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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Avoiding Conspiracy Theories


Anthony McIntyre (Susini) • An Phoblacht/Republican News 27/01/1994

The end of 1993 was arguably an appropriate time for a book on the IRA and Sinn Fein to be published. There will, however, be some debate whether The Long War is the appropriate book.

Political turmoil, developments, interchanges, contradictions and ambiguities have so densely populated the past eight months that it was inevitable that someone would attempt an overview and tease out some order from the ever swelling deluge of occurrences. Indeed, there is material in abundance for quite a few books not to mention academic theses. In spite of this Brendan O'Brien has opted to cover an eight-year period. So it comes as something of a disappointment to find in 285 pages of 'narrative' photographs and maps counted as part of the text.

The 'padding' effect is accentuated by the inclusion of case studies which while interesting in their own rights are not entirely germane to the field of investigation. Moreover, RUC supplied statistics are used throughout for the purpose of illustrating IRA operational activity, The danger of relying on such a discredited source is aptly amplified when we read that one of the 'IRA's operations' on 2 April 1987, was the killing of a civilian in Havana Gardens - that civilian happened to be IRA volunteer Larry Marley, killed by the UVF in collusion with the RUC.

To his credit the author makes no attempt to turn his work into a 'republican bashing' exercise. He has endeavoured to explain how republicans over the past number of years have sought a solution with ever increasing flexibility. Yet, in seeking to convey the flexibility to his reader, O'Brien will fail to convince many, in particular republicans, that he has managed to avoid contributing to a conspiracy theory which holds that republicans are busy becoming the architects of their own demise.

The organising principle employed throughout the book is that for some considerable time the republican leadership has gradually, but persistently, been nudging the republican struggle away from its original goal of securing a British declaration of intent to withdraw to a position of being but a mere whisker away from 'accepting' the realities of unionism, veto included.

Yet even here there is confusion, as the narrative tends to drift back and forth between republicans flirting with the veto and refusing to accommodate it at all. This serves to conjure up a mental image of the author as the cat watching ping-pong and holding the perspective of whatever table-end the play happens to be at, at any given moment.

But, to be fair, the complexities of the past eight months have been hard to follow, and O'Brien has done his best to unravel them. The cut and thrust along with the constant manoeuvring for position in the turbulent political arena have made it difficult for any commentator to pin down groups to firm positions.

Elsewhere, the book has been unfavourably compared to Liam Clarke's Broadening The Battlefield and O'Brien has been criticised for publishing too early and subsequently missing out on much of what has happened since the Shankill tragedy (around when the book was completed). Jim Cusack, in the Irish Times, likened it to Hamlet without the prince. But the British have done such a good job in dragging out their refusal to clarify the Downing Street Declaration that to delay publication in the hope of something more juicy would have denied a curious audience a useful interpretation of important developments.

At any rate, The Long War is a much better book than Broadening The Battlefield if for no other reason than O'Brien has approached the task with journalistic competence and personal honesty even if its interpretations and conclusions are not always beyond question.

The Long War. The IRA and Sinn Fein From 1985 to Today. By Brendan O'Brien. Published by the O'Brien Press. Price £18.95 (HB).




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

9 March 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Fundamental Problem Of Non-Constitutional Law Vis-À-Vis The Northern Ireland Question
Paul Fitzsimmons


To: George Bush and Associates
Karen Lyden Cox


An Open Letter
Vincent Doherty


Stupid White Men - A Review

John Nixon


Avoiding Conspiracy Theories

Anthony McIntyre


6 March 2003


Disobedient Republicanism
Anthony McIntyre


Interview With Bernadette McAliskey
Breandán Morley


Why We Should Legalise Hard Drugs
Henry McDonald


Day X & Beyond

Davy Carlin



Brian Mór




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