By Sean O Fiach
I am writing this on Sunday September 24, the day before the 100th anniversary of Thomas Ashe and in memory of that a commemoration has been held in Ballymurphy. BBC2 today has also screened a documentary about Bobby Sands, his life and 66 days on hunger strike. That documentary could not fail to invoke a number of emotions on those who lived through that period.
Bobby is undoubtedly recognised as a republican icon whose sacrifice has had a profound effect on the political landscape in Ireland. However, for me what is heartbreaking is that those who would idolise him as the epitome of the republican struggle, including some who were the closest of personal friends and comrades, would use his sacrifice to justify the current Sinn Fein strategy.
It is a distortion of what he and the hunger strikers died for as it is a policy of appeasement to British rule, epitomised in the GFA.
Speaking at the commemoration today Gerry Adams reiterated Sinn Fein’s determination to resurrect the failed institutions of Stormont despite the fact that Sinn Fein’s largest electoral success in years was due to nationalist/republican agreement of the analysis that those institutions did not offer anything equating to equality. Sinn Fein’s participation in them merely suited Britain’s interests as a means of controlling opposition to British rule in an acceptable form. Sinn Fein drew a number of red lines before it said it would re-enter a Stormont assembly but these appear to have been gradually downplayed to a single issue of an Irish language act.
Much as I would like to see the recognition of the Irish language formally, I would be incensed if the value of the sacrifice of the hunger strikers and all those others who sacrificed their lives during the struggle were reduced to the value of an Irish language act.
I could never hope to emulate the courage and sacrifice of Bobby Sands, the other hunger strikers and those republicans who selflessly gave their lives for the republican struggle.
They are my heroes but when I see how the fruits of their sacrifice have been used by those who claim to be their successors and promoting their legacy, I wish that I could go back to them with the benefit of foresight and say to them don’t do it because those who claim to have your legacy at heart will distort your sacrifice in a way that betrays what your sacrifice aimed to achieve.