To what extent did the hunger strikes in Northern Ireland become the most successful tactic for the progression of Nationalist aims?

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To what extent did the hunger strikes in Northern Ireland become the most successful tactic for the progression of Nationalist aims?

The Nationalist struggle in Northern Ireland is known for its use of violence and bombing, in a campaign that has claimed hundreds of lives. However, these were not the only tactics used by the Nationalists, and political “mind games” have set the agenda. In an on-going battle with the British government, the prisoners of the H Block in Maze Prison started the dirty and blanket protests. This would inevitably lead to the hunger strikes, as previous the protests were of no real concern to the British Government. Public interest would eventually wear off, and so by putting their prisoners lives on the rail, and holding the British responsible, the nationalists could gain far more publicity and put far more pressure on the Thatcher Government. Ten men would die as a consequence of this strike, a protest towards the status of the prisoners and the treatment of Nationalists by the British. From the initial hunger strike on the 27th October 1980 to the election of Bobby Sands as M.P in April 1981 and his death in later that year, the hungers strike gained worldwide support for the Nationalists, and condemned Thatcher and her government. But were the hunger strikes the most successful tactic used by the Nationalists? Is it possible that the bombing campaigns and marches were more hard-hitting at the British Government, or did the voluntary death of ten young prisoners help further their cause more so then any other approach?

Between the years 1920 and 1921 Ireland was involved in the War of Independence and Partition and as a result the government of Ireland proclaimed a partition. The twenty-six southern counties of Ireland became the ‘Irish Free State’ and the six northeastern counties remained part of Britain. Ireland has a history riddled in violence and struggle between Protestants and Catholics and whether or not to remain under control of the British Government. The religious differences became the main reason for such struggles. When Northern Ireland was left under the control of Britain, it became usual practice for the unwilling Catholics to be subject to prejudice and inequality when searching for jobs and housing. NICRA (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association) was set up in 1967 as a peaceful organisation that would campaign for equality in Ireland. Their tactics usually consisted of marches, however when a march was announced by NICRA for the 5th October 1968, the Apprentice Boys Of Derry (the protestant fraternal organisation heavily opposed to NICRA) announced a march for the same day and along the same route, in an attempt to get the civil rights march banned, to which the Northern Ireland Home Affairs Minister obliged. So in August 1969, when the Apprentice Boys of Derry decided to hold a parade, the nationalists came out to protest against the march. Severe riots broke out, lasting nearly two days, subsequently meaning over a thousand police were needed to break up the crowd. These riots are known as the “Battle of the Bogside” and considered the start of the troubles in Ireland. The opposition to the nationalist was far too intense (John Hume, the leader of the SDLP from 1979 said, “I grew up in Derry and it was the worst example of Northern Ireland's discrimination.”) and perhaps these marches were too radical, thus causing violence and perhaps being the main cause for the beginning of the violence.

The People’s Democracy was set up as an alternative to NICRA. They were a political organisation who believed that such civil rights campaigned for by NICRA could only be achieved through the establishment of a  republic for all of . They were formed after an attack on a NICRA march prior to Bogside, in 1968. Their demand was for a more radical reform to the Northern Irish Government. In January 1969, 40 People's Democracy members held a four-day march between  and Derry. The march was contoinually attacked by  during its progression along the route, including an incident at  when the marchers were attacked by almost 200  and off-duty  with iron bars, stones and glass bottles. Despite the movements attempt to bring socialist changes to the country, even by joining with a Dublin based socialist group, the rise in popularity of Sinn Fein after the hunger strikes caused extreme problems for the party, most of the members leaving to join Sinn Fein. So, their attempts at progressing the nationalists aims were also unsuccessful, and because many members of the People’s Democracy wanted to join Sinn Fein after the hunger strikes, that would suggest that the strikes had been successful in gaining support eve from within other organistations in the nationalist community.

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In December 1969 the IRA (Irish Republic Army) announced a spilt between the official and provisional sectors of the organization. This was the birth of the Provisional IRA, responsible for the bombing campaigns in Ireland and Britain, and where majority of the prisoners in the H Blocks originated. But away from these bombing campaigns, the official wing of the IRA began a cease-fire between the Provisional IRA and the British Government was reached later that year. From the book ‘Blanketmen’ by Richard O’Rawe “Sinn Fein, the political wing of the republican movement would eventually grow to replace the ...

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