The controversy over the status, origins and financial dealings of the Bobby Sands Trust looks set to deepen following the disclosure that the Trust has ‘licensed’ the dead hunger striker’s prison diary to a Belfast-based film company to provide ‘the spine’ for a new drama-documentary about the 1981 prison protest.
The film-makers, Fine Point Films, refuse to say whether they made a financial deal with the Trust and if so, how much money was involved. Two phone calls and an emailed query over the past ten days failed to produce an answer to these questions.
The film, ’66 Days’, which recreates Bobby Sands’ hunger strike on a day-by-day basis is due to be released at a film festival in Toronto, Canada next month. For a preview of the film, scroll down.
The Sands’ family have complained to the film makers saying that Bobby Sands’ son, Gerard has begun legal proceedings to challenge the legality of the Bobby Sands Trust and have warned the producers that “….any permission that your company may have received from the Trust may prove to be invalid.”
A family source told thebrokenelbow.com that in 2012, Gerard Sands had asked the Trust for access to his father’s writings but had been refused on the grounds that this might damage the peace process.
A source explained:
Approximately 4 years ago Gerard requested a former prisoner (who had agreed to act as an intermediary) to approach the BST to permit him to view the original handwritten documents (writings, letters etc) of his father (not just the diary).
The intermediary was confident that this would not be a problem. However he returned sometime later to inform Gerard that the Trust had refused. He stated that the reason for the refusal was that it would not be possible for him to view these, in particular the letters, as it could “affect the overall strategy”, which could have implications for the Peace Process.
This is the second time this year that the involvement of the Bobby Sands Trust in a media project has caused friction with the Sands’ family and raised troubling questions about the Trust itself.
In that case, with the publication of the graphic novel, ‘Bobby Sands – Freedom Fighter’, by O’Brien Press in Dublin, publisher Michael O’Brien told thebrokenelbow.com that no fee had been paid to the Trust for the right to use material produced by Bobby Sands. But he failed to answer a follow-up question, asking whether the Trust would share in royalties from the book.
The Bobby Sands Trust has not published accounts – and is not legally required so to do – so how much money has been raised in the 35 years since the 1981 prison protest by the sale and/or licensing of Bobby Sands’ writings is a complete unknown.
Nor is it known who the beneficiaries are or have been.
The producers of 66 Days have claimed in pre-release publicity that the prison diary kept by Bobby Sands during the first 17 days of his fast has ‘never been seen before in public’ and that they have ‘secured exclusive access to this historical treasure trove’. The diary, they say, forms ‘the spine of the film’s narrative’.
However neither of these claims survive scrutiny.
Bobby Sands’ diary has been published by a number of outlets, not least the Bobby Sands Trust itself which has posted it in full on its website.
It appeared in print in the U.S. in 1997 when it was published by the US company Roberts Rinehart Publishers based in Lanham, Maryland. Copies can still be bought:
The American public television current affairs programme Frontline published the diary in its entirety on its website, borrowing the text from the Roberts Rinehart publication. It can be read here.
Copies of the diary can be bought on Amazon:
And you can even get the diary on eBay as well:
So, in relation to Bobby Sands’ prison diary, ‘never been seen before in public’ and ‘exclusive access’ are, to put it mildly, claims that the film-makers will find it difficult to stand over.
Fine Point Films, which is based in Belfast, was founded by local film-maker and ex-UTV producer Trevor Birney – who once headed Below the Radar which owned the online magazine The Detail, which for a while was funded by the American billionaire and philanthropist, Chuck Feeney.
Mr Feeney also funded Sinn Fein’s US operations for a while in the aftermath of the 1994 ceasefire.
Trevor Birney has made a number of successful films and at least one that was controversial. In 2010 the BBC broadcast his film ‘Adams‘, an account of the life of Gerry Adams which revealed that the Sinn Fein president hugged trees but which was otherwise criticised in some circles for an uncritical, overly sympathetic and even revisionist approach to Adams’ some forty-year long career in militant republicanism.
The three companies, Fine Point, The Detail and Below The Radar, share an address in Upper Arthur Street in the centre of Belfast while Mr Birney is, according to Company Check, a director of all three entities.