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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
It all leads back to this
A review of Brian Rowan's new book, "The Armed Peace"
Mick Hall • 3.10.03

If I were teaching journalism I would tell my students once they qualify, to think very carefully before writing a book about a subject/place in which they currently plough their trade. Whilst the pot of money dangled before them by eager publishers to get hold of a book on a hot topic may seem attractive, if not tempting, few working journalist have successfully written these type of books. Of course there have been exceptions that disprove the rule; Pity the Nation by Robert Fisk is a prime example. The book covers the trials and tribulations of the people of the Lebanon during the civil war and Israeli invasion. Fisk, back then as today, lived in the Lebanon and was then the Times Middle east correspondent. Sadly few journalists have been able to emulate him and in the main few such books get to the heart of their intended subject, despite their authors often having a great deal of knowledge about their subject matter due covering it on a daily basis as a working journalist.

Brian (Barney, I'm told, to his pals) Rowan falls into this category with his new book, The Armed Peace, Life and Death after the Ceasefires. The core of his problem, like all those who attempt such a work, is sources and in this case how to portray those police officers, intelligence agents, politicians, soldiers, loyalist paramilitaries, clerics, etc., who are both the main sources for the book and the personalities that appear within it. This is part of the kernel of the problem, for any working journalist who attempts to write such a book, including Rowan. For if they wish to maintain their sources into the future, they cannot afford to give to them too much offence, as it is vital that they are able to maintain a relationship with these said sources, if they are to continue their day job as a working journalist. In Rowan's case, covering the north of Ireland as the BBC security editor.

Another part of the problem with this type of book is that almost every thing the author includes in the book will have already been put into the public domain by them as a working journalist. In Rowan's case, as I have already stated whilst working for the BBC. If he had not done this and he were to publish something new in the book which he had held back from his employer, they would quickly want to know why he had done so. Wanting to freelance as an author and make a few quid on the side would hardly cut the mustard with his employers, thus if he were to hold back without an adequate excuse his future secure employment would be in jeopardy, so he is hardly likely to do so.

As too Rowan's new book, he is guilty of both the aforementioned limitations about writing such a book and a third is added due to the nature of the journalism he is engaged in on a daily basis. Major news outlets like the BBC, report through the lens of the great and good. That is 'important' people make the TV evening news the world over, while the masses i.e., the rest of us have a walk on part to be manipulated like pieces on a giant chess board. Thus in Rowan's broadcasts as in his book The Armed Peace, his sources are his subjects. In his eyes it is these men and women who not only make history but their unseen hands also sculpture it. The masses merely carry the marble. Those individuals Rowan writes about are made up of people who are at the height of their professions, otherwise Barny would not give them any credence let alone the time of day. Prime Ministers and Presidents, senior politicians, police officers, securocrats, the odd Republican volunteer and British military officers, all at the top of their own greasy pole. Now while this may work when covering Westminster, Congress or the Dail, although I have my doubts, when analysing the conflict in the north of Ireland and the Peace Process it falls far short, as this conflict has been fought out on the streets and hills, argued over within terraced houses and small community halls. The people who make up the ranks of the Republican Movement, the SDLP, the Unionist Partys and the Loyalist paramilitaries all come to some degree from within these embattled communities. It is the decisions that they have made that in many ways have been the motor of the conflict's direction and more so it is how they will judge the GFA in its totality, and what it has brought to their door which will ultimately decide whether it stands or falls. Yet in Rowan's book they hardly have a walk on role. This reminds me of the way history was taught in the UK back in the 1950-60s, when every event good or bad was portrayed as springing from the monarch and their senior placemen. 'The people' were invisible from the tale as indeed they are from Rowan's book. Those who represent the people on the Republican/nationalist side are carefully filtered down to a handful of senior Sinn Fein suits and their behind the scenes, 'may I whisper in your ear, Sir' mouthpieces. Those who support the GFA in the negotiations get a starring role, those who oppose like Ian Paisleys and his party are given standing room only. Those who will play a role in actually making the decisions about whether it stands or falls on the republican side are invisible. No matter, as Danny Morrison is available and gets a walk on part as their spokesperson, becoming in the process the font of wisdom within the republican community, with his hand and at times his heart on both their and Gerry Adams' pulse.

When Rowan comes into contact with senior IRA figures it is either in the backs of cars or the corner of seedy cafes. These senior republicans are always pushing bits of paper across the table to Barney with a communication signed by P. O'Neill. I began to wonder if he was ever going to tell us he was often told to eat the said communiqué. Yet these senior Republicans have no name, faces nor personalities. They are quite literally non-people, just as the British State wishes. Never mind they have never gone away, in Barney's book their only purpose is to shove bits of paper signed P. O'Neill at him so that he can rush back to the studio and read it out on the radio/TV and give his own state sponsored spin upon it.

Now this spin may or may not be subconscious but it is there all the same; if anyone doubts it they only has to read in the book the manner in which Rowan writes about the RUC and securocrats assessment's of the Provisional's intentions. Whatever they say he reports as fact without spin as if these organisations have no agenda of their own. The chief constable Hugh Orde's word is taken as gospel; from his lips never a lie shall pass. This despite the fact that Rowan having been a working journalist covering the North for more years than he cares to remember knows full well that lies, half truths, innuendo and spin are the daily bread for the RUC whatever the name they trade under.

To sum up, Rowan, like all those who sup at the top table of the Peace Process is obsessed with the decommissioning of PIRA arms. Every conversation reported, every interview given in the book leads one in a circle back to this. How much simpler for all if Gerry and his crew, once they had decided to proceed politically without the aid of arms and gained the freedom of the majority of Republican prisoners, had followed the tried and trusted way and issued an order to dump arms. But that of course would have meant them admitting, at least to themselves that the conflict is far from over. How could it be otherwise when the British State keeps thousands of their armed forces within the north of Ireland? When their client Loyalist Paramilitaries are all fully armed and ready for fresh orders from their masters at any time? If arms had been dumped, the British government would not have the peg it currently has, on which it intends to hang the Provisional Republican Movement upon and then place a sign above it saying "PIRA: A Defeated Terrorist Gang".





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

3 October 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Rite of Passage
Anthony McIntyre


32 CSM Condemn Abduction of its members
Andy Martin


Irish Republicanism As I See It
Thomas Gore


A Question of Class
Davy Carlin


It All Leads Back to This
Mick Hall


I Dreamt I Saw Joe H Last Night
Anthony McIntyre


Tail Biting Prohibited
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain


28 September 2003


Edward Said, 1935-2003
Liam O Ruairc


Civil Rights Anniversary
Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh


Nothing But Contempt for the Court of the Rich
Anthony McIntyre


Ireland and Post Colonial Theory
Liam O Ruairc


2 Statements on the death of Edward Said


The Letters Page has been updated.




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