Daily Ireland

Republican ex-POWs mark start of hunger strike


FORMER republican prisoners will mark today’s anniversary of the beginning of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sand’s 66-day fast, by protesting against what organisers describe as a “re-criminalisation” of the republican movement.
Hundreds of ex-prisoners will converge on Derry’s Guildhall Square this evening and protest under the banner ‘We Will Not be Criminalised’. They will form a procession and hold a vigil commemorating one of the pivotal episodes in the IRA’s history and the North’s Troubles.
Republicans in Derry are angered at the recent findings of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) which published a report connecting the IRA to the Northern Bank heist just before Christmas.
“In light of the re-introduction of a new criminalisation policy, we feel that this date is of huge importance.
“In our work within the community dealing with former political prisoners, the issue is raised time and time again,” Sean McMonagle co-ordinator of ex-prisoners’ group, Tar Abhaile, said.
The IMC report indicted the IRA, accusing the organisation of involvement the £26.5m (€38m) Belfast robbery.
It also blamed the IRA for involvement in a number of other robberies in the past year.
The IMC claimed that all of the robberies were sanctioned by the IRA leadership, including senior members of Sinn Féin.
Former IRA prisoners believe that a fresh attempt to criminalise the movement is being made by the Irish and British governments, aided by some sections of the media.
The procession and vigil in Derry will be led by former protesting prisoners from the H-Blocks and Armagh Prison. They will carry the portraits of the ten hunger strikers who died in 1981.
Meanwhile, a newly-formed Pikemen Association in the North of Ireland will mark its second outing in Co Tyrone tonight by leading a torchlight procession through the village of Dromore to commemorate the exact date when Bobby Sands began his hunger strike.
The Pikemen symbolise the continuity of the republican tradition from the United Irishmen, the founding fathers of Irish republicanism.
Tonight’s procession takes place at a special memorial erected in honour of Bobby Sands in Dromore. Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP, Pat Doherty, will address the event.
“In 1981 Dromore was part of the Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency so it played its role in getting Bobby Sands elected as an MP for the area,” said Barry McElduff, Sinn Féin MLA in West Tyrone. “This will be just the second public appearance for the Tyrone Pikemen after a very successful debut in Greencastle at the weekend. The Pikemen incorporate members of all ages and women are also welcome to join.”
Other upcoming Céad Bliain events in west Tyrone will include the inside story of the historic IRA raid on Omagh Barracks told by Tom Mitchell on Friday, March 11; the planting of a liberty tree in the Tyrone Garden of Remembrance, Carrickmore, on Saturday, March 6; Gaelic football challenge matches and the display of the Céad Bliain National Exhibition at various local venues from the beginning of April.
A number of additional events have yet to be finalised and the programme concludes with Féile an Phobail in August.

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