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 OBrien 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 Craigs 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.”