IRA tributes from US and Corbynite figures ‘romantic nonsense’

A former leading policeman has described tributes to Bobby Sands from figures outside the island of Ireland as “romantic nonsense”.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 7:55 am
Updated Friday, 7th May 2021, 8:00 am
Kevin Boyle by Sands' grave, and Diane Abbott with Jeremy Corbyn

Norman Baxter was speaking to the News Letter following the 40th anniversary of Sands’ death on Wednesday – an occasion which prompted warm words from republicans on this island and their sympathisers overseas (see below).

Among the political figures paying tribute to Sands was Kevin J Boyle, a highly-connected Democratic politician in Pennsylvania.

He wrote: “Forty years ago Bobby Sands died on hunger strike in a British jail demanding recognition as political prisoner. The current campaign for a free and united Ireland wouldn’t have been possible without the patriotic sacrifices he and all those other Irish Republicans in 1981 heroically took.”

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Mr Boyle sits in the House of Representatives for his state (which is the fifth biggest in America, just behind New York). He is also brother of US Congressman Brendan Boyle.

He has repeatedly waded into controversial Troubles subjects over the past year; the last time he came to public attention for this reason was in December, when he had written: “The British government through its intelligence, army and police ran the UDA and UVF in the north of Ireland but still want to hide that fact.”

The News Letter asked him to elaborate but he never replied.

Mr Baxter said of the overseas tributes to Sands: “It’s romantic nonsense, and the re-writing of history.

“It’s not the reality in any way. He was committed to the cause of murder and mayhem.”

Mr Baxter rose to the rank of chief superintendent in the RUC and PSNI, but at the time of the 1981 hunger strikes was a mere constable.

In a bizarre coincidence, when Sands had fled from a gun battle following his bombing of a furniture shop in 1976, the police cornered him in the garden of what was then Mr Baxter’s brother’s house, where he was arrested.

“He was so heroic he left his colleague behind who was wounded,” said Mr Baxter.

“And what was heroic about planting a bomb to endanger lives?”

By another co-incidence, Mr Baxter also met Sands’ parents while guarding a polling station in Cappagh, Co Tyrone, during the hunger strike.

“His mother clearly wanted him off [the strike],” added Mr Baxter. “I had a fairly good conversation with her and his father, though he was quieter.

“His mother was hoping that by winning the election he would end the hunger strike, and her son would survive.

“Others had different plans for him.”

Another of those sharing tributes to Bobby Sands this week was Labour MP Diane Abbott.

She was formerly shadow home secretary under close ally Jeremy Corbyn – who has himself been castigated for his perceived closeness to the republican movement.

The role of shadow home secretary (which she held for four years) meant she was the official opposition spokeswoman on matters of crime.

On Thursday, she re-tweeted praise for Sands from Michelle O’Neill.

The tweet in question read: “Today marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands MP. We remember the courage and sacrifice of the hunger strikers with pride.”

The tweet came on the same day as England-wide council elections.

Whilst Ms Abbott’s Twitter account says “re-tweeting does not mean agreement”, one of the many critical comments under Ms Abbot’s re-tweet said: “Here is the reason Labour failed in a nutshell: the person who would have been home sec re-tweeting in a good way about an IRA man.”

Another figure tweeting about Sands was ex-Corbynite Labour MP Chris Williamson.

Reacting to online claims that republican sympathisers had erected a street sign in Sands’ honour in Spain, he wrote: “Viva España! Thatcher Plaza in Madrid changes name to Bobby Sands Plaza on 40th anniversary of Irish hunger striker’s death.”

Meanwhile Sean McManus, a US-based Catholic priest and president of the Irish National Caucus, wrote: “GOD REST HIS NOBLE IRISH SOUL.”

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