National Hunger Strike March

This year is the 34th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike which marked a historic watershed moment in Irish and republican history.

The weekend of August 22nd August will see a series of events, including a lecture by Owen Carron in the Drogheda Arts Centre on Friday evening, a wreath laying ceremony at the Hunger Strike Monument, at the Bridge of Peace in Drogheda on Saturday morning; a guided tour of Republican graves at St. Patrick’s Graveyard, Dowdalshill, Newry Road; the film ‘A Kind of Sisterhood’ looking at the experience of women over the years of struggle – there will be a question and answer session after that with former women prisoners; a National Hunger Strike Exhibition in the Oriel Centre, Dundalk Gaol, and the march will take place on Sunday August 23rd, assembling at 2.15pm at New Inn, Newry Road, Dundalk.


Basque Prisoners Translate Bobby Sands

JulieFrench writer Julie Duchatel recently spoke by telephone with Basque prisoner Aitzol Iriondok who along with his comrade Jurgie Garitagoitia has translated into Euskara (Basque) Denis O’Hearn’s biography of Bobby Sands, Nothing But An Unfinished Song.

Julie (with Philippe Paraire) had previously translated the biography into French, Bobby Sands, jusqu’au bout, and has spoken at conferences and meetings on the subject of the 1981 hunger strike. Now, on behalf of the Bobby Sands Trust she has interviewed Aitzol Iriondok about his translating:

Written by Denis O’Hearn and published in 2006 Nothing But An Unfinished Song has already proven to be a powerful book that leaves no-one indifferent as to the subject as soon as one read its first pages. The biography is so special that it was translated into French in 2011, in Turkish in 2014 and in Basque (Euskara) recently by two Basque political prisoners held in France: Aitzol Iriondok and Jurgi Garitagoitia.

Such a barely believable dedication is in fact a fair tribute to Denis’s work and especially to Bobby Sands and his comrades who died in 1981, as well as to all the Irish republicans. I spoke on the phone to one of the translators, Aitzol, who is now held in Moulins Yzeure, near Lyon, France.

Back endJulie: Could you please, Aitzol, introduce yourself in a few words, as well as Jurgi, your co-translator?

Aitzol: My name is Aitzol Iriondo, I am a Basque political prisoner held in France since 2008. Before being arrested, I lived several years clandestinely. Before that, I studied biology in Bilbao. Jurgi is incarcerated in France since 2009 and is currently studying the Basque linguistic and language in jail. We met at the Bois d’Arcy prison, near Paris, in 2009 and became good friends.

Julie: How did you get the idea of translating into Euskara the Bobby Sands biography? Have you been in Ireland before?

Aitzol: In fact, in 2011, we read in the Iparralde-based Basque newspaper, Ekaitza, an article presenting the French version of the Bobby Sands biography. Another inmate, a Corsican political prisoner held in the same jail as us, bought the book through Ekaitza, read it and passed it along to us. We really enjoyed it and another comrade said, half joking, that we should translate it into Euskara. Our first thought was that it was one of the craziest ideas we’d ever heard! But after some time, we realised that it was actually a very good idea and that it would be important reading for Basque people and especially, at least to me, for all our comrades that are locked in Spanish jails.

I thought that they should get the opportunity to read and experience directly this wonderful book in their mother tongue, i.e. Euskara.

The Basque people are pretty familiar with Irish history especially until the Good Friday Agreement, which inspired the Agreement of Lizzara Garazi in 1998. Personally, I’ve never been in Ireland but one day, I hope to be.

Julie: Could you tell us a bit more about the translation process considering it has been done under such difficult circumstances?

Aitzol: We started in March 2012 and finished the translation in January 2013. We sent the manuscript outside to be edited by a friend of ours, Mitxel Sarasketa, then the edited translation got back to us. We had a look at it and sent it outside again for a second edit. Mitxel’s friends, among them Arkaitz who holds a degree in Euskara studies, did that job. The thing is that while we were translating, we didn’t have access to the internet, of course. That complicates the translation since you are not able to check numbers of facts and expressions. We only had a dictionary with us. Our translation is based on the French version but also we had the original version to help us out through the process. Then once the editing was done, through Mitxel, we sent the manuscript to the main Basque publisher, Txalaparta. A huge work has been done and I do know that the people, outside, who edited our translation, gave a lot of their free time and a lot of love, by the way.

Julie: What do you think is so special about the book?

Aitzol: There are many stories in this book: the accounts about freedom fighters, the struggle within the jail, the right to speak your own language, the work among and for the communities when Bobby was free for a few short months. There are some books that are a lifelong inspiration, this one is definitely part of that category.

The chapters I like the most are the ones towards the end of the book, they are very ‘strong’, the ones where Bobby is sure about going on hunger strike and certain that he’s going to die. I also particularly enjoy the sections related to education and the way Denis O’Hearn transcribes the individual and the collective transformation of men and women into devoted activists. The capacity Denis has to synthesize all the accounts and all the relevant elements for the story is amazing.

I am fascinated by the way the Irish political prisoners, led by Bobby Sands, were able to organise themselves under the most strict rules in jail and their capacity to raise and maintain a good spirit there, their capacity too to take autonomous decisions without outside interference.

Julie: What was specifically the reward of doing such a job in jail?

Aitzol: To me it is like a string you’ve created and you get tied to it for a long time. And it influences your daily routine. During the 10 months we were working on the translation, we worked at it every single day. And we improved our French and English and reinforced our Euskara. At the end of the translation, we were very tired but very happy and satisfied.

Julie: Did you get any feedback regarding the publication of the book in the Basque country?

Aitzol: I know that it has been a best-seller and topped the charts for two weeks according to a right-oriented newspaper El Correo, so that is very good.

A book launch was held two months ago in Donostia along with Mitxel, Eoin Ó Broin (Sinn Féin) , the Txlaparta director of publications, and my mother, and it was a very special day. Some people who visited me told me how moving and important this book is. So that’s all

Brits Aware From Outset

Jan Freytag is a PhD student at Ruhr-University-Bochum, Germany, and is currently doing research on the ‘Prison Protests 1976-1981’ during a period when the British government ended internment and opted for a policy of ‘criminalisation’. In this feature Jan looks at some of the British cabinet papers from 1971 which actually reveal that the British government was aware from the outset of the dangers of interning ‘political prisoners’ (its terminology) and preferred the use of prosecution and conviction through (special) courts, as if that would change the nature of the conflict.

The introduction of internment in August 1971 was a turning point in the conflict and has been considered from many different vantage points. However, until recently it was not possible to consider how the British Cabinet discussed this measure and what conclusion it drew from its failure. Looking at its papers of 1971, this articles poses three questions. When was internment first considered? How did the perception of internment change? What conclusions were drawn from its failure by the Cabinet?
Stormont and Westminster

The discussion on internment emerged before August 1971. In February of that year the Stormont government replied to the British Home Secretary that it was prepared to introduce internment if the security forces British army asked for it. In the ensuing cabinet discussion it was agreed that internment could only succeed “if the terrorist leaders could be identified and arrested” (CAB 128/49/9 9th February 1971). Furthermore, these measures were liable to create “a category of political prisoners whose arbitrary treatment might be held to justify reprisals in the form of kidnapping and the seizure of hostages” (ibid).

In July 1971, Faulkner came under increased pressure from right wing elements in his own party, because as it seemed he was not standing firm on ‘terrorism’. Therefore he asked the British government to introduce more drastic military measures. Due to Faulkner’s apparent weakness, the authorities in London “had to seriously contemplate to institute direct rule in Northern Ireland” (CAB 128/48/25 23rd July 1971).

British Disenchantment
Only a few months after its introduction the British Cabinet became increasingly disenchanted with internment. Although British Prime Minister Edward Heath claimed that internment had been a success, purportedly because “about half of the leadership of the Irish Republican Army had been apprehended” (CAB 128/48/26 17th August 1971), it became apparent in the following months that it was more of a problem than a solution to the conflict.

During a cabinet meeting in September 1971 the opinion was voiced that arresting mainly members of the Catholic-nationalist community was a problem: “It was important that security measures, including any further arrests (…), should be seen impartially directed against all who constituted a danger to law and order” (CAB 128/48/27). Of course, it was February 1973 before the first loyalist (out of 107 in total) was interned, against the figure of 1,874 for republicans.

Later in September 1971 the Secretary for Defence admitted that, “The Security situation was equally discouraging. It was too early to say that internment had failed. But it was known that recruitment to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Republic of Ireland was rising” (CAB 128/48/29 22nd September 1971). Despite his insistence that internment had not yet failed, Edward Heath admitted a couple of days later that “[p]ast Policy in Northern Ireland is in ruins. Given the cost of the present troubles in lives and money British opinion is liable to become increasingly disenchanted” (CAB 129/58/24 30th September 1971).

Learning from failure?
After admitting the failure of internment, the Cabinet did not consider abandoning it but rather to amend it legally. Approximately two weeks after Edward Heath had admitted the failure of internment, he dispatched another three battalions to the North in order to “make full use of intelligence which had been received as a result of internment” (CAB 128/48/31 12th October 1971).

In spite of the continuation of internment, the cabinet came to realise that “there would be obvious political advantages if further IRA suspects could be charged with offences rather than interned. It was for consideration whether the need for recourse to internment might be reduced by creating (…) special courts” (CAB 128/48/30 29th September 1971).
Internment in the British Cabinet Papers

As it can be observed from the sources compiled in this article, the cabinet papers offer a unique perspective into the thoughts of British politicians and help to reconsider internment. In fact, internment as a measure to restore law and order was considered much earlier than August 1971 and was therefore not an ad-hoc measure. Furthermore, the British Cabinet was well aware of its flaws and became increasingly disenchanted with it. However, they lacked the courage to abandon it completely.

As it can be observed from the sources compiled in this article, the cabinet papers offer a unique perspective into the thoughts of British politicians and help to reconsider internment. In fact, internment as a measure to restore law and order was considered much earlier than August 1971 and was therefore not an ad-hoc measure. Furthermore, the British Cabinet was well aware of its flaws and became increasingly disenchanted with it. However, they lacked the courage to abandon it completely.

As a consequence, the cabinet discussed the legal amendment of internment which can be seen as a precursor to the coming prison conflict, beginning with the withdrawal of Special Category Status in 1976, leading to the 1981 hunger strikes and the defeat of ‘criminalisation’.