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14 January 2006
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Toubles - Hunger stikes

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Violence and negotiations

Image of people standing at the grave-side of  hunger striker Kevin Lynch
Hunger striker Kevin Lynch (25) is laid to rest in Dungiven

When the death of Bobby Sands was announced on 5 May 1981 riots erupted in republican areas. A few hours after his death Provisional IRA gunmen killed RUC constable Philip Ellis on the peace-line in north Belfast. A Protestant milkman and his son died after being attacked during riots in the Catholic New Lodge area of Belfast.

As the hunger strikers died the killings on the streets continued. Two Catholic schoolgirls, Julie Livingstone and Carol Ann Kelly, died after being hit by plastic bullets fired by soldiers. As Raymond McCreesh approached death on the 59th day of his hunger strike, the Provisional IRA exploded a 600 lb landmine near Camlough, County Armagh, the home village of the hunger striker. The explosion blew an army Saracen vehicle to pieces killing its five occupants.

A fortnight after the last hunger striker, Mickey Devine, had died, two off-duty soldiers, Sojan Singh Virdee and John Lunt, were persuaded by two women to accompany them to their flat in the Stranmillis area of south Belfast. Shortly after the soldiers arrived three members of the Provisional IRA burst in and opened fire. Sojan Singh Virdee was killed instantly but John Lunt survived.

Image of people near a fire caused during rioting
Riots break out in Belfast each time a hunger striker dies

As the Thatcher government dug in its heels and refused to accede to the prisoners' demands, a Dungannon priest, Fr Denis Faul, sought to end the hunger strike by persuading the prisoners' families to intervene. On 28 July as Kevin Lynch approached the 69th day of his fast, Fr Faul met some of the prisoners' families. He told them he believed Thatcher would not make any further concessions and that nothing could be gained by more deaths.

At a meeting later in Belfast, Gerry Adams told the prisoners' families that the Provisional IRA could not order the men off the fast. The next morning Fr Faul received a call from Adams saying he was prepared to talk to the hunger strikers. Adams told them if they decided to call off the strike it would be welcomed by the republican movement. But the prisoners insisted on fasting until their demands were met.

However, the prisoners' families decided to act on Fr Faul's advice. First Paddy Quinn and then Pat McKeown were moved to the medical wing. By 6 September four more prisoners joined them. On 3 October the remaining hunger strikers decided to end their fast. Three days later the Thatcher government announced prisoners could wear their own clothes. The substance of the prisoners' five demands were eventually met but no formal recognition was made of their right to political status.

During the 217 days of the hunger strike ten prisoners had starved themselves to death and outside the prison 61 people were killed in the continuing violence.


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  Audio Clips Audio Clips
Image of Fr Denis Faul Image of Catherine Quinn Image of Pat McGeown Image of John Hume

Audio ClipFr Denis

Prison Chaplain


Audio Clip Catherine

Mother of hunger striker


Audio ClipPat

Hunger striker


Audio ClipJohn

Leader of the SDLP


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