On Wednesday 13th February 2019, The Royal Society of the Arts hosted the London launch of Unfinished Business, a new book on ‘dissident’ republicanism by Dr Marisa McGlinchey, which I attended, then left, then attended again (a little private joke there for those that know).
Many were present for the event, and judging the amount of the audience that followed the social cues from the speakers, there was a palpable sense of goodwill towards the author. Lord Bew gave the introduction, and noted how what befell the Boston College tapes had shaped this project. Firstly he identified two events that occurred which changed the authorities treatment of such material, namely 9/11 and the Dolours Price intimations around the Jean McConville disappearance. Secondly, the researcher for republican interviewees (Anthony McIntyre) and subsequently harassed by the State, had assisted this new project with suggested security protocols for handling material based on these changed circumstances.
Lord Bew outlined some of the tribalism Dr.McGlinchey faced in navigating the republican West Belfast, that the Prices see themselves as republican royalty and look down on the Adams lot, that Kevin Hannaway insisted Gerry Adams was his cousin, rather than him being Gerry’s cousin. He also gave an excerpt of Hannaway from the book, and I paraphrase, where he wondered since they had civil rights since 1973, what the fuck was the rest of the war over if it was settled for no material gain since then?
This is where I think reading The Blanket archives (which is online and still free) gives one ninja like qualities. Because it postulated on there, and proven correct over time, that in a sentence, it was the behaviour of the British Army whilst here, not their presence per se, that sustained/energised the subsequent decades of armed republican resistance. Every other explanatory variable has been brought to the fore at various times since the signing of the GFA, whether its stark economic deprivation in nationalist communities or the collapse of pretence in the democratic means of achieving 32 county unity with the fall of Stormont, none has ignited a communal appetite for armed resistance beyond a vanguard because the key factor of a marauding British Army has been crucially absent from lay people's everyday lived experience.
When Dr McGlinchey took to the podium, she noted the book comprised of ninety interview subjects from the dissident republican tradition, although dissident is a characterisation she refutes, and stressed the message given out at the many commemorations and carried by various groups today is no different in content to what attendees in the 60’s/70’s/80’s/90’s would have heard. She added that her work had taken on added focus amongst journalists reporting on the North since the recent Derry courthouse device and the alleged (My italics) Brexit date coming up in March, with many contacting her to query if the imagined departure of the UK from the EU could reawaken the Troubles. She didn’t say where the journalists were from, but I would hazard a guess it was from Guardian/Independent type publications given that typically trivial angle. Read The Blanket, the answer is no.
Dr McGlinchey noted that at the time of writing the book, only ex-SF publicity director Danny Morrison would give the counter view of the dissidents' ciritique from the mainstream Sinn Fein perspective. She noted how at the end she thanked him for the interview and he corrected her that it was an “interrogation”, which she relayed in the Belfast launch too and this seemed to please her or validate her approach.
Every extrapolation of Danny Morrison’s personality is that if he truly felt he was being asked to part with information he didn’t want to give, she would have been smeared afterwards to dismiss her, not essentially flattered. Much like when actors train with boxers for a movie role, afterwards we often hear from the boxer the cliché that the actor beat them up in training and could be a pro were it not for the choice of acting. Its a form of flattery, a less obvious/offensive way of saying “good girl” and patting them on the head. But she does have a certain charm that comes across when speaking, so its easy to see why people like Billy McKee were so fond of her they had wanted to attend this launch, but at the age of 97(!) couldn’t.
In doing some subsequent background research on Dr McGlinchey, it is clear this book has been in production for some time, in light of this I wish I could have asked in the Q&A what proportion of the interviews she conducted were before/after the damp squib of the Centenary in 2016. The imagined Unfinished Revolution from which the books title derives from was comprehensively ‘business as usual’, and the impact on the psyche of the interviewees would of been interesting to note. These Q&A opportunities are always a risk. The people most emboldened to talk are often boring egoists, and often make rambling statements, and this event was no different. Someone bizarrely asked about the level of penetration of the dissidents by the security services to split them, like “they had done with the Left in the 80’s”. Really? Is there no other pertinent examples perhaps closer to the North you can think of in adding context to such a query? Another wanted to announce she was from Derry and not much else, thanks for that.
Again there was very warm applause for the evening at the end, and then some kind organiser asked me if I wanted to purchase a book to sign, at which my social awkwardness began to choke me (again). Coming across like a total cheap ass, I said I couldn’t get a book at that time as I generally don’t carry around my bank card. It’s the truth but I know how improbable this sounded so I left straightaway, playing the Smiths song ‘How Soon Is Now’ in my head as got on the tube.
Thank you Anthony, Morrissey and Dr McGlinchey for various things across the evening.
Daithi O’Donnabhain describes himself as "a regular shit poster on TPQ when I can log on!”