” to the hunger strikers.
Unionist hardliner Jim Allister said: “This is a reminder of just what Sinn Fein/IRA had planned for the Maze.
“The fact that these relics of Sands have been preserved will galvanise unionists in their opposition to any so-called Peace Centre anywhere near the Maze.”
In the BBC documentary Taylor is filmed sitting on a bed inside a preserved part of the H-Blocks complex. He says: “I’m now sitting on the actual bed where the hunger-striker Bobby Sands died in May 1981, which I remember covering.”
Shaking his head, he adds: “I never thought that Bobby Sands would go through with it. It was no ordinary death and Sands was no ordinary prisoner, no ordinary man because he was an elected Member of Parliament.”
Taylor goes on to say that the sheer scale of Bobby Sands’ victory in the Fermanagh South Tyrone by-election stunned Margaret Thatcher’s government and gave the lie to the PM’s dismissal of IRA PoWs as ordinary criminals.
He also says that Sands’ death after 66 days on hunger strike indirectly helped the Republican Movement of that era frame the strategy of ‘the Armalite and the ballot box’ -- armed actions combined with electoral campaigns.
Peter Taylor said: “That bed was in the medical wing and was actually the bed Bobby Sands died on, I remember that some of the springs had been taken away, I think, as souvenirs, which was slightly bizarre.
“I hope it has been retained for historical purposes because when you see the bed on which Bobby Sands died it brings it back home and it becomes all too real.”
He added: “Sands did not die in vain. Loyalists would obviously take a different view, but part of his legacy is where Sinn Fein are today, although Sinn Fein and Bobby Sands, were he to be alive today, would regard it as unfinished business.”
“All the ghosts of the past were there, one of the biggest ghosts was Bobby Sands, brought to life when I sat on the bed.”
A watchtower, H-block cell and prison hospital where 10 republican hunger strikers starved to death remain at Long Kesh. Unionists have called for the entire prison to be razed to the ground, but others have campaigned for it to be declared a World Heritage Site, along the lines of Robben Island in South Africa.
Plans for a ‘Peace and Reconciliation Centre’ on the site were stalled last year when Peter Robinson withdrew his party’s support.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson refused to believe that the bed was the one in which Sands had died.
“Any time that I have been on the site and been at the former prison hospital and the cell where Bobby Sands was held, I certainly haven’t seen a bed,” he said.
He added: “I would be very surprised if that bed had been kept, the DUP have made clear that it would not be appropriate to display those kinds of things at Long Kesh because these are highly sensitive issues and we have to take account of the feelings of innocent victims.”
But Jim Allister said he had become aware that Sands’ bed had been preserved.
“It doesn’t take a genius to work out how the Maze could become a place of pilgrimage for terror tourists,” he said.