Timely reminder of the impact of the Troubles on the Republic
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?