Looking Back in Anger

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Interviews with those involved in the hunger strikes

Bik McFarlane spent more than half of his adult life imprisoned by the British. During the hunger strikes of 1981 he was the OC (officer commanding) in the H-Blocks. He was one of 38 Republican prisoners to escape from the prison in 1983.

"The British government intended the H-Blocks to be the 'breakers' yard' for the Republican movement," says McFarlane. "They saw prisoners as the most vulnerable section of the movement and they set out to break them.

1981: Fighting Britain's Guantanamo

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Twenty five years ago Irish Republicans in British jails were fighting for the right to be considered political prisoners. Brutalised and abused they turned to a weapon of last resort, a hunger strike. Simon Basketter tells the story of their struggle.

The Guantanamo Bay prison camp - where orange jump-suited prisoners lie caged, blindfolded and held without trial - sums up the brutality of the "war on terror". Yet this regime has failed to crush the spirit of resistance among the detained. Their hunger strikes so terrified those who control the camp that they described them as unfair, an act of "asymmetric warfare". Most British politicians, even those who are still pro-war, have been forced to call for Guantanamo's closure, suggesting it is an aberration that would not occur under any British command.

Northern Ireland: A Movement Going Nowhere Fast

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The IRA's recent withdrawal of their offer to put their arms 'beyond use' might have been expected to cause widespread panic about the future of the peace process. Yet after some initial alarm, there is a feeling of 'business as usual' or rather a lack of business.

All the initial enthusiasm for the peace process has waned and been replaced by a frustrating impasse. There is no doubt that the various shades of Ulster Unionists, all too often assisted by the acquiescence of the British government, have been mainly responsible for this.

David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party, while apparently in favour of the process, continually placed obstacles and barriers to progress. As Sinn Fein and the IRA either conformed or attempted to compromise in the face of their intransigence, Trimble kept inventing new barriers and demands.

Trouble and Strike

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Review of 'The Secret History of the IRA', Ed Moloney, Penguin £20 and 'Sinn Fein', Brian Feeney, O'Brian £11.99

These are two very different but equally invaluable books charting the tortured journey of contemporary Irish Republicanism towards constitutional politics. They are particularly illuminating about the transformation of the Provisional IRA from its pursuit of armed struggle against the British presence to ministerial office in the Stormont Assembly following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which at the time of writing has been suspended for the second time in recent years.

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