Random Ramblings from a Republican
December 1980: Ongoing Hungerstrike.The Hungerstrike began on 29th of October 1980 and continued into the month of December. Seven Republican prisoners began a hungerstrike to protest the ending of special category status. One of their key demands was that they should be allowed to wear their own clothes rather than prison uniforms. The Republican prisoners viewed themselves as 'prisoners of war' and were refusing to be treated, as they saw it, as ordinary criminals.
In late October 1980, seven prisoners in the H/Blocks, led by Brendan Hughes, who was succeeded as O/C by Bobby Sands, began a hungerstrike for political status.
Hughes was joined on the on the strike by five other POWs; Tom McFeeley; Sean McKenna, Leo Green, Tommy McKearney and Raymond McCartney and an INLA Volunteer, John Nixon. In early December, as the hunger strike entered its sixth week, they were joined on the fast by three women in Armagh jail who had, along with their comrades, been on the no-wash protest since the previous February; Mairead Farrell, OC of the prisoners, Mairead Nugent and Mary Doyle.
However, despite huge protests throughout Ireland during November and early December, the British government refused to grant the prisoners' demands. In mid-December, as Sean McKenna neared death and as the prisoners prepared to escalate the hunger-strike, the British announced that they were prepared to concede the Prisoners' demands, on a phased basis, once the fast had ended.
Trusting that Humphrey Atkins, the then British Secretary of State, would not renege on this promise, Sands, having consulted his staff, the prisoners and those on the fast, reluctantly decided to end the hunger strike on Thursday, 18 December.
After weeks of delays by the British in implementing the promised changes, and confusion among the prisoners and their supporters, it became apparent in January 1981 that political status was not to be granted. The prisoners, faced with no alternative, would be forced to embark on a new fast that would have widespread repercussions in Ireland and abroad.