5 January 2006 Edition
Hunger Strike 25th Anniversary - Year's events must go beyond commemoration
BY Mícheál MacDonncha
Politicisation of a new generation more fitting than monuments of stone
The 1981 Hunger Strike politicised huge numbers of Irish people and made many people of all nationalities around the world aware of the Irish struggle for freedom. The momentous events of that year deepened the politicisation of the Republican Movement itself and were a watershed in the development of the struggle.
These facts are self-evident but we need to bear them in mind when planning how we mark the 25th anniversary of the Hunger Strike. The year's events must go beyond commemoration. Certainly the heroism and self-sacrifice of the Hunger Strikers should and will be honoured. But it would surely be their wish that our programme of events is designed not simply to look back but to advance the struggle in the here and now and to educate and politicise greater numbers of people.
Education, debate and politicisation are needed to bring to the fore a new generation of republican activists. Political activity of every kind is essential to bring new members into Sinn Féin and to win wider support for the party. These will be more lasting memorials than any monuments of stone.
Personally, if there are to be monuments, I prefer them to be simple. I will not be thanked by some for saying this, but during the 20th anniversary of the Hunger Strike and since, some very elaborate monuments were put up at great expense in various parts of the country. I sometimes wonder if all of these areas put the same effort, time and expense into building the living memorial to our martyred comrades — a vibrant struggle with a highly politicised core of activists and a base that is educated in republican principles and Sinn Féin policies.
Therefore in the coming year I believe the emphasis should be on discussions, debates, lectures, publications of all kinds as well as events and initiatives that help to deepen people's awareness, knowledge and commitment. It should be a time when older comrades share their experiences with the new generation of republicans, young people who were born well after the 1981 Hunger Strike.
In fairness it is only right to say that recent years have seen a blossoming of this type of republican activity. Thankfully, in many places, gone are the days when a hastily arranged parade from A to B was regarded as sufficient to commemorate our comrades. But this expansion is not universal and much more remains to be done.
We also need to look at themes for this commemorative year.
Where stands the struggle for national self-determination? British withdrawal, Irish independence and unity have yet to be achieved. Continuous assessment of our progress needs to be built into the year's events as well as focusing on the way forward.
Be assured that many in the political and media establishment (in unholy alliance with some who call themselves republicans) will seek to taunt us with the cry that the Hunger Strikers died in vain because, these commentators falsely claim, republicans today have 'settled' for far less than they died to achieve. We must give the lie to that claim by showing that the struggle continues and will continue until our goals are achieved. And we must also expose the hypocrisy of such claims from those in the establishment — or their political predecessors — who stood by while the Hunger Strikers died.
A democratic, socialist Irish Republic was the avowed ultimate aim of the Hunger Strikers. How can we make socialism relevant to the Ireland of 2006? As Bobby Sands wrote on the 11th day of his strike: "Total equality and fraternity can't and never will be gained while these parasites dominate and rule the lives of a nation. There is no equality in a society that stands upon the economic and political bog of only the strongest make it good and survive."
The Irish language was an integral part of republican resistance in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and in all the other prisons. The prison struggle played a key role in advancing the Irish language among republicans and among the wider community. But within republican ranks much remains to be done. At best we have a small core of activists who speak and promote Irish. At worst we have a great degree of ignorance and complacency and a failure to understand the centrality of the Irish language to the reconquest of Ireland. The revival of Roinn an Chultúir as recently signalled in the pages of An Phoblacht could not come in a more appropriate year.
In his poem The Rhythm of Time Bobby Sands linked the Irish struggle to struggles for freedom around the globe. At the time of the Hunger Strikes the imperialism of the US Government was at its worst in Central America where CIA-backed death squads were murdering thousands in El Salvador. Pinochet was still in power in Chile. Apartheid was in its most brutal phase in South Africa. The invasion of Afhghanistan by the Soviet Union helped trigger a series of events which would lead eventually to the collapse of the entire Soviet bloc.
Today imperialism in its new guise is rampant as never before. And never before was an Irish Government as complicit in that imperialism as it is now. We are NATO members in all but name as Bertie Ahern allows this country to become an aircraft carrier for the US/British war in the Middle East. So an examination of Ireland's place in the world and how we can change it would also be appropriate as we remember the Hunger Strikers who inspired struggling peoples on every continent.