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Letters to the Editor

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"Just what did the voters of Northern Ireland mean by electing an imprisoned nationalist guerilla to the British Parliament? To some, the victory of Robert Sands constitutes an endorsement of the Irish Republican Army and its bloody ways. Some bitter-enders may even hope, ghoulishly, that Mr. Sands will persist to the death in his 53-day prison hunger strike. But his death would be a tragedy serving no purpose, and to view his election as a mandate for violence is a shallow distortion."
     "Prisoner Sands, Member of Parilament"
      New York Times, 22 April 1981, 26:1

"Bobby Sands' use of the non-violent tactic of the hunger strike has been far more successful in evoking public interest and support than is deserved. It has won him election, while in prison in Belfast, to the British parliament. It has made him a hero to supporters of Irish unification on both sides of the Atlantic...

Mahatma Gandhi used the hunger strike to move his countrymen to abstain from fratricide. Bobby Sands' deliberate slow suicide is intended to precipitate civil war. The former deserved veneration and influence. The latter would be viewed, in a reasonable world, not as a charismatic martyr but as a fanatical suicide, whose regrettable death provides no sufficient occasion for killing others."
     "Bobby Sands and Mahatma Gandhi"
      Chicago Tribune, 28 April 1981, 1-15

"On the question of principle, Britain's prime minister Thatcher is right in refusing to yield political status to Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army hunger striker. But this dying young man has made it appear that her stubbornness, rather than his own, is the source of a fearful conflict already ravaging Northern Ireland. For that, Mrs. Thatcher is partly to blame. By appearing unfeeling and unresponsive, she and her Government are providing Bobby Sands with a death-bed gift-the crown of martyrdom."
      "Britain's Gift to Bobby Sands"
       New York Times, 29 April 1981, 26:1

"The death of Bobby Sands, a self-starved prisoner in Belfast, can be expected to have consequences for many in Northern Ireland. Why has he not been kept alive by forced feeding?...If forced feeding could deny Irish nationalists the incendiary martyrdom they seek, why has the United Kingdom government not used it?"
     "Bobby Sands' fast"
      Chicago Tribune, 30 April 1981, 1-15-2-E

"As they did with Kevin Barry, executed at 18 by the British in 1920, poets will write sad songs of Bobby Sands, filling American saloons with late-night tears and beers...Ireland does not need more sad songs. Ireland does not need more martyrs. The slow suicide attempt of Bobby Sands has cast his land and his cause into another downward spiral of death and despair. There are no heroes in the saga of Bobby Sands."
      "The Saga of Bobby Sands"
       Boston Globe, 3 May 1981, A6

"Sands' decision to seek martyrdom and the decision of some other imprisoned IRA guerillas to also become hunger strikers constitute a test of will between the outlawed IRA and the British government which is now working cooperatively with the Republic of Ireland to seek alleviation of the Ulster problem. And some observers see the hunger strikes as a deliberate attempt to raise tensions throughout Ireland and thus prevent meaningful progress in these talks...

The demands appear harmless enough, perhaps even trivial. And many view the British government's response as heartless and inhumane. That government, however, would have been in the position of admitting to the world that it held prisoners because of their political beliefs and not because they had violated criminal statutes.

Terrorism goes far beyond the expression of political belief. And dealing with it does not allow for compromise as many countries of Western Europe and United States have learned. The bombing of bars, hotels, restaurants, robbing of banks, abductions and killings of prominent figures are all criminal acts and must be dealt with by criminal law."
      "The Death of Bobby Sands"
       San Francisco Chronicle, 6 May 1981

"With the technical balance of power in the Dail resting with six independents - "highly individualistic," one commentator calls them - it may be at least a week before Haughey or rival Fine Gael leader Garret Fitzgerald can form a government. The emotional balance of power, however, is likely to rest with Paddy Agnew and Kieran Doherty. The two H-Block prisoners will not be able to take their seats in the Dail, but their brooding absence - and the 10 percent of the overall vote which they and seven other IRA prisoners received - is certain to force a change in Ireland's policy toward the hunger strikers and toward the entire Ulster question."
      "…And the H-Blocks pull"
       Boston Globe, 16 June 1981, 14

"Gunmen, either in or out of prison, cannot resolve the Northern Ireland problem. Yet the British government has to recognize more clearly than it has yet done that the hunger strikers have temporarily seized the propaganda and psychological initiative. Until the furies of the hunger strikers are dissipated or attention deflected from them by constructive political action, the hope for any peaceful progress in the North is going to be further damaged."
      "Ireland's New Leader"
       Boston Globe, 2 July 1981, 10

"The hunger strike has ended, and as all the world knows, it has ended in a tremendous victory for the Irish people…Ten young Irishmen have made the world aware that the Irish people still fight and die to free their country. Seven months ago the British told the world that Irish Republicans have no popular support. The world then saw dying men elected to both the Westminster and Dublin Parliament and tens of thousands walked behind them to their graves. The British said these men were criminals and the world saw ten men die for the freedom of their country-a death which no criminal ever died. The British claimed that the British presence in Ireland is legitimate and the world saw that British rule was itself the criminal element in Ireland. Seven months ago, the news reporters spoke of 'Irish terrorists' and now they speak of Irish nationalists fighting to end British rule. Even the Anglophilic New York Times listed international support, financial support from America and numbers of British people demanding British withdrawal as accomplishments of the hunger strikers."
      "Hunger Strike Victory"
       Irish People, 10 October 1981, 4

" …the government in London should learn from the strike that the problems of Ulster will not go away by being ignored. Until Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recognizes the need for persistent and concentrated statemanship in Northern Ireland, nothing will be accomplished other than more of the military-oriented stopgaps that have done nothing so far but keep a kind of leaky lid on the explosive province. Until the two main communities are brought together in a consensual arrangement of self-government, the extremists of both sides will be able to use everything from terror to hunger strikes to keep tensions high."
     Chicago Tribune, 12 October 1981, 1-18


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