Sands, (‘Bobby’) Robert (b. 1954)
Republican Activist; 1981 Hunger Strike; Anti-H-Block MP April 1981 – May 1981
Bobby Sands was born in Belfast and lived with his family in the Rathcoole estate in north Belfast until 1972 when they were forced from their home and then moved to the Twinbrook estate in west Belfast. Soon after these events he joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In 1973 Sands was arrested on arms charges and went onto serve five years in the Maze Prison. Following his release in 1976 he soon became involved once again in paramilitary activity and in 1977 Sands was re-arrested having been found in possession of weapons. After his trial he received a 14 year sentence and returned the Maze Prison. By this time however the prison regime in Ireland’s North had undergone a radical change with the British government having abolished in 1976 special category status for anyone convicted of terrorist activities after that year. As a consequence in the autumn 1976 republican prisoners had begun to take action in protest at the move and as a result on his arrival in the Maze in 1977 Sands joined in this action.
However these initial efforts made little headway and as a result the decision was taken to escalate the action in October 1980 when a number of prisoners began a hunger strike. During this time Sands had assumed the position of leader of IRA prisoners in the jail and when the first hunger strike ended in December 1980 without a clear settlement, he chose to lead another hunger strike which commenced on 1 March 1981. On 5 May 1981, the 66th day of his fast, he became the first of ten hunger strikers who were to die without immediately securing their demands from the British government. Instead Sands was to leave a more important legacy in that in March 1981 he had been nominated to stand as an “Anti-H-Block” candidate in the Westminster by-election for the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. His subsequent victory in April 1981 not only gave impetus to the prison protests but provided a boost to certain elements within the Republican movement. In particular it strengthed the hands of those who were anxious for it to engage in a sustained effort to develop an electoral base in order to sustain their strategic goal of securing Irish unification.
POSTED ON BEHALF OF : Irish Republican History & Remembrance.
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