An Camchéacta/The Starry Plough, April 1981
"The real criminals are the British imperialists who have thrived on the blood and sweat of generations of Irishmen and Irishwomen". --Patsy O'Hara
On July 11th of this year, Patsy O'Hara will be 24 - maybe. For at this moment Patsy, a Derry Republican Socialist, is, along with three Provisional Republicans, on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. He is the second Republican Socialist O/C to go on hunger strike (Armagh Republican Socialist John Nixon represented the IRSP on the last hunger strike).
Patsy is determined to remain on hunger strike until such time as the prisoners' demands are met. Here is his story.
Patsy was born in Derry's Bishop Street in July 1957. Then, as now, Derry was a depressed town. Cut off from its natural hinterland by partition; deprived of industry and decent housing and subject to gerrymandering by the Unionist clique at Stormont - the lot of the nationalist people was not a happy one.
Jobs were as scarce as gold dust. The town had, and still has, one of the highest unemployment rates in Western Europe. What little work was available was in the textile industry where female workers, owing to lower labour costs, were mainly employed.
Most Derry men had to be content with drawing the dole. The only other option available was emigration - one exercised by Patsy's father. As Patsy says, "My father was forced to leave Ireland in search of work and most of his working life was spent abroad before the troubles started". It was against this background that Patsy was brought up. His first memories of the troubles were the demonstrations of 1968. These stemmed from the activities of the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) - organised by members of the Young Socialists and the James Connolly Republican Club: Liam O Comain, Finbar O'Doherty, Johnny White, Eamonn McCann, Charlie Morrison and Dermie McClenaghan, among others. Its purpose was to highlight the apalling housing conditions. Its method was to disrupt public life in the city.
On July 3rd of that year the group blocked the new lower deck bridge across the river Foyle. Among the demonstrators arrested were Patsy's brother Sean, and Finbar O Doherty, a family friend. As Patsy writes, "Although I was only 11 years of age, these incidents remain vividly in my mind". The arrests brought the nature of the R.U.C. closer to home.
There followed further demonstrations. On October 5th 1968 the Civil Rights Association held its first demonstration in Derry, following an invitation from the D.H.A.C.
Patsy describes the occasion:
"Even at the age of 11, I couldn't help feeling a sense of purpose. The mood of the crowd was one of solidarity. The people believed that they were right and that a great injustice had been done to them. The crowds came in their thousands from every part of the city and as they marched down Duke Street chanting slogans - "one man, one vote" - and singing "We Shall Overcome" - I had the feeling that the people united and on the move were unstoppable.
During the following weeks the people of the Bogside held the RUC and the B-Specials at bay. These were the days of what has become known as the Battle of the Bogside, when the people of Derry showed the forces of oppression that they were more than a match for them. The Bogside was covered in a blanket of CS gas.
Patsy describes the scene:
"The gas hung in the air and one had a sickly feeling in the stomach, the nose and the throat was raw - but the system became used to it. The old suffered the most, but it also had a lasting effect on the young".In 1970 Patsy joined the Fianna in Derry and early in 1971 he joined the Padraig Pearse Sinn Fein Cumann in the Bogside. His main activity consisted of selling papers and collections. It was a year of incidents when the true nature of the British forces became more apparent.
Eamonn McCann in his book "War and an Irish Town" describes the situation:
"Almost every day now something happened to stiffen the intransigence of Catholic attitudes. Disparities in the sentences handed down by the courts became grotesque. A Protestant dealer in illegal guns got a suspended sentence. Catholic pickets went to jail. Catholic areas were subjected to daily Army searches; Protestant areas went untouched. People were being beaten up quite casually by army patrols in Catholic areas at night. And Faulkner became Prime Minister. Chichester-Clark had been toppled by right-wing pressure after three off-duty Scottish soldiers were killed in unexplained circumstances on 10th March. Faulkner was probably the man in the Unionist heirarchy then most heartily detested by Catholics. He had a well-earned reputation for being completely untrustworthy - 'political astuteness', it was called - and hopes were expressed at Westminster that he might be the man to resolve the situation. There was never any possibility of this happening. 'He's got more faces than the Guildhall Clock', said Seamus O'Kane, which just about summed up Catholic reaction to his election.
In the twenties, the thirties, the forties and the fifties the RUC had come storming into the nationalist areas, dragging the people from their beds, and taking them to prison ships and camps where they were often interned for years - without charge, without trial. It happened again on August 9th.
The days when the nationalist people of Derry allowed themselves to be kicked around were long gone. Their response was to take to the streets and barricades were erected at the entrance to the areas - re-establishing Free Derry.
During this time, Patsy's eldest brother Tony was arrested and interned in Long Kesh. It was common for the young people to man the barricades set up to keep the British forces out of Free Derry. On one such occasion, Patsy was manning a barricade, when he was shot by an undercover squad of British soldiers. At first the British propaganda machine said that a gunman had been shot, but on hearing Patsy's age, the story was altered to "boy caught in a crossfire".
It was January 1972 before Patsy was out of hospital. On January 30th of that year he watched the anti-internment march go into the Brandywell. He was unable to march, being restricted by crutches. It was the day known as Bloody Sunday, the events of which are well chronicled. Its impact on Patsy was to increase his determination to bring about the defeat of British Imperialism in Ireland.
In early '72, Patsy joined the Republican Clubs. Throughout this time he was constantly arrested and beaten by the British Army. In September 1974 - two months after his 17th birthday, he was arrested and taken to the notorious interrogation centre at Ballykelly.
After three days of interrogation he was interned. On his release in April of 1975 he joined the Irish Republican Socialist Party.
"My experiences in Long Kesh had helped me see the situation in a different light. I came to realise that the war in Ireland wasn't just over which flag hangs over parliament buildings. To have real control over our own lives, the people - and not the native or foreign capitalist - must control the means of production. The capitalist's only interest is in more profits, to be achieved by exploiting Irish workers.
In September 1976 Patsy was arrested once again. He was charged with possession, even though there wasn't the slightest shred of evidence against him. He was held for 4 months, during which he was involved in court protests against the removal of political status.
In June of 1977, Patsy moved to Dublin, where he was subjected to harrassment from the collaborationist Free State Special Branch. He remained in Dublin until January of 1979. During his spell in Dublin Patsy was an outstanding party activist. He played a prominent role in a number of party campaigns - including those against the E.E.C., against the Heavy Gang torture and against the H-Blocks. He worked closely with Seamus Costello, Miriam Daly and Ronnie Bunting - all of whom were assassinated by agents of British Imperialism.
In January of 1979, Patsy returned to Derry. He was still deeply involved in the H-Block campaign. At that time, his brother Tony - also an IRSP member - was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. Tony immediately went on the blanket. In May, Patsy was arrested yet again. He was charged with possession of a grenade and several months later was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment.
Patsy describes what happened then:
"I was brought back to Crumlin Road, a 15 minute visit with my girlfriend and the next day I was taken to Long Kesh. From the outset I refused to be criminalised. I was taken to the protest blocks and put in a cell. I am still here in a cell covered with excreta and urine with nothing but blankets, no mental stimulation. I have been beaten, humiliated, but their attempts to criminalise me have failed.