….THE DECEITS THAT FLOW FROM THE USE OF VIOLENCE FOR UNACHIEVABLE ENDS
“Say Nothing” by Patrick Radden Keefe was recommended to me by two friends whose judgement I respect.
Radden Keefe is a writer with the “New Yorker” magazine. His book is published by William Collins. A native of Boston, Keefenow lives in New York. He has an arresting writing style. It is hard to put his book down.
It starts with the 1972 murder of Belfast widow, and impoverished mother of ten small children, Jean McConville. It ends by naming the female IRA member the author believes shot Mrs McConville.
Jean McConville was suspected, on flimsy grounds, of having given information the British Army. She was a Protestant, married to Catholic and living in Divis tower, in the heart of Republican Belfast.
Her religious background would have drawn suspicion upon her.
The author names the senior Republican, who claims never to have been in the IRA, who ordered her murder, and the “disappearing” of her remains across the border.
“Say Nothing” expands from this sad story to delve into IRA violence in Belfast and the response of the security forces to it.
Things need not have turned out as they did.
In 1968, the IRA had actually sold off some of its remaining weapons to the Free Wales Army.
Then came the Loyalist attacks in 1969, and the start of an intense cycle of violence that lasted over 30 years, and which was only ended by a series of convoluted ambiguities that satisfied no one.
It all had its origin in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on Easter Sunday 1916.
The terms of this Proclamation made compromise by its sincere adherents impossible.
The Proclamation claimed a “fundamental right” to a 32 county Republic. No one had a right to compromise that right.
As the author of the Proclamation, Patrick Pearse, wrote, justifying the rebellion;
“We go in the calm certitude of having done the clear, clean, sheer thing”.
He said on another occasion;
“We have the strength and peace of mind of those who never compromise”.
It is remarkable that the 1916 Proclamation is officially celebrated in Ireland , given that the Irish State is BASED on a compromise, and that the Good Friday Agreement IS a compromise.
The ritual annual incantation of the words of the Proclamation every Easter, gives a false and deeply misleading message to Ireland’s school children, and to future generations.
The absolutist and uncompromising nature of the 1916 Proclamation went against human nature.
It helped make compromise by the Four Courts garrison impossible in 1922, and it made decommissioning of weapons, in more recent times, much more difficult to acknowledge or admit by those who based their republicanism of the Proclamation.
There was nothing that was “clean, clear or sheer” about the civil wars in Ireland from 1919 to 1923.
Nor was there much that was “clear, clean or sheer” about the so called Armed Struggle of the IRA in Belfast, as Radden Keefe’s book shows.
And there was nothing clear or sheer about the British security forces response to it, either. They were mirror images of one another.
Radden Keefe’s claims the IRA hunger strikes of the 1980’s were deliberately prolonged by the IRA leadership, because they were yielding electoral dividends for Sinn Fein. An offer acceptable to the prisoners had been made by the authorities, but the outside IRA leadership vetoed acceptance of the offer, and six more prisoners died, all for electoral considerations the author claims.
He also explores why many ex IRA people had difficulty with the peace process.
He says that Dolours Price, who was involved in many IRA actions including the abduction of Jean McConville, felt a sharp sense of moral injury from the peace process and the compromises it required.
He says she believed that it had
“ robbed her of any ethical justification for her own conduct”.
This is the sort of sadness that inevitably flow from the use of force to obtain goals on which there can be no compromise.