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The Legal Fictions And The Awkward Questions

Anthony McIntyre • Times Literary Supplement 26/7/2002

David McKittrick, co-author, with Eamonn Mallie, of Endgame In Ireland, has been at the centre of controversy recently as a result of his findings published in the London Independent which suggested that the end of the unionist majority in Northern Ireland may be almost upon us. This was a serial rather than a serious assertion. His evidence was at best scant and suggested that he had overplayed the extent to which republican strategy was proving successful. But the turbulence his article created just prior to a further round of IRA decommissioning made it a propitious time to be reading Endgame In Ireland. Was such 'exaggeration' an aberration or was it a characterisation of his work on the peace process?

This is important not least because the reader has barely turned to page 2 of this book before discovering that the sense of mutual back-slapping which gave rise to it begins. Norma Percy of Brook Lapping details how the production team visits Belfast and the first thing they do is consult David McKittrick and Eamonn Mallie as any 'sensible seeker' of the 'inside story of Northern Ireland's politics must'. In turn Brook Lapping provide their material to Mallie and McKittrick who are effusive in their praise for Brook-Lapping for having produced 'the best TV series on Northern Ireland we have ever seen'. Perhaps not the blind leading the blind but in any event another book is on the assembly line.

This is a major turn-off with this book - it has the feel of the assembly line to it. Neat, tidy and packaged; anything too awkward is cast to the side. Like the programmes upon which it is based it is primarily a work germinating from the ruminations of high actors on the political scene. And they are all here, right across the range from the pound to the penny in the currency of public exposure politics - from Bill Clinton to Johnny Adair. And what do those people ever disclose so close to the event that does much more than scrape the surface, or would be damaging to themselves?

The authors make it clear that in the process leading up to the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993 republicans were loosing on the key issue of having a time frame inserted which would allow them to claim that the British were going and that the campaign was worth it. Yet they fail to take this to its logical conclusion. When the Declaration was produced it contained nothing other than ethereal words and 'was clearly incompatible with traditional republican theory'.Yet Mallie and McKittrick on the very same page make the hollow claim that the Downing Street Declaration had addressed republican theory 'in a serious and substantive way'.

More telling is the little observation on Gerry Adams in the run up to the Declaration from then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds after IRA volunteer Thomas Begley had died with numerous others bombing the Shankill fish shop. John Major, furious at the Sinn Fein leader for having carried the IRA coffin, was told by Reynolds 'if this man didn't carry that coffin, he couldn't deliver that movement. He's no good to you or me if he didn't carry that coffin'. Prophetic words as Adams proved 'good' in the end by creating a totalising republican moral universe in which opposition to accepting the British alternative to republicanism was muted.

Elsewhere, the authors remind us of the commitment to Irish unity enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement if a majority in the North so decide (necessary only to those who insist on reading the text with their eyes wide shut), but fail to remind us that the same offer existed in 1974. Lacking from the entire work is any sense that this was the key point Britain had fought the Provisional IRA on for over two decades. The British insisted not that they would never leave Ireland but that they would only leave on the basis of the consent principle which the Provisional leadership sent legions of its volunteers out to kill and die in order to destroy. Despite quoting Danny Morrison 'that we wanted British withdrawal - that's what we were fighting, dying and going to jail for', the authors, at no point seriously pursue this logic and specify that the British won convincingly on this matter.

Nor do they display the precision one would expect they should have given the material they had access to and which would have led them to conclude the four and a half year period from the Downing Street Declaration until the Good Friday Agreement constituted the obliteration of the core tenets of Provisional republicanism and saw the once radical and anti-systemic philosophy slide into reverse thrust.

This persistent slippage disappoints and leaves the reader feeling that they have just perused revisionism, an intellectual exercise in wrapping the wooden spoon in silver foil in order to allow the Provisional republican leadership to continue praising itself and calling its failures historic compromises.

Furthermore, what place is there in a serious work for persisting with the legal fiction that Sinn Fein and the IRA are two separate and totally unrelated bodies? Mo Mowlam, as British Secretary of State is quoted, but not critiqued, on her meeting with republican leaders: 'We sat down with Sinn Fein. We sat at one end and they brought in some people who were obviously members of the army council'. Is the serious reading public expected to believe that Mowlam had ever in fact sat down with any body other than the army council? But then the peace process is not anything if deprived of its myths, all too evident this week when the media slipped into automated frenzy because the IRA said ‘sorry’. That it has been saying ‘sorry’ for years to the innocent it killed only to kill more proved no barrier to media terms such as ‘unprecedented’ being crafted to greet the announcement.

The most interesting and novel part of the book is the lengthy interview from Denis Bradley. The former priest from Derry provides an invaluable account of his involvement in 'the link', a conduit between the British and the IRA which was almost as old as the war itself. One of 'the link' contacts was Martin McGuinness. A key republican leader, he is quoted as saying when he first arrived at Stormont 'we had taken ownership for the first time of the place'. History may be less generous, recording that Stormont took ownership of McGuinness and his colleagues. But you will not find that low blow suggested in this high altitude book.

Endgame In Ireland. By Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick. Hodder & Stoughton. Price £17.99




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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

14 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Legacy of Seamus Costello
Liam O Ruairc


A Balancing Act
Martin Patriquin


The Legal Fictions And The Awkward Questions
Anthony McIntyre



Brian Mór



Brian Mór


Guess Who's Back

Brian Mór


Arbitrary Imprisonment

Sam Bahour and Paul de Rooij


Iraq. Palestine. Give Your Support.
Davy Carlin


The Letters page has been updated.


10 November 2002


Managing the Strategy
Breandán ó Muirthile


Remembrance Day
Billy Mitchell


Going Back To The Start
Eamonn McCann


Suffer Little Children

Anthony McIntyre


Exposing Adams' Secrets To The Light Of Day
Jim Cusack


Pinnocchio, Oh, Oh!

Brian Mór


98th Death on Hunger Strike in Turkish Prisons




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