18 September 2003 Edition
Great Escape reunion celebrates indomitable spirit of republicans
In his attempts to be seen as the most hardline of hardline unionists, Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson has gone on the offensive over this coming Friday's commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 1983 H Block in Donegal.
The event, to be staged at the Holiday Inn in Letterkenny, County Donegal, will host a reunion of those who made the heroic dash for freedom from the H Blocks in 1983.
The planned commemoration will also honour the families of nine volunteers who played significant roles before, during and after the escape and who have since died on active service. The families will be presented with commemorative plaques.
However, Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson described Friday's event as "disgraceful" and is calling the Gardaí to monitor the function and arrest anyone who shows up at the event, "who is still on the run".
However, dismissing Donaldson's attempts to disrupt Friday night's event, organisers say the unionist MP is just using the issue to score points against David Trimble in the battle for the hearts and minds of unionists.
He has set himself up as the only person in the Ulster Unionist Party to stand up to republicans and by targeting Friday's function he is out to make publicity for himself.
Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane, one of the main speakers at the event, told An Phoblacht that Friday's event should be seen as an event organised to remember the years of prison struggle and the commitment of republican prisoners of war, whose sacrifice destroyed the British government's attempts to criminalise the republican struggle.
"People remember the Hunger Strike, and rightly so, as the high point of the prison struggle and the struggle as a whole," he said. "However, the Great Escape also marked a high point in the struggle, as it demonstrated to the world that despite the British government's claims that they had broken the spirit of republican POWs, they hadn't.
"The audience on Friday night will hear how the escape was planned and how it was carried out from the perspective that it was a highly risky military operation that could have gone wrong at any time.
"And it shouldn't be forgotten that it was such an embarrassment to the British government because they thought they had wrecked republican morale within the jail and hoped it would have damaged the struggle on the outside as well. What the nationalist people of Ireland got on 25 September 1983 was a morale boost that showed the indomitable spirit of republicans and demonstrated that if the 'most secure prison in Europe' could be breached, then they could do anything.
"That is what Friday night is about."