Despite inclement weather, the rally was a spirited celebration of the lives of the 10 freedom fighters and reflected the determination to continue the struggle for a united Ireland free from British occupation. Nationalists marched to the rally site in west Belfast from Catholic neighborhoods throughout the city, including from north Belfast, where pro-British loyalist thugs have carried out repeated violent assaults on Catholics in recent weeks. Participants in the rally included busloads from parts of the Irish Republic as far away as Cork in the far southwest of the country. Along the Falls Road, the main street in nationalist west Belfast, lampposts were decorated with black flags and the "H" symbols of the so-called "H-Blocks" where London incarcerated the hunger strikers and other political prisoners.
In 1981, the ruling British Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher refused to concede to the demand of the hunger strikers to be treated as political prisoners and allowed the men to die. The prisoners' actions, however, won wide solidarity for their demands and the Irish freedom struggle. Their stand encouraged large mobilizations of nationalists in both British-occupied Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic. The British government ultimately accorded political status to prisoners arrested by its occupying forces.
Suspension of assembly
Two days before the rally here, John Reid, the British government's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, suspended for 24 hours the Northern Ireland Assembly and associated institutions established by the 1998 "Good Friday" Agreement, the second suspension in 18 months. The move was intended to appease David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the main pro-British party in Northern Ireland. At the beginning of July Trimble resigned his post as First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly on the grounds that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had refused to "decommission" its weapons. Trimble's demand was seen by nationalists as calling on the IRA to unilaterally surrender its weapons while the occupying British military forces remain deployed and heavily armed. The IRA has been maintaining a cease-fire after waging a military campaign to end British rule--an armed resistance the British were unable to crush.
On August 8 the IRA announced it had agreed to a plan with the International Independent Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), a body set up under the Good Friday Agreement, "to put arms completely and verifiably beyond use." Trimble dismissed the IRA's offer, demonstrating that in reality the unionists' demand for "decommissioning" is part of a rearguard action to stem the growing advances being made by the nationalist movement towards greater equality and rights for Catholics. In light of this, and the affront of London in deciding to suspend the Assembly, the IRA withdrew its offer August 14.
The 24-hour suspension made it possible for London to avoid calling new elections to the Assembly, something both the British imperialists and the capitalist government in Dublin feared would lead to electoral gains for Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein won substantially more votes in the British general elections and local council elections this past May. They were able to overtake the pro-imperialist Social Democratic and Labour Party as the principal nationalist political force in Northern Ireland. Following the suspension and reinstatement of the Assembly, a six-week period of discussion is now opened up between the political parties, according to London.
In his August 12 remarks Adams blasted London's maneuver. "Behind the soft words what is really being opened up is a six- or seven-week period in which the British government and the unionists are going to try to put pressure on republicans to move to resolve issues on British government or unionist terms," he said. "I hear a British government that says a deal is almost within reach," he went on. "Does this mean they're going to pull troops from south Armagh, from south Tyrone, west and north Belfast?"
Although the regularity of military patrols has been curtailed, London still maintains a garrison of thousands of soldiers in highly visible and heavily fortified barracks in Northern Ireland. They also keep up a panoply of surveillance installations and what the right-wing British Daily Telegraph described August 13 as "large budgets" devoted to spying operations.
In his speech Adams emphasized that nationalists would not "accept anything less than the right to be full citizens in our own country. I also hear the patronizing tone that the institutions have been stood down for only one day and now it's OK again. Well, it's not OK again. It isn't OK to have all-Ireland structures stood down," he said. "It isn't OK that Sinn Fein ministers haven't been accorded their rights and entitlement to do the job they were elected for. It isn't OK that the British government is trying to hold on to plastic bullets."
Meanwhile, pro-British loyalist terror gangs have recently stepped up their activities. In the past six months, according to Republican News, there have been 150 pipe and blast bomb attacks on Catholic families, properties, and businesses. On July 29, a loyalist murder gang shot and killed 18-year-old Gavin Brett, a Protestant, who was attending a birthday celebration for a Catholic friend. "This was the third person to be killed [this year] because they were Catholic or suspected of being Catholic," said Adams at a press conference.
"There is only one question," Adams stated August 12. "Not whether we will have our freedom, but when we will have our freedom for all the people in this island." Adams stressed the need "to reach out to unionists" and said the answer "does not lie in number 10 Downing Street"--the residence of the British Prime Minister--"it lies with you," he told the marchers. "Freedom will come when people mobilize in this island like we did in 1981."
Irish paper reviews book on Playa Girón
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