Henry McDonald’s Gunsmoke and Mirrors

Four years ago (I think) I turned up at St Johns College in Oxford to hear Danny Morrison and Anthony McIntyre speak on the ‘Future of Republicanism’. Inevitably, perhaps, it very quickly turned into a big struggle over the past. Since henry Patterson’s seminal 1989 Politics of Illusion, the air has been thick, it seems, with contending histories and pathologies of Sinn Fein, the IRA and the Republican movement. There are two out at the moment, and one more to come in February. Over at Three Thousand Versts, Chekov has a review of Henry McDonald’s Gunsmoke and Mirrors in which he notes:

The book isn’t a history of the IRA or an exhaustive examination of the provisional movement. Rather, it comprises a central thesis, which McDonald fleshes out over 200 odd pages. It is a compelling, and tidily presented, argument. Although its contents might seem somewhat obvious to those who have watched Sinn Féin’s metamorphosis, they benefit from being laid down in sequential, if rather atomised, fashion.

In my own view, the polemic is less compelling than the facts he peppers the beginning of the book from the movement’s own commemoration to it’s own dead, Tirghra, not least his estimation that only 36 volunteers were killed by the various factions of loyalist paramilitaries – who chose to terrorise the Catholic population by murdering innocents instead – whilst 266 were killed in ‘bungled operations. “Less than 12 where deliberately killed and targeted by loyalist paramilitaries. Moreover, only 40 per cent of IRA casualties were a result of confrontations with their main enemy – the British Army.

Figures which challenge to a large extent the idea that British used Loyalist paramilitaries to target leading IRA figure, in the way that is often suggested. Unlike the socialist government of Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, who used the Grupo Antiterrorista de Liberacion (GAL), a ragbag mixture of hired killers, police assassins and intelligence agents to kill and kidnap.

McDonald also highlights leading figures on the British left, not least Ken Livingston, who in an interview with Olivia O’Leary for Magill Magazine that he’d withdraw the troops with just ten days notice:

“Red Ken clearly had no fears that in that ten-day period the Loyalists would be any trouble. In fact he tellsO’Leary that he would be prepared to stay in west Belfast for the duration of the British pull out.

“The Protestant terrorists wouldn’t get involved in a civil war. They would know that the international forces would stop them. The very balance of terror between the two sides would stop such a war and the Irish could all get down to working out a constitution, a new deal, which Protestants would be quick to have a say in”.

This is a book whose own self declared mission is not to chart a future for Republicanism but to set some records straight on the past. It remains to be seen whether that tradition has a future on the island as whole, or whether it is to confined to the Defenderist tradition of Northern Ireland. By and large according to McDonald, the IRA’s struggle for national self determination rarely raised itself above an at times fairly squalid sectarian war with it’s neighbours.

If the book lacks a certain generosity in its analysis, that may be explained in some degree by the Movement’s own lack of generosity to anyone beyond its own Republican Pale. And it is tough on what David Aaronovich terms the self-exculpatory mythology required to keep an armed struggle going in such unlikely circumstance over such an extended period of time.

He quotes Mary Alice Clancy reflecting on her thesis on the US State Department’s role in Northern Ireland under Bush:

“They were interested in how the British not only infiltrated the IRA but also shaped policy; how they promoted and encouraged those emerging bin the movement that were more realistic, the ones who realised they could not win the war. I think it is the central lession they, the US State Departmern officials I spoke to, believed they could draw for Iraq.”

And yet, out of that struggle, for good or ill, Sinn Fein has emerged the dominant political strain within Northern Irish nationalism, which notwithstanding last year’s disasterous showing in the Dail election, still retains ambitions of breakout of the leftist ghetto that previous projects like the Workers Party and Clann na Poblachta abjectly failed to do. It’s long term success or failure may depend on the impact of the kind of analytic work carried by Eoin O’Broin’s Sinn Fein and the Politics of Left Republicanism (Irish Left Republicanism). In which respect, it’s another book that’s both welcome and long overdue.

However, McDonald sets himself the more limited task of taking up Orwell’s imperative (via Johnny) “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

  • Grassy Noel

    Haven’t read the book yet, but this review is interesting:

    http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/reviewofbooks_article/5953/

    Haven’t seen it reffed here yet, so here it is.

    Thoughts?

  • CS parnell

    I’ve not read the book (yet – I will do) but if it argues as Aaro says, that the IRA gave up (which they did) because of military defeat then he’s wrong. They gave up because they recgnised that the military struggle was never going to win (and it wasn’t) and that politics was the only choice. The thing abour politics was that the majority of nationalists were never going to vote for them while they were killing people.

    If they got beat, it was by the SDLP.

  • Elliot Mitcham

    Can’t say it’s much of a review but that’s just me being subjective.

    Also the civil rights movement did achieve its objectives it’s just that everyone was too busy fighting for/against a united Ireland to care.

  • Jimmy Sands

    The spiked review is pretty awful. apparently it was the IRA that achieved civil rights and McDonald is “historically illiterate”.

  • blinding

    Is Henry McDonald one of the many that want to hi-jack the gains made by PSinn Féin.

    It is easy to say that this or that could have been done “IF” this or that had been done.
    Unless there are parellel universes out there these “IFs” are only “IFs”

    The politicians that we need now are the politicians that are willing to deal with the situation we are in now.

    The “IF ONLYS” should continue to produce books or other art forms that make interesting talking points.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    “[i]The thing abour politics was that the majority of nationalists were never going to vote for them [u]while they were killing people.[/u]”[/i]

    The killings, abductions, beatings, intimidation and criminality still continues, but hey, a vote for terroristm is OK as long as they don’t kill as many people as they did.

  • Dec

    Again haven’t read it but based on Chekov’s review, McDonald’s assertion that the peace process was ‘Stickyism’ for slow learners is utter hogwash and frankly insulting (though it’s hardly a surprise) given that organisations activities throughout the 70s.

    Mick

    …whilst 266 were killed in ‘bungled operations.

    I imagine those figures are somewhat skewed by the frankly staggering number of fatalities that occured in the early part of the 70s when IRA bomb-making technology was in its infancy.

  • CS parnell

    blinding,

    In my book murderers don’t get off as easily as saying “that was in the past, let’s move on”

  • blinding

    In my book murderers don’t get off as easily as saying “that was in the past, let’s move on”

    Posted by CS parnell

    So long as you are even handed across the board that is a perfectly legitimate position to hold.

  • Mick Fealty

    Dec,

    Absolutely. Considering that some of the bombs they made back then were held together with clothes pegs, it’s little wonder.

    In fact McDonald points out in the book that the largest single loss of life in the Short Strand was the 8 fatalities (4 IRA, 4 civilians) that arose when an IRA bomb exploded prematurely.

  • Dewi

    “36 volunteers were killed by the various factions of loyalist paramilitaries”

    But more than that if Sinn Fein activists are included if I recall correctly.

  • Mick Fealty

    Noel,

    His gripe with the book seems to that ‘lack of generosity’ I mentioned above. It seem to me to be less of a review than a polemical response; which is fair enough since by McDonald’s admission the book is (in part) an argument that can be legitimately argued with.

    Neither of those things seem to me to be the most striking (nor impressive) aspects of the book; as you’ll see from what I’ve laid out above.

  • Garibaldy

    I haven’t read the book, but clearly the idea that what the Provos set about doing was replicating what the IRA and Sinn Féin had done previously under Cathal Goulding and Tomás Mac Giolla is plain wrong. I heard Brian Hanley, who is writing a history of The WP, nicely define the difference – the Provos spoke of themselves as representing the Irish nation, whereas The WP spoke of the working class. This is without even getting into the situation in the north, where the Provos remain wedded to a tribal politics that Goulding’s entire project was about rejecting.

    Mick,

    I think your sentence above about the leftist ghetto misunderstands the nature of the vote which the Provos have in the south. It is not the same layer of society as the voters who voted for The WP. Look where their TDs are – two near the border (Cavan/Monaghan and Louth), one in Kerry, and only one in Dublin. In other words, three of the seats are essentially old-fashioned populism mixed with residual nationalism. The WP’s 7 seats were one in Cork, 5 in Dublin, and one in Dun Laoghaire. I can see why people are tempted by this analogy, but it is fundamentally mistaken.
    The proper historical analogy is not with The WP, but with Fianna Fáil.

  • Garibaldy

    Just read the Spiked review. Jimmy Sands is right to point out that the reviewer (“a second-generation Irish writer from Sheffield.” Or an Englishman of Irish parents, which doesn’t matter except he seems to want to make an issue of it) has a cheek to call McDonald historically illiterate, especially when he claims that the civil rights movement achieved none of its goals. He obviously has no idea about things discrimination in housing and the creation of the housing executive, and ignores the end of gerrymandering and the establishment of one man, one vote. There was an article in Comment is Free on NI and 1968 by another of Spiked’s people, which was also historically illiterate.

    I could go on about the confused understanding of politics within NI in the review, but suffice it to say that while criticising McDonald – quite possibly correctly for missing the factors that facilitated the rise of the Provisionals – he says that the Cold War weakened the appeal of nationalism. Obviously he’s never heard of Yugoslavia and the other places in Europe and further afield where nationalism has been on the rise since the end of the Cold War with extremely ugly results. Which is very surprising given Spiked’s background.

    And McDonald has not been a supporter of The WP for over a decade, so a bit behind the times there too.

  • veritas

    How can anyone take anything McDonald says,(about his enemies in the other side of the republican movement)seriously.

    Remember, OIRA or group B was still robbing banks,exhorting businesses, running illegal drinking dens, forging American dollars,attacking and shotting people, when a young McDonald was editing a political pamphlet in the Markets area in the 80`s for the workers party a party he belonged too.

    Don`t see to much mention of the criminality and drug dealing activities of that group which continue to the present day!

    Don`t recall any mention of the OIRA being run by elements in MI5, the Special Branch, don`t recall any mention of the OIRA passing information and swapping arms with Loyalists during the time McDonald was in the Workers party!

    But then it was all lies, OIRA and group B didn`t and doesn`t still exist.

    People in glass houses comes to mind.

  • Garibaldy

    You forgot to add that the OIRA sank the Titanic and crucified Jesus.

  • veritas

    facts are facts…

    McDonald`s partiality must be questioned in light of his past associations with a group from which sinn fein split!

    Axe to grind.

  • Garibaldy

    McDonald’s axe to grind is there for all to see and comment on, certainly. While facts are facts, fantasy is also fantasy.

  • nineteensixtyseven

    His own subjective viewpoint is obviously a consideration when questioning his motivation for writing his book but it should not be used to subject his argument to critique. If he has put forward his thesis in a fair and honest matter and based it on a fair interpretation of the facts then it is the responsibility for those who do not agree to provide a counter-argument of equal honesty and objectivity, not merely to impugn his motives.

  • veritas

    Fantasy concerning what?

    OIRA/Group b,still have their guns, still carry out robberies, still sell drugs from their “legal” clubs in certain parts of West Belfast..

    still attack and assault and attempt to shoot people.

    Is this fantasy?

    Anyway my point is still relevant, McDonald`s partiality has to questioned, just as Adams must be questioned when he writes any of “his” books..

    his past associations with the workers party must be considered when he writes about their arch enemies of the Provos.

    two sides of the same coin ..

  • Mick Fealty

    veritas,

    Long time no see/hear from. If you have a reason for doubting anything in the review above, then speak plainly and tell us. In the meantime, I am not sure what your criticism adds up to other than huge amount of ‘whataboutery‘?

  • Garibaldy

    Indeed 1967, ball not man.

    Veritas,

    Repetition of a falsehood does not make it true, contrary to what some people might think.

  • nineteensixtyseven

    I know what you are saying and of course McDonald is making a polemical statement that is undoubtedly influenced by his past assocations. The point is though that it is not enough to question his partiality with regards to his reasons for making the argument; if you want to demonstrate that he is partial then you need to go further and find evidence of partial interpretation of sources or improper historical method.

  • veritas

    but all writers have a motive!

    and whether one likes it or not, McDonald`s rants on the Provos stink of the same hypocrisy as any history of the troubles but any Provo….

    and frankly, they`re becoming rather tiresome….

    It surprises one, well it actually doesn`t, that McDonald never mentions Group B/OIRA…

    Why?

  • Really, veritas, change the record

    Because the book is about the demise of the Provos?

    As Homer Simpson so eloquently put it: “Doh!”

  • veritas

    Mick..

    I have no particular axe to grind but am concerned when any writer who poses questions about past events continues with a particular line, some would say slant on the past…

    Yes, we are all guilty of this charge at times but for the sake of impartiality, full disclosure is required…

    which cannot ignore the actually participation of said writer in a “political” group vehemently opposed to those he continually berates.

    And what was the falsehood?

  • Jimmy Sands

    I do find amusing the idea that someone would reject the provos’ analysis because they had joined the stickies rather than the other way around.

  • veritas

    Again…

    this is not about McDonald`s analysis but his impartiality…

    can that not be questioned!

    Can analysis not be tinged by personal feelings and beliefs?

    I would compare the writings of McDonald to those of Adams….to be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

  • Mick Fealty

    If everyone (including yourself) had to declare past associations and political convictions before the rest of us were allowed a judgement, we’d be in a right pickle.

    None of the stuff I’ve quoted above is above being questioned, but its import is clear enough.

  • kensei

    Mick

    Figures which challenge to a large extent the idea that British used Loyalist paramilitaries to target leading IRA figure, in the way that is often suggested

    Only if you have a big bundle of assumptions and erroneous ideas, Mick.

    1. That if the British used Loyalist paramilitaries to target leading IRA men, then this strategy must result in a high number of fatalities. The strategy is inherently effective, and we can disregard the need for the number of attempts on the live sof IRA men, and make do with fatalities.

    2. That each and every one of those fatalities were of equal significance to the British.

    3. That the definition of “leading IRA men” is sufficiently wide for this to produce a large number of targets and ergo a large n umber of potential fatalities.

    4. That the figure given is low for the period where this strategy was in place. If 1000 IRA men were killed in 1970 both this strategy was inp place, why should it skew subsequent figures.

    5. That there is a direct correlation between the number of IRA men killed by loyalists and the likelihood of the British employing this strategy.

    Perhaps the book has more statistics, but if that’s it on this point, it’s barely even wrong.

  • Jimmy Sands

    veritas,

    Most of us who join parties I suspect do so because of the views we have formed. You seem to be suggesting that McDonald’s views are the result of his (erstwhile?) WP membership rather than the cause of it and are therefore suspect. To argue that someone is biased because they have joined a party is entirely circular, unless you regard every political opinion as a bias.

  • steve white

    is henry mcdoanald trying to make himself the paul williams of the troubles

  • I shall withhold judgment about Henry McDonald’s latest assessment of The Troubles until I read his book – which I am ordering – but I must say that the ones I have seen up to now have been most pedestrian – little more than what some talkative securocrat was willing to provide.

  • rusty pens

    Henry has indeed tried and failed to be the Paul Williams of the troubles. The sensationalist nature of his work to date suggests that he’s a poor man’s Jim McDowell, which is some going alright.
    Veritas is correct in equating McDonald’s books to those of Adams as both are partisan, albeit from either end of the republican spectrum.To be fair to McDonald, he makes no bones about his ‘Sticky/WP’ past and it is in this context that his writing should be taken.
    I do think Henry’s reliance on writing on the past rather makes him a relic of a bygone age. Times have moved on and perhaps that is why he was replaced as the Observer’s Ireland… correspondent?

  • Mick Fealty

    So much opinion about the writer and so little about the work in question. Good on Trow for suspending judgement until he’s actually read the book.

    Telling us he’s biased doesn’t throw light on much other than the person making the allegation does’t approve of the bias in question (whilst keeping their own hidden) unless you reference something in McDonald’s work.

    The only previous book of Henry’s I had read was his biog of Trimble. But I’m inclined to judge each one its merits. IMHO, there is much more value in this one, possibly because he has a much closer understanding of his subject.

    Ken,

    It may be that I’m tired and needing my bed, but I don’t get (ie, understand) any of those points that you’ve made.

  • CS Parnell

    Anyone who knows Henry (and I do a bit), knows two things about him: one he’s never hidden his past affiliation to the Sticks (indeed he has written about it at length) and when I first met him more than two decades ago it was more or less the first thing he told me; secondly – he doesn’t believe it now (again, he’s written about it at some length).

    The ad hominem attacks are a pretty poor way of answering his argument, but I suppose it is better than blowing people up, which is how the Provies used to deal with people who argued against them.

    And let’s just look at where the Provies are these days. They have nothing but demographics and that seems to be a weakening case. Apart from that rather odd councillor in Limavady can anyone name a single former unionist who has announced their support for a united Ireland in the last 12 years?

  • Mick Fealty

    Let’s not CS. Can we just try and keep clear of whataboutery and stick what’s above, or in the book?

  • CS Parnell

    I would have thought it’s pretty central to the book, actually – the replacement of serious politics with ritual incantations about our Fenian dead.

    But it’s your blog, your rules.

  • ulsterfan

    Those who question McDonald’s impartiality must consider the reality of changes in his life and this reflected in his views of the world as he now sees it.
    What he thought 20 years ago has little or no influence in what he thinks and writes today.
    I have never met the man but presume he is like the rest of us and is open to new ideas.

  • rusty pens

    ‘The ad hominem attacks are a pretty poor way of answering his argument, but I suppose it is better than blowing people up, which is how the Provies used to deal with people who argued against them’

    That’s also what the Stickies did, CS-don’t you remember Aldershot?

  • CS Parnell

    rusty pens

    As a supporter of the SDLP I don’t have to justify anybody else’s murderous idiocy. Though I’d say the crime of the Official IRA would have been slightly less sordid if they’d murdered those cleaners because of a political disagreement.

    Instead they were slaugheted because they were English – just in the same way as (read the Aaronovitch article), the provies killed ten year old girls for the crime of being protestant.

  • Mick Fealty

    CS, if it is, then paste the relevant passages into the thread. It’ll up the quality of the discourse and discount the chances of us sliding back into destructive ‘whataboutery’…

    There’s an awful lot of comment on this thread which neither references my blog post nor anything that’s written in the book.

  • rusty pens

    ‘As a supporter of the SDLP I don’t have to justify anybody else’s murderous idiocy’

    You’re not from a southerly aspect of Belfast, then, CS?

  • CS Parnell

    Well, I’ve not read the book (as I said earlier) – it’s on order now, though. But the Amazon take (I assume from the dust cover) states: “McDonald exposes the memorialist culture which continues to rewrite history to justify the unjustifiable.”

    That memorialist culture has very deep roots in traditional republicanism but is totally alien (I assume!) to about 99.999% of all North of Ireland protestants and I’d suggest is pretty poor as a strategy to convince any of them to opt for a united Ireland.

  • CS Parnell

    rusty pens,

    No I’m not. Hard core Westy.

    Though what that has to do with the price of Easter Lilly pins (or even stickers) is beyond me.

  • Before this all went downhill Mick, I offered an assessment of your view of what PSF represents in the south, which was basically that it is not a left vote of the type that was associated with The WP, but a greener and more populist one. Which can be shown by the geography of the vote. I’d be interested in your views on that.

  • rusty pens

    Ever been to the Lower Ormeau, CS?-

  • Jimmy Sands

    Garibaldy,

    FWIW I’d always assumed the shinner vote in the south were a patchwork of the two, i.e. leftish protest vote in Dublin whilst hoovering up the blaneyite chulchies elsewhere.

  • I think there’s an element of that Jimmy, but the leftist part is much overrated I reckon. It’ll be interesting to see what happens Mary Lou in the Euros (I doubt it given the fact it’s falling to a three-seater), and if they can get her a seat in the next Dáil. Bertie being gone will probably help her chances.

  • Ann

    Disgraceful the way the shinners hijacked civil rights, to make it look like thats what they were about all along. Mick, it never rose above a sectarian war with its neighbours because it never was anything else.

    Anyhow, I have the book, but haven’t read it yet.

  • Dec

    Mick, it never rose above a sectarian war with its neighbours because it never was anything else.

    Presumably all the attacks on the British army, the RUC, the UDR, the attacks in Britain, Europe were just a smokescreen?

  • kensei

    Mick

    It may be that I’m tired and needing my bed, but I don’t get (ie, understand) any of those points that you’ve made.

    It may be just that I’ve had to do a three day course on test procedures and am seeing boundaries everywhere, but the argument that

    Figures which challenge to a large extent the idea that British used Loyalist paramilitaries to target leading IRA figure, in the way that is often suggested.

    is based in your piece solely by looking at the percentage of fatalities per group. This is clearly insufficient.

    You are assuming that the British using loyalists would result in more fatalities: this is not the case. It may have happened, but been relatively ineffective. You are also assuming this policy was in place for the duration of the troubles and therefore every fatality counts, rather than say, just those between 1995 and 1992. This could skew your figures, as was previously pointed out.

    “Leading” also qualifies your statement. So — what qualifies as leading? Logically it must be a subset of “total number of IRA men” and logical it would be a small number. The US had a pack of cards of 52 leaders in Iraq — how many thousands of fighters were there? So 39 might actually be high. But more than that, had the procedure taken out even one member of the Army Council it might have had low fatalities, low success versus attempt rate but still been considered highly effective.

    So, the figure you cite is totally inappropriate for the argument you make. More evidence is required. Is this clearer?

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay. I’d add that that term ‘leading’ was rubbish on my part. The figures above are absolute numbers of IRA members regardless of status. Less than 12 specifically targeted out of 276 (according to Sutton) over the nearly 40 years of the Troubles doesn’t prove it didn’t happen, but it does suggest that the extent of ‘collusion’ of the type GAL used in a campaign that lasted only five years lacks significant corroborative evidence. In that relatively short period of time killed 27 individuals and kidnapped several others.

  • edward

    Mick

    would the number 12 also include Finucane and Nelson?

  • kensei

    Mick

    Still not good enough, Mick. How many failed attempts were there? Furthermore where does Pat Finucane fit in your figures — is he counted IRA or civilian. Because he could have been erroneously targeted due to the policy.

    Less than 12 specifically targeted out of 276 (according to Sutton) over the nearly 40 years of the Troubles

    40 years? I don’t think anyone argued this was a policy for the duration of the Troubles. You are building a Straw Man.

    Whatever way you spin it, those figures cannot be used as anything more than supporting evidence. Tighter argument is required. I really hope the book has it, else I could have spun you similar lines for half the price.

    Moreover, there two cautionary points here:

    1. Even the state doing this once is abhorrent.
    2. A case could be put that the British let loyalists run amok knowing full well that they wouldn’t target IRA men but the civilian population.

  • Dave

    Margaret Thatcher wrote in her memoirs (The Downing Street Years) in 1993 that the policy of the British government was that “the minority should be led to support or at least acquiesce in the constitutional framework of the state in which they live.” In other words, they should accept the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, 1973 (which provided that constitutional framework) and the legal and moral illegitimacy of their original objections to it.

    That is what came to pass. The nationalists were led to renounce their right to self-determination, converting it into an aspiration that is subject to the discretion of those whose claim to self-determination remains intact. In addition, they renounced their right to live within an Irish nation-state. Under the GFA, the best they can hope for is that the citizens of the Republic of Ireland will also agree to renounce their own right to national self-determination, agreeing to dismantle their nation-state and replace it with an entity that allows the government of it to act with “rigorous impartiality” between two nationalisms of Irish and British, thereby creating a right to bi-national self-determination (your guess is as good as mine as to what that monstrosity will involve).

    Gaining control of Sinn Fein and PIRA was a crucial part of the process of how nationalists would “be led to support” the state that they formerly rejected. If the Shinners were seen by the nationalists as having ownership of ‘republicanism’ and being its true guardians, then it would be easier to sell this complete rejection of both the nation-state and republicanism to their own supporters. Northern nationalists, being a bit thick by default, would reason: man who died for Ireland would never betray it! So, just as the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, was the 4th Home Rule Bill, I guess you could say that the GFA is the 5th Home Rule Bill.

    So that’s how Thatcher (bless her black heart) had the last laugh on the northern nationalists by converting them into Redmondites whose agenda is not to defend the right of the Irish to a sovereign, independent nation-state but to terminate that right by promoting the concept that British nationalism has a legitimate right of parity with Irish nationalism on the island of Ireland and that future constitutional structures should reflect this. Quislings, of course, but the northern nationalists don’t care as long as they get something out of the arrangement.

  • Dave

    Incidently, the quickest way to expose the confidence trick that “concurrent self-determination” is the equivalent of national self-determination is to point out what would be obvious without the deliberate trickery: if it was national, it wouldn’t have been bi-national and it is was one, it wouldn’t have been two! Yet the likes of Martin Mansergh will insist that the GFA doesn’t acknowledge two-nations because all of the island will vote as one (in two separate votes, of course). This, they claim, is equal to one claim to self-determination and one nation. Err, no… it’s equal to two separate claims to self-determination and can only be expressed as bi-national self-determination.

    Like others of that propagandising ilk such as Mary McAleese, they are trying to obfuscate two separate nations as one nation, believing that two nations can share one claim to a sovereign territorial entity despite all bar 3 or 4 of the world’s 193 states being nation-states and despite there being no basis in international law for a state to exist other than as a means by which a nation exercises its right to self-determination as set out in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” In short, despite the GFA being a load of expedient codswallop that was cobbled together to get the northern nationalists to stop murdering people. That is why you saw wee Mary spewing her tripe at Brakey Orange Hall yesterday:

    “We have taken the first important steps towards ending the bitter culture of Either-Or, of Them Versus Us. Now we must build a new culture of Both, each accepting that there are different perspectives and practices, each patient with the other as we get to know each other better in a growing spirit of understanding and outreach. It is possible to be both Irish and British, possible to be both Orange and Irish. We face into a landscape of new possibilities and understandings.”

    Sweet suffering baby Jesus! In this demented gibberish, Irish national identity is proffered as being nebulous. It isn’t something that is fixed but rather something that can be designed by propaganda to incorporate foreign national identities. So, for example, if Irish national identity values republican democracy and British national identify values monarchy, this conflict can be resolved by brainwashing the Irish into accepting a role for the British monarchy under the guise of parity of esteem. Anything is possible if sweet smiling, nice Mary tells us that this is how we should be in order to be nice, sweet-smiling, progressive people and it no-one mentions anything about the value of a republican democracy, etc.

    Anyway, back to the rebranding of the Unionist Veto as the Principle of Consent. In one sense, there is method in the brainwashing madness since a policy of censoring Irish nationalism within the Republic of Ireland has meant that uproars such as the one caused by the Ireland Act, 1949 and the Unionist Veto now seem inappropriate to the plebs despite being based on principles that remain fundamentally appropriate.

    The Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 states the PoC as (despite northern nationalists being sold it as something new and progressive as part of the confidence trick played upon them):

    “It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty’s dominions and of the United Kingdom, and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty’s dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1 to this Act.”

    Northern nationalists are welcome to play spot-the-difference with the PoC in the GFA. 25 years, perhaps?

  • Mick Fealty

    Ed,

    Not sure that even reading the book would get you an answer to that.

    Ken,

    Make of it what you will (supporting evidence should count though, surely?). But it looks to me as if in at least one aspect McDonald has succeeded in knocking out at least one commonplace narrative.

    Amen to your cautionary point 1 (and there are several notable cases still that linger with open questions attaching to them). But the numbers simply do not stack up for a case that the British systematically used Loyalist paramilitaries as anti insurgents in the way the Spanish or certain Latin American dictatorships did.

    As for cautionary point 2, you are right a case could be made for that; and a lot of people believe that that is absolutely true. But you wouldn’t stand a pup’s chance in hell of getting that one past your own tight criterion.

  • kensei

    Mick

    Make of it what you will (supporting evidence should count though, surely?). But it looks to me as if in at least one aspect McDonald has succeeded in knocking out at least one commonplace narrative.

    No, Mick, you tighten your argument and dismissing what you don’t like. Supporting evidence raise questions and point directions, but on its own it is not conclusive and as a single factor analysis should not be taken with any weight.

    As for cautionary point 2, you are right a case could be made for that; and a lot of people believe that that is absolutely true. But you wouldn’t stand a pup’s chance in hell of getting that one past your own tight criterion.

    No, not without further evidence. But it has a similar weight to the argument you are making, using exactly the same statistics. You are simply predisposed to one explanation and not to the other.

    I am equally sure that, given the figures, I could come up with absolutely absurd arguments just using assertion from fatalities. It isn’t enough, and never will be.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ken,

    I suggest you read the book.

  • Mick Fealty

    Oh and Ken,

    What weight? What argument? And what statistics?

  • kensei

    Mick

    I suggest you read the book.

    I have a backlog. Relying on you for the Executive Summary.

    What weight? What argument? And what statistics?

    The argument you have presented is: loyalists did not kill a lot of IRA men therefore the British did not use them to target IRA men. That is a pure non sequitir. That is the only statistic you have presented in support of your argument. The argument carries little weight if used for disproof. Perhaps there is more in the book.

  • Rory

    Bombs held together with clothes pegs, Mick? Good job you weren’t an engineering officer back in the day, the casualty rate would have been even higher.

    It was a crude timing device that was constructed using a clothes-peg. A clothes peg held open by a twist of copper wire allowed for the open ends to slowly close as the copper wire stretched under pressure. Eventually the separate contact points affixed by drawing pins to the open ends touched, et voila! an electrical circuit was completed. Of course the copper wire didn’t always stretch at an easily predicted rate and accidents did occur.

    You should not try this at home.

    Inspired by Henry McDonald I shall now be busy for the rest of the day writing my new revisionist history of WWII which will argue that the Soviet tank victory over the Nazi forces at Kursk was completely unnecessary as the Germans would probably just have given up anyway as they had no ill-intent against the Soviets (it was all in their imagination). The proof is that the war is now over anyway, so what was the necessity for fighting the Nazis in the first place?

    If I don’t get a Nobel Prize for Literature at least I’ll be a shoe-in for the Peace Prize.

  • CS parnell

    Inspired by Henry McDonald I shall now be busy for the rest of the day writing my new revisionist history of WWII which will argue that the Soviet tank victory over the Nazi forces at Kursk was completely unnecessary as the Germans would probably just have given up anyway as they had no ill-intent against the Soviets (it was all in their imagination). The proof is that the war is now over anyway, so what was the necessity for fighting the Nazis in the first place?

    As far as trite analogy’s goes this one takes the buscuit. but while we are on it I not the explicit comparison between the IRA and the nazis – who were of course allies in the war.

  • CS parnell

    urg, analogies, obviously.

  • kensei

    CS

    As far as trite analogy’s goes this one takes the buscuit. but while we are on it I not the explicit comparison between the IRA and the nazis – who were of course allies in the war.

    I wasn’t aware the Provisionals were around then, were they?

  • edward

    Ken

    The IRA was obviously capable of time traveling and merily flit through the time space continuoum. I bet they were allies with Attila the Hun as well, the wee bastards

  • blinding

    With reguard to brit goverment encouraged loyalists trying to kill republicans or leading republicans for that matter.

    Just maybe the said republicans made it as difficult as possible for these loyalist death squads to have their desired success.

  • doctor

    “Henry has indeed tried and failed to be the Paul Williams of the troubles. The sensationalist nature of his work to date suggests that he’s a poor man’s Jim McDowell, which is some going alright.”

    I’ve read all of McDonald’s books with the exception of this new one (in my to-buy list, out of morbid curiosity if anything) and one titled “Bombs to Boom” or something like that. I find it pretty interesting when he does more of a straight-forward retelling of the “facts”, but when he interjects with his analysis it can go downhill very fast.

    McDonald does deserve credit for writing about topics that have traditionally gone unnoticed by other journalists churning out yet another book on the IRA or some generic history of the Troubles. He wrote about Loyalists long before it became fashionable in the last few years, as well as a book on the INLA.

    As I indicated earlier though, the slant he gives to his books and many of his Guardian articles leave much to be desired. In one article last year which was essentially pro-DUP, he used that objective analyst Jeffery Donaldson to back up his own analysis!

    The Trimble biography was interesting when he talked about the insider world of unionist politics, but otherwise bordered on a hagiography of Trimble. The closest McDonald came to criticism essentially boiled down to Trimble being such a champion of pluralism and a all-around decent chap that he couldn’t be ruthless enough to crush his dissidents.

    Personally, I think there is also a bit of Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to his coverage of loyalism. He is not a supporter of their violent actions, but he certainly seems to show far more sympathy towards them than ever shown to republicans. This can get rather embarassing; his book on the UVF is largely based on interviews with the organizations’ leadership, which amounted to an unquestioning acceptance of just about anything they said. One of his core reasons for stating that their was no collusion in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings was because the UVF told him so! Hardly the type of reaction he would give to anything told to him by a republican group.

  • CS Parnell

    I wasn’t aware the Provisionals were around then, were they?

    I believe that the current lot claim to the carriers of the true flame. It really comes to something when supporters of Adams junior try to claim he has nothing to do with the political and military tradition of Adams senior: which just to remind you all includes a direct military alliance with Nazi Germany.

    Incidentally, the Sticks are tarred with the same brush.

  • kensei

    CS

    I believe that the current lot claim to the carriers of the true flame.

    I’ll give you a tenner for every splinter you can name who doesn’t claim to be carrying the true flame.

    It really comes to something when supporters of Adams junior try to claim he has nothing to do with the political and military tradition of Adams senior:

    Once again kids: independent republican. SF can go burn in a fire if it means it gets me closer to a United Ireland. “Nothing to do with”? No. “Responsible for”. No. Given the entire conversation revolved around Sticks versus Provos, it’s somewhat strange to assign that one to the splinter group, and not the direct descendants. If you want to hang the Provos, they have plenty of their own actions to do so without borrowing someone else’s.

    which just to remind you all includes a direct military alliance with Nazi Germany.

    A somewhat grand description of a limited arrangement during a period when the IRA was a limited threat to anyone and the Nazis were known to be bad empire bad but not world endingly evil. Moreover, the IRA would have turned and fought the Nazis at the first sign they wanted to run Ireland. Very poor choice of friends and certainly revealing vis attitudes to the British but the Nazi charge is a hard one to stick.

  • Some IRA men were pro-nazi. Some saw it as England’s difficult being Ireland’s opportunity. And many were pro-Soviet in the war. Guess where they ended up? Not in the Provos.

    It’s hardly possible to speak of the IRA as a coherent entity at this time. One need only look at Sean Hayes’ experience, and the fact that Ryan refused to land with Russell’s body for fear he would be blamed for murdering him.

    But never let the facts stand in the way of a good story.

  • Jimmy Sands

    “Guess where they ended up?”

    Republican Congress?

  • Republican Congress was before WWII Jimmy, and had collapsed before.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Only just before. The fascists stayed with Russell.

    ‘Twas ever thus.

  • Surely it was done basically by 1936? Some leftists stayed in because they didn’t want to split. Others were radicalised after 1936.

  • Jimmy Sands

    I seem to recall a group outing to Spain

  • paul kielty

    I will not be buying this book, although I’ll get a lend of a copy shortly! There seems to be no surprises in the general theme of his work going by previous publications.
    I will wait patiently for his next book which will hopefully expose the WP’s role in the protecting of several criminal families, including violent rapists, whom the dogs in the street know, in the lower ormeau road in Belfast.
    If McDonald wants to be taken seriously as a critical voice, then that’s his challenge.

  • This thread should be closed down for awhile until serious posters have a chance to read McDonald’s book.

    The thread has gone completely off the rails with this discussion about the IRA and the Nazis when, at best, it should be talking about the Soviets and the Provisionals, especially a leading Irish Communist (codenamed GRUM) who agreed in the late 1970s to train two undeclared members of the party to work as illegals – the recruits of yet more spies.

    This is in Christopher Andrew’s book about the KGB (pp. 284-5), though I have no idea what an undeclared member of any political party is. (Sounds like a bit more spin by the West’s leading intelligence spin doctor.)

    Who is GRUM and the two undeclared illegals? Was GRUM Michael O’Riordan? Given Gerry Adams’ closeness with O’Riordan, was he one of the alleged illegals?

    GRUM, according to Andrew, still cannot be identified for legal reasons, and the identity of the two illegals is apparently anyone’s guess.

    Could the three have anything to do with the Provos, especially given the Soviet role in helping supply them with weapons, and the use of Frank Hegarty to secure their recapture during the non-nuclear showdown with Moscow – what was to be triggered by the assassination of Sweden’s Olof Palme?

  • rusty pens

    ‘The thread has gone completely off the rails with this discussion about the IRA and the Nazis when, at best, it should be talking about the Soviets and the Provisionals’?????

    Given the author’s links with the Sticky/WP group, why not investigate their links with the Soviet regime re. a massive counterfeiting operation, for starters?

  • That would appear to be even more relevant.

  • kensei

    Gari

    It’s hardly possible to speak of the IRA as a coherent entity at this time.

    My point exactly; how the hell does Nazis come into a discussion of the Provos?

    Most of the Marxists were sticks. It it does not follow that the Provos were therefore the Nazi faction. It’s a mad suggestion.

  • Kensei,

    I would agree that it doesn’t follow that the people who were pro-Nazi were Provos either. The attempt to smear the IRA as Nazi allies is factually incorrect. And also ignores where the majority of pro-Nazi feeling was in Irish society. Which is in FG and parts of FF, the two major parties, rather than a fairly marginalised and inconsequential movement.

    Jimmy,

    the group outing was partly because the Congress had collapsed, and they felt their was less opportunity to be productive at home.

  • Mick

    Trow,

    People should have enough ‘self control’ not to make ‘ignorant’ remarks about a book they’ve not read.

    In the meantime, can I make it clear that my stating that people must play the ball, and not the man, doesn’t mean that critical views on McDonald’s book will not be sustained.

    Given it’s a polemical work, I cannot see how it will not attract criticism. And that’s a thoroughly good thing.

    But the kind of empty-headed whataboutery we’ve seen on this thread is an attempt to shift attention away from the subject of the book and onto the biography of the writer. We’ve seen copious examples of this ASU style ambush over the years, and it never fails to miss the mark.

    My own view of the book would not be far from one of the critical commenters here that his reportage on the past is good, but the polemic is patchy. As is Henry’s wont; it is brilliant in parts, but lacks considerable focus in others.

    As I’ve hinted above, I don’t agree with the general suggestion that the Republican movement has ‘failed’ as such. Although the author makes a cogent case (not least via the words of founding Provisional member John Kelly) that the Armed Struggle did not achieve that which its leaders claimed it would, they have slowly (painfully slowly) transformed themselves into the leading constitutional party of northern Irish nationalism.

    That’s something that many of its critics (from WP, to the various dissident Republican factions) within the wider Republican movement have signally failed to match. And given the social changes both north and south of the border, it hard to see the conditions that dissidents could successfully leverage any better – ie the social unrest that the grievances of 69/70 gave rise to – returning any time soon.

    But the main question arising from what is at times a forensic re-telling of the past is: can it become more than just a locally powerful but nationally insignificant (whichever way you define that) political faction?

    And in particular, can it overcome its controversial past to provide build a broad enough political church to garner a sufficient democratic mandate to achieve that political unification which it signally failed to achieve through a thirty year long Armed Struggle.

    There are other voices within Sinn Fein who believe that cannot happen until it attains a significant political voice in the Republic. And it cannot do that using the same disruptive techniques that gained it such a senior position in Northern Ireland.

    Again, according to some within the Movement that requires an admission, to itself if no one else, that the military tactics of the past have not only run their course but have failed to reach the end goal. Yet an admission of failure, does not require the party to accept the pessimistic terms of its critics and political enemies.

    What this book does at its best is to hold up a mirror to the movement’s tragic mistakes of the past. But its future remains firmly in its own hands.

  • doctor

    “My own view of the book would not be far from one of the critical commenters here that his reportage on the past is good, but the polemic is patchy. As is Henry’s wont; it is brilliant in parts, but lacks considerable focus in others.”

    Dear lord, would that be me Mick? 😉

    Anyway, I would agree with the essence of your last post.

    “Again, according to some within the Movement that requires an admission, to itself if no one else, that the military tactics of the past have not only run their course but have failed to reach the end goal.”

    Isn’t that largely what has happened judging by the current status of the republican movement? Although there might be some argument about whether some of those past tactics were unavoidable or not without some benefit.

  • Doctor,

    That’s the implication of what’s happened, but I don’t see that the party has acknowledge it, even to itself.

    I’ve quoted this piece from ‘Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland’ before, but it is bang on the money in this context.

    No Change: Use the old discourses. Risk marginalisation.

    Some change: Retain the old discourses, while simultaneously adopting new discourses that are acceptable in the new public sphere. Risks presenting a ‘contradictory’ stance but able to participate partially in the public sphere.

    Transformative change: Criticise and abandon the old discourses, while simultaneously adopting new discourses that are acceptable in the new public sphere. Able to participant in the public sphere.

    I sense a degree of complacency in the party leadership possibly because they think consolidation of its dominant position in Northern Ireland is a priority.

    But it is precisely because they are still engaging in old discourse of conflict and unionist intransigence that their barrack busting techniques are visibly failing.

    Look at the departments SF have that are working, and you see two Ministers getting down to the business in hand, and at least earning themselves the reputation of being competent.

    Ironically, the settlement in Northern Ireland may prove too much for the once restless revolutionary spirit of the Republican movement.

    Like an after hours lock-in with two groups of Rangers and Celtic fans, they know they have to behave, or risk losing the privilege if they kick off too loudly and too aggressively.

    That would be easier to bare if the party had a convincing transformative narrative capable not only of engaging current memberships but of attracting others beyond the Pale.

  • Thanks for your sensible comment, Mick. I didn’t notice it until just now.

    I have nothing more to say about Henry McDonald’s book, of course, until I read it.

    I do believe that the SF stagnation is largely the result of blowback from the ‘Steak knife’ affair – what seemed headed for disaster until he turned it around to force a negotiated settlement from the British.

    I realize that I must sound like a broken record but it seems the cause of the essential republican inability to move ahead for fear that it will just cause more dangerous blowback from hardliners.

    When ‘Steak knife’ dies, hopefully a natural death, I think that affairs will start moving ahead in a more concerted way.

    There is no going back to armed conflict.

  • kensei

    Mick

    Again, according to some within the Movement that requires an admission, to itself if no one else, that the military tactics of the past have not only run their course but have failed to reach the end goal. Yet an admission of failure, does not require the party to accept the pessimistic terms of its critics and political enemies.

    I think it has to go further Mick. It needs to realise that a strategy focusing on division has run its course — for example, pushing language divisions or parading divisions and ruling its base. I do not criticise them from pursuing that course — in , politics, getting power and making changes that you want to see is the whole of the game. But if you want to see the results of running a divisive strategy permanently, you only have to look at the current state of the US Republican party. In the long run that policy is a scorched earth. This applies doubly to a party that at least rhetorically seeks unity.

    But it is very tough to move from it. The politics of the six allow big scope for grievance. Effective use of it is part of the reason SF are where they are. And the alternative offers uncertain gains in the short term and would probably take a generational shift in leadership to reap its rewards.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ken,

    Realistically, that last does look like a minimal requirement..

  • Kensei

    Mick

    Realistically, that last does look like a minimal requirement.

    Depends. For anyone that is a current Unionist, yes. But it might be successful enough within Nationalism to finish off the SDLP.

    Regardless, the current leadership can starting putting strategy and structures in place that might reap benefits for new leaders down the line, and also see off some of transition difficulties. There might be a danger of tarnish there, but it depends on the timescales involved as to the cost/benefit of it.

  • doctor

    Anyway Mick, I agree that this book should be re-visited in a couple months when more of us have had the opportunity to read it. To be perfectly honest, this is a book that I’ve placed further down my reading list precisely because it is McDonald’s first “big idea” book rather than a straight forward history of some organization or individual. For me it has the appeal of a car wreck that you don’t want to really look at but you just can’t help yourself.

  • Mick Fealty

    Doctor,

    Did you notice how Ken’s just accused you of being a Unionist. Don’t panic. He does it regularly and doesn’t mean anything by it, I’m sure. 😉

    “For anyone that is a current Unionist, yes. But it might be successful enough within Nationalism to finish off the SDLP.”

    Ken,

    I try to read Irish Republicanism as I try to read Unionism: within its own terms. Your suggestion does not fill the stated aim of all those IRA volunteers who both killed (1707) and died (360 odd) for political unification.

    If SDLP were not lost in a similar state of political confusion, they’d likely have bigger problems than the forward going ones they have now…

  • doctor

    “Did you notice how Ken’s just accused you of being a Unionist. Don’t panic. He does it regularly and doesn’t mean anything by it, I’m sure. ;-)”

    Did he? It’s late and I’m having trouble making heads of what you, Ken, and myself have just said in the past few posts to see what you’re talking about. If he did call me a unionist, can you give him a yellow card for using insulting and abusive language to a fellow Sluggerite? 😉

    At any rate, I think all the parties are still stuck from one degree or another in past discourses. Hence we have unionism judging success almost entirely on the ability to block anything desired by the nationalist end of the spectrum and loudly trumpeting this at every opportunity. Or obsessing over a virtually defunct army council. Is this approach designed to go beyond the old discourses?

  • kensei

    Mick

    First up, my argument is not that loose even if yours is. I simply expressed scepticism that current unionists could be convinced by the current SF leadership of anything, but current Nationalists might be. I did not state that they would be and it leaves plenty of scope of SDLP types to do what they want. I’ll not be slandered by a Tory.

    Thanks for playing, have another go.

    I try to read Irish Republicanism as I try to read Unionism: within its own terms. Your suggestion does not fill the stated aim of all those IRA volunteers who both killed (1707) and died (360 odd) for political unification.

    Are you misunderstanding me here or something? I am suggesting they pursue a strategy move likely to get what they want. That means abandoning a strategy base don fermenting divisions for one that tries to bring more people in. Exactly how that should look requires a better mind that me, but the important thing would be: it’s not this one.

    Now, how is that not about bringing about political unification? Why in God’s name do you think I would be for a strategy I didn’t believe would help bring that about, exactly?

    If SDLP were not lost in a similar state of political confusion, they’d likely have bigger problems than the forward going ones they have now…

    Woulda, shoulda, coulda. They don’t. Great time to sort stuff out, then.