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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

'A betrayal of what we fought for'

Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism interviews Brendan Hughes


At the beginning of December 2000, Brendan Hughes, along with Anthony McIntyre, spoke at a meeting in Manchester on the situation in Ireland. At it they both outlined their opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and the role that Sinn Fein is playing. They both belong to the Irish Republican Writers Group (IRWG) which produces the magazine Fourthwrite. Both men were IRA POWs held in Long Kesh. Brendan Hughes was the Commanding Officer of the prisoners when the first hunger strike began in 1980 and he was himself one of the hunger strikers. After the meeting, Brendan kindly agreed to be interviewed, first telling how he had been held and questioned for 1 1/2 hours at Liverpool Docks before being allowed entry to Britain.

FRFI: What are your views on the peace process?

BH: I basically strongly agree that the war in Ireland with the British is over. I believe that the military struggle is over but I totally disagree with the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). The Republican Movement, the IRA, spent 30 years bringing down the rotten regime called Stormont, controlled by the British government. The GFA has brought Sinn Fein into Stormont, still controlled by the British, with the RUC still armed and still on the streets. British troops are still on the streets of the north of Ireland, still on the roofs of the Divis Flats. Sinn Fein people have now become part of the occupation forces in the north of Ireland. I disagree with that. I disagree with the whole concept of administering British rule in Ireland, which I believe Sinn Fein is now doing. I therefore will oppose it.

The GFA allowed two Sinn Fein ministers into Stormont. One of the acts the Sinn Fein Health Minister carried out was to close a hospital. [Bairbre de Brun, Sinn Fein Health Minister, carried through cuts in the health budget. Hospital facilities in South Tyrone and the Jubilee in Belfast have been closed. She is also introducing the Private Finance Initiative into the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.] I believe that as long as Sinn Fein are in this regime, then they are in a British regime and they are administering British rule in Ireland. I totally disagree with what's happening and I'm opposing it, but it's not easy. I've been a member of this movement for over 30 years, most of my adult life. It doesn't make it easy. I don't feel comfortable about it, but I know it's right to oppose it because what's happening is, I think, a total betrayal of everything the Republican Movement has represented over the years.

I think the Republican leadership has begun to move away from everything that we fought for and I'm saddened over that. Again I have to say, it's not an easy thing for me to do. They are my old friends and comrades, but for me it's wrong, very much wrong and I have to speak about it.

FRFI: Why do you think this process is happening? Whom does Sinn Fein represent?

BH: I think Sinn Fein is changing. I've noticed it over the years. I've written to An Phoblacht, the newspaper of Sinn Fein, and tried to expose the rogue builders on the Falls Road – rogue builders that are paying men £20 for a day's work, way under the rate. That was my first act, to go and write an article and try to get it published in An Phoblacht. When they read the article at the An Phoblacht office, they refused to publish it. I threatened the editor that if they didn't publish it, I would go to the Irish News with a stronger version. The article was eventually published, very much watered down. To the present day those same rogue builders are still there paying the same wages with the complicity of the Sinn Fein leadership. To me it's a betrayal of the working class. To me it's a shame, a disgrace that they are allowed to get away with this and these same builders that I've been writing about, campaigning about, are building Sinn Fein offices! They're still paying the same wages. They pay their men in pubs, they allow the men to run up bills, to me they're just alien to everything Republican, everything revolutionary that I've ever stood for in my life. It shouldn't be allowed to happen.

A new type of leadership has come in who are 'collar and tie' – all the woolly jumpers have been thrown away and the collars and ties are in. From my perception of things the Republican leadership has moved away from the working class and is attempting to win the middle class. They're attempting to win the ground that belonged to the SDLP.

FRFI: Do you see any way forward?

BH: I don't have an immediate alternative. The only alternative we're expressing through the IRWG is debate. I think debate has been muffled and censored. I think debate has been unwelcome. I think the way forward for us at present in the IRWG is to try and expose the weaknesses and the betrayal of the GFA and to force people to answer the questions that we have asked. To build a broad base of debate initially, to try and force the Republican Movement back to the base where it belongs, in other words the working class. As to building another party, I am certainly not attempting to do that. I think the people who can bring about a revolutionary socialist party in Ireland are in Sinn Fein. If the little that we are attempting to do in the IRWG goes any way towards that, then OK, that's an achievement on its own. If all that fails, at least what we're trying to do is record that not everyone could go along with Sinn Fein's acceptance of the GFA and the British solution to the Irish problem. At least we'll be on record of trying to oppose it and of sticking our necks out. If we achieve more than that, then great, we can develop from there.

Everybody is opposed to the IRWG – the British, the British media, the Irish media, the Republican media, everyone is opposed to what we're trying to say. To me that says we must be doing something right.


Brendan Hughes was the Commanding Officer of Republican POWs in the H-blocks in 1980 when the first hunger strike began and was one of the first seven hunger strikers. The hunger strike was the culmination of the struggle of the prisoners for the right to be classed as political prisoners, a right taken away from them by the Labour government in 1976. The hunger strike began on 27 October and on 1 December three women prisoners from Armagh joined the protest. Mass demonstrations took place throughout Ireland and across the world. On 15 December, another 23 prisoners joined the hunger strike, followed the next day by a further seven. The health of Sean McKenna, one of the original hunger strikers, was at this point severely deteriorating. British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Humphrey Atkins issued a document to the hunger strikers indicating that their demands would be met. The hunger strike was called off. The British government reneged on the deal and a second hunger strike began, leading to the death of ten hunger strikers.


















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Index: Current Articles


17 February 2007

Brendan Hughes
Archive Material

6 February 2008

Other Articles From This Issue:

Was it a War?
Michael Gillespie

Impossible Task for Truth Body
David Adams

Pandora's Box
John Kennedy

Villians of the Peace
Mick Hall

India's Undeclared War
Cedric Gouverneur

Borders Exist to be Crossed: Maryam Namazie
Anthony McIntyre

That This House Believes That Irish Republicanism Has No Future: Opposed
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh

Dismantling Partition
32 County Sovereignty Movement

We Shall Not Be Deterred
Brian Mór

Martin Meehan
Anthony McIntyre

Washington Pressure on Dodds
Fr Sean Mc Manus

No Pope Here
Brian Mór

Fundamental Primer
Dr John Coulter

Internal Exiles
Seaghán Ó Murchú

14 January 2008

Republicanism...Alive or Dying?
Anthony McIntyre

Pillocks of the Community
John Kennedy

Irish Unity Cannot Be Ruled Out
David Adams

A Great Republican and a Great Man
Aine Doherty

John Kelly
Anthony McIntyre

How Urgent the Need?
John Kelly, from an interview with Liam Clarke

My Grandfather's Insurgency
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

Kitsonian Success With the Provos...?
Liam O Comain

McGuinness Takes the Finland!
John Kennedy

Provisional Sinn Fein - Don't Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater
Jerry Pepin

John Kennedy

Operation Helvetic: To Be Expected
Michael Gillespie

Hung Out to Dry
John Kennedy

Re-Imagining Ireland
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission
Mick Hall

One Armed Bandit
John Kennedy

Terrorism and Leftism
Paddy Hackett

Power to the People
John Kennedy



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