21 May 2009 Edition

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Special showing of H-Block film 'Hunger' in London

Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane addresses a spell-bound audience

Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane addresses a spell-bound audience

A SPECIAL screening of Steve McQueen’s award-winning film Hunger  at a London cinema on Sunday drew a large audience to see the film and ask questions of one of the central characters in the H-Block prison struggle, Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane.
Opening the discussion at London’s Phoenix Cinema, Bik praised Steve McQueen’s film which he said invoked “incredible emotions”. He described Michael Fassbender’s performance as Bobby Sands as “outstanding”.
Bik McFarlane said the film had accurately portrayed the brutality and that even mainstream British media reviews had not questioned that this was the accuracy of what happened.
The key issue of wider political strategy - not covered in the film - was raised in the discussion, particularly the decision to stand Bobby Sands, and other Hunger Strikers, in elections. Bik explained how that discussion had developed, looking for every opportunity to raise attention and internationalise the struggle.
“When Frank Maguire sadly died in 1981 it was agreed that Bobby Sands should stand in the by-election to utilise this as a tool to maximise support. It internationalised the struggle and put pressure on the British Government.
“In the aftermath of the election victory there were other effects. Owen Carron subsequently stood and other Hunger Strikers were elected in the South. It gave the party [Sinn Féin] a jolt into mass electoral involvement.
“The Hunger Strike was a watershed which laid the foundation stone for the expansion of the republican struggle, harnessing the vote and the support which existed. In many local areas,  councillors also stood and people began to elect credible, reliable candidates with integrity.”

Bik took the spell-bound audience through his eyewitness account of the stages of the struggle. How the British Government had chosen the terrain by withdrawing political status “attempting to use the prisoners to criminalise the struggle”.
There was a feeling of isolation as Kieran Nugent refused to wear a prison uniform. The protest built up and momentum grew, including support from outside. There was incredible resolve among the prisoners, some only 17 or 18 years old, but founded on a bedrock of political understanding of the situation. And then there was the enormity of what their families faced and went through. This put into perspective the situation faced by others.
“This lifted you to steel yourself, and the comradeship pulled you through.”
The legacy of the Hunger Strike is a living one, he said, providing a political example for new generations, some of whom were not even born in 1981.
“The impact is rolling on still. The spirit of freedom is stronger as a result. International opinion was changed irrevocably and everyone knows the name of Bobby Sands around the world and what he stood for.”

Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, while in London speaking at a special screening of Hunger, joins MPs George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn at the Free Gaza demonstration in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 16 May 


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