This was a book that I first reviewed at the same time as “Unionism Decayed” back in 2008.
Like Vance’s work, it is the author’s portrayal of a defeated political movement or ideal and as a Unionist it was instructional to read an interpretation of the immediate post-Agreement period from the other side of the fence. It was also interesting to read it again three years later to see how much and how little Irish Republicanism, as preached and practiced by the Sinn Fein leadership, has changed.
Despite his personal history and background (ex-IRA “blanketman”, imprisoned in his teens, served 17 years in the Maze), Anthony McIntyre’s writings and experiences have interested me for sometime. He is a leading voice for those within Irish Republicanism who have disagreed with the Adams Clique, arguing not for a return to the euphemistic “physical-force tradition” but a renewal of the Irish Republican ideals he believes the Sinn Fein hierarchy has abandoned.
So, yes, he is, like David Vance within Unionism I suppose, a “dissident”. A “dissident” as in the original definition (as opposed to the Peace-Process version) of the word, that is to say someone who refuses to accept the political orthodoxy laid down by those residing above in the control pyramid. However, the worst the likes of Vance straying from standard Northern Irish Unionist orthodoxy can normally expect is a proverbial smack across the bottom from the DUP’s Press-Office attack-hounds. Prior to when physically intimidating internal opponents became no longer politically expedient, McIntyre risked real physical injury for daring to challenge The Adams’ Family’s shibboleths
Like “Unionism Decayed”, “Good Friday, The Death of Irish Republicanism” is organised on a thematic basis, with chapters covering the Belfast Agreement; republican “martyrs”; The Colombia 3; decommissioning; the 1981 Hunger Strikers; the suppression of dissent; Robert McCartney’s murder; informers “Stakeknife” and Denis Donaldson; those who speak out against the Adams-McGuinness party line; the Northern Bank robbery; policing under the PSNI reforms and ultimately, the final failure, as he sees it, of the Republican Movement. Most of the pieces were written at the time of the various events and appeared originally in the ezine The Blanket and form a valuable historical record of the post Belfast-Agreement period, or at least history as seen through the prism of a non-Unionist lens.
I feel this thematic approach works better here than it does in “Unionism Decayed”. The one underlying thread of the book is the “death” of Irish Republicanism; a death largely brought about, in McIntyre’s opinion, by the complete and suffocating control Adams has demanded and received from the SF cannon fodder and this thread operates as an effective literary bridge between the various topics.
Despite the Spin and PR, Sinn Fein are no closer to their 32-county nirvana than the IRA were at the time of Sunningdale. The Adams’ Thought-Police has so stifled free-thought and debate within their own ranks that whilst the young Shinners of the 80s and 90s would have been knocking you back with quotes from trendy Bolivian revolutionaries and obscure Austrian philosophers, the present-day Ogras are restricted to painting post-boxes green for Ireland and falling off Orange-Hall roofs whilst nicking Union flags. The point made, time and time again, in this book is that any political movement which does not constantly question and examine its policies, targets and leadership will not be capable of progressing beyond their ideological and (in a Northern Ireland context anyway) communal ghetto. A truism which all of us involved or interested in Northern Irish Unionism should probably also bear in mind.
You’ve gathered by now this is a book (although I most certainly would not agree with a lot of its underlying philosophy) I’d have no problems recommending to all interested in both Northern Irish politics and the concept of the Open Society which should underlie all democracies. It would have, in certain places, benefited from updates and occasionally McIntyre employs the unnecessary verbiage of the political post-grad but in terms of the overall style of the book, these really are minor quibbles.
The only query I’d pose to McIntyre, like with Vance, is:
“”Yes, you’ve outlined well the problems facing Irish republicanism… if it’s not to be “Gerry knows best” then what’s your solution?””
And having read both books in quick succession, the other main question that’s left in my mind is that with Messrs Vance and McIntyre both claiming their side lost the “Peace Process”… one of them must be surely wrong, but which one?
Or maybe they are, in fact, both right?