Timely re­minder of the im­pact of the Trou­bles on the Repub­lic

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Books -

IT is a shib­bo­leth that the past is an­other coun­try and for any Ir­ish per­son be­low the age of 40 the trou­bles in the north of Ire­land and the spinoff in the Repub­lic are, in­deed, an­other coun­try.

This su­perbly well-re­searched book will en­able young his­to­ri­ans and oth­ers to nav­i­gate their way through a rep­re­sen­ta­tive se­lec­tion of ex­cepts rang­ing from RTÉ pro­grammes to news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines of the pe­riod from 1968 to 1979, in­clud­ing some that are no longer with us, such as the Ir­ish Press and Hiber­nia. The au­thor, Brian Hanley, a re­search fel­low in Ir­ish His­tory at the Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh, has clearly dug deeply into the pe­riod in ques­tion.

At this re­move it is amus­ing to read Conor Cruise O’Brien, Eoghan Har­ris and Kevin My­ers rail­ing against the use of Sec­tion 31 of the Broad­cast­ing Act pre­vent­ing repub­li­cans from ap­pear­ing on RTÉ, or cen­sor­ship in gen­eral. Far less amus­ing is read­ing about the mur­der by the Pro­vi­sional IRA of Fine Gael sen­a­tor Billy Fox, killed out­side Clones, Co Mon­aghan, in 1973 merely be­cause he was a Protes­tant, or worse yet in the eyes of the Provos, a na­tion­al­ist Protes­tant. Even Fianna Fáil had got into the act with Brian Leni­han Sr calindig­nant ling him a “B Spe­cial Repub­li­can”. Fianna Fáil ap­par­ently took ex­cep­tion to a Protes­tant com­plain­ing in the Dáil and Seá­nad about Bri­tish army in­cur­sions into the Repub­lic. Mr Fox was, of course, never a mem­ber of the B-Spe­cials.

Sec­tion 31 comes in for an in­ter­est­ing dis­cus­sion in the book. Did the ban­ning of the IRA from the air­waves in the Repub­lic have the de­sired ef­fect, namely, to de­ter young men and women from join­ing the IRA? Or did it cre­ate sym­pa­thy for it? By 1976 Cruise O’Brien had also banned the Pro­vi­sional IRA’s po­lit­i­cal wing, Sinn Féin, from ap­pear­ing on ra­dio and tele­vi­sion pro­grammes em­a­nat­ing from the Repub­lic.

How­ever, half of the Repub­lic’s view­ers had ac­cess to UTV and BBC chan­nels where repub­li­cans were chat­ting away freely.

The ab­sur­dity was taken to the nth de­gree when min­is­ter Cruise O’Brien ap­peared on a Bri­tish TV pro­gramme screened in the Repub­lic which also fea­tured lead­ers of the IRA. Neil Jor­dan com­mented: “Is it not amaz­ing to have to turn to ITV’s News at Ten to find out what is hap­pen­ing in Ire­land?”.

There are many other top­ics cov­ered, in­clud­ing the at­ti­tudes of peo­ple of the Repub­lic to­wards vi­o­lence and north­ern­ers, and how they changed. Like­wise, north­ern­ers’ at­ti­tudes to peo­ple “down south”. Refugees from the north are con­sid­ered in this con­text as well as the at­ti­tudes of Protes­tants in the Repub­lic to­wards their co-re­li­gion­ists in the north and their Catholic fel­low cit­i­zens in the Repub­lic.

One omis­sion in the book, given the many more mi­nor in­ci­dents in­cluded, is the tragic and ab­surd killing of ranger Wil­liam Best in Derry in 1972 which trig­gered the Of­fi­cial IRA cease­fire nine days later. The 19-year-old Best was serv­ing in the Bri­tish army in Ger­many and was home on leave to visit his par­ents. The Of­fi­cial IRA la­belled those who con­demned the killing as “slob­ber­ing mod­er­ates”, which was surely among the most de­based and shock­ing ex­pres­sions used dur­ing the en­tire Trou­bles by any group.

Un­for­tu­nately, the hefty price tag will en­sure that this in­ter­est­ing book will not cir­cu­late much fur­ther than aca­demic cir­cles and for many, the past will re­main an­other coun­try.

The Im­pact of the Trou­bles on the Repub­lic of Ire­land, 1968-79: Boil­ing Vol­cano?

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