Once again, the world of academia delivers another sterling book on the conflict that examines an angle never fully explored by those knee deep in reporting: the role of dissident and dissenters in republicanism.
With this book, Paddy Hoey takes a look at how republican media (from DIY magazines, through to An Phoblacht/Republican News, the early days of the internet and social media) has not only shaped the republican message but also fits into a long strand of alternative thinking in the media (also known as "mosquito press).
Over 224 pages, Hoey goes through the major dissident/dissenter groups and demonstrates how republicanism is (to misquote Steve Bruce and Gareth Mulvenna) a central reservation which cut through various and often transient political, military, intellectual and emotional journeys. How else could you have people like Gerry McGeough and Tommy McKearney in the same movement (the section involving McGeough's own publication, The Hibernian, did give me a good laugh)?
The chapter which incorporates Fourthwrite and The Blanket (an earlier version appeared on this very site in 2012 http://thepensivequill.am/2012/09/the-bell-and-blanket-journals-of-irish.html) gives both organs the respect they deserve for allowing republicans to articulate their viewpoints without fear of censorship and for being a thorn in the side of the mainstream republican media.
Tracing their beginning to the early online message boards and guest books recalls a time when the internet was not the corporate behemoth it is today, but a collection of dissenting views on anything from UFO's to sexual deviancy. Reading it made me strangely nostalgic for this period, and made me realise how much we've given up in the way of privacy for the conveniences of modern life.
One thing Hoey is convinced of is his belief that, for all the great work Fourthwrite and The Blanket did, none of the contributors were able to offer a genuine alternative. He quotes Brendan Hughes to emphasise this point: “I don’t have an alternative, people keep saying to me if your (sic) going to criticize put up an alternative. I don’t have an alternative, the alternative is within the republican movement.”
This has already been rejected on this very blog http://thepensivequill.am/2012/09/some-bones-to-pick.html, and to me, Hoey overlooks the fact that the period 1998-2008 was a time when republicans had the carpet pulled from under their feet. Everything they thought they had been fighting for and who they believed in was now up for debate. Under the circumstances, is it really any wonder that the focus turned inward?
Similarly, he notes that The Blanket had an ambivalent relationship with dissident groups, condemning the violence but carrying their statements. Unfortunately, Hoey is reluctant to not only put this down to The Blanket's policy of allowing people to speak their mind, but he also doesn't allow for the thought that, by carrying such statements, the discussions around them centred around the futility of what they were doing. So, by carrying such statements, The Blanket (it could be argued) did their bit in dissuading people to take up arms.
The examination of both the political fortunes and social activism of Eirigi and Republican Network for Unity are concise and demonstrates just how vast the scope of republicanism can be if applied correctly. The influence of punk rock on Eirigi's Situationalist type stunts and it's media exposure is something that I would have welcomed more of (as an aside, the revelation that Carrie McIntyre was influenced by the legendary Flipside fanzine made me smile, even though I'm more of a Maximumrocknroll and Forced Exposure man myself), but the coverage is still insightful enough. Interestingly, there's no reference to both organisations seemingly being moribund these days, although Hoey does write about their difficulties at the polls and on the streets.
His attitude towards Sinn Fein focuses more on their political adventures in the south, and how their campaigning fits into the traditional left dissenting voice (despite implementing Tory cuts in the North) is quite a contrast from Matt Treacy's view of them in 'A Tunnel to the Moon' as a politically promiscuous party, willing to jump on whatever bandwagon there is in order to further votes. Although Hoey acknowledges the contradiction, he's still a little too in thrall to SF for my liking. However, since the party are now the largest nationalist party in the North, and making significant progress in the south, he can easily make the point that the party have succeeded where others have failed. Of course, that leads into another argument, and maybe outside of the scope of the book.
At £75 for 224 pages is hard to justify, but it is an excellent read that is not only entertaining, but thought provoking and informative. Long may these strands of books continue to hit the shelf.
Paddy Hoey, Shinners, Dissos and Dissenters: Irish Republican Media Activism Since the Good Friday Agreement Manchester University Press ISBN-13: 978-1526114242
Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212