Ireland Since 1939

Roy Johnston reviews Ireland since 1939: the persistence of conflict by Henry Patterson, Penguin, ISBN 978-1-844-88104-8, £8.99 pbk

Ireland Since 1939

THIS BOOK was written when the property bubble in the republic was at its peak, to the extent that in his introduction the author fears the re-emergence of a traditional nationalist narrative, suggesting that neither violence not 'economic determinism' is a recipe for national unity. The book goes on to analyse various aspects of the background to the recent troubles, aimed primarily at students from abroad in the expanding 'Irish studies' community, but also at the younger generation of the Irish.

He begins with a chapter on 'The Legacy of Partition' in which he outlines the history prior to 1939, including the pogroms and sectarian rule in the north and the role of de Valera in the Free State, with the emergence of Fianna Fail. He continues with a chapter on the war and the emergence of the 'welfare state' and how this related to the Catholics in the north, and the influx of labour from the south, seen as a problem; this is followed by analysis of the neutrality of Eire under de Valera.

He continues with two chapters on the period 1940 and 50s, first on the 1945-59 stagnation in the south, and then, with reference to the north, the period 1945 to 1963, which he characterises as 'modernisation and reconstruction. He notes the anti-partition campaign, the mother-and-child scheme, the negative effects of protectionism, then finally the Whitaker re-think of national economic policy that leads to the subsequent revival.

in the chapter on the north he analyses the developing contradictions between the politics of the British welfare state and unionist sectarianism, as well as British agricultural policy and the attitudes of rural nationalists to the economics of national unity. He also treats the 1956 IRA campaign, which avoided Belfast, and the beginnings of the switch to Labour of the Protestant working-class.

Continuing with chapter-pairs alternating between north and south, Patterson surveys the 1960s mini-boom under the heading 'Expansiom: Ireland 1959-1973'. (Why 'Ireland'? We are dealing with the 'Republic'!) He notes Lemass's opening up the free-trade area to northern manufactures, and his need to defend this positive all-Ireland policy from the local manufacturing lobby. We have the meeting with O'Neill, but we also have evidence of bowing to McQuaid pressure, on issues relating to Trinity College.

Later, Lynch's handling of the 1969 arms crisis is treated in some detail. Many sources are referenced; this section suggests a few research trails to follow, impossible however to treat adequately in a review.

The corresponding northern chaper is entitled 'Terence O'Neill and the Crisis of the Unionist State'. Patterson identifies the Lockwood rebuff to Derry on the site of the new university as a key trigger for the subsequent events; he correctly links it with the resignation of Copcutt the English urban planner who had been brought in for the Craigavon project; the latter concluded that Derry was the appropriate development focus, not 'Port-Lurg'. (I recollect encountering Copcutt with the Wolfe Tone Society; we appreciated the significance of the events at the time, and tried to use them in support of our republican politicisation process.)

Patterson covers most of the factors leading to the emergence of the civil-rights movement, including the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster (CDU) in the Briish Labour Party, though he manages to miss the role of Greaves and the Connolly Association, which had a a key role in the formation of the CDU.

He recognises the complexities of the origin and role of the NICRA, with its republican and communist links, and treats critically the adventurist policies of the student ultra-left that led to the Burntollet events, subsequent to which in effect Civil Rights became confined to the Catholic ghettoes. In this chapter we have a reasonably complete and concise overview of the complexities of the developing situation before August 1969.

The remainder of the book is in 3 chapters: 'Northern Ireland from the Insurrection to the Anglo-Irish Agreement'; 'From Crisis to Boom: the Republic 1973-2005'; ending with 'Between War and Peace: Northern Ireland 1985-2005'.

The decision to invade the Falls with the B-Specials is blamed on Callaghan and the Home Office, on the basis that the had to exhaust local resources before calling in the troops. Thus originated the trigger for the subsequent decades of 'armed struggle'. There is scope here for more investigation: was the RUC 'intelligence' perhaps motivated to re-invent the IRA, and to consciously mislead the Home Office? The internment hit-list in 1971 was totally out of date and was an additional recruiter for the Provisionals, while crippling further the impact of the left-republican politicisers.

It is useful to have this account of the ensuing destructive decades, and it is done with creditable political insight. It is far to complex to summarise in a review. The politics of the SDLP and the evolution of Fitt; the emergence of Hume, Sunningdale, the discrediting of Mac Stiofain and the emergence of Adams, the eventual politicisation of the Provisioals...

In the Republic we have the emergence of Conor Cruise O'Brien, Garrett Fitzgerald, Michael O'Leary, the re-emergence and eventual discrediting of Haughey, the interactions with Thatcher, Reynolds and the Downing St Declaration, the Democratic Left and its merger with Labour, the Nice referenda, and the economic expansion bubble, the flawed roots of which however Patterson fails to identify. Finally we get the peace process and the Good Friday agreement...

It is useful to have this summarised overview of all-Ireland history and politics, although it ends with a sense of unfinished business. One wonders at what point in the future it might be appropriate to produce an update, or a sequel, and who should be the target market.

My own feeling is that there is a need to repeat this comparatively with various situations of somewhat similar tensions in the Balkans, perhaps using a collaborative partnership. The analysis of the many complex 'national questions' in, and around the fringe of, the EU seems to me to be high on the agenda for analysis, with a view to enriching the historical-materialist canon, I have yet to identify a focus for such a process,

Dare I hope that it might emerge from the analysis of the evolving situation in this small multi-cultural post-colonial proto-nation on the fringe of the EU?

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2008-12-09 17:24:34.
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