This Sunday thousands of people from all over Ireland will march to Belfast’s City Hall in memory of the 10 hunger strikers behind a banner calling on the British government to tell the truth about its role in the conflict.
The march organisers – Sinn Féin and a number of relatives’ organisations – are focusing on the word truth because they believe the truth is the last big issue to be resolved in the conflict.
By and large the truth is known about the role played by the IRA and loyalist organisations because they claimed responsibility for their actions which caused the deaths of hundreds of people.
Thousands of republicans and loyalists were also imprisoned for their part in the conflict.
It is also public knowledge that the crown forces killed hundreds of people, some of them in massacres in the early 1970s like Bloody Sunday in Derry and in areas of Belfast like Ballymurphy and the New Lodge Road, yet only a few members of the crown forces spent time in prison.
The fact that the public know the extent of the involvement in the deaths of thousands of people by the various armed groups of course does not make it any easier for the relatives of those killed to carry their burden of grief.
This was painfully obvious last Tuesday when the relatives of 11 people gunned down by the British army in Ballymurphy over a four-day period following the introduction of internment in August 1971 recalled the horror of the time.
As part of the Feile programme Relatives For Justice assisted the relatives of those killed in Ballymurphy to tell their frightening and heart-breaking tale.
The relatives of the dead have struggled for over three decades to force the British government to tell the truth about the circumstances in which the Paras, the same regiment responsible for Bloody Sunday, shot their loved ones dead and then lied to the world about it.
For many relatives the burden of grief is more difficult to deal with when the people charged with protecting life and upholding human rights, in this instance the British government, are in fact guilty of fragrantly violating both.
For relatives of those killed this violation is made much worse by the British government’s refusal to acknowledge the part it played in the conflict and the cavalier manner in which it dismisses demands from relative’s organisations for them to tell the truth.
Thirty-six years after the killings in Ballymurphy the British government has yet to say those killed were innocent; it has yet to apologise to the relatives.
The British government’s refusal to face up to its part in the conflict stems from its belief that its actions in Ireland were morally superior to for example the IRA.
That its presence here is legitimate and on that basis whatever its armed forces do is in defence of democracy against terrorists.
This is reflected in the myth peddled by the British government and its apologists that its military occupation here is in fact a peace mission; that it was not involved in a war.
The absurdity of this view has many consequences and is particularly felt by relatives seeking justice who lost a loved one at the hands of the crown forces.
It is also reflected for example in the production in July past of an equally absurd British army publication about ‘Operation Banner’ the British army’s version of its occupation or as is likes to call it ‘campaign on British soil’ by the “armed forces of a developed nation against an irregular force”.
This denial of the reality of what everyone else accepts also leads the British government to continue perpetrating yet another grave injustice: the cover-up of its involvement in the murder of hundreds of people, mainly Catholics through collusion with loyalists.
Despite overwhelming and documented evidence which proves hundreds of people were killed as a result of collusion with loyalists, the British government continues to refuse to admit it orchestrated this murder campaign through its crown forces – the British army and RUC.
The relatives’ determination has the British government in the dock of public opinion.
There it will remain until it cries truth.
Category Archives: hunger strikes
The BBC is reporting that 13 hunger strikers at the US-run concentration camp at Guantanamo are now being force-fed. (Many of you might miss the headline, as the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s child apparently gets top bidding.) In any case, it is no surprise that the official statement on behalf of the US Navy is that the force-feeding is “required to ensure the good health and nutrition of the detainees.”
Gerry Kelly, an Irish republican ex-prisoner and Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast (soon to take a junior post in the new Office of First and Deputy First Minister in May), was force-fed 170 times over a 205-day hunger strike in an English jail in an effort to be transferred to a prison in the north of Ireland. He described the horrors of being force-fed to the North Belfast News in 2004:
They press their knuckles into your jaws and press in hard. The way they finally did force feed me was getting forceps and running them up and down my gums. I opened my mouth, but I was able to resist after that. Then they tried there’s a part of your nose, like a membrane and it’s very tender and they started on that. It’s hard to describe the pain. It’s like someone pushing a knitting needle into the side of your eye. As soon as I opened my mouth they put in this wooden bit with a hole in the middle for the tube. They rammed it between my teeth and then tied it with cord around my head. Then they got paraffin and forced it down the tube. The danger is that every time it happens you think you’re going to die. The only things that move are your eyes. They get a funnel and put the stuff down.
Still, the US government maintains that force-feeding is a very safe, common medical procedure.
Last year around this time, I wrote an article to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Irish hunger strikes in which I highlighted the horrors of Guantanamo. From that article:
Morrison and many others believe that the lack of popular British support enabled Thatcher’s intransigence and allowed ten men to die as a result of the Irish hunger strikes in 1981. There is an eerie similarity to the United States government’s arrogance regarding Guantánamo, as the Bush administration continues to deny the internees their basic human rights under federal and international law and maintains its position that the “enemy combatants” currently being held are a threat to national security despite rapidly surmounting evidence to the contrary.
This classification as a non-person, in both the legal and social realms, allows the government to manipulate people’s fear of terrorism into a calculated dismissal of the conditions of the prisoners at Guantánamo.
Has anything changed?