The Dirty Protest (1978-1981) is a term referring to the methods of protest used by Republican prisoners in Northern Ireland to obtain political prisoner status . The Dirty Protest, also known as “the Dirty Protest”, consisted of a hygiene strike: prisoners refused to wash themselves, and smeared the walls of their cells with their own excrement and urine…

History of the Dirty Protest


Since 1971, Long Kesh Prison has held many Republican prisoners within its walls… The latter are held without trial in H-Blocks, a kind of H-cells, and have been fighting since the beginning to obtain the status of political prisoners.

Their first form of struggle is then the Blanket Protest, a form of protest consisting in refusing to wear the prisoner’s uniform given by the prison . The inmates then prefer to live naked, wrapped in blankets… This struggle lasts several years, with no results…

A hygiene strike to obtain the status of political prisoner

The new alternative is then the “Dirty Protest”. Prisoners take the decision to refuse any form of hygiene, refusing to wash themselves, urinating everywhere in their cells, and lining their walls with their own excrement, as well as the remains of their daily meals .

Very quickly, the prison is plunged into such a sanitary state that the prison guards have to ask for a massive cleaning of the establishment. But this action is without effect and the inmates immediately resume their anti-hygiene action…

Of course, these actions are not without consequences for the living conditions of the detainees: the latter immerse themselves in an unhealthy and potentially dangerous environment. Many prisoners develop during the Dirty Protest many pathologies and other diseases that severely weaken them .

In spite of these drawbacks, the Dirty Protest proves to be more effective than the Blanket Protest, poisoning the lives of the prison guards more clearly than the old measure… Nevertheless, the Dirty Protest would later give way to another, much more powerful form of protest: the hunger strikes that would take place between 1980 and 1981.