Could Be One Step Away

Guest writer former Blanket columnist Dr John Coulter analyses if dissident republicans have the capacity to stage a successful hunger strike campaign in the future in the wake of the stopping of the Maghaberry dirty protest.

Dissident republicans could be one step away from plunging Ireland back more than 30 years by replacing their recently ended Maghaberry jail dirty protest with a full-blown hunger strike, especially with the prestigious and high profile G8 conference coming to Fermanagh in 2013.

One by one, the various dissident factions held in Maghaberry jail decided to end their dirty protest begun in May 2011. Was the killing of Maghaberry prison officer David Black the final straw which backfired and forced republicans to end the dirty protest, or did it bring matters to a head and force the authorities into secret talks with dissidents?
Looking back three decades, the common perception is that the Provo leadership had already secured its basic demands from British Premier Maggie Thatcher in 1981 after Bobby Sands and four of his fellow Maze prisoners had died.
However, the 1980 hunger strike IRA leader Brendan Hughes suggested before he died years later that the Provo leadership deliberately let another five republican inmates die simply to milk the publicity to launch the Shinners’ election bandwagon.
The hunger strike has proved to be a potent weapon for republicans over the generations.
While dissident republicans are miles behind the Shinners politically and militarily, a high profile hunger strike could have the potential to covert the drip, drip of support to dissident groups into a flood.
In 1981, republicans managed to mobilise around 100,000 people to attend Sands’ funeral. H Block activists were so well organised they got hunger strikers elected to Westminster and Leinster House.
Stormont deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness could come to regret unveiling that he is to give up his ultra-safe Mid Ulster Commons seat.
Given his impressive Westminster majority along with the constituency boasting three equally high-profile MLAs, including farming boss Michelle O’Neill, and a split Unionist vote, the chances of Sinn Fein losing the seat are next to impossible.
But if the dissidents in Maghaberry jail launch a hunger strike before the Mid Ulster by-election or to coincide with G8 summit and put up a well-known prisoner – particular one with former Provo links – it could place a significant dent in the Shinners’ Northern peace strategy.
However, even if the dissidents manage to muster up a couple of well known names to begin a death fast, there is always the fear the legion of very skilled Sinn Fein spin doctors could hijack their campaign.
It should never be forgotten that while a broad church of republican and nationalist opinion in Ireland backed the Sands and company death fast, the only party to truly benefit from the hunger strikers was Sinn Fein.
The dissident dirty protest had a relatively low media profile. Was the lack of publicity deliberately engineered by pro-peace process republicans to prevent dissidents from gaining ground politically from the Shinners?

After all, previous dissident electoral support – especially from the group Concerned Republicans – failed to make any real impact on the Sinn Fein vote as the key republican task became ensuring that Martin McGuinness secured at least the deputy First Minister’s slot.

Dissident sources also want to try and wrestle the new generation of post ceasefire nationalist young people away from Sinn Fein and back to the traditional republican agenda.   

If dissidents could spark a fresh hunger strike, they believe that “young people would be anxious to how their support”, according to one veteran republican.

He said the three big recruiting pivots for the republican movement were internment, Bloody Sunday, and the hunger strikes.

For the dissidents, their seemingly insurmountable barriers of current political obscurity and start-stop terror campaign could be overcome if a hunger strike was used to ‘up their profile’ as the battle begins within republicanism as to who are the true inheritors of the 1916 Proclamation. 

The hard question for dissidents is – are there enough republicans willing to die for this specific cause?


  1. I wonder is John some sort of mixing fucker ever egging on militant republicans to another level,like Mickeybroy used to and still does to a lesser degree these days ,John the republican movement did indeed gain massive support through internment,and bloody Sunday,the bloody ,ignornant destructive attitude of the so called security forces in dealing with the nationalist people on a daily basis helped,wrecking homes torture and collusion and murder all assisted the prm recruitment,the election success around the hunger strikes was not down to superb organisational skills but sheer hard graft by ordinary people on the ground desperately trying to do something to save those brave young lads from dying,and the people voted for the same reason, I for one hope that common sense has got through to those in power here and taken steps to stop this prison crisis getting right out of hand,it should never even have gone as far as it did and the death of po Black ,well that responsibility lies just as much with the politicians,justice dept and sectarian screws as it does with those who shot him,we need to be encouraging those of influence on both sides here to pull back and think where this could go rather than you John and others cranking it up,one thing for sure John you wont get your hands dirty,

  2. Dr John Coulter-

    " The Provo leadership had already
    secured its basic demands from british maggie thatcher in 1981 "

    John is saying that the hunger strike worked and the prisoners got their demands and thatcher sold out-
    Republicans have known this for over 30 years- now the only way that coulter hopes Sinn Fein gets beat in the mid-ulster by-election is if the dissidents hold a hunger-strike at the same time and keep on
    being on hunger strike during the G8 conference next year-all because the unionists have not a hope in hell of winning because they are running 3 different canidates in that race- Politics would not be a strong point for Dr john no -

  3. Marty,

    I don't believe John is mixing at all. I feel it is a legitimate exercise to paint these scenarios in the interests of free inquiry. There is always the danger - even minus any intent - that things like this can become a self fulfilling prophecy. But armed republicanism is not so ignorant as not to have seen this type of scenario pop up on the strategic horizon when it surveys its options. Because it pops up does not mean it becomes welcome by those who still subscribe to armed republicanism. In fact I would imagine that many of these people are sick at how the committee saw six of the hunger strikers done for and would shirk at emulating it.

  4. I for one would do not agree to see a hunger strike on the basis of G8 coming here or resurecting military campaign.. I beleive it would be pointless as the media would paint over it just like they have done with the dirty protest and any other protest to these super rich elite. Just look around the world on campaigns against austerity measures, pure whitewash, minimal coverage.You have to remember you are dealing with a pro elite media propaganda machine. Deaths would come and suffering of families. I beleive it would be futile. As I beleve SF are cute enough to learn from the Official movement on the Hungerstrikes not to go down the road of no support, with the costs involved with their organisational efforts to progress. What you would get is SF stating we are trying to end this through dialogue, media manipulation, sham, and down right stage lie management in public and a lot of back room spin doctor/PR in effect they dont care. It would be hijacked without a doubt by SF and the media at the cost of the lives involved. I havenot got a answer for what is going on, but I dont beleive a hunger strike to be the solution, then again, some may see it differently from me. I also beleive SF have worked out a strategy for this, it is primed and ready for operational use. Certainly with not the prisioners involved thats for sure.

  5. Last line should have read, not with the prisioners interests in mind. bloody typos.

  6. Dr John Coulter's analysis of Republicanism is characteristic Dr Hackenbush - "Either he's dead or my watch has stopped!"

    Also Dr John, It was Richard O'Rawe who said that Adams had allowed 6 men to die on Hunger Strike for political gain not Brendan Hughes.

  7. John, why do you call them dissidents (I'm serious)?

    I read Suzanne Breen, Brian Rowan, Henry McD. etc interviews by armed republicans and they all say that they have learnt from the mistakes of the past and a hunger strike I think today is a no brainer. No one wins.

    Don't get wrong John, I understand you thinking about anti PRM prisoners calling a hunger strike. It's not going to happen (not for the reasons you said at least..Deffo never because the G8(<---That should be exploited for what it really is).

    Was the killing of Maghaberry prison officer David Black the final straw which backfired and forced republicans to end the dirty protest, or did it bring matters to a head and force the authorities into secret talks with dissidents?

    Personally I think it brought it to a head.

    John why don't you use your time to explain why people in 'protestant' areas haven't a pot to piss in? Why do you talk about what dissident Irish republicans may or may not do (neither of us know)?

    Explain to people like myself why the GFA hasn't changed the life of the working class protestant community, instead of fanning flames, sowing seeds or other...!!!

  8. I have to say this, I believe John is shit stirring, also, I am of the opinion that after the Death of Not so White , Mr Black, the horns were well pulled in, they got the message, "Fuck with us and pay the ultimate price".


  9. Please bombard NI SOS Villers with emails (website below) asking her to allow McGeough to be taken to hospital immediately to be assessed for a CABG i.e. a by-pass.

    A London cardiologist has clearly stated that Gerry McGeough is literally in mortal danager now of a third and final heart attack. It is essential for Gerry to be assessed immediately.

    Gerry is up for release early 2013 - ask Villers to please to act on the above at once.

    Thank you.

  10. From Marty:

    Anthony I keep getting postmaster notification failure on that e-mail

  11. Marty,

    I accidentally deleted your comment so reposted it above.

    I don't know what is wrong but I have let Helen know

  12. The chief cuntsnotable Batt Maggott has said that those responsible for the recent rioting will be arrested ..does he mean MI5 or those well paid loyalist community workers...if republicans had been engaged in that violence we would 1..have dead bodies,2..hospitals filled with injured..3 the jail would be overflowing with people on remand...but hey its just norn iorn for ya same old same old..

  13. James,

    SF have stepped into the pro treaty shoes of Cumann na nGaedheal. It allowed anti-Treaty prisoners to die on hunger strike. Don’t be surprised at SF doing likewise.


    John, why do you call them dissidents (I'm serious)?
    I see nothing wrong with being a dissident. The problem here is the inflexion. Being a self-defined dissident is fine, being ‘called’ a dissident by somebody else can be a different matter. The term has acquired a negative feel because of positioning by the media and SF. It has been manipulated into equating with armed violence. I am happy to be termed a republican dissident. In a monarchy republicans will always be dissidents; in a British administered Ireland republicans will always be dissidents. SF are not dissidents because they are not republican.

  14. Anthony,

    If Bobby Sands were alive today doing what he did then SF would be labelling him a dangerous dissident who should be made amenable to the law.

    I've read articles by the PRM saying that if Bobby Sands was alive today he'd be pro GFA. He opposed the the leadership over the prison issue (kinda makes him and the other hunger strikers the first dissidents within modern Irish republicanism), as you rightly say who's to say he wouldn't do the same concerning the GFA and the policing board. ( from what I've read about him, I agree with your thinking he in all probability would have).

    The speed SF went into over drive to have Padric Wilson released while discarding republicans such as Gerry McGeough, Marian Price, Martin Corey and the rest of prisoners who oppose their veiws by the side of the road, in a nut shell, smacks of hypocrisy.