Writing Good Friday

All great truths started out as blasphemies - George Bernard Shaw

All thanks to Aoife Rivera Serrano and her indefatigable colleagues at Ausubo Press in New York for publishing in book form a collection of my articles and interviews in the years following the Good Friday Agreement. There is much satisfaction to be derived from the work being published as a book. Up until now much of it has been restricted to the internet. With the publication of Good Friday: The Death of Irish Republicanism, more people will have access to writings which sought to join the dots and make sense of those Provisional republican politics occasioned by the last century’s second major treaty between Irish republican forces and the British state.

The difference between those two treaties was one of degree rather than kind, Collins winning much more than Adams and conceding considerably less along the way. Why republicans of the 1990s took so long to hive off from the Treatyites, unlike their predecessors of the 1920s, ultimately leaving it much too late to salvage anything including credibility, remained a brooding thought that haunted my reflections throughout the past decade.

Perhaps because of this I came to see the wider politics of the peace process, in which can be contextualised the treaty of 1998, as a republican dying process. The life force of republicanism was strangled and suffocated by an array of forces including, perhaps surprisingly from the point of view of many, the Sinn Fein leadership. It was this slaying and in particular that leadership’s role in it, that the writings in this book sought to offer running commentary on.

In an earlier work, a doctoral dissertation for Queen’s University Belfast, I had traced the formative years of Provisional republicanism which had exploded full of life and vibrancy onto the Irish political scene a quarter of a century earlier. It seemed a natural progression that I should offer some commentary on its regressive descent from a republican Nirvana to a partitionist Hades, all the time beckoned not by MacDonagh’s bony thumb but by the equally fleshless finger of the grim reaper of British state strategy.

The two projects were entirely different ventures not least in methodological terms. On top of that the PhD involved no risk, as in the eyes of the Sinn Fein leadership history could be safely corralled and the peace process securely ring-fenced from its findings. Nor did it prompt the strategies of isolation employed against me by the same leadership which were to come during commentary on its contemporary affairs.

FSL Lyons once wrote that historians need to be somewhat removed from the period in time they are writing about in order to be definitive about the conclusions they come to. Writing in the mid to late 1990s about the Provisionals of the early 1970s was a different exercise from writing about them in the crucible of the present. The 70s could be mulled over, the events dissected and discussed. Drafts of various sections could be written and rewritten endlessly before final submission. The margin for error was reduced. Many of the participants were no longer in the public eye and even when they were there was little inclination on their part to snarl and snap over interpretations of events far removed from the heat of the moment. The PhD may have challenged the standard and taken-for-granted narrative that passed muster as an explanation of the origins of Provisional republicanism but outside of that it was hardly controversial and even less so confrontational.

But these are luxuries not afforded when the bull has to be taken by the horns rather than prodded with a long implement from a safe distance. It is not just a matter of inserting time between writing and its subject in order to allow writers to be more definitive about their findings. It is also a much safer strategy. Live commentary on Provisional republicanism had the capacity to annoy those who felt their judgement was ex cathedra. The notion that there might be someone from the Hans Kung school placing questions marks after the word ‘infallible’ was enough to provoke unremitting hostility and an angry lashing out. Leaders eager to conceal what they are currently doing invariably frown on anyone unmasking that activity and placing it in the public domain.

Unlike writing about events some time past, contemporaneous commentary is denied the comfort of prolonged reflection. On the spot judgements have to be made thus increasing the risk of error and a retaliatory ridiculing. But a fear of erroneous forays can never be allowed to suppress the need for free inquiry. If fear trumps the pen then society is denied a much needed critical faculty which even if untidy and disjointed, can at least capture and contextualise the ambience that generates it. Moreover, as more people come to ask how so many republicans on the ground bought into the jabberwocky dished out in liberal doses by the Sinn Fein leadership, the writings in this book demonstrate that, although numerically small, fewer believed it than were given credit for. In order to quell the audacity to disbelieve, violence and intimidation were weapons frequently employed by the Sinn Fein leadership.

For my part, I chose not to succumb to the maxim of Thomas Sowell: ‘there are only two ways of telling the complete truth - anonymously and posthumously.’ Not to confront events as they were unfolding or to do it behind the shield of anonymity, besides lacking in moral fortitude, would have produced no impact. And once the moment has passed the river will not be stepped in again at the same spot. There are simply times in our lives when nothing can be done other than what must be done. Remaining silent was not an option.

Now that the work is out there in book form, those of a mind to read rather than burn it can reach their own conclusions. For all my refusal to submit to censorship, Good Friday: The Death of Irish Republicanism is a book that would never have seen the light of day were it not for the prompting and persuasiveness of Aoife Rivera Serrano. She has been a stalwart in the struggle for truth against power, memory against forgetting. Those who benefit from reading it are indebted to her.

Good Friday, The Death of Irish Republicanism
is available at these online outlets:
Ausubo Press; Online Bookshop at Queens, Small Press Distribution.

You can also order directly from Gill & Macmillan:
Email: sales@gillmacmillan.ie

Are you a bookseller looking to stock Good Friday?
Call or Fax your order to: Tel: +353 1 500 9500 or Fax: +353 1 500 9599

Gill & Macmillan is now the exclusive distributor in Ireland and the UK If the book is not on the shelves of your local bookstore,
ask them to order it for you!

1 comment:

  1. How can your dissertation be accessed? Will it be published by Ausubo Press also? Are you working on any other book in the future? Muchas gracias.