Irish nationalist argues IRA martyrs died for “gay rights”

The march through Belfast marks 35 years since the strikes in which ten men died. Image: pa/Getty

A gay politician in Ireland told Belfast’s citizens a major concern for Irish nationalists has been “gay rights”.

Fintan Warfield, a Senator and spokesperson for the arts, youth affairs and LGBT rights for Sinn Féin. He is openly gay.

Irish nationalist argues IRA martyrs died for “gay rights”

He spoke at a march in Belfast, Northern Ireland yesterday, commemorating the hunger strikes 35 years ago by IRA activists, ten of whom died. The party has historic ties to the controversial IRA (Irish Republican Army).

“Eight years ago, I became involved with our movement aged 16, inspired and informed by our songs, poems and music, and politicised by my sexuality.

“As in 1916, the 10 men who made the ultimate sacrifice in 1981 were cultural as much as political activists.

“As in 1916, amongst our comrades, and before and after, were prisoners who ensured queer representation from the cells of Long Kesh [HM Prison Maze].

“A quarter of a century before the achievement of civil marriage equality in the south, one Prisoner of War said, and I quote: ‘The key to gay and lesbian liberation lies in the success of the national liberation struggle.’

“That national liberation struggle has yet to be achieved and our rights continue to be partitioned.”

Ten men died during the 1981 hunger strikes, though many families intervened to save their sons once they fell unconscious from starvation.

The strikes were held to compel Margaret Thatcher’s government to give in to their demands including, the right to wear their own clothes and better visitation rights.

The Republican March took place on Saturday from Barrack Street to Falls Park in Belfast, and more than 10,000 people took part. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was present.

Same sex marriage is still illegal in Northern Ireland, despite having become legal through popular vote in the republic in October last year.