Northern Ireland

Bobby Sands comic book: Unionists criticise Arts Council over funding

Bobby Sands Image copyright PA
Image caption Bobby Sands died in the Maze Prison on 5 May 1981

Unionists have criticised the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) for providing funding towards the publication of a comic book on the hunger striker Bobby Sands.

The Belfast Telegraph and The Irish News reported that the book had received funding from the arts body.

Bobby Sands was the first of 10 hunger strikers to die during a republican protest in the Maze Prison in 1981.

Unionists described the book as "republican propaganda".

The Sands family also criticised the publication, saying they had not been consulted about it and were first made aware of it when extracts appeared in the media.

Sands was an IRA man who had been serving a 14-year sentence for possessing a gun.

The illustrated book, written by novelist Gerry Hunt and published by O'Brien Press in Dublin, was part-funded by the National Lottery.

'Glorified terrorism'

The Arts Council is funded by Stormont's culture and arts department.

Image caption The book was written by the graphic novelist Gerry Hunt and published by O'Brien Press in Dublin

The BBC understands that the fact that Bobby Sands would be the subject of the book would have been made known to ACNI in O'Brien's application for a grant, but not the title or content of the book.

In a statement, the Arts Council said it had received a "strong application" from O'Brien Press, which it described as one of Ireland's largest publishers, and said it had "satisfied all of our criteria".

The Ulster Unionist MP, Tom Elliott, said he believed the book glorified terrorism.

Image caption The book details Bobby Sands time inside the Maze Prison

"What does concern me is that the Arts Council have given money to this book that is really a glorification of Bobby Sands' life as a terrorist," he said.

Danny Morrison is the secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust and one of the characters featured in the graphic novel.

"Bobby Sands spent a third of his life in jail," he said.

"He was 27 years of age when he died after 66 days on hunger strike. He was the MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone. He was a poet and a writer."

'Reprehensible'

However, a statement issued by the Sands family said the trust did not represent them "in any shape or form".

They added that at no time were they consulted "regarding the accuracy of the content published in the book".

"It is reprehensible that the family, including our elderly mother, was first made aware of this book when confronted by extracts displayed in the media," they said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ten men died during the 1981 hunger strike in the Maze Prison

The hunger strike began in the prison as a protest by republican prisoners over their right to be treated as 'special category' political prisoners rather than criminals.

During his time on hunger strike Bobby Sands stood for election as an MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone and was elected.

He died less than a month later on 5 May 1981.

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