Former MP Bobby Sands and nine republican hunger strikers gave their lives 20 years ago because they believed in the right of the people of Ireland to shape their own destiny, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said today.
The West Belfast MP said at the unveiling of a memorial in the Cuban capital Havana that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government had sought to deny the ideal of justice, equality, freedom and the national right for self determination.
Mr Adams, who later met Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana, paid a tribute in his speech to about 100 hunger strikers whose names were inscribed on the marble memorial. He said: ‘‘You have to ask what were the hunger strikes in Ireland about?
‘‘They were of course about the prison conditions in Armagh women’s prison and the H Block of Long Kesh.
‘‘They were about the denial of human rights to those prisoners and their families and friends and of course those are important fundamental issues.
‘‘But mostly what the hunger strike was about can only be understood in the context of understanding the human spirit, about how the human spirit when taken by an ideal or idea or objective can rise above itself and how the human spirit in raising itself can do mighty, unimaginable and courageous things.’’
The Sinn Fein leader claimed the hunger strikers and other republican prisoners shared the same goal.
‘‘They believed in freedom, they believed in independence and they believed in the right of the people of Ireland to shape our own destiny in our own way,’’ he said.
‘‘It was that idea, that idea of justice, equality and freedom, of the human rights to national of determination which the Thatcher government sought to destroy.
‘‘That is why not just because of the unimaginable sacrifice of the prisoners but because of their ideals why you people here in Cuba are so touched by what happened.
‘‘It is why we who have come from Ireland are so touched that you people here remember, as we remember, that terrible dark summer of 1981.’’
A military colour party greeted the Sinn Fein leader and his entourage as they arrived in a public park for the unveiling of the memorial.
Recordings of the Cuban and Irish national anthems were played followed by the laying of a wreath by Mr Adams and the Cuban soldiers.
The Sinn Fein president also met local schoolchildren and mingled with Cubans and Irish expatriates who gathered for the ceremony.
Mr Adams met President Castro after visiting a social workers training college and delivering a keynote address at the Cuban Institute For the Friendship of the Peoples.