That Bobby Sands Book, The Sands Family And The Bobby Sands Trust

bobby sands book

Sands Family Claim Gerry Adams Wanted To Be A Financial Beneficiary Of Bobby Sands Writings


It has been difficult, to say the least, to excavate the truth about an allegation made by the Sands’ family this week about the role of the Bobby Sands Trust in the preparation and publication of the controversial graphic novel ‘Bobby Sands – Freedom Fighter’.

While Unionists have vented their spleen at the sympathetic light in which the late IRA hunger striker is portrayed, the Sands family have complained that the Sinn Fein-controlled Bobby Sands Trust played a central role in creating the book, did so without the family’s assent and in the process hijacked their  history.

They have demanded that the Trust disband and stop using Bobby Sands’ writing for commercial gain.

Superficial evidence points to some involvement by the Trust, or some of its board, not least media appearances this week praising the book by Danny Morrison, at one time the Trust’s secretary, as well as reports that Gerry Adams was approached for help by the author or his publisher. Sands family sources also say some details about Bobby Sands’ life could only have come from Trust members.

In an effort to shed light on the matter, I emailed Michael O’Brien, Publisher of O’Brien Press, who must be reveling in all the publicity, to ask him what dealings or financial relationship his firm had with the Trust. His reply dealt with one of those questions – “I confirm that no fee was paid to the Bobby Sands trust” – but not the other.

Gerry Adams, in Long Kesh seated (far right) with Brendan Hughes to his right and Bobby Sands to his left (both standing)

Gerry Adams, in Long Kesh (seated far right) with Brendan Hughes to his right and Bobby Sands to his left (both standing)

So today (Friday) I phoned The O’Brien Press to ask what dealings the company had had, if any, with the Trust and a supplementary to O’Brien’s emailed answer to me: ‘Okay, O’Brien Press hasn’t paid any fees to the Trust as of now but would the company pay any share of the royalties to the Trust in the future?’

The PR person could not come to the phone when I rang but I was assured she would get back to me. I am still waiting.

The Bobby Sands Trust, which has a website here, is a highly secretive and controversial body which has ownership of all of Bobby Sands writings and memorabilia, and therefore is the beneficiary of royalties and other income from his work. Since his writings have been on sale since 1981 that must amount to a tidy sum.

How much has been earned and where the money goes remain mysteries however since the Bobby Sands Trust has never once published a report of its activities or any financial accounts.

Nor does the Trust explain what its purpose in life is, i.e. why it exists. All that it says in that regard is this: “The Trust holds the copyright on all Bobby’s poetry and prose and was established to publish, promote and keep in print the extraordinary writings of this young Irish man, who from prison isolation became an international figure in 1981, and who to this day continues to inspire Irish republicans in their pursuit of freedom from British rule.”


A cynic might look at the Trust’s members and conclude that only confirmed Adamsistas qualify: Current members are Gerry Adams TD, Danny Morrison, Tom Hartley, Jim Gibney, Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, Sile Darragh and Caral Ni Chuilin MLA. All are close colleagues or confidantes of the Sinn Fein president.

The original Trust had two of Bobby Sands’ sisters on the board, Marcella and Bernadette but they left in disputed circumstances. Adams’ loyalists claim the falling out was connected to the split in the Provos in 1997 which led to Michael McKevitt, Bernadette Sands’ husband, forming the Real IRA, while Sands family members insist the bad feeling predated the split by some years and was caused by mounting concern over the Trust’s secrecy and lack of accountability and transparency.

Back in July 2000, I wrote the following article about the spat between the family and the Trust for The Sunday Tribune which included the spectacular claim from Sands family members that Gerry Adams had at one time attempted to insert a new clause in the Trust’s constitution making himself a financial beneficiary of Bobby Sands writings. As you can read I never did get a response to that allegation from the Trust.

You can read the full article here. Enjoy:

Sands’s family considering legal action against The Bobby Sands Trust
(by Ed Moloney, Sunday Tribune, July 2, 2000)

The family of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands are considering legal action to force the winding up of a Sinn Féin dominated trust established in the dead hunger striker’s name and to get his many prison writings returned to the family after a row over an alleged breach in the terms of the trust.

A spokesperson for the Sands family said that all of the dead hunger striker’s family were united on the issue and would consider any avenue to wind up the trust. “We simply want his property returned and for (Sinn Féin) to cease using him as a commodity”, said the spokesperson. “I think it would be correct to say that we intend to pursue this matter and we have not excluded any avenue”.

The Bobby Sands Trust was set up after his death in 1981 with the aim of raising money for the dependants of IRA prisoners through the sale of books, photographs and memorabilia about the dead IRA protester. The Sands family is claiming that a recent decision by the Trust to make “republican writings” the main beneficiary instead was illegal and taken without their permission.

The dispute significantly widens a long standing breach between the Sands family and the leadership of the Provisionals over the heritage of Bobby Sands, the leader of the 1981 hunger strike protest and unquestionably the single most powerful symbol of the republican movement’s resistance campaign.

Membership of the trust include the SF president Gerry Adams and a number of his allies from Sinn Féin including the former SF publicity director, Danny Morrison and Belfast councillors Tom Hartley and Marie Moore. The Sands family are represented by two sisters of the dead hunger striker, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, a leader of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and Marcella Sands, whose name Bobby Sands used as a nom-de-plume for some of his prison writings.

Although the dispute has been characterised as an extension of the 1997 split within the Provisionals over the peace process its origins appear to go back many years to before the first IRA cease fire in 1994.

According to the Sands family version of events it was their unhappiness with the way Bobby Sands’ writings and poetry were being treated by some in the Sinn Féin leadership that led to a new Trust being set up in 1994.

“We came to look closer at the Trust and in turn were concerned at the lack of control or accountability”, said one family source. “There were no records of minutes etc. or proper accounts and it was debatable if they ever functioned as a Trust but rather as an extension of SF. It has been claimed that Marcella was a member of the Trust for instance yet she was never informed of meetings or for that matter who the other members were”.

There was also family concern over an alleged attempt by Sinn Féin to insert a clause in the new Trust which would have made Gerry Adams a financial beneficiary. “It came in the draft version of the new trust documents drawn up in 1994 though Adams said that it should read the president of Sinn Féin of the day. We didn’t agree to either”.

Asked about these allegations the secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust, Danny Morrison said he would refer the Sunday Tribune’s queries to the next meeting. “For your information, in the meantime, you have been badly misinformed on several counts”, he said.

For the record I never did hear back from Danny Morrison about all this, in particular the claim that Gerry Adams had tried to make himself a financial beneficiary, so I don’t know whether my queries were referred to the Trust or what their response was. I assume the silence meant that nothing happened.

16 responses to “That Bobby Sands Book, The Sands Family And The Bobby Sands Trust

  1. Pingback: That Bobby Sands Book, The Sands Family And The Bobby Sands Trust | seftonblog

  2. Your article clearly states that the proposed change it language was to benefit “the president of Sinn Fein of the day.” That may or may not be Gerry Adams at any given time since then or in the future. Sands’ writings never would have been published without Sinn Fein nor bought by anyone for quite some years otherwise. Given the circumstances of his life and death, I don’t think there is any doubt he would want to the money to go to Sinn Fein and the IRA in concert with which their policy was pursued, sometimes political, sometimes military. I don’t think his sisters enter into the matter really, especially since one is connected to the intentionally indiscriminate killings of Continuity and the like. Danny Morrison is a fine writer and very appropriate board member for such a trust. Really, what are you hoping to accomplish here that is constructive?

  3. Ed

    What you have written would suggest that there are potential serious irregularities with the establishment and running of the Trust. My basic understanding of wills and trusts have me wondering about a number of rudimentary issues;
    1) Did the person with legal ownership of the copyright material form the Trust? For example, when a parent dies any children are the natural heir to the estate (if there was no written will) and not an aunt or uncle. An Aunt or Uncle could have control of a deceased’s estate but that does not mean they had lawful title to it -the 2 are not the same thing.

    2) Did Bobby Sands make a written will establishing the Trust and its terms? How were the Trustees elected/selected?

    3) If he did, was he compus mentis at the time? Or alternatively, was he under any undue influence or control?

    4) Trustee have a fiduciary duty to see that the terms are carried out. They are forbidden in law from profiting or benefiting from their role as Trustees beyond reasonable expenses which excludes generating unnecessary expenses in order to profit from them.

    5) A Trustee must always act to a high standard and in the best interests of the Trusts benefactor/s.

    6) Once the terms of the Trust expired, exhausted or were completed its surplus assets revert back to the rightful heir of the estate.

    Who is Bobby Sands legitimate heir/s? I would imagine his son and not his sister? And as a child he seems to not to have had any legal representation in his interests when his father’s estate was being divided up among any Trustees? My guess is that Bobby Sands son would not be time barred or obstructed in other way from inheriting his father’s estate. Even if Bobby Sands wrote a will his son could still challenge the will if his father did not adequately take his interests into account; for instance when people leave their money to charity or cat sancturies their children can have such wills declared null and void.

  4. Ed
    The Sands family have never struck me as being too timid to stand up to SF. Who has the better lawyer and right on their side is really what matters. Even inequality in ability to finance any legal action can be overcome.

    I think Bobby Sands family will have to reflect on what mistakes they might have made -say, in assuming authority to act on behalf of Bobby without considering what rights, or legal claim, his son had to Bobby’s estate. I think Bobby’s son might have 2 shots to claim what is his. 1) I suspect somebody in the family might have made decisions about agreeing to set up the Trust without realising that they had not actually got legal title to do so because his son may have been the rightful benefaciary. and if that is not the case then 2) once the Trust fulfilled or lost its purpose the trustees cannot simply walk away with whatever remains -especially on copyright material -families, a few generations removed from the original author still retain the copyright to countless written works. I think they loose it if they do not lay claim to it within 70 years or something like that. Although SF published the work Bobby I imagine always possessed copyright to it. Even the Trust never owns the copyright but only manages it.

    And a Trustees cannot apply to to be made a beneficiary of the Trust because that would probably amount to either gross negligence or bad faith of his/her fiduciary duty. .

    This is just stuff I recall reading many years ago -Bobby’s son should consider getting an opinion of a good copyright lawyer -it would be worth the price of at least one consultation.

  5. The Sands Family should have absolute control over what happens with Bobby and his works. They are his family. Smacks of shite when the trust wont be forthcoming and wont answer his family. Disband the trust.

  6. Ed
    I don’t understand what could have interrupted or prevented any legal action. In a recent press release the family assert that: ” Our family once again reiterates that the Bobby Sands Trust does not act on behalf of Bobby, nor does it represent our family, in any shape or form. We again call upon the Trust to disband and desist from using Bobby’s memory as a commercial enterprise.”

    I doubt the Trustees are going to fold because of a public announcement. If what the family say above is true then why not make their case? And if they are making statements like this all these years after his death they must believe they have a clear a case for litigation??

    • I was referring, diplomatically, to the trial and imprisonment, followed by civil actions, directed against michael mckevitt, husband of bernadette. I would guess all their energies and money were directed to deal with those situations……

  7. Ah, never even thought of the McKevitt case.

  8. That’s okay, christy. Entirely understandable……


  10. Pingback: Bobby Sands Trust ‘Licenses’ Hunger Striker’s Prison Diary To Make New Movie | The Broken Elbow

  11. It is unfortunate that revolutionary and comrade Bobby;s commitment to a united Irish socialist republic is marred by” issues next to the battlefield” -Derrick South African hunger striker 41days

  12. Pingback: RIC “RAN OUT OF AMMUNITION” OR ‘RAN FOR THE HILLS’? | 11sixtynine

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