end of 1993 was arguably an appropriate time for a
book on the IRA and Sinn Fein to be published. There
will, however, be some debate whether The Long
War is the appropriate book.
turmoil, developments, interchanges, contradictions
and ambiguities have so densely populated the past
eight months that it was inevitable that someone would
attempt an overview and tease out some order from
the ever swelling deluge of occurrences. Indeed, there
is material in abundance for quite a few books not
to mention academic theses. In spite of this Brendan
O'Brien has opted to cover an eight-year period. So
it comes as something of a disappointment to find
in 285 pages of 'narrative' photographs and maps counted
as part of the text.
'padding' effect is accentuated by the inclusion of
case studies which while interesting in their own
rights are not entirely germane to the field of investigation.
Moreover, RUC supplied statistics are used throughout
for the purpose of illustrating IRA operational activity,
The danger of relying on such a discredited source
is aptly amplified when we read that one of the 'IRA's
operations' on 2 April 1987, was the killing of a
civilian in Havana Gardens - that civilian happened
to be IRA volunteer Larry Marley, killed by the UVF
in collusion with the RUC.
his credit the author makes no attempt to turn his
work into a 'republican bashing' exercise. He has
endeavoured to explain how republicans over the past
number of years have sought a solution with ever increasing
flexibility. Yet, in seeking to convey the flexibility
to his reader, O'Brien will fail to convince many,
in particular republicans, that he has managed to
avoid contributing to a conspiracy theory which holds
that republicans are busy becoming the architects
of their own demise.
organising principle employed throughout the book
is that for some considerable time the republican
leadership has gradually, but persistently, been nudging
the republican struggle away from its original goal
of securing a British declaration of intent to withdraw
to a position of being but a mere whisker away from
'accepting' the realities of unionism, veto included.
even here there is confusion, as the narrative tends
to drift back and forth between republicans flirting
with the veto and refusing to accommodate it at all.
This serves to conjure up a mental image of the author
as the cat watching ping-pong and holding the perspective
of whatever table-end the play happens to be at, at
any given moment.
to be fair, the complexities of the past eight months
have been hard to follow, and O'Brien has done his
best to unravel them. The cut and thrust along with
the constant manoeuvring for position in the turbulent
political arena have made it difficult for any commentator
to pin down groups to firm positions.
the book has been unfavourably compared to Liam Clarke's
Broadening The Battlefield and O'Brien has
been criticised for publishing too early and subsequently
missing out on much of what has happened since the
Shankill tragedy (around when the book was completed).
Jim Cusack, in the Irish Times, likened it
to Hamlet without the prince. But the British have
done such a good job in dragging out their refusal
to clarify the Downing Street Declaration that to
delay publication in the hope of something more juicy
would have denied a curious audience a useful interpretation
of important developments.
any rate, The Long War is a much better book
than Broadening The Battlefield if for no other
reason than O'Brien has approached the task with journalistic
competence and personal honesty even if its interpretations
and conclusions are not always beyond question.
Long War. The IRA and Sinn Fein From 1985 to Today.
By Brendan O'Brien. Published by the O'Brien Press.
Price £18.95 (HB).
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