The Irish Independent’s pet “historian”, John Paul McCarthy, has written a lengthy article on some of the behind-the-scenes events relating to the 1981 Hunger Strikes documented in the Irish and British government papers released at the start of the year. As always he has his own very personal interpretation of Irish history.
“The State Papers for 1981 deal with the gravest political crisis in this Republic since the Civil War.
They show that the Irish Government’s response to Bobby Sands’ hunger strike was simultaneously weak and deceptive.
Marian Finucane’s guests last week on her radio show, especially John Bowman and Peter Taylor, worked these contradictions fairly hard rather than deal with the moral elephant in the room.
Firstly, they presented the hard-nosed Thatcherite stance on prison conditions as a calamitous own-goal, the fateful British stumble that supposedly catapulted Provisional Sinn Fein into the electoral stratosphere. They also failed to consider the possibility that the H-Block confrontation simply gave firm form to a potent, and pre-existing sentiment within a section of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, a sentiment that would probably have emerged into the electoral field through another channel if the hunger-strikes had never happened.”
Seriously? What single shred of evidence is there that Provisional Sinn Féin existed as an electoral force in the North of Ireland (or indeed Ireland as a whole) before the early 1980s? Up to that time the party was little more than the civilian wing of the Republican Movement, the provider of “incident centres” in times of truce, a support service for POWs and their families, an interlocutor and liaison between the Irish Republican Army and the Irish communities in the north-east, and a friendly face for the national and international media. But beyond that? The party barely functioned as a political party, in any conventional sense, at all. To argue that the Hunger Strikes played no part, or indeed the deciding part, in the politicisation of the Republican Movement and the “greening” of the Irish civilian population in the North of Ireland is too ridiculous for words.
“This sentiment was the one that sustained the Provisional IRA’s campaign of sectarian violence throughout the Seventies, that tawdry decade of no-warning bombings in working-class British pubs, scores of murders of part-time police officers in front of their children, the incineration of helpless civilians in hotels like LaMon and, on one especially barbaric occasion, the torture-murder of SAS captain, Robert Nairac, that culminated in the feeding of his body into a mincing machine.”
Is this a “sentiment” or a “mandate”? Or is McCarthy too afraid of the answer to go down that particular line of reasoning?
As for the British Army SAS “hero” Robert Nairac, his execution by the IRA occurred in terrible circumstances. There was no honour in it. On a purely human level one can only feel revulsion at the manner of his death. However that revulsion equals the manner of his living and of his “active service” in Ireland. John Paul McCarthy condemns the IRA for their violence yet is silent on the violence of Robert Nairac and his role as the leader of a British military and paramilitary death squad in Ireland. Or does the murder of Irish citizens not overly bother the good professor too much? British civilians, soldiers and policemen, yes. But Irish men, women and children?
“The Provisional IRA was a treasonous entity, and it could only win if the Constitution was voided. Sands’ starvation was not a passive sacrifice, but rather an aggressive policy on a direct collision course with our State.”
Treasonous? Against whom? The British-ruled apartheid-state they were born into and which treated them as a second class citizens with second class rights? If McCarthy means the Irish state, would that be the same state who’s Supreme Court ruled that certain military actions in pursuance of the reunification of Ireland under Articles 2 and 3 were “political in nature”? Is that colliding with the state or acting on its behalf?
“Must the democratic state simply yield to a treasonous conspiracy like Sands’ simply because it temporarily adopts the tactics of Gandhi and Emmeline Pankhurst?”
The hunger strike: known as a tactic of Irish Republicanism since the mid-1800s and the establishment of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Fenian Brotherhood, and later adopted by many other democratic, revolutionary and nationalist movements and persons around the globe. This is what we call history, boys and girls.
“As Prof John A Murphy and former justice minister Patrick Cooney insisted at the time, the Republic remained in danger regardless of what the British did because Sands was exploiting our historic ambivalence about sectarian violence, unionism and the British connection.”
Ambivalence? As in rejecting the so-called “British connection”? Is this what you mean by ambivalence, John? The Irish people wishing to have a free and democratic nation of their own? Or perhaps you refer to your own “ambivalence” on the loss of the “British connection”?
However, perhaps, on principal, you are opposed to rewarding or giving in to all those who use violence for political ends?
“Nally was Secretary to the Irish Government from 1980-1993, and the principal architect of the Republic’s policy on Northern Ireland since Jack Lynch rescued him from obscurity in 1973.
Nally, writing in 1975, speculated on what would happen if Sands’ IRA actually achieved its goal of forcing a British scuttle from Northern Ireland — their stated aim in 1975 and again in 1981.
Nally predicted that an independent Ulster state would emerge after the British exit, but only after a communal catastrophe, mandarin-speak for a plain old Balkan-style sectarian slaughter.
So, as far back as 1975, Nally was warning Cosgrave that “the likely prelude to the establishment of a state comprising either the entire six counties or the part of it east of the Bann is so horrific for the entire island that I think we should, on no account, give any support or engage in any open analysis or discussion on the subject.” And in 1981 we now know that Nally seemed even more convinced that leniency in the H-Block confrontation could hasten that very nightmare.”
So, let me get this straight. We could not “give in” to the violence of the IRA – because we feared the violence of the British separatist minority on the island of Ireland even more? Well now, who say’s violence doesn’t pay? It’s paid the British national minority in Ireland very handsomely indeed, for the last 100 years and more.
“Nally’s hard words were written days after bricks, stones and bottles flew during a major riot outside the British Embassy in Dublin. Here, without anything like the body armour available today, a small force of gardai heroically contained a seething IRA mob intent on wrecking the embassy.”
Hmm, a “seething IRA mob”? All 2000 men and women who took part in the demonstration near the British Embassy that day were Volunteers of the Irish Republican Army? Remarkable.
John Paul McCarthy. Historian.
Sunday Independent. Newspaper.
- Dissent In The Ranks? (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Colonially Speaking (ansionnachfionn.com)
- “Time for the beginning of a calm debate” on Northern Ireland’s Demographics (sluggerotoole.com)
- How does Northern Ireland achieve reconciliation in 2012? (leftfootforward.org)
- State Papers, here and there. (cedarlounge.wordpress.com)