Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Fewer profits from playing up the war

Bobby Sands
Bobby Sands
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Merchandise with Bobby Sands' face and details emblazoned across it will raise unionist hackles.

The families of IRA victims will understandably also strongly object.

But there are some in the republican community who also find such wares distasteful for different reasons.

They are asking if Bobby Sands sports' jerseys are the right way to commemorate the 27-year-old hunger striker. The jerseys seem more reminiscent of something you'd see on the rough side of loyalism.

They're green, white and orange with Sands' face on the front and the number 81 - the year of his death - emblazoned on the back like it was his squad number.

Hardly a classy way to remember a man who lay starving in a filthy H-Block cell and faced an agonising and protracted death.

Republicans usually try to present themselves as a cut above their loyalist counterparts. But this is on a level with the tacky apparel displayed at Shaftesbury Square in Belfast on the Twelfth.

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The Irish Times reported yesterday that falling demand for IRA merchandise has placed the future of the Sinn Fein firm, Republican Merchandising Ltd, under threat. It accumulated losses and laid off its three staff last year.

"Trading conditions during the year were difficult," its directors said in their report accompanying the accounts.

Rising costs and "changing consumer tastes" were a threat to the business, they added.

The 'Undefeated Army' IRA T-shirts and fridge magnets aren't now on sale.

It seems handsome profits can no longer be made by playing up the war.

But the continuing commodification of Sands - and this jersey in particular - will leave many traditional republicans feeling uncomfortable.

They will ask: "For what died the sons of Roisin - to sell a few lousy T-shirts?"

Former H-Block hunger striker Gerard Hodgins said the commercialisation flew in the face of everything Sands believed in.

It certainly sits uneasily with Sinn Fein's claims to be socialist.

The Sands' family have for over 20 years now asked Sinn Fein to stop using his name and image. Hodgins last night again appealed to those who say the "love Bobby" to "stop making money out of him".

But Sinn Fein is unlikely to listen.

Sands remains too big a money-spinner for the party to pay heed even to the wishes of his family.

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