By Javier Aja
Dublin, May 5 (EFE).- Like he does every year on 5 May, Jake Mac Siacais has paid his visit to the Milltown cemetery in Belfast to pray in front of the grave of Bobby Sands, the IRA member whose death following a hunger strike in the notorious Maze prison 40 years ago caught the world’s attention and radically transformed the nature of Northern Irish conflict.
Due to the pandemic, Sinn Féin, the leading nationalist party in Northern Ireland and the former political branch of the IRA, has kept events paying tribute to Sands low-key.
Four decades after his death, Sands remains an icon for many who want a united Ireland, an endeavor that has been re-energized by Brexit.
“The most important thing, and we can only say this with hindsight, is that Sands’ death and the other hunger strikers was the beginning of the endgame in Ireland,” Mac Siacais, a former inmate with Sands the notorious H-Block of the Maze prison, where IRA and Protestant militants were held, tells Efe.
“It transformed politics, they radicalised nationalism, they reinvigorated the republican struggle and enabled the republican leadership to plot a course from armed struggle to political struggle and they created the conditions that allowed us to move to that position.”
Mac Siacais recalls when he heard of Sands’ death over radios smuggled into the prison.
“The night Bobby died it was 1:17 am, it was announced on the radio, I simply laid in the bed and cried, heart broken.”
Sands had gone 66 days without food in protest of the United Kingdom government’s decision, in 1976, to strip the status of “political prisoner” from detained republicans at a time the Provisional Irish Republican Army, as the IRA militant group was officially known, was embarking on a bloody campaign of terror during the Troubles.
“The reason to embark on a hunger strike was because we wanted to bring up the conditions in the prison and the fact that there was a battle for legitimacy to an international audience,” Mac Siacais adds.