Northern Ireland news

North's political landscape 'changed in Bobby Sands's cell'

IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands (27) died 40 years ago today. Picture by Pacemaker

Jim Gibney can still remember the moment he realised that Bobby Sands should stand as an MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

"We were having difficulties getting a public focus on the hunger strike," the veteran republican said.

"The British government, during the first hunger strike, gave updates at the dispatch box about the medical condition of the prisoners who were on strike.

"During the second hunger strike they said they wouldn't do that.

"When Frank Maguire MP, who was a great supporter of the prisoners, died, the idea just came into my head immediately... that if there was a by-election that we should stand Bobby Sands."

Mr Gibney said Sands was supportive of the plan.

"I remember speaking to him about it and he said to me that he was grateful that people were supporting him and putting him forward in that way," he said.

Read More: Bobby Sands's death 40 years ago was the 'watershed of the Troubles'

"But he didn't expect that it would have any influence on the British government. He thought they would let him die anyway rather than give (republican prisoners) political status."

Sands was later elected as MP with more than 30,000 votes.

The election was the first Mr Gibney and many republicans had been involved in.

"I remember going round ... with Mrs Sands and Marcella (a sister of Bobby) and people who came up to them said they voted to save Bobby's life," he said.

He added: "I certainly believed that it (Sands's election) would be enough for the British government to (make concessions to prisoners... (Prime Minister Margaret) Thatcher dug in and she let Bobby die and nine others."

At 1.17am today, the time of Sands's death, Mr Gibney and a small group of friends will say a decade of the Rosary at a memorial to Sands in Twinbrook, west Belfast.

"It'll be a sad day for his family and a sad day for republicans of my generation who remember and worked with Bobby," he said yesterday.

He added: "It was a hugely politically significant hunger strike. 1981 is about the hunger strike but it is also about electoral politics with Sinn Féin coming out and contesting elections.

"It was a change that took place in Bobby Sands's cell."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news