Friday, October 14, 2011

Dublin conference remembers 1981 hunger strike

A large crowd assembled at Dublin’s Liberty Hall on Saturday October 1to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike. The strike was formally called off on the 3rd of October that year. The meetings recalled the events of that momentous year both in the H-Blocks and Armagh women’s prison as well as on the streets. It also addressed the current situation in Maghaberry prison where republican prisoners continue to be denied political status and basic human rights.

Máire Drumm and Tommy McKearney both provided powerful personal testimonies of their time in Armagh and the H-Blocks respectively, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Máire recalled how the arbitrary date of 1 March 1976, which marked the ending of political status, resulted in considerable differences in the treatment of those sentenced before and after that date. The withdrawal of political status that year resulted in an epic prison struggle involving hundreds of republican prisoners engaging in the blanket and no-wash protest, culminating in the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981.

One of those who participated in the 1980 hunger strike was Tyrone man Tommy McKearney, author of the recently published and well received book The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament. Tommy chose to focus on how republican prisoners displayed staggering levels of ingenuity, simply in order to survive the brutal conditions then pertaining in the H-Blocks. He recounted numerous stories of how the republican POWs maintained their morale during this time and the close bonds that still hold the community of ex-blanketmen together.

Mandy Duffy from Lurgan, active with the Family and Friends prisoner support group provided a comprehensive update on the situation in Maghaberry, drawing parallels with the treatment of republican prisoners in the H-Blocks. She urged people to support the prisoners in Maghaberry, who continue to be forcibly strip searched and beaten, and called for the implementation of the deal agreed earlier this year with the prison regime.

Other speakers on the day included éirígí general secretary Breandán Mac Cionnaith, who looked back at the events that precipitated the hunger strike and the lessons that can be drawn from that momentous year. Also keen to draw lessons from the past was F Stuart Ross, author of a new study Smashing H-Block – which assesses the movement that was built on the streets in support of the prisoners. Ross posed many pertinent questions for his audience, arguing it wasn’t enough simply to look back at the events of the past, rather it is crucial that we learn from it.

éirígí spokesperson Daithí Mac An Mháistir, who chaired several of the discussions on the day, thanked all of those who participated in the event at Liberty Hall and paid tribute to the men and women of the H-Blocks and Armagh. “Today was about paying tribute to the tremendous sacrifice and selflessness of the H-Block hunger strikers. It was also an opportunity to discuss the lessons to be learned from that period of our history. Given the level of participation in the discussions throughout the day it is clear that there still exists considerable interest in the events of 1980 and ’81.

“Prison struggle of this kind is not unique to Ireland, as news emerged this week that Palestinian prisoners of the PFLP, left with no option, have embarked on hunger strike in order to assert their rights. It is also clear that the mistreatment of republican prisoners in Ireland is by no means a historic event. Mandy Duffy powerfully illustrated Britain’s continued attempts to deny political status to republican prisoners in Maghaberry. Solidarity to the prisoners on hunger strike in Palestine and republican prisoners in Maghaberry fighting for political status was expressed from the meeting.”

Daithí continued, “We also extended solidarity to Basque political prisoners. Many of the flags on display at the meeting here today expressed support for an end to the Spanish state’s oppressive dispersal policy, which sees the many hundreds of Basque political prisoners sent to prisons hundreds of miles from their home. The plight of the Cuba Five, victims of US imperialism, was recalled and people encouraged to support the demo at the US embassy in Dublin.

“So today’s event presented an opportunity to look back at the past, to cherish the memory of the H-Block martyrs and crucially to learn the lessons of that period. The struggle in the prisons was not simply about the five demands, it was, in the final analysis an assertion of the right of the people of Ireland to national self-determination. As Bobby Sands wrote on the first day of his hunger strike:

“I believe I am but another of those wretched Irishmen born of a risen generation with a deeply rooted and unquenchable desire for freedom. I am dying not just to attempt to end the barbarity of H-Block, or to gain the rightful recognition of a political prisoner, but primarily because what is lost in here is lost for the Republic and those wretched oppressed whom I am deeply proud to know as the ‘risen people’.”

Daithí concluded, “Those sentiments were at the core of the politics that drove ten young IRA and INLA volunteers to withstand the torture of the H-Blocks and to place their bodies on the line in defence of the republican struggle. Thirty years on, imperialism both at home and abroad continues to be challenged in the prisons and on the streets. The ‘risen people’ continue to assert their rights whether in Ireland, Palestine, the Basque Country or Cuba. We salute all of those who struggle to end the tyranny of imperialism.”

Candlelit Vigil for Palestinian Hunger Strikers

On Wednesday evening [October 5] éirígí held a successful candlelight vigil in support of Palestinian prisoners who have embarked on a hunger strike in protest against the way in which they are being detained and treated.

Around 50 activists gathered outside the Israeli Embassy on Pembroke Road to express both their solidarity with the protesting prisoners and their revulsion at the treatment they are being subjected to. The hunger-strike was initiated by prisoners from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP] on Tuesday 27th September but has now been joined by prisoners aligned to other Palestinian groups. Details are sketchy but it appears that the protest has spread right across the Israeli prison system and now involves hundreds of prisoners. The prisoners are protesting principally against the extent of the isolation and solitary confinement to which they are subjected.

According to the Israeli Human Rights Group B’Tselem, Palestinian prisoners are routinely subjected to far more widespread mistreatment that involves “sleep deprivation, tying a detainee to a chair in painful positions, beating, slapping, kicking, threats, verbal abuse and humiliation, bending the body in extremely painful positions, intentional tightening of handcuffs, stepping on worn manacles, application of pressure to different parts of the body, forcing the detainee to squat in a painful position, choking and other forms of violence and humiliation (e.g. spitting and pulling hair, solitary confinement, exposure to extreme heat and cold, continuous exposure to artificial light, and confinement in inhuman conditions.” The truth is that what this ‘treatment’ amounts to is in fact systematic torture.

Speaking at the protest, éirígí spokesperson Daithí Mac an Mháistir took the opportunity to express the party’s solidarity with the protesting prisoners and the PFLP. He noted the gravity of the situation and appealed for progressives to do all they can to bring attention to the plight of the prisoners.

Mac an Mháistir referred to the “long and painful history of hunger-striking in Ireland” and stated his “fervent wish that no Palestinian prisoners would have to die in the face of Israeli government intransigence just as happened in Ireland in 1981 when 10 men died on hunger-strike.”

He concluded by reiterating éirígí’s support for the “ending of the occupation of Palestine, which is the primary reason why an estimated 7,000 plus Palestinian men and women are in Israeli jails in the first place.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vigil for Palestinian Hunger Strikers at Israeli Embassy in Dublin

Palestinian prisoners associated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) began a hunger strike last week on September 27 against conditions imposed on detainees by the zionist regime.

The prisoners are calling for an end to the humiliating treatment and abuse of prisoners, and of those trying to visit them. They are also demanding an end to the solitary confinement of Ahamd Sa’adat, general secretary of the PFLP.

Sa’adat was arrested in January 2002 by Palestinian Authority security at the behest of Israel. He was held without charge or trial at Jericho prison until March 2006, when Israeli forces laid siege to the prison and kidnapped Sa’adat and several comrades.

The zionists eventually tried Sa’adat, convicting him of membership of a prohibited organisation [the PFLP], of holding a post in a prohibited organisation, and of incitement. For these ‘crimes’ he was sentenced to 30 years in December 2008, and has been held in solitary ever since. He has now joined the hunger strike as well.

The Israeli prison regime responded immediately by threatening to increase repression against striking prisoners, by moving them into isolation or to other prisons entirely. This prison transfer tactic has been used frequently by the regime to break up comrades and to disrupt the organisation of resistance within the prison system.

The prisoners answered by announcing that they will escalate their campaign by rejecting all prison orders and refusing to wear their uniforms.

As republicans mark the 30th anniversary of the ending of the 1981 Irish hunger strikes, we in éirígí extend our solidarity to the Palestinian prisoners who have been steadfast in their resistance to the attempts of the zionist regime to subjugate them. We also once more pay tribute to our comrades in the PFLP, who have taken this action for the sake of all prisoners of the Israeli occupation, and for their families and friends as well.

On Wednesday 5th October, éirígí will hold a candlelit vigil in support of the prisoners on hunger strike outside the Israeli embassy, Pembroke Road, Dublin. The vigil will begin at 6.30pm. Bígí linn.

We print below the prisoners’ statement announcing the commencement of the hunger strike.


“We, the comrades of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Zionist prisons and detention centers, declare to the steadfast, struggling brave masses of the Palestinian people and to all free people in the world:

We announce that we will begin an open-ended hunger strike on Tuesday morning, September 27, 2011, in response to the official policies of the Zionist government and its fascist prison administration. We demand our rights and our dignity, as we struggle for the victory of our values and ideals.

Our goals for this hunger strike:

1. End the solitary confinement and isolation of our comrade, General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the PLO Central Council, Ahmad Sa’adat, Abu Ghassan.
2. End the policy of isolation for all prisoners;
3. End the policy of systematic humiliation by the occupation army against the Palestinian people at checkpoints and crossings, particularly targeting visitors to prisons, and end the arbitrary denial of visits to the prisoners, especially the prisoners from the Gaza Strip. End the humiliation and abuse of prisoners during transfer.

The principles of our revolution include the rejection of all forms of injustice, and for us to struggle and confront the occupier in all areas and places in our own manner. Accordingly, we call upon all of the Palestinian and Arab people, political forces and institutions, human rights and civil society organizations, to raise their voices for us, so that we do not become easy prey for a vicious occupier. 

We promise to all of our people, and to the legacy of the martyrs of Palestine, that we will continue on our path until victory.
Great glory to the martyrs ...
Victory to the revolution ...
Victory is inevitable.”

 Click here for previous coverage of the issue of Palestinian prisoners including Video footage from a demo outside the Israeli Embassy in Dublin