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So Why Did We Strike?

Brendan Hughes

What are we doing in Stormont going through this degrading charade?  Have we accepted that because we may have lost the military war we must also humiliate ourselves and abandon the political war?  Have we accepted that Stormont is now okay; that the RUC is no longer rotten if Patten is implemented?  Have we accepted that we are really British after all?  Is it not more true to say that we have deluded ourselves and our own people by pretending that we have won a better deal for the working people of Ireland?  As a fellow blanket protester has said -- all of this is the British government's alternative to republicanism.  What are we doing accepting it?

I am not advocating dumb militarism or a return to war.  Never in the history of republicanism was so much sacrificed and so little gained; too many left dead and too few achievements.  Let us think most strongly before going down that road again.  I am simply questioning the wisdom of administering British rule in this part of Ireland.  I am asking what happened to the struggle in all Ireland - what happened to the idea of a thirty-two county socialist republic.  That, after all, is what it was all about.  Not about participating in a northern administration that closes hospitals and attacks the teachers' unions.  I am asking why we are not fighting for and defending the rights of ordinary working people - for better wages and working conditions.  Does thirty years of struggle boil down to a big room at Stormont, ministerial cars, dark suits and the implementation of the British Patten Report?

What has been shown here is that no matter what Nationalist politicians say about all of this they merely spend what the British allow them.  Their grasp on political power is no stronger than my grasp on special category status.  One morning in January 1978 I was the 'officer in charge of the republican prisoners' in Long Kesh; in the afternoon I was '704 Hughes' by edict of the British government.  In the morning I was a political prisoner - in the afternoon the British deemed me a criminal and left me naked in the H Blocks.  The nationalists' power at Stormont, like my clothes, the British consider to be a privilege - something to be taken away at any time.  All republicans have gained are smoke and mirrors and nothing of substance.  The British control the show and are always willing to follow the logic of the unionists.

It seems now that we have even reached the stage, as in Animal Farm, where some republicans are more equal than others.  If the reports from Stormont are correct then it would seem that a senior member of Sinn Fein - who would proclaim himself quite green - has discriminated against other republicans on the false tactical grounds that they 'are too identifiably republican' to be employed in the Sinn Fein ministries.

For thirty years we sought to destroy this bastion of hatred and bigotry.  Throughout its history the British fed it and bred it.  Are we really expected to believe that the British alternative to republicanism - the Good Friday Agreement - will see Britain destroy its own baby? I don't think so.

If, as some tell us, a united, just and egalitarian Ireland is so close why are there still republicans taking up arms and risking their lives in order to achieve it?  Are we going to be part of an administration that tortures and interns them?  Where will it end?  Twenty years ago this month a hunger strike began in the H Blocks of Long Kesh.  Twenty years on there are republicans in prison such as Tommy Crossan. British troops are still on the streets; the RUC are still there, whether Royal Ulster Constabulary or Patten Ulster Constabulary.

Our experience up to now has been humiliating.  We have danced to every tune; broke every promise ever made; pursued all the policies we used to term others 'collaborators' for pursuing; and have dressed it all up as something progressive in order to deceive our base.  Have we merely proved the old adage that the first casualty of war is the truth?

I understand that articles like this written by people like me cause annoyance to some fellow republicans. That is unfortunate but so be it. It is my very republicanism that causes me to speak out just as it did during those long and lonely years on protest.  My republicanism then was legitimate - it is no less legitimate today.  Twenty years ago they called me a fenian bastard.  I remain an unrepentant fenian bastard.  My republicanism and hunger strike were against British rule.  I still refuse to conform to it or the views of those now administering it.



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