The Blanket Protest

The Blanket Protest
The Blanket Protest

The Blanket Protest (1976-1981) is a term referring to a form of peaceful protest adopted by Republican prisoners (IRA and INLA) during the time of the Troubles in Northern Ireland (1969-1998). This protest consisted of refusing to wear a prisoner’s uniform while living naked or wrapped in a blanket . This struggle lasted several years and took place in Long Kesh prison.

History of the Blanket Protest

A pacifist struggle to obtain the status of political prisoner

The Blanket Protest

The Blanket Protest

It’s at Long Kesh Prison that the fight is waged. Since 1971, the British government has imprisoned without trial any Catholic suspected of pro-Republican activism. The latter are crammed into H-Blocks (H-shaped cells), and are detained for sometimes undefined sentences.

Faced with these summary imprisonments (which do not respect the Human Rights Convention), the prisoners wish to take part in the struggle and demand the change of their status from simple prisoner to political prisoner . Among the advantages of the status of political prisoner, the right to :

  • wearing civilian clothes, not prisoners’ uniforms..
  • exempting himself from prison work;
  • associate with other prisoners for educational or recreational activities;
  • get one visit, one letter and one package a week;
  • obtain full restoration of the remission of the sentence lost during the protest

The Blanket Protest began on September 14, 1976, when Kieran Nugent, a prisoner who had just arrived in Long Kesh, categorically refused to wear a prisoner’s uniform. The prisoner was beaten but nothing convinced him to comply with the rules. He then decides to remain naked, or to wrap himself in a blanket in cold weather for the duration of his detention, until he obtains the status of political prisoner …

Many prisoners imitated it, and lived for many months (then years) wearing blankets… The ambient cold, and the precariousness of this action for the prisoners should then have sensitized the international opinion on the actions of the British government… Unfortunately, this movement had only little effect, and did not allow them to obtain this change of status… and this in spite of several years spent wrapped in blankets, without clothes, nor heating…

This is why the Blanket Protest was followed by the Dirty Protest, another protest movement, also known as the “Hygiene Strike” .