The Cruiser: According to the MSM…

I know we have had two threads already on the Cruiser, but this is for the sake of completeness. First spake to Vincent Browne:

He turned himself and the rest of us, including the Provos, into unionists, accepting that the constitutional status of the North could be changed only with the consent of a majority of its people. Power comes not from the ballot box or from the barrel of a gun. It comes from changing minds. Cruise O’Brien certainly helped to change minds – not just on the North (although crucially on that), but also on relations between the Catholic church and the state.

Tom McGurk considers amongst other matters the single episode that was definitely not his final hour:

Section 31 provoked an enormous crisis of self-censorship in RTE. In response to it, the organization was intellectually and journalistically undermined; paranoia reached into every corner and, understandably, few were prepared to take risks. The national broadcaster was forced, for the next 30 years, to cover the greatest national story with one hand tied behind its back.

A culture of state journalism that critics like Ed Moloney believe helped continued what at times was regimented support of the Government during the entire length of the Peace Process…

Eoghan Harris in the Sunday argues with his customary brevity and directness that:

States of Ireland (1972) changed our states of mind. In his weekly columns, he hammered home the message: Northern Protestants did not want to join the Irish Republic. And every time we avoided thinking about that awkward fact he would seize us by the scruff of the neck, and with a Swiftian wit and savagery force us to face that fact again. And so, at first slowly and sullenly, and finally with a sense of liberation, we pushed the Provisional rhetoric aside, altered Articles 2 and 3 and tried to forget the prophet who had first pointed the way to the Promised Land.

And there’s this wee gem from Jenny McCartney, daughter of Bob and columnist in the Sunday Telegraph:

Since he habitually moved beyond the boundaries of all tribes, their self-appointed chieftains always suspected him for it. In his memoir he describes a fact-finding visit to the North in 1970, during which he attended a rally addressed by the Unionist politician William Craig. He refrained from applauding Craig’s speech, thereby drawing the ire of some nearby loyalist toughs. They inquired why he had not clapped, and he replied that he had not agreed with the substance of the speech. Since a beating was evidently on its way, he wrote later: “I preferred being beaten without having clapped to clapping and then getting beaten as well.”

The beating, augmented by a kicking, duly followed. Not long afterwards he received a postcard from Omagh in Northern Ireland. It read: “I see you got a Protestant beating-up in Derry. If you come to Omagh I promise you a Catholic beating-up”.

None the less, Conn Corrigan is on to something with Ferdie Mount’s memorable observation that O’Brien was ‘a man whose function it is to be gloriously wrong.’ Though as he points out this was in the last decades of his long and well lived life. It’s a theme more delicately taken up in the Irish Times’s leader at the weekend:

In politics, he arguably suffered from the tendency of intellectuals to be impatient with equivocation and subtleties. His hostility to positions he despised expressed itself in an unmistakably authoritarian streak. His tendency to draw absolute lines of division – pro or anti-Haughey; pro or anti-Israel; and especially pro or anti-IRA – sometimes took on an obsessive cast. His fondness for predicting an apocalyptic civil war meant that, in his later years, he missed the nature and significance of the peace process.

Maurice Hayes compares him to Goldsmith, and notes that he had the skill and experience to hold a chair in six different subject areas. And yet, he too is critical of the way his thinking was gripped by an earlier prediction:

At times the very trenchancy with which he presented his arguments lessened their effectiveness. Predictions of Armageddon and of the day and date on which civil war would begin did not help. Neither did his apparent inability to find as much room for the plight of the nationalist minority in the North as for their Unionist neighbours.

In a way CCOB had become trapped in the logic of his own analysis. The malign scenario set out in ‘States of Ireland’ was a prophecy which, it seemed, had to be self-fulfilling.

He took a Manichean view of the irredeemability of those who had been involved in violent terrorism, or the ability of former gunmen to rediscover themselves as politicians, or to lead others into the path of democratic politics. Strange indeed in the light of how governments and political parties in the South had developed.

And on the UKIP conundrum, PA have a nice segment from Bob McCartney that should explain all, even if it still fails to entirely cohere:

“Anyone who said he was not a great Irish nationalist, they were making a mistake,” said Mr McCartney. “He objected to the methods that were being used by the two governments to pressurise unionists, methods that he saw as duress.” Mr McCartney said that Mr O’Brien would be remembered for his liberal views on social issues in Ireland.

Many observers who supported the moves by the British and Irish governments to encourage the peace process, were shocked by Mr O’Brien’s strong opposition to it. But the UK Unionist leader said his party, which proved a thorn in the side of the then Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, proved attractive to Mr O’Brien.

“He believed that we were a non-sectarian unionist party that rejected the methods being used to pressurise unionists,” said Mr McCartney. “The world will be a poorer place for his passing.”

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  • Dave

    “Although Conor Cruise O ’Brien held minor cabinet office for a mere four years (in Posts and Telegraphs) and was a TD for just eight, he was, in many senses, the most powerful person in Ireland over the last 40 years.

    He – more than others – changed public attitudes towards the North, and towards republicans and nationalism. He made it easy for the state in 1998 to change Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, without even murmurs of dissent, as part of the Good Friday Agreement – an agreement he reviled.

    He turned himself and the rest of us, including the Provos, into unionists, accepting that the constitutional status of the North could be changed only with the consent of a majority of its people.” – Vincent Browne

    That, of course, is the power of propaganda rather than the power of ideas.

    If encouraging nationalists in Northern Ireland to accept the Unionist Veto is to be touted as his achievement, then all he did was encourage them to the legitimacy of Ireland Act, 1949 and the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 states the Unionist Veto/PoC as ““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.”

    That wasn’t O’Brein’s idea, but the idea of the British establishment that he served. Alternatively, it could be argued that the credit should go to the PIRA murder campaign (and those who controlled it) produced the ideological shift from supporting the principle of national self-determination to renouncing it, since it was that campaign – and, specifically, the method of bringing it to a conclusion – that precipitated the renunciation of northern nationalists of their right to self-determination as a part of the Irish nation to live within an Irish nation state, downgrading it to the status of an aspiration that is subject to the veto of another (British) nation.

  • Dave

    Typo: “If encouraging nationalists in Northern Ireland to accept the Unionist Veto is to be touted as his achievement, then all he did was encourage them to [b]accept[/b] the legitimacy of Ireland Act, 1949 and the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 [b]which[/b] state the Unionist Veto/PoC as…”

  • Dave

    And by the way, perhaps someone should explain to the nationalists in Northern Ireland the meaning of the ‘idea’ that they were allegedly persuaded to embrace by that great political thinker, Mr O’Brien – who, of course, was much revered by northern nationalists and thereby highly influential effect on their political thinking, whose great ‘idea’ was that the Irish nation should accept the legitimacy and primacy of pre-existing British constitutional structures. Oddly enough, the British had that idea before him.

    I think you’ll find that they did not believe that they were renouncing their right to live within an Irish nation-state when they endorsed the GFA, and that they still don’t believe it. It was sold to them as a means to a unified Irish nation-state and not as a renunciation of the concept. There was no intellectual shift of thinking there at all – and none in the south either.

    Propaganda in Irish-owned but British-controlled media which promoted pro-British sentiment, aimed at reinforcing a British claim to the territory, and promoting the separation of the Irish nation from control over their state (necessary to dismantle the nation-state), accompanied by a campaign of censorship of Irish nationalism (Geez, did you know that romantic Irish nationalist Yeats was a fascist just like all Irish nationalists?) inevitably had some effect in keeping people ignorant as to the value of liberal nationalism and the nation-state as did censorship of such nation-sustaining tools by those who sought to dismantle the nation-state by transferring sovereignty from the nation to third parties, but none of this campaign is supported by an intellectual shift that has persuaded people that there is a superior alternative to the nation-state. In fact, the opposite is the case. The aim is to avoid any intellectual debate and to proceed instead by stealth and classic techniques of propaganda. None of this is lasting, as people hold to the old ideas of classical liberal nationalism, and all of it will come undone in due course.

  • HeadTheBall

    “…classical liberal nationalism….will come undone in due course…”

    Amen to that.

  • PaddyReilly

    the constitutional status of the North could be changed only with the consent of a majority of its people

    The problem with this is that within an otherwise democratic system, it gives to Protestants, Unionists or British, whatever you wish to call them, a right which the rest of the population do not possess, the right to create borders and secede within them.

    This removes the democratic element from the system altogether. If you give one element a right which the rest do not have, it is no longer an even playing field. It’s like playing cards when one party has the unique privilege of dealing the hand of his choice, a pointless exercise which will only lead to violence.

    O’Brien’s method was to blame the victims. If the party forced in all eternity to take play the role of loser in this unequal contest became justifiably aggrieved, then he was a fascist, and had to be supressed. Obviously this got us nowhere, and O’Brien’s contribution was purely on the side of the card sharp. Eight years was it we had to put up with him? It seemed like eighty. He was the most unpopular politician in Ireland, and Haughey, whom he hated, the most popular. Such though is the undemocratic power of the media that we had more than our fill of his unoriginal and half-baked ideas. In Britain, you might think he was the only Irish politician.

  • At this point, I would say that Cruiser was a terrible politician, an okay academic, an accomplished political thinker, and an incredibly good cultivator of people, especially those in the academic, political, and media worlds who really mattered.

    Conor could flatter, stroke, encourage, coopt, etc., people as I have never seen before – explaining why all these hacks have only the highest praise for him about anything.

    I was made aware of this when I looked at the acknowledgements for his biography of Burke, about 20 pages of fine print text. He seems to have complimented almost everyone in the UK, Ireland and America who had anything to do with his life up until then.

    The acknowledgements are the biggest I have ever seen in a book. And the feeback is coming now in droves.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Paddy:

    The problem with this is that within an otherwise democratic system, it gives to Protestants, Unionists or British, whatever you wish to call them, a right which the rest of the population do not possess, the right to create borders and secede within them.

    Arguably, a right which Irish nationalists sought for themselves when they split Ireland from the UK.

    Either way, though, this question was settled and the issue closed in the GFA. Everyone has agreed to let the unionists away with it just this once.

    I do think it’s a bit sad when someone like this dies everyone flocks around to talk up what a revolutionary and forward-thinking character he was. I’m not sure at all about that, given his links with Robert McCartney.

  • PaddyReilly

    Arguably, a right which Irish nationalists sought for themselves when they split Ireland from the UK

    Yes, all good and proper, I am always in favour of giving their own homeland to minorities, the Welsh, the Gagauz and such like. But NI is not an attempt to provide a separate state or area for Ulster Protestants, (who in any case are insufficiently different from other Ulster folk to need a homeland), but rather an attempt to maintain imperial rule over as large an area of Ireland as possible. Quite a different thing.

    Either way, though, this question was settled and the issue closed in the GFA.

    Not entirely, the GF brought in the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlaws the practise of giving to one section of the population a right not enjoyed by another. In this case, I would suggest that the necessary corrective to the grant to the Unionist side of the power to determine where the state borders run, would be to give to the Nationalist side the power of determining where the local government borders run.

    I do think it’s a bit sad when someone like this dies everyone flocks around to talk up what a revolutionary and forward-thinking character he was. I’m not sure at all about that, given his links with Robert McCartney.

    Well said. CCOB was the least successful and least important politician in Ireland (with the possible exception of Rainbow George) and yet he enjoyed the full power of the British Press to exaggerate his importance. McCartney of course claims to be a progressive liberal non-sectarian Unionist because of his toleranc of CCOB.

  • Jimmy Sands

    For the sake of completeness this:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/meehan12222008.html

    from Niall Meehan. Not at all the sort of piece normally found on Counterpunch. Critical but well-researched. Well worth a look.

  • Rory Connor

    “Cruise O’Brien certainly helped to change minds – not just on the North (although crucially on that), but also on relations between the Catholic church and the state.”

    Conor Cruise certainly changed my mind about himself when I ventured to disagree with his views on the Catholic Church. (I strongly supported him regarding the IRA and also Israel.)

    I put some material into the National Archives in Dublin including one file which contained my correspondence with the Cruiser plus some other related material. The following is my index entry for item 10:

    (10) Conor Cruise O’Brien and Mary Raftery.
    Article in Irish Independent by CC O’Brien on 15 May 1999 “Child Abuse Issue must be Fearlessly Confronted Now”. Conor Cruise compares the treatment of children by the Catholic Church with the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. “The holocaust took six million lives, mostly over a three year period. The abuse of children took few actual lives, it did take some but it inflicted great suffering on many thousands of children over several centuries.” Again “Sexual deviance is not a modern innovation but has been around for thousands of years. And the celibacy of the clergy an institution which needed to be protected from general information about the deviation had been around for centuries. So I suspect these abuses and accompanying cover-ups have been going on for about 600 years: since the middle ages.”

    So the great friend of Israel and scourge of anti-Semites makes allegations that could have come out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion .

    Conor Cruise wants to “fearlessly face up the past” and ends by saying that “Catholic archivists, for some of whom I have a great respect, could play a central role in that. I hope to discuss this with at least one of them and then return to this important subject.”

    I have been unable to find any follow up to this article. Conor Cruise seems to have written nothing in the period November 1999 to January 2000 when Breda O’Brien demolished Mary Raftery’s lies about the death of Patsy Flanagan. He was similarly silent during the hysteria surrounding the exhumation of the body of William Delaney in April 2001. And again silence when Mannix Flynn claimed that there had been a “holocaust” at Letterfrack (Sunday Independent, 22 December 2002). Did the Cruiser realise that his allegations were rubbish but instead of apologizing, decided to evade the issue? His anti-clerical friends were happy not to ask him any awkward questions. What a pity that some are anti-Semites as well!

  • Rory Connor

    Further to the above maybe I should explain:

    I am an amateur historian and for the past decade I have been studying false allegations of child abuse with particular reference to accusations of child murder made against Catholic Religious. As many of these claims relate to TIMES WHEN NO CHILD DIED OF ANY CAUSE, I coined the phrases “Murder of the Undead” and “Victimless Murders”. (Try Googling these!)

    This form of hysteria only got well under way about the middle of 1999. (I am aware of only one case before that.). Accordingly Dr. O’Brien was not so much the VICTIM of this hysteria, as one of its creators.

    I suspect that when Dr. O’Brien then spoke to his “Catholic archivist” friend about

    * a 600 year record of clerical sexual deviancy
    * involving child abuse up to and including the killing of children

    the archivist mentioned the phrase “Blood Libel” and the great supporter of Israel decided that he would not pursue the subject any farther! (Of course he should have apologised but that was never the Cruiser’s way.)

  • Katy

    Cruiser, the guy who kept a file of correspondance letters to newspaper that did not agree with him so that he “could deal with them (the authors) later.”

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article2076021.ece