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The Hunger Strike of 1981
- A Chronology of Main Events



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Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh

Thursday 12 February 1976
Frank Stagg, a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), died after 61 days on hunger strike in Wakefield Prison, Yorkshire, England. Stagg had been on hunger strike in protest at the British government's refusal to transfer him to a prison in Northern Ireland.

Monday 1 March 1976
End of Special Category Status Prisoners
Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, announced that those people convicted of causing terrorist offences would no longer be entitled to special category status. In other words they were to be treated as ordinary criminals. [This was part of a process, which some commentators called 'criminalisation', which saw the British government move from trying to reach a settlement with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to treating the conflict. On 14 September 1976 Kieran Nugent was the first prisoner to be sentenced under the new regime and he refused to wear prison clothes choosing instead to wrap a blanket around himself. So started the 'Blanket Protest'.]

Tuesday 14 September 1976 (?)
'Blanket Protest' Began
Kieran Nugent was the first prisoner to be sentenced under the new prison regime introduced on 1 March 1976 which meant that he would not receive special category status. Nugent was sent to the new 'H-Blocks' of the Maze Prison where he refused to wear prison clothes choosing instead to wrap a blanket around himself. [This marked the beginning of the 'Blanket Protest'. This protest was to culminate in the hunger strikes of 1981 when 10 Republican prisoners died. Eventually many of the elements of special category status such as, no uniforms, free association and no prison work, were conceded to paramilitary prisoners.]

Sunday 30 July 1978
Tomás Ó Fiaich, Catholic Primate of Ireland, paid a visit to Republican prisoners in the Maze Prison. The prisoners were taking part in the 'blanket protest'. [Over 300 Republican prisoners were refusing to wear prison clothes or follow normal prison regulations in an attempt to secure a return of special category status.]

Tuesday 1 August 1978
Tomás Ó Fiaich, Catholic Primate of Ireland, who had paid a visit to Republican prisoners in the Maze Prison on 30 July 1978, issued a statement saying that the prisoners engaged in the 'blanket protest' where living in 'inhuman' conditions. [At this stage of the 'blanket protest' over 300 Republican prisoners were refusing to wear prison clothes or follow normal prison regulations. This protest was an attempt to secure a return of special category status for people convicted of politically motivated crimes.]

Wednesday 5 March 1980
Tomás Ó Fiaich, then Catholic Primate of Ireland, and Edward Daly, then Bishop of Derry (?), held a meeting with Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to express their concerns about conditions within the Maze Prison.

Wednesday 26 March 1980
Announcement of End to Special Category Status
It was announced that as from 1 April 1980 there would be no entitlement to special category status for members of paramilitary organisations regardless of when the crimes had been committed. [A policy change announced in March 1976 had ended special category status to people sentenced after that date for scheduled offences. The decision to end special category privileges for paramilitary prisoners led to a protest campaign by Republicans in prisons across Northern Ireland. The protests began on 15 September 1976 when Kieran Nugent refused to wear prison issue clothes and covered himself with a blanket; hence the 'blanket protest'. The protest was to escalate and led eventually to two hunger strikes, one in 1980 and the most serious in 1981.]

Wednesday 11 June 1980
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) issued a statement that threatened to renew attacks on prison officers.

Thursday 19 June 1980
The European Commission on Human Rights rejected a case brought on behalf of Republican prisoners taking part in the 'blanket protest' at the Maze Prison. The Commission found that the conditions were self-inflicted but the Commission also criticised the British government for being inflexible.

Monday 27 October 1980
1980 Hunger Strike Began
Seven Republican prisoners began a hunger-strike to protest at the ending of special category status. One of their key demands was that they should be allowed to wear their own clothes rather than prison uniforms. The Republican prisoners viewed themselves as 'prisoners of war' and were refusing to be treated, as they saw it, as ordinary criminals. [The tactic of the hunger strike has a special place in Republican history and it was to have a profound affect on Nationalists in Northern Ireland. This particular strike was to be called off on 18 December 1980. However, it also marked an escalation of the campaign which was to see a larger more serious hunger strike take place in 1981.]

Monday 15 December 1980
23 Republican prisoners join those already on hunger strike. [Of the original seven hunger strikers, Sean McKenna's medical condition was the most serious. McKenna was moved to Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast.]

Wednesday 17 December 1980
Tomás Ó Fiaich, then Catholic Primate of Ireland, called on the hunger strikers to call off their strike. He also appealed to Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, to intervene personally in the protest.

Thursday 18 December 1980
1980 Hunger Strike Ended
The Republican hunger strike at the Maze Prison, and other prisons in Northern Ireland, was called off following the appeal by Tomás Ó Fiaich, then Catholic Primate of Ireland, on 17 December 1980. The strike had lasted for 53 days. [There had been suggestions towards the end of the strike that there would be a move towards conceding aspects of special status. Republicans claimed to have a document setting out proposals which would have met many of their demands.]

Thursday 5 February 1981
In a statement Republican prisoners warned that there could be further hunger strikes if they were not granted special category status.

Sunday 1 March 1981
1981 Hunger Strike Began
Bobby Sands, then leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison, refused food and so began a new hunger strike. The choice of the start date was significant because it marked the fifth anniversary of the ending of special category status (1 March 1976). The main aim of the new strike was to achieve the reintroduction of political status for Republican prisoners. Edward Daly, then Catholic Bishop of Derry, criticised the decision to begin another hunger strike. [Sands was to lead the hunger strike but it was decided that Brendan McFarlane would take over Sands' role as leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison. It later became clear that the IRA leadership outside the prison was not in favour of a new hunger strike following the outcome of the 1980 strike. The main impetus came from the prisoners themselves. The strike was to last until 3 October 1981 and was to see 10 Republican prisoners starve themselves to death in support of their protest. The strike led to a heightening of political tensions in the region. It was also to pave the way for the emergence of Sinn Féin (SF) as a major political force in Northern Ireland.]

Monday 2 March 1981
Republican prisoners decided to call off the 'blanket protest' (?) so as not to detract attention from the hunger strike.

Tuesday 3 March 1981
Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, made a statement in the House of Commons in which he said that there would be no political status for prisoners regardless of the hunger strike.

Thursday 5 March 1981
Frank Maguire, then Independent Member of Parliament for Fermanagh / South Tyrone, died. [In the aftermath of his death there was some debate amongst Nationalists as to the possibility of an agreed candidate for the forthcoming by-election. Initially Noel Maguire, Frank's brother, Austin Curry, then a member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and Bernadette McAliskey all expressed an interest in standing for the vacant seat. However McAliskey later stated that she would be willing to step down in favour of a candidate chosen by the prisoners in the H-Blocks. Eventually the leadership of Sinn Féin (SF) decided to put forward a candidate and on 26 March 1981 Bobby Sands was nominated.]
Margaret Thatcher, the then British Prime Minister, paid a visit to Northern Ireland and denied claims that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland would be threatened by the on-going talks between the British and Irish governments.

Sunday 15 March 1981
Francis Hughes, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined Bobby Sands on hunger strike.

Sunday 22 March 1981
Raymond McCreesh, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, and Patsy O'Hara, then leader of Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners in the Maze, joined the hunger strike.

Thursday 26 March 1981
Bobby Sands was nominated as a candidate in the by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone on 9 April 1981.

Sunday 29 March 1981
The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) decided to withdraw the nomination of Austin Currie from the forthcoming by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone.

Monday 30 March 1981
Noel Maguire decided to withdraw his nomination in the forthcoming by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone. [This decision meant that voters were faced with a straight choice between Bobby Sands and Harry West, the Unionist candidate.]

Thursday 9 April 1981
Bobby Sands Elected to Westminster
In the Fermanagh / South Tyrone by-election Bobby Sands, then on hunger strike in the Maze Prison, was elected (following the final count on 11 April 1981) as Member of Parliament for the constituency. The turnout for the contest was 86.9 per cent and Sands obtained 30,492 votes and Harry West, the Unionist candidate, obtained 29,046 votes. [The election had been followed by media organisations around the world and the outcome gave added impetus to the hunger strike campaign. The British government declared that the election would not change its position in regard to special category status. On 12 June 1981 the government published proposals to change the Representation of the People Act making it impossible for prisoners to stand as candidates for election to parliament.]

Saturday 11 April 1981
Following the announcement that Bobby Sands had won the Fermanagh / South Tyrone by-election there were celebration parades in many Republican areas across Northern Ireland. In Belfast, Cookstown and in Lurgan these celebrations ended in rioting.

Monday 20 April 1981
Three Irish TDs (Teachta Dáil; Members of the Irish Parliament) together with Owen Carron, then Bobby Sands' election agent, paid a visit to the Maze Prison. Following a meeting with Sands the TDs called for urgent talks with the British government. [Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, announced on 21 April 1981 that the British government would not meet the TDs.]

Tuesday 21 April 1981
Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, spoke to a press conference in Saudi Arabia and stated that the British government would not meet with Irish TDs (Teachta Dáil; Members of the Irish Parliament) to discuss the hunger strike. Thatcher went on to say: "We are not prepared to consider special category status for certain groups of people serving sentences for crime. Crime is crime is crime, it is not political."

Thursday 23 April 1981
Marcella Sands, the sister of Bobby Sands, made an application to the European Commission on Human Rights claiming that the British government had broken three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights in their treatment of Republican prisoners. [Two Commissioners tried to visit Bobby Sands on 25 April 1981 but are unable to do so because Sands requested the presence of representatives of Sinn Féin (SF). On 4 May 1981 the European Commission on Human Rights announced that it had no power to proceed with the Sands' case.]

Saturday 25 April 1981
Two Commissioners from the European Commission on Human Rights tried to visit Bobby Sands but are unable to do so because Sands requested the presence of representatives of Sinn Féin (SF). Sands had insisted that he would only meet the Commissioners if Brendan McFarlane, who had taken over as leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison, and Gerry Adams, then Vice-President of SF, and Danny Morrison, then editor of An Phoblacht, were also allowed to attend the meeting. [On 4 May 1981 the European Commission on Human Rights announced that it had no power to proceed with the Sands' case.]

Tuesday 28 April 1981
The private secretary of Pope John Paul II paid a visit to Bobby Sands in the Maze Prison but was unable to persuade him to end his hunger strike. Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, stated that: "If Mr Sands persisted in his wish to commit suicide, that was his choice. The government would not force medical treatment upon him." In the United States of America (USA) Ronald Reagan, then President of the USA, said that America would not intervene in the situation in Northern Ireland but he was "deeply concerned" at events there.

Wednesday 29 April 1981
The private secretary of Pope John Paul II held talks with Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, before paying another visit to Bobby Sands in the Maze Prison.

Monday 4 May 1981
The European Commission on Human Rights announced that it had no power to proceed with the case brought against the British government by Marcella Sands, the sister of Bobby Sands. [The case had been announced on 23 April 1981.]

Tuesday 5 May 1981
Bobby Sands Died
After 66 days on hunger strike Bobby Sands (26), then a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and a Member of Parliament, died in the Maze Prison. [The announcement of his death sparked riots in many areas of Northern Ireland but also in the Republic of Ireland. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) also stepped up its attacks on members of the security services. Following the death of Sands the British government faced extensive international condemnation for the way in which it had handled the hunger strike. The relationship between the British and Irish government was also very strained.]

Wednesday 6 May 1981
The British government sent 600 extra British troops into Northern Ireland.

Thursday 7 May 1981
Funeral of Bobby Sands
An estimated 100,000 people attended the funeral of Bobby Sands in Belfast. [The size of the crowd reflected the impact the hunger strike was having on the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland.]

Friday 8 May 1981
Joe McDonnell, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike to take the place of Bobby Sands.

Tuesday 12 May 1981
Second Hunger Striker Died
After 59 days on hunger strike Francis Hughes (25), an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, died. [Hughes' death led to a further surge in rioting in Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast and Derry. In Dublin a group of 2,000 people tried to break into the British Embassy.]

Thursday 14 May 1981
Brendan McLaughlin, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike to replace Francis Hughes who had died on 12 May 1981. [McLaughlin was taken off the strike on 26 May 1981 when he suffered a perforated ulcer and internal bleeding.]

Thursday 21 May 1981
Third and Fourth Hunger Strikers Died
Raymond McCreesh (24), a Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, and Patsy O'Hara (23), an Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoner, both died having spent 61 days on hunger strike. Tomás Ó Fiaich, then Catholic Primate of Ireland, criticised the British government's attitude to the hunger strike.

Friday 22 May 1981
Kieran Doherty, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike.

Tuesday 26 May 1981
Brendan McLaughlin, who had joined the hunger strike on 14 May 1981, was taken off the strike when he suffered a perforated ulcer and internal bleeding. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) carried out a raid on the headquarters of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in Belfast and discovered a number of illegal weapons. [At this time the UDA, although a Loyalist paramilitary group, was still a legal organisation and was not 'proscribed' until 10 August 1992.]

Thursday 28 May 1981
Martin Hurson, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike to replace Brendan McLaughlin who had been taken off the strike on 26 May 1981.
Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, paid a visit to Northern Ireland and made a statement indicating the British government's belief that the hunger strike was the 'last card' of the IRA.

Friday 29 May 1981
The names of four prisoners on hunger strike together with five other Republican prisoners, were put forward as candidates in the forthcoming general election in the Republic of Ireland.

Wednesday 3 June 1981
The Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP) issued a statement on the hunger strike at the Maze Prison. The ICJP, which had been established by the Catholics Bishops Conference, came out against political status but did support improvements in conditions in the prison. This would have effectively met three of the prisoners demands: free association; no prison work; and civilian clothing. [The ICJP's initiative was one of a number of attempts to resolve the hunger strike. The attempt, however, was to come to an end by 8 July 1981 with the ICJP accusing the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) of going back on offers made in relation to the five prisoners demands.]

Monday 8 June 1981
Tom McElwee, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Thursday 11 June 1981
A general election was held in the Republic of Ireland. [When counting was completed a minority government was formed between a coalition of Fine Gael (FG) and Labour. On 30 June 1981 Garret FitzGerald replaced Charles Haughey as Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister). Two H-Block prisoners were elected to the Dáil.]

Friday 12 June 1981
The British government published proposals to change the Representation of the People Act making it impossible for prisoners to stand as candidates for election to parliament.

Monday 15 June 1981
Sinn Féin (SF) issued a statement to say that a Republican prisoner would join the hunger strike every week. [This was seen as a stepping-up of the hunger strike. Paddy Quinn, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner joined the strike.]

Monday 22 June 1981
Michael Devine, then an Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Monday 29 June 1981
Laurence McKeown, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Tuesday 30 June 1981
The British government issued a statement on prison policy in Northern Ireland. The government said that it would not grant special category status and would retain control of the prisons.

Saturday 4 July 1981
In a statement issued on behalf of the hunger strikers, they said that they had no objection to any changes in the prison regime being applied to all prisoners. [This would have meant that special category status was not being conferred on Republican prisoners alone.]

Wednesday 8 July 1981
Fifth Hunger Striker Died
Joe McDonnell (30) died after 61 days on hunger strike. McDonnell had gone on strike to replace Bobby Sands. The Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), which had been established by the Catholics Bishops Conference, accused the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) of retreating from earlier offers made to the ICJP on the hunger strikers five demands.

Thursday 9 July 1981
Patrick McGeown, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike to replace Joe McDonnell.

Friday 10 July 1981
The funeral took place of Joe McDonnell who had died on hunger strike on 8 July 1981. The British Army moved to arrest an Irish Republican Army (IRA) firing party at the funeral and seized a number of weapons and made several arrests. Rioting broke out following this incident.

Monday 13 July 1981
Sixth Hunger Striker Died
Martin Hurson (29) died after 46 days on hunger strike.

Tuesday 14 July 1981
Matt Devlin joined the hunger strike to replace Martin Hurson. The Irish government asked the United States government to use its influence with Britain on the issue of the hunger strike.

Wednesday 15 July 1981
Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced that representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross have been invited to carry out an investigation of prison conditions in Northern Ireland. [Over the next eight days the delegation meets with the two sides to the dispute but announced on 23 July 1981 that they were unable to help resolve the hunger strike.]

Thursday 16 July 1981
Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross paid a visit to the Maze Prison and met Republican prisoners to discuss the hunger strike.

Friday 17 July 1981
The delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross had a meeting with Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to discuss the hunger strike.

Saturday 18 July 1981
There were serious clashes between Republican demonstrators and Gardaí following a demonstration outside the British embassy in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Over 200 people where hurt during the clashes.

Sunday 19 July 1981
Those Republican prisoners taking part in the hunger strike rejected attempts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to act a mediators with the British government.

Thursday 23 July 1981
The leader of the delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that the situation with regard to the hunger strike was deadlocked and in such circumstances they had no role to play.

Wednesday 29 July 1981
Representatives from Sinn Féin (SF) and the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) visited those taking part in the hunger strike. SF and the IRSP suggested that the strike be suspended for three months to allow time to monitor prison reforms. This suggestion was rejected by the hunger strikers and Republican prisoners.

Friday 31 July 1981
The family of Paddy Quinn, then on day 47 of his hunger strike, intervened and asked for medical treatment to save his life. [This series of events was to be repeated a number of times towards the end of the hunger strike as more and more familles intervened to save the hunger strikers.]

Saturday 1 August 1981
Seventh Hunger Striker Died
Kevin Lynch (25) died after 71 days on hunger strike. Lynch was a member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

Sunday 2 August 1981
Eighth Hunger Striker Died
Kieran Doherty (25) died after 73 days on hunger strike. Doherty was a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and had been elected as a Teachta Dáil (TD) during the general election in the Republic of Ireland on 11 June 1981.
Two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers were killed in a landmine attack carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Loughmacrory, near Omagh, County Tyrone.

Monday 3 August 1981
Liam McCloskey, then an Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Saturday 8 August 1981
Ninth Hunger Striker Died
Thomas McElwee (23) died after 62 days on hunger strike. This weekend marked the tenth Anniversary of the introduction of Internment and there were widespread riots in Republican areas. Three people were killed during disturbances over the weekend.

Sunday 9 August 1981
Liam Canning (19), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a covername used by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), as he walked along Alliance Avenue, Ardoyne, Belfast. Peter Maguinness (41), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by a plastic bullet fired by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) while he was outside his home on the Shore Road, Greencastle, Belfast. There were continuing riots in Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.

Monday 10 August 1981
Patrick Sheehan, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Monday 17 August 1981
Jackie McMullan, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Thursday 20 August 1981
Tenth Hunger Striker Died
Michael Devine (27) died after 60 days on hunger strike. Devine had been a member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). The family of Patrick McGeown, who had been on hunger strike for 42 days, agreed to medical intervention to save his life.
A by-election was held in Fermanagh / South Tyrone to elect a Member of Parliament (MP) to Westminster to the seat that became vacant on the death of Bobby Sands. Owen Carron, who had been Sands' campaign manager, was proposed by Sinn Féin (SF). Carron won the by-election with an increased number of votes over the total achieved by Sands. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) had again decided not to contest the election.

Sunday 23 August 1981
Having won the Fermanagh / South Tyrone seat for the second time Sinn Féin (SF) announced that in future it would contest all Northern Ireland elections.

Monday 24 August 1981
Bernard Fox, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Monday 31 August 1981
Hugh Carville, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Friday 4 September 1981
The family of Matt Devlin, then on day 52 of his hunger strike, intervened and asked for medical treatment to save his life.

Sunday 6 September 1981
The family of Laurence McKeown, then on day 70 of his hunger strike, intervened and asked for medical treatment to save his life. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) issued a statement saying that it would not replace men on hunger strike at the same rate as before. [At this stage the INLA had only 28 prisoners in the Maze Prison compared to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which had approximately 380 prisoners.] Cahal Daly, then Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, called on Republican prisoners to end the hunger strike.

Monday 7 September 1981
John Pickering, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Sunday 13 September 1981
Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was appointed as deputy Foreign Secretary. James Prior was appointed by the British government to take over the post of Secretary of State.

Monday 14 September 1981
Gerard Hodgkins, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Thursday 17 September 1981
James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, arrived in Northern Ireland and went to the Maze Prison where he had a three hour meeting with those on hunger strike.

Monday 21 September 1981
James Devine, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) was openly critical of the hunger strike.

Thursday 24 September 1981
Bernard Fox, then on day 32 of his hunger strike, ended his fast. Fox's condition had deteriorated quickly and Sinn Féin (SF) was reported as having said that he was 'dying too quickly'.

Saturday 26 September 1981
Liam McCloskey, then on day 55 of his hunger strike, ended his fast. McCloskey's family had said that they would call for medical intervention to save his life if he became unconscious.

Tuesday 29 September 1981
At the British Labour party's annual conference a motion was passed committing the party to 'campaign actively' for a United Ireland by consent.

Saturday 3 October 1981
Republican Hunger Strike Ended
Those Republican prisoners who had been still refusing food decided to end their hunger strike. At this stage in the protest six prisoners were on hunger strike: Hugh Carville - 34 days; James Devine - 13 days; Gerard Hodgkins - 20 days; Jackie McMullan - 48 days; John Pickering - 27 days; and Pat Sheehan - 55 days. [The prisoners took their decision when it became clear that each of their families would ask for medical intervention to save their lives. Even though the hunger strike was called off it was announced on 4 October 1981 that the 'blanket protest' was set to continue. On 6 October 1981 James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced a series of measures which went a long way to meeting many aspects of the prisoners' five demands. By 25 October the 'blanket protest' was all but over.]
[The hunger strike of 1981 had very important and far-reaching consequences for Northern Ireland and proved to be one of the key turning points of 'the Troubles'. In addition to the 10 Republican prisoners who had died inside the Maze Prison there had been an upsurge in violence outside the prison with 62 people dying as a result. The Republican movement had achieved a huge propaganda victory over the British government and had obtained a lot of international sympathy. Active and tacit support for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) increased in Nationalist areas. Political support for Sinn Féin (SF) was demonstrated in the two by-elections and eventually led to the emergence of SF as a significant political force in Northern Ireland. The British government's fear that SF would overtake the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) as the main representative of the Catholic population of Northern Ireland was a key reason for the government signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA) on 15 November 1985.]

Sunday 4 October 1981
Republican prisoners issued a statement blaming pressure on their families as the reason for the ending of the hunger strike: "Mounting pressure and cleric-inspired demoralisation led to [family] interventions and five strikers have been taken off their fast."

Tuesday 6 October 1981
James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced a number of changes in prison policy, one of which would allowed prisoners to wear their civilian clothes at all times. This was one of the five key demands that had been made at the start of the hunger strike. Prior also announced other changes: free association would be allowed in neighbouring wings of each H-Block, in the exercise areas and in recreation rooms; an increase in the number of visits each prisoner would be entitled to; and up to 50 per cent of lost remission would be restored. [The issue of prison work was not resolved at this stage but there were indications that this issue too would be addressed.]

Saturday 25 October 1981
By this date most Republican prisoners had ended their 'blanket protest'.

31 October 1981 or 1 November 1981 (?)
Sinn Féin (SF) held its Ard Fheis (annual conference) in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Danny Morrison, then editor of An Phoblacht, gave a speech in which he addressed the issue of the party taking part in future elections: "Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in one hand and the Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?" [This statement was subsequently often quoted as: 'the Armalite in one hand and the Ballot box in the other'.]

Friday 6 November 1981
Garret FitzGerald, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), held talks with Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, in London. As a result of the meeting it was decided to establish the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Council which would act as forum for meetings between the two governments.


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