Remembering 1981: Hunger Strikers among candidates in 26 Counties

An Phoblacht

H-Block prisoners stand in General Election

Friday, 29 May 1981 saw the announcement by the National H Block/Armagh Committee that it was endorsing nine republican prisoners as candidates for the 26 County General Elections to be held that June.

The constituencies chosen, as well as giving the widest possible geographical spread, had several features which led to grounds for optimism that a vote for the single issue of support for the prisoner’s 5 Demands could be maximised.

Sligo/Leitrim

The Sligo/Leitrim constituency where Hunger Striker Joe McDonnell was to stand had a history of support for republican candidates. It had elected John Joe McGirl as a Sinn Féin TD in 1957. In 1981 John Joe was chairperson of Leitrim County Council.

Local feeling on the Hunger Strike had seen a number of motions of support passed by local councils, a reception for former H-Block Blanket Men by Sligo Corporation, adjournments by the councils in support of the deceased Hunger Strikers and major rallies, particularly in Sligo and North Leitrim. Local H-Block action groups had been particularly successful in attracting wide, cross-party support.

Cavan/Monaghan

Cavan/Monaghan was another constituency with a tradition of republican support demonstrated at the polls and had, at the time, four Sinn Féin councillors as well as a number of other representatives who broadly fell within an ‘independent republican’ category.

The chances of securing a successful result for Hunger Striker Kieran Doherty, the candidate chosen to stand there, were further enhanced by the fact that the constituency had been upgraded from a four to a five-seater.

Major turn outs for protest events in the constituency had shown the depth of feeling on the Hunger Strike. Taoiseach Charles Haughey had been greeted by huge protests when he paid a visit to Monaghan town and there had been pointed comment in the media of the very low turn out of Fianna Fáil supporters.

Louth

The third border constituency to be contested was Louth where Dundalk Blanket Man Paddy Agnew was the candidate.

The campaign there had a major obstacle to overcome by the fact that, although the constituency was a four seater, one seat had automatically gone to Fianna Fáil Ceann Comhairle Padráig Faulkner. Nevertheless the campaigners were confident of support.

The Labour Party in Louth had been decimated by the Hunger Strike campaign. Both their Drogheda and Dundalk chairpersons had resigned and joined Paddy Agnew’s campaign bringing with them several more Labour Party members.

There was also strong support for Sinn Féin’s Fra Browne, a poll topper in Dundalk for both the Urban District Council and Louth County Council in the local elections.

Major workplace and closures and rallies in Dundalk, backed by the local trades council, and similar successful actions in Drogheda gave rise to an expectation of widespread support.

Longford/Westmeath

Longford/WestMeath, where Hunger Striker Martin Hurson was to stand, was another constituency with a history of republican support having elected Ruairí Ó Bradáigh as a TD in 1957.

Longford County Council had two Sinn Féin councillors, one of whom Sean Lynch was Council Chairperson. Independent Fianna Fáil councillor Tony Carberry stood down as a candidate in support of Martin Hurson. The week previously Longford County Council had adjourned as a mark of respect for the Hunger Strikers who had already died.

The constituency had been somewhat thrown open by the retirement of long standing independent Joe Sheridan leaving his 7,500 first preference votes up for grabs.

Dublin West

Running in the large five-seat constituency of Dublin West, was H-Block Blanketman Tony O’Hara, brother of the late Hunger Striker Patsy O’Hara. An interesting dimension to the campaign was the large personal vote of Dr John O’Connell, up for grabs following a carve up of the old constituency and O’Connell’s subsequent decision to move to Dublin South Central.

Waterford

Hunger Striker, Kevin Lynch was to stand in Waterford, one of the areas that produced strong trades council support for the prisoners five demands. In addition there had been major rallies in the area and workplace closures. The campaign was further strengthened by being able to draw on election workers from the strong adjoining areas of Wexford and South Tipperary.

Cork North Central

Mairéad Farrell, incarcerated in Armagh Jail, stood in the five seater of Cork North Central. The constituency embraced the old area of former Fianna Fáil leader Jack Lynch whose retirement had thrown the party into disarray locally. Cork had seen thousands of people participating in marches and demonstrations in support of the Hunger Strikers.

Kerry North

Blanket Man Sean McKenna was the chosen candidate for Kerry North which had a long republican tradition. Campaign hopes here had been significantly boosted by the decision of Labour Candidate Dan Spring not to run. He had always campaigned on a republican ticket and although his son, Dick, was to stand he did not have the profile or republican background of his father.

There were Sinn Féin councillors in the County Council and in Listowel and the party had narrowly missed taking two sets in Tralee in the 1979 local elections.

The impact of the H Block campaign in North Kerry had been underlined by the fact that a Fianna Fáil candidate had been a leading member of the Tralee action group.

Clare

Blanket Man Tom McAllister ran in this expanded four seat constituency. Optimism was fuelled by the fact that both Shannon and Ennis had been the scene of successful workplace shutdowns, particularly in the construction industry. In addition there was a strong presence of people from the Six Counties living in Shannon. In Clare the local Sinn Féin representative PJ Burke had consistently topped the poll in local elections.

Other candidates

Besides the nine prisoners endorsed by the campaign, there were three other candidates standing on a H-Block platform. These were National H Block/Armagh Committee member Vincent Doherty, standing in Haughey’s constituency of Dublin North Central on behalf of Peoples’ Democracy. Paddy Healy, a leading member of the committee’s trade union group stood as an independent under the banner Trade Unionists against the H-Blocks in Dublin North East and Sean Kelleher, the son of local Tan War commander Tom, stood in Cork South West on an anti H-Block ticket.

The National H Block/Armagh Committee had previously outlined the criteria on which candidates in other constituencies could be judged. These included support for the prisoners 5 Demands, endorsement of a call for the expulsion of the British Ambassador, the ending of collaboration and removal of 26 County soldiers from the border and full support for the campaign of the National H-Block/Armagh Committee.

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