Some Mother's Son (1996)
Frequently Asked Questions
Bobby Sands' actions followed a long-standing dispute between Unionist Protestants and Nationalist Catholics in Northern Ireland. Unionists wished to preserve the link between Ireland and Britain, whereas the Nationalists, wanted Northern Ireland to be united with the Republic of Ireland, severing the link with the rest of the British Isles. The extremist element of Irish Nationalism was the IRA (Irish Republican Army) who used terrorism to achieve their aims and had been waging a violent campaign since 1969. In the late 70s the British government adopted the policy of 'police primacy', no longer looking for a political solution to the Troubles but to militarily defeat the IRA by gradually wearing them down. As part of this terrorist prisoners had many of their privileges removed and were treated instead as common criminals. In 1981, Sands took on a hunger strike in order to win special status for republicans as 'political prisoners' and died aged 27 after a 66-day hunger strike.
Arguably no one, ten republican prisoners died before the strike was called off. Afterwards the government quietly reintroduced some of the concessions they had demanded but at a time of wider prison reform when they were in the offing anyway. It also introduced them to the IRA's enemies, Loyalist prisoners (Irish Unionist terrorists/vigilantes).
The hunger strikes have often been credited with shifting the IRA's focus away from violence and towards politics, what became known as the 'Armalite (rifle) and the ballot box' strategy. However arguably this would have happened anyway as the security forces had managed to reduce to the death toll from the Troubles from a high of 480 in 1972 to a low of 80 in 1980. After the hunger strikes the death toll rose again to 114 in 1981 but then continued its' downward trend, reaching 57 in 1985. Afterwards it would rise again but largely as the result of a revitalized Loyalist movement who would eventually out-kill Republicans in the final few years of the conflict. In 1995 the IRA would declare a ceasefire followed by the Loyalists and both sides would eventually destroy their weapons in exchange for the release of their prisoners. Since then hundreds of members of IRA splinter groups have been convicted and treated as ordinary convicts. One consequence was to widen the gap between Irish Unionists and Nationalists, many Unionists enraged by Nationalist's sympathy for men Unionists regarded as simply sectarian killers (some Unionists quite literally celebrating the hunger striker's deaths). Unionist politician Ian Paisley commented "Nationalists have shown their true colours, sympathising with the murderers and blaming their victims".
He had previously been convicted of possession of firearms after being found in a house with several guns and had served his sentence and been released. He later took part in the bombing of a furniture warehouse but fled when the police arrived, abandoning two other terrorists who had been wounded and was convicted of possession of a pistol found in his getaway car.