Máiría Cahill expresses sadness after reading last wishes of hunger striker Thomas McElwee - ‘sacrificed by republicans for their aims’

A great-niece of a former IRA chief-of-staff has said it was “very sad” to see that the last wish of one of the hunger strikers was to start a new life as a social worker and promote “peace and harmony” with the British.

Thursday, 12th August 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Thursday, 12th August 2021, 10:17 am
Mairia Cahill was commenting on the last wishes expressed by hunger striker Thomas McElwee.

Máiría Cahill, a former Irish Senator and SDLP councillor, was speaking after the 40th anniversary of the death of 23-year-old Bellaghy hunger striker Thomas McElwee.

On Sunday Sinn Fein commemorated his death, saying that he died “unbowed and unbroken”. However, at the same time, the party’s youth wing – Ógra Shinn Féin – tweeted his last written words, in which his primary thoughts were about forgiveness.

He wrote: “My Last Wish; I ask for forgiveness from everyone. I would rather live than die but if I have to die I would like to let the people know that I bear no animosity, no ill feeling towards anybody.

Thomas McElwee died on hunger strike 40 years ago on Sunday past.

“I would like to live among the people as a social worker and promote peace and harmony among Catholics and Protestants and also with the British.”

Ms Cahill told the News Letter it was “very sad”.

“I think it’s sad that he clearly had come to some sort of thinking about what he wanted to do with his future, to work as a social worker and also wanted ‘peace and harmony’ within NI and also with the British,” she said.

“And it is clear from his note that he also wanted to live rather than die. Of course, he was sacrificed in pursuit of the republican movement’s aims, and he was a young man only in his mid-20s. It’s a far cry from the ‘unbowed and unbroken’ narrative that Sinn Fein put out on Twitter about him this week.

“Everybody deserves a second chance at life. Tom McElwee was instead allowed to die a lingering death by a movement who put their struggle before his.

“Plenty of senior republicans had a second chance at life – some of whom were involved in the IRA just like Tom McElwee – and some did quite well financially and politically off the memory of McElwee and the other hunger strikers for decades. Unfortunately, for people like Yvonne Dunlop’s family, a peace settlement like that mentioned in Tom McElwee’s ‘final wish’, came far too late.”

Ms Dunlop died in a fire bomb attack on her father’s Ballymena clothes shop in 1976. McElwee was convicted of her murder.

Sinn Fein offered no response to Ms Cahill’s comments. But the party’s southern housing spokesman, Eoin Ó Broin, said that Irish Republican Brotherhood leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa had “invented the idea of urban guerrilla warfare, or as many people would call it, urban terrorism”.

He added: “Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party all commemorate people who actively used violence in the course of the struggle for Irish freedom over the last century.

“That poses huge challenges because if one community commemorates somebody who died – for example in the hunger strike – that can cause pain and grief for the families who were the victims of IRA violence,” he said in the Irish Independent.

“I’m very conscious of that. And I think when we’re organising commemorations, and this applies to everybody, not just to republicans, we have to try and do it in a way that is sensitive.”

Kenny Donaldson, spokesman for Innocent Victims United, said the republican movement used Thomas McElwee on three occasions. “Firstly, in propagating his mind to send him out to carry out acts of terror against his neighbours, secondly in prompting him to end his life on hunger strike for political advantage, and thirdly, in recalibrating the context of his death, pumping out propaganda that it was as a result of British state oppression”.

He added: “Any new legacy process must deal with this matter of terrorism idolatry, there must follow penalties for those who romanticise violence.”

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