Electoral politics of democracy in Ireland have become a sham. Two
Lisbon Treaty referendums on the matter of national sovereignty, with
respect to the EU, within a year of each other and different results,
are a good example of it. The Irish media have been debased by
embedded editorial British agents, working alongside global corporate
interests. Ireland's people have been bombarded ceaselessly, with an
alien culture selling the destruction but seductive ideology, of
exclusive self. As a result of the rapes of Empire invasions, the
resulting people of no property, have been impoverished in mind, body
and spirit, like the millions who starved in the Irish famine years,
reduced to a despair of induced mental powerlessness and slavery. The
Irish legal system cannot help, it too has become even more corrupt,
with the exception of serving corporate interests. Unions and their
associated political parties emasculated, destroyed or paid off by the
corporations. All forms of credible protest, are eliminated or
censored by a secret service police apparatus, that rivals Hitler's
Gestapo. The rising anger and hatred of the Irish body politic makes
violence inevitable. It will be horrifying for most.
Those who will be blamed are immigrants, community activists, gays,
intellectuals, genuine union leaders and those defined as
"dissidents." They will be the ones condemned and blamed for the
decline. The economic collapse, which is not understood by many, as a
result of media dis-information, will be used by demagogues and
hate-preachers on these scapegoats. Random acts of violence which are
already increasing, as a result of poverty, will justify harsh
measures of further state control, that will destroy any remaining
illusions of democracy. The British and fascist corporate forces, that
are destroying Ireland, will use the media they control, to hide their
responsibility. The old British game of blaming the weak and
minorities, a staple of their Empire building, will enable their
sadistic violence within Irish society and deflect attention from the
corporate and gombeen parasites, who have drained the energy and
youthful Spirit out of Ireland.
The platforms of genuine social reform are dead or usurped by
collaborators of dis-information. Apologists, who long ago should have
abandoned the ballot box, continue to make pathetic appeals to John
Bull's other island's deaf corporate client statelets, while the
people of no property are ruthlessly stripped, of their few remaining
rights, income and jobs. Pseudo liberals self-righteously condemn Her
Majesty's imperial wars but not the system that is responsible for
them. The longer the pseudo liberal class speaks in the bloodless
language of policies, the more hated and irrelevant they become. No
one has discredited Irish labour more, than gombeen Labour
representatives themselves. Forget about hope for reform in Ireland,
the whole system is rotten and corrupt to the core in both entities.
So how can we resist? How, if all of the above is inevitable, do we
fight back? Should we resist at all? Should we surrender to cynicism
and despair, have as comfortable a niche as possible, within the
British corporate statelets and spend our lives satisfying our private
needs and forget about society? The power elite, including most of
those who graduated from our universities, with our pseudo liberal and
intellectual classes, have sold out for their own personal comfort. So
why not us?
The French philosopher Albert Camus argued, that we are separated from
each other, that our lives are meaningless, that we cannot influence
fate, that we will all die and our individual beings will be
obliterated. But Camus also wrote that "one of the only coherent
philosophical positions is revolt. It is a constant confrontation
between man and his obscurity. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid
of hope.That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the
resignation that ought to accompany it."
"A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of
an object," Camus warned. "But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved,
he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature, which
refuses to be classified as an object."
Bobby Sands referred to this, as the Spirit of Freedom, he died
refusing to be enslaved, so did his comrades. So did his comrades
before him, so will his comrades after him.
The dissident for Camus, stood with the oppressed. In Ireland it is
the people of no property, the unemployed workers being thrown into
poverty, slavery and misery in both British corporate statelets in
Ireland, the poor in her inner cities and depressed rural communities,
the forced emigrants and those locked away in a Victorian prison
system. Standing with them does not mean collaborating with parties of
the ballot box, who mouth the words of justice while carrying out acts
of oppression in British occupied statelets, that clearly only serve
the propertied class. It can but mean in Ireland, open and direct
The power structures on John Bull's islands, with its pseudo liberal
apologists, dismiss the dissident as impractical and see the
dissident's outsider stance, as counter-productive. They condemn the
dissident for expressing anger at injustice. They call for calm and
patience. They use the hypocritical language of spirituality,
compromise, generosity and compassion to argue that the only
alternative is to accept the systems of power and work with it. The
dissident refuses to be bought off with grants, book contracts,
academic appointments or empty rhetoric. The dissident is not
concerned with self-promotion or public opinion. The dissident knows
the two beautiful daughters, anger and courage-anger at things as they
are and courage to change the way they are. The dissident is aware,
that virtue is not rewarded. The act of dissidence defines itself.
"You do not become a ‘dissident' just because you decide one day to
take up this most unusual career," Vaclav Havel said when he battled
the Stalinist Soviet regime in Czechoslovakia. "You are thrown into it
by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set
of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures
and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an
attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of
society. ... The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine
power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and
does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public. He
offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only
his own skin-and he offers it solely because he has no other way of
affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his
dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost."
The British and the corporate media in Ireland, have disarmed the
liberal class, they have in the wake of the Stalinist soviet,
convinced liberals, that there is no alternative. Dissidents on the
other hand are not slaves. Dissidents have a choice. Dissidents refuse
to be either a victim or an executioner. Dissidents have the moral
capacity to say no, to refuse to cooperate. Dissidents who boycott or
seriously demonstrate, any occupation or sit-in, any strike, any act
of obstruction or sabotage, any refusal to pay taxes, any fast, any
popular movement and any act of civil disobedience, ignites the soul
of the dissident and exposes ultimately the fickleness of corrupt
authority. As Irish socialist revolutionary James Connolly put it;
"The great appear great to us only because we are on our knees: Let us
"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious,
makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even
passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears
and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and
you've got to make it stop," Mario Savio said in 1964. "And you've got
to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that
unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at
The capability to exercise moral independence, to refuse to cooperate,
offers us the only route left for personal freedom and self
determination in Ireland, with a life of meaning. Rebellion is its own
justification. Those of us out of the spiritual left, have no problem
with Camus. Camus is right about the absurdity of existence in a life
such as contemporary Ireland, right about finding worth in the act of
rebellion, rather than some pie in the sky. We differ with Camus in
that we have faith that rebellion allows us to be free and independent
human beings, balanced with social responsibilities. Our rebellion
chips away imperceptibly, at the illusions of the powerful oppressor
and sustains the Spirit of freedom and love. In moments of deep human
despair this Spirit of Freedom is critical. It keeps alive our
capacity to be human. We must become, as Camus said, so absolutely
free, that "existence is an act of rebellion." Those who do not rebel
in our time of British and Corporate fascist Empire, who buy or sell
the lie that there is no alternative to collaboration, are complicit
not just in the enslavement of the plain people of Ireland but their
own spiritual and moral suicide.
The article below concerns a recent example of a well known Irish dissident.
Died May 5th, 1981
The revolutionary spirit of freedom
Portions of this article were first published anonymously in
'Republican News', December 16th, 1978. The smuggled out article
recalls how the spirit of republican defiance grew within him, and is
a semi-autobiographical account.
BOBBY SANDS was born in 1954 in Rathcoole, a predominantly loyalist
district of north Belfast. His twenty-seventh birthday fell on the
ninth day of his sixty-six-day hunger strike. His sisters Marcella,
one year younger, and Bernadette, were born in April 1955 and November
1958, respectively. All three lived their early years at Abbots Cross
in the Newtownabbey area of north Belfast. A second son, John, now
nineteen, was born to their parents John and Rosaleen, now both aged
57, in June 1962.
The sectarian realities of ghetto life materialised early in Bobby's
life when at the age of ten his family were forced to move home owing
to loyalist intimidation even as early as 1962. Bobby recalled his
mother speaking of the troubled times which occurred during her
childhood; 'Although I never really under stood what internment was or
who the 'Specials' were, I grew to regard them as symbols of evil '.
Of this time Bobby himself later wrote: ''I was only a working-class
boy from a Nationalist ghetto, but it is repression that creates the
revolutionary spirit of freedom. I shall not settle until I achieve
liberation of my country, until Ireland becomes a sovereign,
independent socialist republic. ''
When Bobby was sixteen years old he started work as an apprentice
coach builder and joined the National Union of Vehicle Builders and
the ATGWU. In an article printed in 'An Phoblacht/Republican News' on
April 4th, 1981, Bobby recalled: ''Starting work, although frightening
at first became alright, especially with the reward at the end of the
week. Dances and clothes, girls and a few shillings to spend, opened
up a whole new world to me.''
Bobby's background, experiences and ambitions did not differ greatly
from that of the average ghetto youth. Then came 1968 and the events
which were to change his life. Bobby had served two years of his
apprenticeship when he was intimidated out of his job. His sister
Bernadette recalls: "Bobby went to work one morning and these fellows
were standing there cleaning guns. One fellow said to him, 'Do you see
these here, well if you don't go you'll get this' then Bobby also
found a note in his lunch-box telling him to get out."
In June 1972, the family were intimidated out of their home in Doonbeg
Drive, Rathcoole and moved into the newly built Twinbrook estate on
the fringe of nationalist West Belfast. Bernadette again recalled: We
had suffered intimidation for about eighteen months before we were
actually put out. We had always been used to having Protestant
friends. Bobby had gone around with Catholics and Protestants, but it
ended up when everything erupted, that the friends he went about with
for years were the same ones who helped to put his family out of their
As well as being intimidated out of his job and his home being under
threat Bobby also suffered personal attacks from the loyalists.
At eighteen Bobby joined the Republican Movement. Bernadette says: ..
'he was just at the age when he was beginning to become aware of
things happening around him. He more or less just said right, this is
where I'm going to take up. A couple of his cousins had been arrested
and interned. Booby felt that he should get involved and start doing
Bobby himself wrote. "My life now centered around sleepless nights and
stand-bys dodging the Brits and calming nerves to go out on
operations. But the people stood by us. The people not only opened the
doors of their homes to lend us a hand but they opened their hearts to
us. I learned that without the people we could not survive and I knew
that I owed them everything.
In October 1972, he was arrested. Four handguns were found in a house
he was staying in and he was charged with possession. He spent the
next three years in the cages of Long Kesh where he had political
prisoner status. During this time Bobby read widely and taught himself
Irish which he was later to teach the other blanket men in the
Released in 1976 Bobby returned to his family in Twinbrook. He
reported back to his local unit and straight back into the continuing
struggle: 'Quite a lot of things had changed some parts of the ghettos
had completely disappeared and others were in the process of being
removed. The war was still forging ahead although tactics and strategy
had changed. The British government was now seeking to 'Ulsterise' the
war which included the attempted criminalisation of the IRA and
attempted normalisation of the war situation.'
Bobby set himself to work tackling the social issues which affected
the Twinbrook area. Here he became a community activist. According to
Bernadette, 'When he got out of jail that first time our estate had no
Green Cross, no Sinn Fein, nor anything like that. He was involved in
the Tenants' Association... He got the black taxis to run to Twinbrook
because the bus service at that time was inadequate. It got to the
stage where people were coming to the door looking for Bobby to put up
ramps on the roads in case cars were going too fast and would knock
the children down.'
Within six months Bobby was arrested again. There had been a bomb
attack on the Balmoral Furniture Company at Dunmurry, followed by a
gun-battle in which two men were wounded. Bobby was in a car near the
scene with three other young men. The RUC captured them and found a
revolver in the car.
The six men were taken to Castlereagh and were subjected to brutal
interrogations for six days. Bobby refused to answer any questions
during his interrogation, except his name, age and address.
In a ninety-six verse poem written in 1980, entitled 'The Crime of
Castlereagh', Bobby tells of his experiences in Castlereagh and his
fears and thoughts at the time.
They came and came their job the same
In relays N'er they stopped.
'Just sign the line!' They shrieked each time
And beat me 'till I dropped.
They tortured me quite viciously
They threw me through the air.
It got so bad it seemed I had
Been beat beyond repair.
The days expired and no one tired,
Except of course the prey,
And knew they well that time would tell
Each dirty trick they laid on thick
For no one heard or saw,
Who dares to say in Castlereagh
The 'police' would break the law!
He was held on remand for eleven months until his trial in September
1977. As at his previous trial he refused to recognise the court.
The judge admitted there was no evidence to link Bobby, or the other
three young men with him, to the bombing. So the four of them were
sentenced to fourteen years each for possession of the one revolver.
Bobby spent the first twenty-two days of his sentence in solitary
confinement, 'on the boards' in Crumlin Road jail. For fifteen of
those days he was completely naked. He was moved to the H-Blocks and
joined the blanket protest. He began to write for Republican News and
then after February 1979 for the newly-merged An Phobhacht/Republican
News under the pen-name, 'Marcella', his sister's name. His articles
and letters, in minute handwriting, like all communications from the
H-Blocks, were smuggled out on tiny pieces of toilet paper.
He wrote: 'The days were long and lonely. The sudden and total
deprivation of such basic human necessities as exercise and fresh air,
association with other people, my own clothes and things like
newspapers, radio, cigarettes books and a host of other things, made
my life very hard.'
Bobby became PRO for the blanket men and was in constant confrontation
with the prison authorities which resulted in several spells of
solitary confinement. In the H-Blocks, beatings, long periods in the
punishment cells, starvation diets and torture were commonplace as the
prison authorities, with the full knowledge and consent of the British
administration, imposed a harsh and brutal regime on the prisoners in
their attempts to break the prisoners' resistance to criminalisation.
The H-Blocks became the battlefield in which the republican spirit of
resistance met head-on all the inhumanities that the British could
perpetrate. The republican spirit prevailed and in April 1978 in
protest against systematic ill-treatment when they went to the toilets
or got showered, the H-Block prisoners refused to wash or slop-out.
They were joined in this no-wash protest by the women in Armagh jail
in February 1980 when they were subjected to similar harassment.
On October 27th, 1980, following the breakdown of talks between
British direct ruler in the North, Humphrey Atkins, and Cardinal O
Fiaich, the Irish Catholic primate, seven prisoners in the H-Blocks
began a hunger strike. Bobby volunteered for the fast but instead he
succeeded, as O/C, Brendan Hughes, who went on hunger-strike.
During the hunger-strike he was given political recognition by the
prison authorities. The day after a senior British official visited
the hunger-strikers, Bobby was brought half a mile in a prison van
from H3 to the prison hospital to visit them. Subsequently he was
allowed several meetings with Brendan Hughes. He was not involved in
the decision to end the hunger-strike which was taken by the seven men
alone. But later that night he was taken to meet them and was allowed
to visit republican prison leaders in H-Blocks 4, 5 and 6.
On December 19th, 1980, Bobby issued a statement that the prisoners
would not wear prison-issue clothing nor do prison work. He then began
negotiations with the prison governor, Stanley Hilditch, for a
step-by-step de-escalation of the protest.
But the prisoners' efforts were rebuffed by the authorities: 'We
discovered that our good will and flexibility were in vain,' wrote
Bobby. It was made abundantly clear during one of my co-operation'
meetings with prison officials that strict conformity was required.
which in essence meant acceptance of criminal status.
In the H-Blocks the British saw the opportunity to defeat the IRA by
criminalising Irish freedom fighters but the blanketmen, perhaps more
than those on the outside, appreciated before anyone else the grave
repercussions, and so they fought.
Bobby volunteered to lead the new hunger strike. He saw it as a
microcosm of the way the Brits were treating Ireland historically and
presently, Bobby realised that someone would have to die to win
He insisted on starting two weeks in front of the others so that
perhaps his death could secure the five demands and save their lives.
For the first seventeen days of the hunger strike Bobby kept a secret
diary in which he wrote his thoughts and views, mostly in English but
occasionally breaking into Gaelic. He had no fear of death and saw the
hunger-strike as something much larger than the five demands and as
having major repercussions for British rule in Ireland. The diary was
written on toilet paper in biro pen and had to be hidden, mostly
carried inside Bobby's own body. During those first seventeen days
Bobby lost a total of sixteen pounds weight and on Monday, March 23rd,
he was moved to the prison hospital.
On March 30th, he was nominated as candidate for the Fermanagh and
South Tyrone by-election caused by the sudden death of Frank Maguire,
an independent MP who supported the prisoners' cause.
The next morning, day thirty-one, of his hunger-strike, he was visited
by Owen Carron who acted as his election agent. Owen told of that
first visit 'Instead of meeting that young man of the poster with long
hair and a fresh face, even at that time when Bobby wasn't too bad he
was radically changed. He was very thin and bony and his hair was cut
Bobby had no illusions with regard to his election victory. His
reaction was not one of over-optimism. After the result was announced
Owen visited Bobby. "He had already heard the result on the radio. He
was in good form alright but he always used to keep saying, 'In my
position you can't afford to be optimistic.' In other words, he didn't
take it that because he'd won an election that his life would be
saved. He thought that the Brits would need their pound of flesh. I
think he was always working on the premise that he would have to die."
At 1.17 a.m. on Tuesday, May 5th, having completed sixty-five days on
hunger-strike, Bobby Sands MP, died in the H-Block prison hospital at
Long Kesh. Bobby was a truly unique person whose loss is great and
immeasurable. He never gave himself a moment to spare. He lived his
life energetically, dedicated to his people and to the republican
cause, eventually offering up his life in a conscious effort to
further that cause and the cause of those with whom he had shared
almost eight years of his adult life. In his own words: "of course can
be murdered but I remain what I am, a political POW and no-one, not
even the British, can change that."
The article appreciates the help of Chris Hedges author. - Calling All Rebels