Trevor Ringland: I won’t watch 66 Days – the hunger strikes led to more death and destruction

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I probably won’t watch 66 Days, the latest film dramatising the hunger strikes in Northern Ireland.

I found the last film about Bobby Sands, Hunger, deeply depressing and suffocating.

That young people should want to starve themselves to death because of an ideology raises the question of how our society allowed some of its leaders to wield such terrible influence in the first place.

Our aspiration for young people should always be that they live for the future, rather than die or take other lives for a political cause. Hunger strikes have sadly been a recurring theme in Irish republicanism.

To prevent this happening ever again we should consider creating a legal basis to allow doctors to intervene and provide medical attention.

The period 66 Days examines had many consequences and I don’t know whether it explores properly the impact on the hunger strikers’ families. All of those families became deeply divided, as some felt that their loved ones should die for the cause, while others challenged that position. I doubt that the fissures opened up by that argument have healed even to this day.

The hunger strikes also led to further death and destruction, with around 60 people losing their lives on the streets of Northern Ireland during that time.

Around 3,600 people died directly as a consequence of society breaking down during ‘The Troubles’. The vast majority had no choice as to whether they lived or died.

We also hear little about how many others took their own lives, often privately, on their own, and, unlike the hunger-strikers, with no opportunity for intervention.

These quiet deaths, of which there is no official record, spanned our whole society, and they don’t include those who died from stress-related illnesses, brought on by the environment in which they had to live or work during the Troubles.

There are no movies about the young boy who recovered enough from a punishment beating to climb to the top of a tower and hang himself. No-one sings songs or holds parades for the loyalist gunman who couldn’t live with his deeds and set himself alight, or the republican paramilitary who drank himself to death.

An interpretation of certain statistics suggests that the number of Troubles related deaths could be five times greater, if we included all these tragic events and the impact of the conflict on wider society .

Debate will continue to rage about the hunger strikes and their portrayal in books and films.

As we look to the future, the main thing is that we challenge the deeply flawed ideologies that led to unnecessary conflict in our society.

We should never again revisit any semblance of those terrible times and we should always confront those who would take us down that path again.

Trevor Ringland, Holywood