Hunger Strike Commemorations In Belfast
Rain could not dampen the spirits of the many thousands who
turned out for the annual Hunger Strike commemoration in West
Belfast this past Sunday, 4 May.
People from all over the city and further afield gathered
together to mark the 22nd anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands
and honor the memories and sacrifices of all ten H-Block hunger
strikers. Individual parades left from virtually all areas of
Belfast before marchers converged on Dunville Park on the Falls
At the rally Margaret Doherty, the mother of hunger striker
Kieran Doherty, sang the lament that immortalizes her son. Her
voice still ached with the pain of his loss and a respectful hush
fell over the crowd as she sang. Young people then read two
pieces of poetry penned by Bobby Sands before Martin McGuinness
took the stand.
"We have come here today to remember the hunger strikers, to
remember them as heroes, as courageous volunteers, as leaders of
the community, as leaders within the prison and as people the
British government could not break," McGuinness told the crowd,
"we are proud to be here. We are proud to remember them as the
heroes and the freedom fighters they were."
"Margaret Thatcher was the British Prime Minister at the time.
Margaret Thatcher is now, effectively, a political non-entity.
But the name of Bobby Sands and all the other hunger strikers are
remembered by freedom loving people all over this world."
Battling a strained voice, Sinn Fein's Chief Negotiator expressed
his frustration with the current political deadlock.
"What we saw this week, in my opinion, was nothing short of a
betrayal of the Good Friday agreement," McGuinness said
pointedly, "nothing short of a betrayal of the peace process by
the British government at the behest of unionist leaders who find
it difficult to come to terms with change."
"This week the British Prime Minister, in taking his decision to
refuse to hold the elections and make it clear to the Ulster
unionists that they should fight those elections on a
pro-agreement agenda, effectively called a halt to the Good
Friday Agreement. And there is anger and there is fury and there
is dismay within nationalist and republican Ireland."
"And it is right for us to be so. But our job is not just to be
angry. Our job is to be organized."
"We've heard all the nonesense...if Gerry Adams would say 'will'
rather than 'should...' And so Gerry Adams says 'will.' And we
get bombarded with five more questions. I think that speaks
volumes for the mindset of the British establishment."
McGuinness also related the details of a recent meeting in
Belfast, in which he had told "someone very, very close to the
thinking of the Ulster unionist leadership" that the Sinn Fein
leadership was considering how they could be helpful to the
Ulster Unionist leadership, what they could do to help the
process to go forward.
"Do you know what I was told?" McGuinness asked the crowd, "I
told, 'It really doesn't matter what Gerry Adams says. It really
doesn't matter what the IRA does. This Ulster unionship is not -
under any circumstances - going to hold an Ulster Unionist
council in the course of this election campaign.'"
"And what that confirmed for me, was a conversation I had some
weeks earlier, when I put it directly to David Trimble - I asked
him, 'if we get this sorted out, if we can get a resolution to
this difficulty, and if you can go to the Ulster Unionist council
and give an endorsement from the Ulster Unionist council, will
you then resume your ministerial responsibilities between getting
the endorsement and holding the election?' And he told me, 'No."
"So I have been convinced - not just for days, I have been
convinced for weeks - that the Ulster unionist party never had
any intention of fighting these elections. And I believe the
British government knew that. I believe the British government
effectively capitulated to the leadership of the Ulster Unionist
"And the people who need to provide answers now - is not the
leadership of Sinn Fein. It is not the leadership of the IRA. It
is the leadership of the British government and the Irish
government. They have to tell us how they are going to sort out
this mess and get the peace process back on track again."
McGuinness also minced no words as he referred to a recent
statement by Irish Minister Michael McDowell, remarking angrily,
"this week we were also hit with the debacle of an Irish
government minister telling us that the Irish government tried to
be 'honest brokers' within this process. What total and absolute
"The Irish government have a duty and a responsibility to uphold
the rights and entitlements - and democratic entitlements at that
- of Irish citizens who live in the North. And we don't want them
to be 'honest brokers.' We don't want them to be 'neutral.' We
want them to be on the side of those who are struggling for
freedom, justice and peace on this island."
"Since Michael McDowell made that comment I have been listening
for someone in the leadership of the Irish government to flatly
contradict him, and all I have heard is a deafening silence."
"So I challenge the Taioseach, I challenge the Irish government,
to tell us today or tomorrow morning that they are not 'honest
brokers,' that they are not 'neutral,' that they are on the side
of the peace process, that they are on the side of the Good
Friday agreement, and that they are on the side of Irish citizens
in the North."