The IRA, Sinn Fein and the hunger strike of 1981
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This thesis examines the 1981 hunger strike by republican prisoners in Northern Ireland against the removal of special category status from newly convicted paramilitary prisoners on 1 March 1976, the fast was part of a protest that began in 1976. The thesis opens with an examination of the origins of the Provisional Irish Republican Army in 1969 and the emergence of a younger leadership in the late 1970's, and evaluates the significance of the prisons in Irish history. The development of the prisoners protests ranging from the refusal to put on a uniform and perform prison work to the rejection of sanitary or washing facilities, is analysed. The prisoners demands are examined in the context of British and international law. The campaign in support of the republican prisoners conducted outside the Maze Prison, including the formation of the Relatives Action Committee and the National H-Block/Armagh Committee is surveyed, and the female "dirty" protest at Armagh Prison is examined. The medical, ethical, and moral dilemmas presented by hunger striking are identified and the thesis examines the debate whether the men who died were suicides or martyrs. The 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes are examined with particular attention to the efforts to bring about a compromise with the British government and the factors leading to a new hunger strike in 1981 and to the intervention of the Catholic Church with the prisoners relatives which ended the fast. The hunger strike is analysed regarding its effect internationally in building up republican support, and in the Province where it acted as the base for the future success of Provisional Sinn Fein later in the decade.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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