The first hungerstrike, undertaken by seven republican volunteers began on October 27th 1980. Brendan Hughes the I.R.A Officer Commanding the prison would lead the prisoners on the strike followed by six others John Nixon, Sean McKenna, Raymond McCartney, Tommy McKearney and Leo Green.
Five basic demands had been drafted by the prisoners beforehand and made public. These demands were basically political status in another form:
The Five Demands:
1. The Right not to wear a prison uniform;
2. The Right not to do prison work;
3. The Right of free association with other prisoners;
4. The Right to organize their own educational and recreational facilities;
5. The Right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.
It has to be said that the I.R.A on the outside were vehemently opposed to a hungerstrike, at least in the early stages. Mainly because of the logistics involved in organising and maintaining support for such a venture.
Furthermore, they didn’t want the prison campaign detracting from the struggle as a whole which at this stage was whole-heartedly militarist. In fact Gerry Adams publicly outlined the position:
“We are tactically, strategically, physically and morally opposed to a hungerstrike”.
Nevertheless after much toing and froing from the prison, the hungerstrike began on October 27th with the seven refusing food in a fast to the death.
The hungerstrikers were later joined on December 1st by three republican prisoners from Armagh women‘s jail, one of whom Mairead Farrell, was killed by the S. A. S in Gibraltar in 1988. Mairead was joined by Mairead Nugent and Mary Doyle.
After protracted negotiations, both public and behind the scenes, the prisoner’s fast ended on 18th December after fifty-two days.
With Sean McKenna being very close to death, the other prisoners all seriously ill in hospital and more and more public pressure being brought to bear upon the republican prison leaders, the decision was taken to end the fast in the hopes that Margaret Thatcher and her government had acceded to the stikers five demands.
It was thought that an honourable compromise had been reached, the reality was very different. This “paper” that the British had drafted up, on which the prisoners hopes had been raised, amounted to nothing more than a diluted form of criminalisation.
It was decided that a second hungerstrike would be embarked upon,and that it would be led by the O.C(Officer Commanding) of the prison during the first strike, Bobby Sands.