The 1981 Hunger Strike started with Sands refusing food on 1 March 1981. Sands decided that other prisoners should join the strike at staggered intervals to maximise publicity with prisoners steadily deteriorating successively over several months.
The hunger strike centred on five demands:
the right not to wear a prison uniform;
the right not to do prison work;
the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
full restoration of remission lost through the protest.
The significance of the hunger strike was the prisoners’ aim of being declared political prisoners (or prisoners of war) as opposed to criminals.