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Hunger striker's family blasts Sinn Fein for turning commemoration into an 'electioneering stunt'

By Rebecca Black

Published 05/05/2016

The rally to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strikes in Londonderry
The rally to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strikes in Londonderry
Martina Anderson, Sinn Fein MEP
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

The family of a republican hunger striker who died in prison has accused Sinn Fein of using his memory in a "blatant electioneering stunt".

INLA prisoner Patsy O'Hara died on May 21, 1981, at the Maze after 61 days on hunger strike.

He was one of 10 hunger strikers who were remembered at a commemoration that took place last Sunday in Londonderry.

O'Hara's family has accused Sinn Fein of using the commemoration as an electioneering stunt.

Sinn Fein, however, has defended the event as "dignified and respectful".

"What should have been a solemn occasion to remember the men who died in such tragic circumstances 35 years ago, was turned into an publicity stunt," the O'Hara family said in a statement.

"Even using the image of Bobby Sands and his election campaign in an attempt to woo voters was a mockery and a distortion of truth and history.

"Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers were in prison for their part in the fight for Irish freedom that meant the abolition of Stormont, not the preservation of it."

Speaking on behalf of the family, O'Hara's brother Tony claimed Sinn Fein had lost support in Derry and was attempting to use the memory of the hunger strikers to regain ground ahead of the Assembly elections. He said he did not believe his brother would have supported Stormont if he was alive today.

O'Hara was an INLA member from Londonderry. He was convicted in January 1980 of possessing a hand grenade and sentenced to eight years in prison.

A spokesman for Sinn Fein said: "Sunday's event in Derry to mark the 35th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands and the 1981 hunger strike was a dignified and respectful commemoration which remembered the courage, conviction and determination of all the hunger strikers.

"The large turnout at the event is an indication of the community's respect for all of the 10 1981 hunger strikers, the high esteem in which their memory is held and the inspiration they continue to provide."

The comments from the O'Hara family come after the family of Bobby Sands spoke out when a trust set up in his name - on whose board a number of senior Sinn Fein members sit - published a graphic novel about his life.

The comic, Bobby Sands: Freedom Fighter, was funded by the National Lottery through the Arts Council, authored by 80-year-old Gerry Hunt and published by O'Brien Press in Dublin.

The Sands family issued a statement in response, saying: "It is reprehensible that the family, including our elderly mother, was first made aware of this book when confronted by extracts displayed in the media".

They added: "We are given to understand that the book contains intimate family scenes that no one, other than our family members, would be privy to.

"It is unfortunate that well-meaning people, such as Mr Hunt, are misled by those who profess to be authorities on Bobby's life story.

"Our family once again reiterates that the Bobby Sands Trust does not act on behalf of Bobby, nor does it represent our family, in any shape or form.

"We again call upon the trust to disband and desist from using Bobby's memory as a commercial enterprise."

The publication of the graphic novel also caused a row over the source of its funding.

Unionists questioned the criteria that was used to qualify the book for support and UUP MLA Tom Elliott also took issue with its content.

Mr Elliott said that it sent "the wrong message" to children and sets a "bad example" and doesn't reflect the views of those who believe Sands was a terrorist.

Belfast Telegraph

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