"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."
"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."
"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."
"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?"
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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
"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."
" …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."