The following is the full text of a speech delivered by Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson last Sunday at the hunger strike commemoration organised by the party in Strabane, County Tyrone.
Those of you before me have come out today to honour and pay tribute to the twelve hunger strikers of this phase of our struggle who died in Parkhurst Prison, Wakefield Prison and the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. Prisoners from Mayo, Derry, Tyrone, Armagh and County Antrim.
We also pay tribute to those many other women and men from across the thirty-two counties who participated in and survived the hunger strikes of 1972, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1980 and 1981, in Crumlin Road Jail, Brixton Prison, Mountjoy Jail, Portlaoise, Armagh Jail and the H-Blocks.
To this day, I remain astonished at how our imprisoned comrades, among them, Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg, lonely and isolated, stood up to the anti-Irish racism and brutality they suffered by warders in English prisons, including force-feeding; and how, here in the North, over seven, long months in 1981, ten men fearlessly demonstrated with their lives their rejection of British rule and showed to the world that what British rule represents in Ireland is eight hundred years of crime.
To this day, I am in awe of the families of the hunger strikers – some of whom are with us today.
Your loyalty, your endurance, the pain you suffered day and night, and sleepless nights, over sixty-six days, seventy-three days, or, in the case of the Hurson family, young Martin after forty-six days.
There is a saying that you can judge how civilised a society is by the way it treats its prisoners.
And by that yardstick Britain stands indicted before the world when you think back to the torture of the hooded men, to the beatings in Castlereagh, Strand Road and Gough Barracks, to the physical attacks on, and mistreatment of, the women prisoners in Armagh Jail, Brixton prison and Durham Jail, the strip-searching of the women, and the punishments and indignities suffered, especially the women in Armagh who demanded political status along with their comrades in the H-Blocks.
It comes as no surprise to Irish nationalists and republicans that what Britain did in Ireland it did in North America, the Far East, on the Indian sub-continent, and across Africa. Its forces tortured and murdered people in South Africa, Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, in Cyprus, in little villages and towns whose names and inhabitants never appeared in the British press or made it into the history books.
Irish Republican and nationalist resistance was a response to the violence of the B-Specials, the RUC, in a one-party state where nationalist votes, nationalist opinion, nationalist culture, nationalist suffering, counted for nought – a response to state pogroms and the state killings of Sammy Devenney in his home of Derry, of nine-year-old Patrick Rooney in his bed in Divis Flats, for which no one has ever been held to account, and this was long before the IRA fired its first shot.
Right now British arms and munitions - flow into Saudi Arabia. Blood money.
Trade and profits amounting to £4.7bn. That’s 4.7bn pound worth of death and destruction.
Inflicting carnage on innocent children, women and men in Yemen. And those in the Commons and in the Lords and in their board rooms and drawing rooms don’t give a damn about the mass killings of innocent people.
I’m reminded of that amazing song resistance and sacrifice, ‘The Ballad of Joe McDonnell’, especially today on his 38th anniversary, “And you dare to call me a terrorist while you look down your gun.”
Joe McDonnell and his comrades were courageous volunteers. Men of integrity. Irish republicans of indisputable courage, able to go without food day after day after day because what sustained their spirit was the love of their people, the love of freedom, the aim of peace and justice, a land where the laughter of their children would ring in the air, an Ireland free from English interference. England – ‘the never-failing source of all our political evils.’
So, how was it, that the first time Joe McDonnell was in prison he had political status but that the next time he was in prison he was stripped naked and beaten and deprived of his human rights? Hunger strikers died and scores more civilians, soldiers and prison officers died on the streets, because the British government went back on its word. Political status for sentenced prisoners was conceded by the British in 1972 after a hunger strike in which no one died – no prisoners, no prison officers.
But four years later, Britain arbitrarily withdrew political status for prisoners convicted after March 1976.
It was deliberately provocative.
Britain believed that if it could break and demoralise the prisoners then the struggle on the outside would be demoralised and broken. Those were the stakes. But it was bound to fail. When they had tried the same tactic in 1917 a hunger strike resulted in the death of Thomas Ashe. So it is not as if they didn’t know that republicans would resist.
Britain’s criminalisation policy caused great suffering – which is what was intended - and, of course, it failed. Instead of demoralising the republican struggle - it reinvigorated it.
Out of those deaths in the H-Blocks arose a more powerful movement. Young people were inspired to join the struggle. Many centuries ago a French cleric - coined a phrase and described England as ‘Perfidious Albion’, a country that never keeps its word, a state that you can never trust.
We know that to be so true - from Britain’s promise to the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1914 to introduce Home Rule, before then partitioning our country, to its reneging on political status in 1976 which led to so many deaths.
British politicians tell us they want to leave the EU on agreed terms and that they don’t want to see a hard border in Ireland.
Do we believe them? Like hell we do.
For a start - they’ve even reneged on the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by former British Prime Minister Theresa May. At a time when a ‘no-deal’ Brexit looks ever more likely it is vital to ensure that the political consensus that has built up around Brexit is maintained and not undermined.
That means making it clear that there is no harder border on the island of Ireland, it means protecting our all-island economy and it means defending the Good Friday Agreement.
I am, however, more than a little perplexed by the Fianna Fáil position on all of this in recent days and weeks.
They appear to be saying that the Irish position - as endorsed by the Dáil and by the majority of parties in the north - is too stringent and rigid; yet they offer nothing by way of substance as an alternative.
It’s a position that is confusing, unhelpful and wrong.
The fact is that they can’t have it both ways - they either stand against a hard Brexit, or they don’t.
That’s the bottom line.
All parties need to make it crystal clear that the Irish government and the EU need to stick to their position - that the Withdrawal Agreement is the only show in town and as part of that a ‘backstop’ is essential.
If Boris Johnston gets his way, he and, the DUP, will inflict on the majority of the people here in the North a Brexit that will impact on political progress, bankrupt small businesses and generally impoverish many, many people.
I’ve a bit of advice for the DUP. Britain has no friends – it only has interests.
It is currently indulging you because you serve Brexiteer interests in the life of this British parliament.
But, do not get carried away. If circumstances change, if it suits the British government, it will ditch you. You can be sure of that.
And when that happens, and when you are disabused of how important you are to Boris Johnson and English nationalism, when you decide to come back home, we in the nationalist republican community will be here to work with you - As equals.
Finally, I have an Irish republican message for the British Prime Minister.
It’s a message whose composition began with the Battle of the Bogside which shaped young Patsy O’Hara and Micky Devine;
It’s a message written by the likes of Bobby Sands driven from his home in Rathcoole; written in Bellaghy, in Cappagh, in Dungiven and in Camlough; It was proclaimed in Wakefield and Parkhurst Prisons, in Armagh Jail, in English Jails, in the H-Blocks, in the prison hospital –
Don’t think we have suffered your oppression, your state killings and assassinations for decades;
don’t think we’ve come this far to fall foul of Britannic jingoism; don’t think because you don’t like immigrants, don’t think that you can make us collateral for your unsavoury, ‘Little Englander’ attitudes.
You will not be closing our roads.
You will not be blocking our bridges.
You will not be reinforcing partition by further dividing Down from Louth, Armagh from Monaghan; Fermanagh from Cavan; Derry and Tyrone from Donegal.
You will not divide the families of Strabane and Lifford from each other.
When you say you don’t want a hard border, we don’t believe you.
Why don’t we believe you?
Because you’ve lied your way through every land and to every people you’ve occupied and oppressed.
And you can lie all you want but we know the truth, and the truth is that your days in Ireland are numbered.
As the prisoners, as the blanket men, as the protesting women, as the hunger strikers proclaimed in the face of all that pointless British brutality above which they rose with such dignity:
Tiocfaidh ár lá!