Blair should as a matter of urgency dig deep into
his pockets and buy 860 copies of Ed Moloney's book.
The Prime Minister should then post them out to 860
addresses in Northern Ireland, specifically to the
homes of the men and women who make up the Ulster
Unionist Council - the institution that can help David
Trimble restore devolution. Because the message of
Moloney's 624-page tome on the modern IRA is: first,
the Provos' war is over for good and, second, their
project to destroy Northern Ireland by a combination
of terrorism and street politics has been defeated.
overarching theme of this book is the Provos' long
retreat from revolutionary 'armed struggle' into the
constitutional politics they once despised. Moloney
opens his Secret History of the IRA with a
prologue of how the Provisionals' most ambitious gunrunning
operation - the shipping of tonnes of guns, surface-to-air
missiles, millions of rounds of ammunition, hundreds
of grenades etc on board the Eksund from Libya - was
that the explosive devices on board had been sabotaged,
the IRA's director of engineering, Gabriel Cleary,
now on the open seas off the French coast, planned
to scuttle the Eksund. Instead the boat carrying the
largest arms and explosives shipment ever sent from
Colonel Gadaffi's dictatorship to the IRA was intercepted
by the French navy, under the watchful eye of RAF
spotter planes, with British intelligence monitoring
the vessel all the way from Tripoli to Ireland.
author points to this drama as proof that someone
in the highest echelons of the IRA in Ireland had
compromised the mission and thwarted what Moloney
calls the Provos' own 'Tet offensive' against the
British Army in Ulster.
with a nautical story is appropriate because it also
provides the best metaphor for describing the modern
IRA's and Sinn Fein's 360-degree turn from so-called
armed struggle towards the politics of peaceful persuasion.
The vast lumbering entity known as the republican
movement, an alliance of conservative rural Catholic
nationalists and angry young men from Belfast and
Derry who grew up under unionist discrimination and
British Army repression resembled an oil tanker.
its inception on the burnt-out Catholic streets of
the Falls Road in August 1969 until the mid-Eighties
the Provisionals were steering towards an unreachable
harbour - a united socialist all-Ireland republic.
But with the oil tanker sailing towards the rocks
of defeat, the vessel was turned around towards the
port of historic compromise. And at the helm for the
last 20 years has been the one man capable of changing
that course, the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams.
argues that Adams could never have turned the vessel
around unless he was a leading figure on the IRA's
ruling body, the Army Council. He claims Adams was
in the leadership of the Belfast IRA when the organisation
kidnapped and murdered Jean McConville in 1972, whom
the Provos believed was spying for the British Army.
The mother of 10 children was buried in secret, a
policy established by the Belfast Brigade; of which
Adams was a member of at the time. The author points
out that Adams's protestations over 20 years later
that he was in prison when Jean McConville disappeared
conflict with the facts. He did not go to jail until
July 1973, more than six months after she was abducted.
such revelations will take some of the shine from
the halo erected over Adams's head by his fawning
followers in the Irish and British media, Moloney
concedes that the Irish peace process could never
have evolved without his strategic genius and determination
to bring the 'war' to an end. The story of how Adams
and others such as Martin McGuinness achieved this
is a narrative of double bluffs, clandestine meetings
between leading republicans and British representatives
(often behind the backs of the IRA membership) and
Machiavellian manoeuvring, with Adams outwitting hard-liners
time and time again.
most other historical accounts of the modern IRA,
Moloney's is lucid and illuminating. One glaring omission
is the author's failure to discuss the role of leftist
intellectuals in Ireland and Britain, whose support
in the Seventies and Eighties for the IRA campaign
dressed up what was essentially a morally and politically
futile sectarian struggle in the trendy garb of international
anti-imperialism. But given that his book is primarily
concerned with charting the course of the Provisionals'
voyage from revolution to reformism, perhaps that
is a subject for another day. Another criticism is
Moloney's use of the language of legitimacy to describe
the illegitimate - the Provisional IRA's armed campaign.
Moloney continually employs the language the Provisionals
used themselves to described their actions, such as
Morrison, the Sinn Fein spin doctor who coined the
phrase 'ballot box and Armalite strategy' employs
the same pretentious pseudo-militaristic imagery in
references to the PIRA's campaign. In his memoir All
the Dead Voices, Morrison draws parallels between
Dutch resistance fighters killed by the Nazis and
IRA prisoners. He notes that the IRA inmates in H
Block used the same method of clandestine communication
as Dutch anti-Nazis; messages written on cigarette
papers. Again this is an attempt to legitimise the
illegitimate and the anti-democratic by subliminal
but essentially fake comparisons between modern paramilitaries
and the heroes of World War Two.
strongest segments of Morrison's book are the recollections
of the dead; in particular a heartbreaking eulogy
to his late sister Susan who died last year aged just
44. His account of her decline due to a degenerative
liver disease is deeply moving. There are illuminating
flashes of self-doubt over the IRA's violence in the
Nineties. Morrison, like the movement he joined in
1970, is also on a journey. But there is still an
ocean to cross for this writer from polemic to literature.
contrast Moloney's book is undoubtedly the best history
of Ireland's - and arguably the world's - most enduring
paramilitary movement ever to be written. It is a
brave and mercilessly honest project that will stand
the test of time.
article is carried with the permission of the author.
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