Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Bobby Sands 'showed little interest in campaign to be MP'

Bobby Sands pictured on the first day of his hunger strike. Sands had just come off the blanket protest before going straight on to hunger strike.
Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike
The Bobby Sands mural, in the Falls Road area of Belfast

Bobby Sands showed little interest in standing for Parliament and was pushed into contesting the infamous Fermanagh/South Tyrone by-election, according to official files.

The IRA prisoner became an iconic figure after he was elected to the House of Commons just 26 days before he died on hunger strike.

His victory over unionist candidate Harry West remains one of the defining moments in modern republican history.

Classified files from the time claim that Sands had little interest in politics, even after his election triumph.

The documents also detail how the Secretary of State secretly plotted to have Sands expelled from Parliament if he was elected.

The by-election was called following the sudden death of independent MP Frank Maguire on March 5, 1981.

Sands was nominated on an 'Anti-H-Block/Armagh Political Prisoner' ticket, while the Ulster Unionist Party nominated Mr West.

With other candidates withdrawing, the by-election became a highly polarised contest between unionism and republicanism.

However, despite the enthusiasm among nationalists, prison documents claim Sands himself showed little interest in the campaign.

A weekly bulletin from the Northern Ireland Office reporting on the hunger strikes stated: "Sands' candidature in the by-election has so far not produced any reaction within the prison.

"Indeed he has shown little or no interest in the affair, confirming our belief that he did not want to go forward in the first place but preferred to continue his strike."

It refers to a public statement issued on the day before the election, in which Sands called for people to "vote for the prisoners" and keep the seat in anti-unionist hands.

"This statement is of course in direct contradiction to what we know of Sands' interest in the election," the bulletin added.

In a later edition, covering the week of the election, it notes how his victory had gone largely unnoticed.

"Sands' election victory appears to have passed with very little comment in the prison," it reports.

"There were no 'celebrations' and even Sands himself appears to have been largely unaffected by the result."

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