Archive for June, 2006

Hunger Strikers honoured in Leinster House

Posted in marcella on 30 June 2006 by micheailin

An Phoblacht

BY Mícheál MacDonncha

It is not often that moments of real emotion occur in Leinster House. But last Thursday was such an occasion when we welcomed the families of Irish Republicans who died on hunger strike.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usIt was 25 years on since the election of Kieran Doherty and Paddy Agnew as prisoner TDs for Cavan-Monaghan and for Louth. Kieran died within weeks of his election and Paddy remained a prisoner in the H-Blocks. Their families, friends and supporters were locked outside the gates of Leinster House as both a Fianna Fáil and a Fine Gael/Labour government failed to act while the prison tragedy unfolded and ten men died. On 22 June 2006 there was much symbolism in the occasion as relatives of the 1981 hunger strikers, as well as those of three hunger strikers from other eras, were greeted at the gates of Leinster House by the Sinn Féin TDs.

Several generations were represented among the relatives present. Kieran Doherty’s brother Michael was there with his wife Betty and young son Kieran, named after his uncle. “At last a Kieran Doherty is taking his seat in Leinster House”, remarked Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. Joining families of the men of ’81 were relatives of Tony Darcy of Galway and Seán McNeela of Mayo who died on hunger strike in de Valera’s jails in 1940 and of Frank Stagg of Mayo who died in Wakefield Prison, England, in 1976. The women of Armagh Prison were represented by former prisoners Síle Darragh and Marie Gavigan

In the oldest and most historic part of Leinster House the Sinn Féin TDs made presentations to the families. Chairing the simple ceremony, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South Central, spoke of the impact the 1981 hunger strike had on him as a young republican and on so many others. Former hunger striker Lawrence McKeown recalled his experiences. He described Kieran Doherty – ‘Big Doc’ – as a father figure for the younger prisoners like himself, even though Kieran was a young man who had spent most of his youth imprisoned by the British state because of his republican beliefs. Lawrence also paid tribute to the work of the National Hunger Strike Committee in marking the 25th anniversary, and to Seando Moore in particular.

Kieran Doherty’s Director of Elections in Cavan-Monaghan in 1981 was Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, now the leader of the Sinn Féin TDs. He said:

“It cannot be stressed strongly enough that the prisoners in the H-Blocks and Armagh had the support and good will of the great mass of the Irish people North and South of the border. There was a vast gulf between the people of Ireland and the political establishment in this State during the H-Block-Armagh crisis. With very few exceptions, Kieran and Paddy’s fellow TDs stood idly by while the agony of the prisoners and their families went on from 1976 when criminalisation was first imposed until the end of the Hunger Strike in 1981. Yet the Hunger Strikers will be long remembered by the Irish people and by freedom-loving people all over the world when most of those who held public office in 1981 are long forgotten.

“The Dáil record has very few references to the death of Kieran Doherty, TD for Cavan/Monaghan, at the hands of a callous British Prime Minister. There was no special debate. No motion of support for the prisoners’ demands. No unity in the face of a British government that was wreaking havoc in our country. There was a shameful silence within these walls.

“Two of those who died on Hunger Strike in 1981 – Kieran and Bobby – were elected representatives of the Irish people. They followed in the footsteps of that other elected representative who died on Hunger Strike, Terence McSwiney TD, Mayor of Cork. In all 22 Republicans trod the lonely path of Hunger Strike to death from Thomas Ashe in 1917 to Mickey Devine in 1981. We remember them all equally and our tribute here today encompasses those who died in every phase of our nation’s struggle for freedom.”

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Laurence McKeown Joins the Hunger Strike – 29 June 1981

Posted in marcella on 30 June 2006 by micheailin

CAIN

Monday 29 June 1981

Laurence McKeown, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

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Image Hosted by ImageShack.usLaurence McKeown was born in Randalstown, County Antrim. He was arrested in August, 1976 for alleged IRA activities and in April, 1977 he was sentenced to life imprisonment. McKeown spent the next four and a half years on the Blanket and the No Wash Protest in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. (Photo from Larkspirit)
In October, 1980 he volunteered for hunger-strike but the strike was over before he was called as it was believed the British Government were going to satisfy the republican prisoners’ demand for Political Status. When a second hunger-strike was called for March, 1981 McKeown again volunteered and commenced his strike on June 29th, 1981. McKeown fasted for seventy days before his family intervened to authorise medical attention. In 1991 McKeown contributed an article with Felim O’Hagan to Éirí na Gealaí: Reflections on the Culture of Resistance in Long Kesh. He was released from Long Kesh in 1992.

This extract is from McKeown’s recollections of the Blanket, No Wash protest and Hunger Strikes in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh entitled Nor Meekly Serve My Time (1994) which he co-edited with Felim O’Hagan and Brian Campbell.

When a comm [communication] came round explaining the situation, outlining the attempt we had made to resolve the deadlock [after the first hunger strike of October – December, 1980] and detailing the manner in which we had been arrogantly rebuked at every turn, I was delighted we would be embarking on a second hunger strike. For a while it had seemed as if we would just give up or be forced to concede defeat. I knew that wasn’t how the majority of the men felt. We had been through too much to accept that we had gained nothing.
A large number of those who had returned to the protest for the duration of the hunger strike had already begun to leave, realising that the situation was no different from that several months previous. That didn’t concern me so much. I had been glad to see them return as it had bolstered our numbers for a while, but at the end of the day it wasn’t numbers on the protest that was going to win our demands, but our resolve to see our struggle through to a successful conclusion.
We knew the hunger strike was the only way out of the impasse. The NIO were not prepared to yeild an inch, and all the politicians, churchmen and pseudo-liberals who had been vocal during the hunger (asking that we end it in order to allow the British Government to negotiate free from pressure) were all suddenly mute. Faced with this intransigence, the feeling was that we should take them on and show them that we were not beaten, nor could we be. Our integrity was at stake. We felt that some of our pride was restored the day that volunteers were once again asked to forward their names for hunger strike. We were back in the fight and hitting back….
Bobby [Sands] was now an MP. What clearer sign could there be that the people regarded him – and by extension all of us – as political prisoners than by voting for him as their parliamentary representative? We felt that this would cause the British all sorts of problems and put them in a dilemma as to how to treat an MP who they were condemning as a criminal. We felt the contradictions would be hard for them to overcome.
Once again we underestimated the Brits’ capacity to blatantly change the rules to suit themselves. They simply enacted a Bill which barred prisoners from standing for future elections. That taught me a lot about the brits and politics and about power and the misuse of it. It taught me a lot about the facade of democracy which cloaks a very unjust and deep-seated system of privilege and power in the hands of a few….
On Wednesday morning [July 8th, 1981] Joe MacDonnell died after 61 days on hunger strike; then the recriminations began. The ICJP [Irish Commission for Justice and Peace composed of Catholic clergy and SDLP delegates who had mediated between the NIO and the prisoners] claimed publicly that the NIO had promised them such and such, the NIO said they hadn’t and the British government, to back up this position, pointed out that no junior minister could have promised anything of the sort. The whole episode appeared very messy.
That was possibly the last serious attempt the Church or the Dublin government made at intervention in the stalemate. After this their public pronouncements became more weighted against the hunger strike, calling on the hunger strikes to come of it and more or less agreeing with Thatcher’s line that ‘no government could be seen to concede to such pressure’. I think it was at this stage we began to realise we were very much on our own and that our actions were having a wider political effect than we had first imagined. We were exposing the so-called nationalist politicians and cutting through their rhetoric. We were posing a threat to the status quo, no longer prepared to bend the knee and accept moral control from the Church, thinking for ourselves and acting in our own best interests. We had to be stopped. Soon Fr. Faul stepped up his anti-hunger strike campaign of vilification of the Republican Movement and its leadership…

Remembering 1981: Prisoners reject Atkins statement

Posted in marcella on 30 June 2006 by micheailin

British amend law to stop election of prisoners

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usFollowing the election to the Westminster parliament of IRA Hunger Striker Bobby Sands, the British Government under Margret Thatcher were detrmined to change electoral registration so that the feat could not be repeated. In June 1981 it pushed ahead with an amendment to the Representation of the People Act.

The amendment was specifically designed to bar republican prisoners from standing in further elections. With Bobby Sands’ death on hunger strike the Fermanagh South/Tyrone constituency was now due for another by-election. The amendment passed by 348 to 137 in Westminster after Labour allowed its MPs a free vote. A quote from English newspaper, The Guardian, summed up the situation:

“It would be a mistake to assume that because of its grandiose name this measure (The Representation of the People Bill) is about representing anybody. Quite the contrary it has to do with non-representation of a certain class of people who are notoriously reluctant citizens of the United Kingdom – the IRA and its supporters.”

On 25 June the bill was extended to cover prisoners in jails in the 26 Counties.

On 19 June British Direct Ruler Humphrey Atkins had astonished people when he announced he intended to start a new round of talks with the political parties. A sign of how much pressure the SDLP was under came in Seamus Mallon’s prompt dismissal of the notion accusing Atkins of great insensitivity towards “a community which is being torn apart emotionally by the continuing tragedy of the hunger strikes”.

The SDLP had still to call whether or not they would contest the Fermanagh/South Tyrone by-election. There was speculation that the republican prisoners would stand a substitute candidate. Fermanagh man Owen Carron, was the name being mooted. He was a republican of long standing and had been Bobby Sands’ election agent. The unionist candidate, Harry West, was expressing hope that the RUC would interview Carron about “his long standing association with the IRA over many years” before any by-election was held.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usIn response to requests, from amongst others, Charles Haughey and The Irish Commission for Jutice and Peace, Atkins ruled out any concessions to the Hunger Strikers. Speaking on 30 June he said that there would be no concessions towards the granting of the prisoners Five Demands or political status.

Making vague noises about useful activity as opposed to work and ordinary clothes as a substitute for prison clothes and saying the hunger strike must end before anything could happen the statement was welcomed by the SDLP and the Irish and British media. The ICJP went furthest of all stating that Atkins’ statement together with “clarifications” received over a number of days had encouraged them in their efforts to reach a solution.

Rejecting the statement the H-Block prisoners said: “The purpose of this statement is to buy the silence of various genuinely concerned groups- such as The Irish Commission for Justice and Peace who have been lobbying the British for our five demands – by vaguely guaranteeing unspecified further developments of the prison regime at some unspecified time in the future.

“The Atkins statement cannot be taken as a sincere attempt – based on the need to find a solution and avoid any further tragedy – to end the hunger strike, for no one with even the most basic grasp of the situation can expect us to submit to such an ambiguous and distorted statement.

” To do so would be an insult to ourselves, our comrades who died, our steadfast relatives and supporters and all those bodies who want to see a just settlement to this issue.

“It is becoming blatantly obvious that the British are intent on creating a worsening situation if this statement is anything to go by. Even as one of our comrades lingers on death’s doorstep we call on the British to climb down from their high horse and act in a responsible manner and initiate meaningful dialogue with the prisoners to find a solution.

“Lastly we wish to state in unequivocal terms that contrary to what the British say, the Five Demands which we are committed to obtaining, would go far to give back all prisoners dignity as human beings of which we are robbed at the present and we would welcome their introduction for all prisoners.”

Taoiseach Charles Haughey said of the ongoing impasse: “I have explored every means of finding a solution on humanitarian grounds”, before declaring “I intend to take a fresh initiative to find a solution, which will bring the present tragic and dangerous situation to an end.” In the end this new initiative amounted to a statement criticising the intransigence of the British but not a lot else. Sinn Féin described it as four months and four deaths too late.

Remembering 1981: Derryman is twelfth person to join Hunger Strike

Posted in marcella on 23 June 2006 by micheailin

An Phoblacht

Mickey Devine

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe twelfth man to join the 1981 Hunger Strike was Mickey Devine from Derry. He was the third INLA member to join the 1981 Hunger Strike and had assumed the role of INLA O/C in the Blocks after his friend and comrade, Patsy O’Hara, commenced his hunger strike and he continued in this position even when on the protest himself.

Photo: 1981 Hunger Strike: Mickey Devine from Derry

Mickey was born on 26 May 1954 into the slum that was Spring Town Camp on the outskirts of Derry, a former US military base in the second world war. The sectarian Derry council of the time used it to house impoverished nationalist families in the most appalling of conditions. Mickey Devine’s sister Margaret recalled that the huts were ok during the summer but leaked during the winter. One of Mickey’s earliest memories was lying in bed with a stack of coats over him to protect him from the rain.

Perhaps a sign of the single-mindedness and determination of his character was that he supported Glasgow Rangers throughout his youth, a difficult course of action for anyone growing up in nationalist Derry.

Devine was present at the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in February 1972 and it had a profound effect on him. He said at the time, “I will never forget standing in the Creggan chapel staring at the brown wooden boxes. We mourned and Ireland mourned with us.”

Micky was assaulted by the RUC on two occasions in 1969, around the same time as the infamous assault on civil rights campaigners at Burntollet. He joined the Stickies in 1971 and people who remember him from that time recall an able soldier who was ‘game for anything’. Increasingly disillusioned with the Sticks, he defected to the INLA in 1974 and was a founding member of that group in Derry city.

Devine fought the brave fight despite the overwhelming odds arrayed against his fledgling organisation. He was eventually captured after an arms raid in Donegal. He made it back to Derry only to be captured and eventually, on 20 June 1977, sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. Devine immediately joined the blanket protest and 22 June 1981 he went on hunger strike.

It is an indication of the principled and committed nature of Mickey Devine that at the commencement of his hunger strike in 1981 he had only 13 months of his sentence remaining.

MICHAEL DEVINE JOINS HUNGER STRIKE

Posted in marcella on 23 June 2006 by micheailin

CAIN – Hunger Strike 1981 – Chronology

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Monday 22 June 1981
Michael Devine, then an Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

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Irish Hunger Strike 1981 Website

Mickey Devine Joins Hunger Strike

22 June 1981

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‘TWENTY-seven-year-old Micky Devine, from the Creggan in Derry city, was the third INLA Volunteer to join the H-Block hunger strike to the death.’

Read Mickey’s biography >>>here

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IRSM

Fallen Comrades of the IRSM – Michael Devine

‘Michael James Devine was born on 26th May 1954 in Springtown, just outside of Derry city. He grew up in the Creggan area of Derry, where he was raised by his sister Margaret and her husband after both parents died unexpectedly when he was age 11.

Mickey was witness to the civil rights marches of the late 1960s in Derry in which civilians were often brutally attacked and the trauma of Bloody Sunday. In fact, Mickey himself was hospitalised twice because of police brutality. In the early 70s, Mickey joined the Labour Party and the Young Socialists. Then in 1975, Mickey helped form the INLA.’

>>Read on

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Prisoners praise former chaplain

Posted in marcella on 22 June 2006 by micheailin

Daily Ireland

By Eamonn Houston

Two former republican prisoners who took part in the Long Kesh hunger strikes last night described Monsignor Denis Faul as a man of complex character whose legacy will endure.
Tommy McKearney spent 53 days on the first hunger strike protest in 1980 and Lawrence McKeown was taken off the second fast the following year after 70 days.
As the British government dug in its heels over the prisoners’ demands, Monsignor Faul sought to end the hunger strike by persuading the prisoners’ families to intervene.
On July 28, 1981, as Kevin Lynch approached the 69th day of his fast, Fr Faul met some of the prisoners’ families.
He told them he believed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would not make any further concessions and that nothing could be gained by more deaths.
In earlier years his role as chaplain in Long Kesh won him the respect of prisoners and their families. As the authorities in the North clamped down on republicans with internment and brutality, Monsignor Faul was outspoken in his criticism.
However, for republican prisoners Monsignor Faul’s intervention in the 1981 hunger strike was viewed as a betrayal.
Mr McKearney knew Monsignor Faul all of his life and was taught by him at St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon.
He said that republicans should take a balanced view of Monsignor Faul’s role in Long Kesh and his human rights campaigning in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s.
“I don’t think that we should see him purely as a critic of the IRA and republicans,” Mr McKearney said.
“There was another side to him. He campaigned very staunchly for human rights for republicans on a huge number of occasions. We need to take a look at both sides – not just the one.”
Lawrence McKeown remembers Monsignor Faul smuggling cigarettes, tobacco and pens to prisoners on the H-Blocks. He would also keep the prisoners up-to-date with football scores and developments outside the prison, but things changed.
“I do think that the steps he took to intervene in the hunger strike were totally reprehensible in the extent to which he went to manipulate the families of those on the fast.”
It was also significant, according to McKeown, that in later years Monsignor Faul became a vocal opponent of republicanism.
“He was a bit of a conundrum. He had a flawed side of his character, but we can’t take it away from him – in the 1970s he took a forthright stand on torture and brutality. The community looked to him in the 1970s, but didn’t in the 1980s.”

Outspoken priest Faul dies at 74

Posted in marcella on 22 June 2006 by micheailin

BBC

21 June 2006

Prominent Catholic clergyman Monsignor Denis Faul has died at the age of 74 following a long illness.

He first came to prominence in 1969 when he spoke out against the judiciary, claiming Catholics felt judges were biased against them.

While he campaigned against the ill-treatment of prisoners, he also was an outspoken critic of IRA violence.

Archbishop Sean Brady said he “stood up for what he believed in, for the distraught” regardless of background.

Tributes to Monsignor Faul

“With valour and hope he unstintingly gave his advice, assistance and support, never counting the cost or risk to himself,” the Catholic Primate of Ireland said.

“He realised clearly that justice is not a casual by-product of peace, but something anterior and fundamental to any lasting peace.

“His whole life was an eloquent testimony that justice requires consistent courage, and that peace must be underpinned by morality at all times.”

Renowned

A teacher for more than 40 years, many of which were spent at St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon, Monsignor Faul was renowned for his outspoken views.

He was Catholic chaplain at the Maze prison during the H-Block hunger strikes in 1980 and 1981.


Monsignor Faul was a teacher for more than 40 years

While he strongly opposed the fasts, he also urged the government to introduce prison reform to defuse the crisis.

His efforts in organising meetings of the hunger strikers’ families was viewed as instrumental in bringing the protest to an end.

Back in 1969, his criticism of the judiciary in 1969 brought him a rebuke from the then-Catholic Primate of Ireland, Cardinal Conway.

He was strongly critical of the Army and the RUC, while also condemning the Provisional IRA.

In March 1977, he described the IRA campaign as spurious and directly contrary to Catholic teaching.