Friday 1st May, 1981, as Bobby Sands nears death, supporters of the hunger strikers occupy the Labour Party headquarters in London. It was the British Labour Party who introduced the policy of criminalisation and the withdrawal of political status for anyone convicted of a scheduled offence (possession of arms, explosives etc) after 1st March 1976, which was then pursued so ruthlessly by Thatcher.
One of those Labour leaders was former Coldstream Guards lance-corporal Don Concannon who was a junior Northern Ireland Minister under Merlyn Rees from 1974 until 1976. On the eve of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone bye-election he intervened from the floor of the House of Commons with a speech that was reported throughout the media (despite the Representation of the People Act) and called upon the voters not to vote for Bobby Sands as that would be “a vote for murder”.
As Labour’s opposition spokesman on Ireland from 1980 he banned Labour MPs from fact-finding visits to the H-Blocks – apart, that is, from himself. When Bobby Sands was on his deathbed and had gone blind he gratuitously went to his cell just to tell him that he supported Thatcher’s position.
The socialist Mick Hall, who was then working at the TUC’s headquarters at Congress House, met the next day with a Labour MP who had gone with Concannon into Bobby’s prison hospital cell. He recalls: “When the MP in question turned up at Congress House for our meeting, she was full of herself about how Don Concannon with her support had put Sands firmly in his place, never mind that when these gallant Labourites met Bobby he was laying on a prison hospital bed, almost blind and in the last days of his life. Her opportunist bleating was beyond human decency and for me her wretched behaviour was the final straw and from that day to this I have never forgiven Michael Foot, then Party leader, or the Labour Party for that cowardly betrayal of the weak against the strong.”
Concannon’s stance so incensed Labour left-wingers that they organised a demonstration against him in his Mansfield constituency and he was booed at the party’s annual conference in 1982 when he defended the use of plastic bullets.
By Concannon’s logic the Mansfield people who voted for him must have voted for the murders of 11-year-old Frank Rowntree, 13-year-old Brian Stewart, 11-year-old Stephen McConomy, 14-year-old Julie Livingstone, 10-year-old Stephan Geddis, 21-year-old Michael Donnelly, 12-year-old Carol Ann Kelly, 15-year-old Seamus Duffy, 45-year-old Henry Duffy, 30-year-old Nora McCabe, 33-year-old Peter Doherty, 41-year-old Peter McGuiness, 23-year-old John Downes, 20-year-old Keith White, not to mention the thousands others wounded by Concannon’s lethal plastic bullets.