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The Knackers Yard


Anthony McIntyre • 29 August 2004

For long enough RTE hitched its news wagon to Section 31 – the Republic’s Broadcasting ban. While its main objective was to ensure that representatives of republican bodies were neither seen nor heard, the section acted as a pit bull patrolling pathways and conduits where more informed accounts of the Northern conflict might travel. Quite often the bearers of the sharpest fangs were those RTE staff associated with the Worker’s Party, which was the political wing of the Official IRA. Anything other than the ‘Official’ account was snapped and snarled at. Those journalists who did not joyously and slavishly celebrate their own censorship were often labelled ‘Provo supporters.’ The former Northern Editor of the Sunday Tribune, Ed Moloney, once opined that the pervasive censorship in Southern society prevented the conflict in the North reaching its denouement much sooner.

Ironically, the point at which that conflict might have ended was among the items debated on RTE’s Summer Days programme last Friday morning. This being the tenth anniversary of the Provisional IRA having abandoned its military campaign to secure a British declaration of intent to withdraw from Ireland (when the IRA temporarily resumed its war in 1996 its sole objective was not to secure withdrawal but all-party talks), there has a been a hike in media interest pertaining to Sinn Fein’s alter ego. Appropriately, Moloney, now residing in New York, featured on the discussion panel. Also included was a historian of the IRA, Tim Pat Coogan, a former advisor to three Taoisaigh, Martin Mansergh, and Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin.

Unlike the type of coverage RTE restricted itself to providing for over two decades, Friday’s discussion was not steered away from the uncomfortable issues. Indeed, at times the discomfort was so palpable, an audible nervousness could be detected in the voices of both Tim Pat Coogan and Martin Mansergh. What caused them to display a lack of their normal surefootedness was the awkwardness that comes with having a knowledge others know is there and who are immovable in their determination to make it available to the public. Moloney, author of the hugely successful A Secret History of the IRA, relentlessly pressed home a central contention of his book, that the peace process was not the outcome of John Hume having talked sense into Gerry Adams. It had in fact long predated the rather late-in-the-day involvement of John Hume, and was essentially the brainchild of Gerry Adams. The Sinn Fein president calculated that the IRA could never secure its objectives and subsequently set about secret negotiations with both the British and Irish governments, sans either the knowledge or endorsement of most, if not all of his closest IRA comrades. The purpose of such negotiations was to bring the IRA’s military campaign to an end in exchange for an internal solution.

When Moloney’s book was published two years ago, it unnerved the Adams leadership who found its revelations too close to the bone to allow the leadership coterie to assume complacency. Gerry Adams, not averse to turning a pound or two on the strength of his own fictionalised accounts detailing his republican activism, rather brazenly accused Moloney of writing books to make money. Many commentators at the time seized on the fate of Jean McConville and the alleged involvement of Adams in her death, something the MP for West Belfast has always strenuously refuted. While the McConville story was the type of sensationalism that helps inflate the sales of newspapers, it was not the main news line in the book. Moloney sought to write an account of the peace process that challenged the John Hume centred dominant orthodoxy. Despite being a best seller, in terms of displacing paradigms it was a slow burner. Now, two years after publication, the Summer Days discussion on RTE suggests that the book’s core logic may be set to ignite the conceptual and interpretive imagination of commentators, politicians, writers, historians and analysts alike.

During Friday’s exchange both Tim Pat Coogan and Martin Mansergh admitted that the piecing together of the peace process jigsaw began many years prior to the Hume-Adams talks. Moloney asserts that Hume’s involvement was hardly central and functioned more as a fig leaf to conceal the role of the Haughey led Dublin Government. When Moloney insisted that Adams was ready to deal long before the arrival of Hume, Mansergh admitted pre-Hume contact with the Adams leadership. His only parry was that if Adams was ready the Dublin government was not yet at that position. Tim Pat Coogan, for his part, no longer denied that he was the bearer of the letter detailing Adams' offer of a ceasefire to Charles Haughey just after IRA volunteers had laid the bodies of their Loughall comrades into their final resting places to the solemn graveside intonations of the same Gerry Adams, affirming that the powerful would be made to pay for the IRA lives obliterated by the firepower of the British SAS.

Mitchel McLaughlin avoided engaging with Moloney’s assertions. Nevertheless, his contribution cannot be devalued if only because of his attempt to trace the origins of an internal Republican Movement discussion on the potential for a unarmed strategy back to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Out Out Out’ dismissal of the 1984 Forum proposals. Previous to that, allusions to the onset of such a debate placed it in the immediate aftermath of the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement.

Friday's Summer Days debate should be measured against an earlier RTE revelation by former British Army operative, Martin Ingram, that when he returned to the North for a second tour of duty in the latter half of the 1980s he was aware of a secret peace process.

As the arguments supporting the dominant peace process orthodoxy are stripped away layer by layer, and the dates for its genesis are forced back year by year, there may be an inexorable intellectual movement towards viewing the hunger strikes of 1981, when the IRA seemed to be on the crest of a wave, as the point when the foremost leader of the Republican Movement decided that it had peaked and that he would cash in the efforts of its volunteers for an outcome that bore no resemblance to the motives underlying their sacrifices. Today the only terminus awaiting the organisation which Bobby Sands claimed the British were determined to consign to the Knackers yard, is the very one he and others died to ensure it would never reach.





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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 August 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Knackers Yard
Anthony McIntyre

Spin Cycle
Mick Hall

Reality Check
Patrick Lismore

32 CSM Pays Tribute to Memory of Republican Socialist Volunteers
Marian Price

Let Them Stay
Davy Carlin

"Fine Words"

27 August 2004

"Every Editor's Nightmare"
Carrie Twomey

Topsy Turvy World
Eamon McCann

A Quarter of a Century Ago
Anthony McIntyre

Gali Beaarda and the 40 Thieves
Harri Kaharazad

Nuclear Solutions Lost in Ambiguity
Mary La Rosa



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