Who was Bobby Sands

Bobby Sands was an Irish Nationalist who led a hunger strike from prison in 1981. During the hunger strike he was elected a Member of Parliament for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency winning a very impressive 30,493 first preference votes. Bobby Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike on May 5th 1981. Testament to the support he earned was the estimated attendance  of 100,000 mourners at his funeral.

Born in 1954, Sands grew up in a divided Belfast nationalist & loyalist community. Alienated and betrayed by those who governed that part of Ireland Sands joined the IRA at the age of 18. Bobby was first arrested for possession of a firearm and subsequently arrested and convicted for the same offence for which he received a 14 year jail term. In prison Sands embarked on a hunger strike that led to his death, he left behind a son, Gerard, as well as a wider bereaved family and community.

The motivation for the hunger strike was the British government had introduced a new policy classifying republican activists as common criminals, previous to this they had special "political" status. Despite negotiations, demands and several other types of protest the British government, and Margaret Thatcher, would not change their stance and were determined to criminalise republicans. Sands, along with the wider nationalist base, could not accept this and 10 men sacrificed their lives in order to restore political status. Special Status was restored in the end but not until the 10 activists had died and an ever wider wedge had been driven between the communities in the process.

Part of Bobby Sands' legacy is that he initiated the process of leading republican activism down the route of electoral politics, but a politics that was fairer and balanced and no longer one dominated by Unionist opinion. It is crucial that this route remains dynamic and moves towards the final agreed settlement desired by the majority who live on this island.