For IRA Prisoner, Hunger Strike Was Last Resort

May 21, 2013

A poster in support of the hunger strike in the H-blocks of Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison
Credit Republican Movement

In the fall of 1980, imprisoned members of the Irish Republican Army demanded to be recognized as more than common criminals by the British government. They refused to wear the prison uniform, refused to do prisoner work, and, eventually, refused to leave their cells.

But they were making little progress. So IRA members at the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland decided to refuse to eat.

"We tried every possible way we could to undermine the prison authorities," one former inmate, Tommy McKearney, says. "Ultimately, when we decided we couldn’t move the situation forward, we the prisoners decided we had no option but the last resort of a prisoner to go on hunger strike."

McKearney was one of seven IRA members who stopped eating. In this conversation with host Dick Gordon, he says that – like the Guantanamo Bay detainees on hunger strike today – they were demanding fairness. The following year, ten prisoners starved themselves to death, and Tommy himself came within hours of it.

Hear the full conversation at The Story's site. Also in this show: When Japanese Americans were freed from World War II internment camps, the government surplus foods they’d been fed found their way into their kitchens; and the story of a popular Asian fusion restaurant that started off in a backyard.