Up to seven hundred people gathered in Derry City, Sunday 21st August to mark the 35th Anniversary of the death of INLA, POW Michael Devine, the end of the 1981 Hunger Strikes and the sacrifice of north west volunteers who died in the course of the conflict.
Republican Socialist faithful gathered at Rosemount factory accompanied by four flute bands including; Parkhead RFB Glasgow and the James Connolly RFB Derry.
The march which was heavily monitored by the PSNI/MI5 in both camera mounted jeeps and by helicopter made its way from Rosemount to Creggan and onto the City Cemetery, led on its way by an IRSM colour party bearing the National Flag, the International Workers Flag, provincial flags and the Battalion Flag of Derry City INLA.
Along the way local people gathered recalled their memories of the Hunger Strike period, including former H-Block activist Jacqueline Canning who recalled both the tension and anger which existed in Derry City at the time, as well as travelling to Dublin for the now infamous march on the British embassy which was brutally attacked by baton wielding Gardaí, asked what would be a fitting tribute to the martyrs of 1981 she replied ‘a united Ireland and nothing less’.
At the Republican Socialist plot the platform was bedecked with flags of the Palestinian nation, in recognition and solidarity with comrades currently undertaking hunger strike in protest at brutal Israeli oppression of imprisoned freedom fighters there.
A section of the crowd carry images of the 1981 Hunger Strikers
IRSP Ard Comhairle member Martin McMonagle chaired the proceedings during which he condemned recent attacks upon the local community centre Dove House but urged that the incidents not be used as a smokescreen excuse to wrongly condemn republicans in the city who espouse a different philosophy than establishment parties. The Republican Socialist Movement would not tolerate further attacks on a community resource he concluded.
Following the lowering of the flags and the reading of the North West and H-block rolls of honour, wreaths were laid on behalf of the INLA, the IRSP Ard Comhairle, Republican Sinn Féin, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and Republican Network for Unity.
Derry Battalion flag of the INLA
The main oration was given by Michael Kelly of the Matt McClarnon IRSP Cumann Belfast. Comrade Kelly paid tribute to the herculean struggle of the men of 1981, he also outlined the efforts being made by the IRSP to restructure and grow, giving a personal assurance to the IRSM veterans gathered that the younger activists would carry on the name of the party and struggle which they began and suffered so much for.
Michael Kelly delivers the main oration
A special message of support and solidarity was sent to comrade Bilal Kayed of the PFLP who is entering a critical stage of Hunger Strike in Palestine.
Following the ceremony several hundred people gathered in the Tower Hotel to listen to a memorable historical lecture delivered by veteran IRSP and INLA prisoners and which outlined the history of Republican Socialist prison resistance.
Willie Gallagher former INLA prisoner gives a detailed account of various prisoner escapes from Long Kesh and Belfast crown court
Tommy McCourt gave a sterling account of the foundation of the movement from the period of the Official IRA, endorsing the political ideals of Seamus Costello and urging young people present to carry on with the ideals which the IRSP were founded to endorse.
Comrade Willie Gallagher gave a detailed and intense account of INLA prison escapes including a previously unheard an in depth account of the ‘Red Mole’ escape, the first successful mass escape from the cages of Long Kesh.
Rab Collins former OC of Republican Socialist POWs in Long Kesh gives an emotional run down of events leading up to the ’81 Hunger Strikes
Comrade Tony O’Hara gave a detailed account of the harrowing blanket protest period along with a revisiting and challenging of the historical revisionism which attempted to write the INLA prisoners role out of the period of the 1980 and 1981 Hunger Strikes.
Finally, former INLA O.C Rab Collins gave a moving account of his role in directing the Hunger Strikes addressing the emotional battle which occurred alongside the physical. Rab concluded by addressing how the British State were currently attempting to reintroduce the policy and concept of criminalisation, and reminding young people present that it was now up to them to resist the former policies of Margaret Thatcher in the modern age.
Families of Mickey Devine, Patsy O’Hara and Kevin Lynch accept presentations on behalf of the Republican Socialist movement
The day was concluded with a presentation ceremony, in which beautiful Chrystal sculptures were presented to the families of INLA Hunger Strikers; Patsy O’Hara, Kevin Lynch and Michael Devine.