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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
A Secret History gets told in Galway

With one continuous breath
I absorb the pungent night air,
never dreaming
that from all our years together
this moment only will sting.
- Anne Kennedy

Anthony McIntyre • June 29 2003

In April, the Cuirt International Festival of Literature took place courtesy of the Galway Arts Centre. It was in its eighteenth year. The Town Hall Theatre played host to most of the main events and as a sign of the high literary stature of the occasion names such as the Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman had been billed to attend. I had always liked Dorfman who, from the point of view of the powerful, has the irritating habit of deflating their sense of self-importance. Once commenting on the ill-health of democracy in his own country he astutely observed that:

What politicians have done in Chile is that they’ve made democracy fragile by saying it’s so fragile we can’t touch it. Well, no. You’ve got to bring people into the process of defining democracy, testing it and pushing it. If you don’t it’s not true democracy.

A situation not unlike what we have inflicted upon us here, where people get told they are ‘mischievous’ and ‘enemies of the peace process’ if they ask a difficult question. On another occasion Dorfman wrote:

Dictators aspire to total power in order to seek refuge from the demons they have unchained. As a way of silencing their ghosts, they demand to be surrounded by a rampart of flattering mirrors and genuflecting counsellors that assure the tyrant that yes, you are the most beautiful of them all, the one who knows more.

These words have powerful resonance for anyone familiar with the authoritarian culture that has gripped Provisional republicanism under the leadership of seeming Sinn Fein president for life, Gerry Adams, who views an idea not his own as if it were a SARS-like contagious disease which his functionaries must prevent other people catching. Although Adams eighteen months ago sought to demonstrate his revolutionary credentials - in defiance of those to his right within the party - by visiting Castro’s Cuba, it struck me after reading Ed Moloney’s A Secret History Of The IRA that many readers may conclude that he shares more in common with the former ruler of Dorfman’s country - Augusto Pinochet - than with the leader of the Cuban left.

Ultimately, it was in anticipation of Moloney - rather than Dorfman - delivering the Anne Kennedy Memorial Lecture that attracted me to Galway. Anne Kennedy was a poet, writer, photographer and broadcaster who hailed from Orcas Island, off the coast of Washington state. She came to live in Galway in 1977. And it in turn it has established a tradition of honouring her literary acumen. It was my first time in the city and its cosmopolitan mix made the visit all the more appealing as well as demonstrating the broad social appeal of the festival. Fourteen hours on a bus there and back - my sole companion a biography - was a lot to endure but the lecture was worthwhile and meeting up again with Ciaran Irvine who sometimes features on The Blanket made the night’s post-lecture drinking all the more entertaining. Little chance of hearing self-serving peace process elasticity in that company. And it was a fulfilling experience to talk with Maura Kennedy, the daughter of Anne in whose memory the lecture was being delivered. This was the fifth annual Anne Kennedy lecture. Before dying in 1998 she had published two books of poems, Buck Mountain Poems and The Dog Kubla Dreams My Life. Maura is central to the Cuirt project and when I asked her how she felt to see her mother honoured in such a fashion she simply said it was a 'great honour' to carry on with her mother's tradition.

And what a vibrant tradition it seemed to be. I could not imagine Ed Moloney being invited to give his lecture during the West Belfast Festival. And if he were it is not too difficult to envisage some Sinn Fein members handing out SARS-type masks accompanied by instructions on how to fit them over the ears. Robert Fisk is welcome to our festival because he is expected to tell the truth about forces we do not like. And when he leaves we loudly praise him for extolling the value of truth and silently breathe a sigh of relief that he ignored our addiction to equivalence. The problem with Moloney is that he would not be coming to tell us what murderous horror the Israelis inflicted on Palestinian civilians or how many civilians the Argentinian military disappeared. No, his narrative in large part interrogates the character we as a community elect to represent us as MP in the British Parliament. Consequently, it makes us uncomfortable to feel the moral high ground shift beneath our feet and take on the appearance of someone else's neck, while our shouts of 'human rights abuser' are turned back on us. But if we want genuine rather than political truth then this is the price we have to pay for it, otherwise it is merely about poking the other side in the eye. Because, unless we subscribe to some intellectually limiting metanarrative, there is no one great system of pure evil that works 24/7 to oppress one great system of wholesome good. Uncomfortable as it may be to digest, Napoleon's comment that 'among those who dislike oppression are many who like to oppress' leaps out to tear away our eye patch - that intellectual attire we like to sport when looking inward - compelling us to view what we can otherwise pretend exists only in 'the other'.

The purpose of Moloney’s lecture was to demonstrate how:

The future of the Good Friday Agreement now rests with a party which began its existence dedicated to the destruction of the government of Northern Ireland and the partition settlement that underlay it, but the same party has ended up, utterly and absolutely dependent on them.

So sure were the British establishment that republicanism was firmly trapped in the snare and that the only way out was for it to shed its teeth - the purpose of ensnaring it to begin with - that the media no longer treated alarmist calls of crisis in the peace process with even a modicum of seriousness. At an early point in the lecture the audience was treated to a witty account of how 15 dead sheep in Tyrone was considered a more newsworthy item than our terminally boring political saga. Moloney argued that such an attitude was predicated upon an awareness that the peace process had brought the IRA campaign to a definitive and irreversible conclusion.

The packed Town Hall was told that Gerry Adams’ alternative to the armed struggle had been in place for years, even when others were racking their brains trying to escalate the war. That it was a strategy of deception aimed at conning not only the republican rank and file but also other members of the leadership came in a very illuminating comment:

There was never a chance that Adams could have gone to an Army Council upon which figures like Slab Murphy, Kevin McKenna or Michael McKevitt sat and say, 'listen lads I have an idea; how about we recognise Northern Ireland and agree that we won’t get Irish unity until the Prods say so, we’ll cut a deal with the Unionists to share power, Martin here can become a minister - and Barbara - meanwhile you guys will call a permanent ceasefire, give up all those Libyan guns, recognise a new re-named police force and eventually we’ll wind down the IRA and disband it. If we do that, then Sinn Fein, under my leadership of course, will become the new SDLP and Fianna Fails of Ireland.' Does anyone here seriously think Adams could have gone to the Army Council with such a message and survive the experience?

At a time when so much fudge and ambiguity has been given free reign Moloney certainly did not pull his punches. While Adams is about to launch a second book about not being in the IRA, Moloney told a very different story:

By the time he led the IRA in Belfast, Adams’ list of military achievements was already a lengthy and impressive one: he had made his home Ballymurphy the strongest IRA area in the city; as commander of the Second Battalion in Belfast, his IRA units had pioneered the use of the car bomb and had forced the British to introduce internment before their intelligence on the IRA was complete, with the result that internment was a military and political disaster. He had ordered the importation of the Armalite rifle from America, which for a while made the IRA in Belfast better armed than the British Army. With the destruction of an undercover British spy ring in West Belfast, he made a name as a counter-intelligence genius on a par with Collins and he had also made a reputation for ruthlessness, as the disappearance of Jean McConville and others would also bear grim witness.

Ultimately, Moloney asserted, Adams succeeded because of the existence of two dual peace processes - the sham one he sold to the IRA’s army council and which helped to disguise the real one to the point where its 'success' - and the defeat of the Provisional IRA - became a foregone conclusion. Yet we are forced to ask how the sham one ever took hold. Surely it must have been obvious to the dimmest bulb in the tree that something untoward was afoot. Otherwise we can only conclude that, as Jenny McCartney once wrote in another context, virtually the entire leadership along with the rank and file functioned as ‘goldfish perpetually fated to forget that they swallowed the same thing six seconds earlier.'

The question and answer session that followed indicated that few in the audience had been rerouted away from the real lesson of the peace process. In some ways it could all be summed up by George Orwell who claimed that nine times out of ten revolutionaries are social climbers with bombs. And despite all the buildings destroyed by IRA bombs throughout this war, quite a bit of building work has been carried out since constructing new second homes for members of the republican leadership. Some animals are more equal than others.

A sure sign that Moloney’s outstanding work on how the IRA was effectively defeated through the peace process has made its mark is the launch of the paperback version of his widely acclaimed book A Secret History Of The IRA. For those of us who sought a different and better outcome - more just, more egalitarian, more democratic, more honest - read it and weep.



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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.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

30 June 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Bad News is No News in a World Where Sinn Fein Rules
Eamon Lynch


A Secret History Gets Told in Galway
Anthony McIntyre


The Legacy of Pedro Albizu Campos and Irish Republicanism

Aoife Rivera Serrano


Picking Up the Pieces
Cadogan Group


When Science Outpaces Law

John Harrington


27 June 2003


Dome of Deceit
Anthony McIntyre


Leave Them Be
Tommy McKearney


Fighting the Censors
Ryan McKinney


Pedro Albizu Campos and Irish Republicanism

Aoife Rivera Serrano


Sectarian Stereotypes
Liam O Ruairc


What Price Pretense?

Eoghan O’Suilleabhain


Pobal na h-Eireann Manifesto
Sean Mac Eochaidh




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