Monument plan for H Block prisoners in Hackney (1981)

A TV news item on the culture war about a statue – from November 1981. The clip reports on the scandal around a campaign for the construction of a monument to ten dead Irish Republican hunger strikers.

Five Labour councillors signed a petition supporting the camaign, but there seems to have been some confusion about whether they knew what they were doing… (insert joke here about Hackney councillors).

The petition was also signed by Ernie Roberts, MP for Stoke Newington, who subsequently withdrew his support.

The call for the monument (and the more pressing need for political recognition of Irish Republican prisoners) was organised by the Smash The Prevention of Terrorism Act Campaign, which according to the comrades at Powerbase was a front for the Revolutionary Communist Tendency. (The Tendency was becoming the Revolutionary Communist Party in 1981 when all this happened. It then evolved into the wildly dodgy Living Marxism/LM before mutating further into the contrarian tentacles of the network around Spiked! and other wrongness).

A mock up of the proposed monument which campaigners wished to be installed outside Hackney Town Hall

Hackney was one of several frontlines of the RCT’s battle for Republican prisoners. One year before the monument furore, the Tendency had organised a march from the Town Hall to mark the beginning of the hunger strike:

(Image courtesy of New Historical Express, whose useful post on the wider left’s support or otherwise for the hunger strikes is well worth a look.)

On 13th October of 1981 the Smash The Prevention of Terrorism Act Campaign ran a meeting at Stoke Newington Town Hall with “relatives of the H-Block Prisoners and prominent hunger strike activists from Ireland and Britain”.

So naturally, the RCP/T seized the opportunity to make political capital out of the monument campaign in their paper The Next Step:

(scans courtesy of the expansive Splits and Fusions archive, whose introductory post on the RCP and its publications is recommended.)

Needless to say, the monument did not get built. But who were the councillors who may or may not have supported it?

Bella Callaghan went on to be Mayor of Hackney from 1983-1984.

Ron Heisler, is a socialist and self-described “delinquent historian” with a penchant for visiting all the left wing bookshops in London (admirable pursuits, I am sure you will agree).

Patrick Kodikara was well known in the eighties as a black activist. Mr Kodikara sadly died earlier this month and his obituary at the Guardian is well worth a read. He has previously appeared on this blog in relation to defunding Hackney police and there is footage of him in the extended news clip on Hackney Schoolkids Against the Nazis.

The standard work on the H-Block hunger strikes and the conditions from which they arose is Ten Men Dead by David Beresford. I would also recommend Culture Wars: The Media and the British Left by James Curran, Ivor Gaber and Julian Petley on the general media climate of the time and its focus on “loony lefty councils”.

Previously on Radical History of Hackney:

The Provisional IRA in Stoke Newington

Shots fired at Hackney Council meeting (1986)

Centerprise, An Phoblacht and a suspect package

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