Friday, 21 November 2008

Playing on a 'Sticky' wicket, McDonald bowls out the provos

Henry McDonald’s examination of republican revisionism, 'Gunsmoke and Mirrors', will most likely be read in one of two ways. The reader might regard it as an exploration of dishonesty, fanaticism, futility and abhorrent ideology inherent in the provisional movement. Equally it can be seen as an exposition of ‘slow learners’, who bitterly opposed policies which were regarded as a sell-out, before adopting those self-same policies and turning on those who maintained the brutal doctrines to which they had previously adhered.

Either way, the common thread is dishonesty and a wilful attempt to ‘dress up’ and justify its campaign of violence as a success, when by any of the precepts which Sinn Féin and the IRA set itself, it was a woeful failure.

Although the deceit practised by Gerry Adams, and other provo leaders, was frequently a conscious and knowing process of lying, often the movement sustained itself by self-deception as much as by deceiving others. McDonald explores the evolving political garb in which the republican movement dressed up its ethno-nationalist murder campaign. Leftist politics and third world colonial theory were pragmatic guises which were adopted and shed as the situation demanded, whatever inconsistencies they might evoke.

The most pernicious deceit peddled by Sinn Féin is the fallacy that 30 years of violence were visited on Northern Ireland as a necessary expedient to achieve 'rights' and 'equality'. McDonald talks to republicans who are reduced to laughter by the notion that they were fighting for such abstractions. Sinn Féin was not interested in equality, or acknowledgment of the legitimacy of its aspirations. It took the provos well into the 90s to recognise that the British presence in Ireland did not comprise troops from England, but rather the unionist population which lives here. It was only with this realisation that a settlement became possible.

McDonald is keen to argue that the Official IRA, subsumed into the Workers’ Party, had come to these conclusions in the late 1960s. Much of his narrative hinges around the suggestion that had the provisionals accepted this logic, had the movement acknowledged that unionists had legitimate aspirations too, then 30 years of violence might have been avoided. Most of what comprises the current settlement, in McDonald’s view, would have been achieved much earlier, had the IRA's violence not taken place.

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.

The book provides more evidence that the IRA’s terror campaign was odious and Sinn Féin are lying about it, but oddly it will also probably provide succour for those extremists who believe the provos have sold out.


Safiya Outlines said...

Good review, especially the title.

I've got a pile of books lined up to read before I give birth and am rendered unable to read anything other than alphabet spaghetti for the next five years. I think I'll add this to the list. I've got Peter Taylor trilogy to read too. Wouldn't mind reading something on the history of the R.U.C, any recommendations?

yourcousin said...

There's a fairly interesting book entitled, "The Fateful Split" which chronicles the formation of the RUC after partition up to the formation of the PSNI. The focus is about their relationship to the Catholic community, but I think it does give a humanistic view of the police (especially around '69 or so).

Chekov said...

I've not read a history of the RUC Safiya, so not able to help I'm afraid. I wasn't impressed with Peter Taylor's books though. A history of the IRA which barely mentioned any of its atrocities! Enniskillen was mentioned merely as a strategic mishap.

Safiya Outlines said...

Yourcousin - Thanks for the recommendation. The author of that book has actually written a more up to date history, so I think I might get that.

Chekov - To be honest, Provos is the book in the trilogy I'm least interested in reading. Although if it doesn't portray them as misty-eyed freedom fighters, then it's better then 95% of the books out there.

I'm most interested in Brits, as most books on the subject are either very dry military history or tales of imperial wickedness. Likewise, books on the Loyalists tend to be of a pulp true crime nature, so I'm hoping for better.

Btw, If I read the RUC book, I'm happy to do a review for your bookstore if you want.

Ignited said...


You could try Chris Ryder - The RUC 1922-2000: a Force Under Fire.

Chekov said...

Sounds good Safiya. If you can fit it in before the new arrival. ;-)

Anonymous said...

You could try Chris Ryder - The RUC 1922-2000: a Force Under Fire.

If you want a good laugh, that is.