In the 1960s, Northern Ireland began a period of ethno-political conflict called the Troubles. Through a series of social and political injustices, Northern Ireland had become a religiously divided society between historically mainland Protestants and Irish Catholics. Furthermore, the Irish people had become a fragmented body over a range of issues, identities, circumstances and loyalties. The conflict between Protestants and Catholics spilled over into violence, marked by riots and targeted killings between the groups beginning in 1968.
Hunger strikes have a long history in Ireland dating back to the medieval periods when Cealachan, a method of gaining justice for some perceived offense through starvation, was codified in the civil code called the Senchus Mor. This starvation tactic, whereby the victim fasted on the doorstep of their wrongdoer, could be used to settle or recover a debt, or address an injustice – the threat lay in that if the complainant was allowed to die on the defendant’s doorstep, that person would be held responsible for the death and the victim’s family.
Following World War I, the United Kingdom’s Parliament approved the Government of Ireland Act. Passed in 1920, the act partitioned Ireland and created two separate entities: Northern and Southern Ireland. Both Irelands had their own parliaments, and the Parliament of the United Kingdom hoped that one day the Irish parliaments would consent to unite the two Irelands into one Ireland, but any progress for unity would be halted by excessive violence.