Monday 21st May will mark the 26th anniversary of the death on hunger strike of Volunteer Raymond McCreesh, South Armagh brigade, Óglaigh na hÉireann.
Raymond was the third of ten men to die on hungerstrike in 1981 in an effort to win political status for republican prisoners of war. As a result of the strike the British government eventually granted all of the prisoners demands and political status was reintroduced in everything but name.
As a result of legislation passed after the signing of the good friday agreement in 1998 and with the consent of Sinn Fein and the SDLP political status was once again removed. Everything that had been won by Raymond and his comrades at the cost of their young lives was bargained away and in the process another generation was condemned to struggle for recognition as political prisoners.
Right now in maghaberry prison Irish republicans are being criminalized by the prison regime for no other reason than like Bobby Sands they too sought to free their country from foreign occupation.
In 2003 as a result of a dirty protest by Óglaigh na hÉireann (whom the media refer to as the Real IRA) prisoners republicans achieved segregation from loyalists and criminals. Last weekend however the prison authorities began moving criminals onto the republican wing in what seems to be an effort to undo the concessions which had been previously won.
The republican prisoners also find themselves locked up for up to 23 hours a day, have inadequate educational facilities, are not allowed to freely associate with one another and are subject to constant strip searches and other forms of harassment and degradation. Their families are also subjected to intimidation and harassment when visiting them.
As the people of South Armagh remember the great sacrifice made by Ray McCreesh we must ask ourselves what it was all for? Are those who suffer today in another British prison any different than he was? and do they not deserve the same support as we gave the men of 1981?
The constitutional nationalist parties have been completely silent on this issue and we in the 32 County Sovereignty Movement challenge them to state publicly why they agreed to the removal of political status and do they think that republican prisoners should be labeled as criminals because of their opposition to British rule in Ireland? We would ask them that now they are in government in the 6 counties will they finally do the right thing and restore political status for these men?
Hopefully this situation can be resolved in a proper manner and our communities are never again forced to go through what they did in 1981.
32 County Sovereignty Movement