‘Thirty years ago, eight men were on hunger strike in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. Four of their Irish republican comrades had already fasted themselves to death, and a further six would do so in July and August.
The death of 10 men in the 1981 hunger strike was to prove a defining moment in the struggle between the Provisional IRA and the British government or, to be more precise, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
The end of the strike after seven months was reported at the time as a victory for Thatcher’s fortitude. In fact, it proved to be the opposite. It boosted the ranks of the IRA, radicalised nationalist politics and can now be seen as the beginning of the process that led to Sinn Féin’s emergence as a vote-winning political party on either side of the disputed Irish border.’
His lengthy analysis of the period ends with the most obvious conclusion of all:
‘As I pointed out earlier, the strike was hugely influential outside the Maze. Again, the British people did not realise that, because their newspapers did not tell them. And many still do not grasp that fact today.
The Telegraph, in summing up the result of the strike, proclaimed: “Hunger striking is a fairly familiar device which normally fails even to procure lasting fame for those who employ it.”
Really? Whose iconic picture does one see on walls across Northern Ireland, whose name is synonymous with Irish republicanism and whose face is instantly recognisable to people born long after his death? Bobby Sands, of course.’