Irish Hunger Strikes

Topics: Northern Ireland, Ireland, Sinn Féin Pages: 5 (1843 words) Published: March 22, 2011
Social movements, whether local or international, over small issues or policies affecting millions of people across several countries or continents always stem from continuing and pervasive social forces that create tensions and stresses which push individuals and organizations into mobilization and action supportive of change, thus creating the social movement. Both the Irish hunger strikes and protests over sovereignty for Quebec were directed and catalyzed by such social forces. The hunger strikes that culminated a 5 year protest by Republican prisoners was, as the political nature of the prisoners would have us assume, fuelled by clashing political ideologies and threatened national identities. The Quebec protest, although perhaps similar in concept, was distinct in many forms from the Irish struggle. Quebec saw a widely reported and well known protest take place across the country, as opposed to the originally much less publicized hunger strikes in Ireland. The protests in Quebec included intense violence as well as great restraint in respect of democracy and diplomacy, whereas the Irish Hunger Strikes did not directly involve violence, although they boosted the recruitment and level of IRA activity. The availability of resources also, as in all social movements, played a crucial role in the development of the protest in Quebec, and as a consequence of the protest in Ireland. Nationalism and feelings of alienation led the actions of those involved in the two social movements, and ultimately both protests became major events in the histories of each movement’s struggle. The political nature of the strikes by Irish Republican Army and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners was rooted in the ongoing conflict that had been taking place across Northern Ireland between Irish paramilitary groups and the United Kingdom. In 1976, the British parliament removed the special status of prisoners who had been incarcerated in relation to the struggle, therefore putting them in the general population and officially labelling them as criminals, rather than prisoners of war. The prisoners, wishing to remain under the title of captured soldiers, refused to be considered criminals and serve sentences under British law, and therefore chose to show the distinction between themselves and the common criminals who were incarcerated by wearing their bed sheets rather than the prison uniforms, and continued to do so despite being moved to solitary confinement for their refusal to cooperate (Howard, 2006:70). This first protest, known as the “Blanket Protest” which eventually escalated into the “Dirty Protest” and then two hunger strikes, reflects the fundamental political beliefs of the Irish prisoners. The social movement shown in the actions of the strikers, and the protests they eventually inspired, is the pervasive nationalist ideology seen in Ireland as well as Quebec. As described by John Wilson, the tensions in Northern Ireland were also heightened by religious differences, which widened the gap between the ideologies of the British and the unionist Irish, and the republicans who sought a unification of the whole island of Ireland. (Wilson, 2007:397). The disadvantaged position of Catholics fuelled existing opposition to the partition of Ireland on ideological and political grounds. Consequently the newly named police force…was charged with policing a divided society within a contested state, the political legitimacy of which was challenged by a sizable minority of the population (ibid). This is a circumstance unique to Ireland’s struggle when compared to that of Quebec. The protests and separatist ideologies of Quebec were never greatly influenced, founded upon, or even noticeably affected by the idea of religion, whether or not any difference in religions or religious practices existed in Quebec when compared to Canada as a whole. The hunger strikes of the republican prisoners signified a culmination of the protest, and a show of the...

Cited: Howard, P. (2006). The Long Kesh Hunger Strikers: 25 Years Later. Social Justice, 33(4), 69-91.
McVeigh, R., & Rolston, B. (2009). Civilising the Irish. Race and Class, 51(1), 2-28.
Stevenson, G. (2004). The politics of remembrance in Irish and Quebec nationalism. Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue Canadienne De Science Politique, 37(4), 903-925.
Wilson, J. et al. (2007). The discourse of resistance: Social change and policing in Northern Ireland. Language in Society, 36(3, pp. 393-425).
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