15 February 2001 Edition

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Large crowd hears hunger strikers

The inhumane conditions in the H Blocks of Long Kesh 20 years ago were recalled at a public meeting in Clonakilty last week by two republican ex-prisoners who were on the 1981 Hunger Strike. Around 70 people attended the meeting, organised by the local 1981 Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee.

Belfast men Jackie McMullan and John Pickering, who fasted for 48 and 27 days, respectively, before the strike was called off were enthusiastically received by the crowd.

Coiste chair Séamus de Búrca announced the local commemoration committee's plans to remember the Hunger Strikers and their legacy, including bringing local people by a bus to a major national rally in Belfast on 6 May, organising their own commemoration for 17 June, and bringing a play on the topic to Clonakilty.

The two special guests spoke about their experiences as political prisoners in the H Blocks. Jackie McMullan told how he was arrested in May 1976, aged just 20, two months after the withdrawal of political status and sentenced to life that December by a one-judge, non jury court in a case that lasted little more than 30 minutes. Like all republicans at the time, he joined the blanket protest, and later the no-wash protest until it ended in March 1981 when the second hunger strike started. Jackie described in detail the atrocious conditions prisoners endured as they were locked up for 24 hours a day for nearly four years, dressed in nothing but a blanket. He joined the hunger strike in August 1981 and was on it for 48 days until 3 October when it was called off. He was released in 1992 after 16 years.

John Pickering described being one of 14 children in his family. Like many Catholics in the Six Counties, he grew up in poverty. He joined the IRA in 1972, was on the run when 16 and at 17 was interned from 1972-'75. On release he reinvolved himself but was rearrested in September 1976 along with Kieran Doherty, who was later elected a TD and died on the 1981 Hunger Strike.

Sentenced to life in 1978, he immediately joined the hundreds of other Republican prisoners in Long Kesh on the blanket protest and subsequently the no-wash protest. He joined the first hunger strike in 1980 before it ended and was on the second one for 27 days when it ended.

Darragh Solan detailed the trip to Belfast, which will involve an overnight stay (the Monday is a Bank Holiday), with accommodation and transport provided. He emphasised that the 50 places would be allocated as deposits were paid.

Local Sinn Féin councillor Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin, PRO of the committee, reminded people that at the time of the hunger strikes and the years leading up to them, southern governments and parties of all persuasions turned their backs on the nationalist people of the Six Counties. ``Let's not forget that Garrett Fitzgerald let the first five men die while he was Taoiseach, and Charles Haughey as Taoiseach allowed Thatcher to leave the second five men die,'' he concluded.

Anyone wishing to get involved in the committee should contact Seamus de Búrca on (086) 400 9649

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