Steering clear of the C-word

Ken Keable reviews The Long Road to Peace in Northern Ireland, Marianne Elliott (ed), Liverpool University Press, £13.95 pbk

A GOOD test of any book on the Northern Ireland problem is whether it mentions colonialism. If not, then the author either doesn’t understand the essence of the problem, or doesn’t wish to pass on this understanding to the reader.

This book has 15 chapters by as many authors, most of whom avoid the C-word. It is based on a series of peace lectures at Liverpool University’s Irish studies institute, headed by professor Elliot OBE.

Much of the book, including the chapter by Lord Owen. is about the pragmatic art of ending wars by facilitating negotiations, with examples from the Middle East, former Yugoslavia, etc. Here peace is paramount but justice gets hardly a mention, and politics is the continuation of war by other means.

While the chapter by Irish senator Maurice Hayes is well worth reading, he reveals no awareness of the essentially colonial nature of the problem, nor anger at the injustice of partition and its effects.

Much the same can be said of Irish government advisor and Belfast agreement negotiator Martin Mansergh. Nor does Mansergh show remorse at Dublin’s indifference to the plight of northern nationalists over the years, contributing to the desperation that fuelled the military approach.

This contrasts with Kevin McNamara’s chapter on the history of the campaign in the USA for the ‘MacBride principles’ -- an inspiring story of grass-roots activism by Irish-Americans that helped enormously in the internationalisation of the Northern Ireland problem.

The MacBride principles were opposed by Dublin, the SDLP, and some trade union leaders, and were initially scorned by the Provos, who at the time were trying to bomb the six-county economy to ruins, not reform it.

Niall O’Dowd’s chapter on the key role played by Irish-America in the Irish peace process explains how the end of the Cold War made possible a historic break from the US ‘special relationship’ with the UK.

He explains that successive Irish governments prior to the one headed by Albert Reynolds earned the contempt of Irish America for their role in supporting British policy.

Curiously, and without explanation, none of the contributors are leaders or activists from the Northern Ireland political parties.

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