By Peter Arnlis
An Phoblacht/Republican News
18 April 1981
Perhaps the most despicable intervention came from the British Labour opposition spokesperson on the North, Don Concannon
. Speaking from the sanctuary of the British parliament on polling day, he declared that the electorate had a “unique opportunity to denounce the men of violence” and said that a vote for Bobby Sands was a vote of approval for the IRA operations such as the Narrow Water ambush (when 18 British soldiers were killed).
Had a by-election been taking place in Britain, propriety would dictate that on polling day such an electioneering outburst would not be made, let alone be reported by the live media, which is legally obligated to give fair and equal coverage to contestants. (The reporting of such statements places the particular contestant with an immediate advantage over others, who have only a limited time in which to re-influence the voters before the polling booth close.)
Concannon’s stupid outburst, unlike the statement from Fianna Fail Euro-MP Sile de Valera, who on the eve of polling day called for support for Bobby Sands
, was given extensive coverage in the North. Concannon had worked at Stormont as a direct-rule minister from 1976 until May 1979, and during that time was responsible for the administration of the H-Blocks and knew of the brutal beatings taking place. However, he seems to have learnt nothing from his time in Ireland.
One of his last acts in the North was to go to Lisnaskea and visit the late Frank Maguire (whom Bobby Sands succeeded as MP) on the eve on a crucial vote of confidence in the Labour government in April 1979. He pleaded with Maguire to make a rare visit to Westminster and support the crumbling Labour government, Frank Maguire’s price (and the sentiment of Fermanagh South Tyrone) was political status for the men in H-Block and the women in Armagh. But the Labour government would not concede, and so without Maguire’s support it fell and the Tories subsequently came to office.
Concannon’s bungling intervention this time almost certainly confirmed native instincts that their choice of Sands was the correct one.
British press reactive to the election victory was hysterical and as abusive as that which followed the IRA execution of Lord Mountbatten
and the killing of 18 British soldiers
in August 1979. An editorial in the “Sunday Express” said of the electorate “May God forgive their hypocrisy” and concluded: “Their attendance at Mass this morning is as corrupt as the kiss of Judas.”
The “Sunday Times” was less insulting, and saw the result as a watershed: “the election result finally and publicly puts paid to the notion – wishfully fostered by Protestants in the province and by government spokesmen abroad – that the Provisional IRA enjoys no popular support.”
However to the IRA, the validity of its mandate, which has undoubtedly been enhanced by the election of an IRA Volunteer, rests after the election, as before the election, upon the illegitimacy of partition and the British presence. Undoubtedly, however, internationally the result will be interpreted as a popular mandate for the armed struggle for national liberation.