Sunday 18 February 2018

We can't afford to get romantic about guerrilla days in Ireland

WHILE audiences in Dublin have been cheering the theatrical celebration of Tom Barry's 'Guerilla Days in Ireland' (mis-spelt, of course), in Belfast a bomb from so-called republican dissidents nearly killed three police officers. The failure to realise the connection between a celebration of 'good' violence in the past and 'bad' violence today has long been a chronic condition in Irish life. Whereas the myth of republican violence takes merely artistic form in some souls, in others it serves as a moral authoriser, like a virus that affects its hosts in different ways. Actual violence is always a consequence of this myth.

With an almost elegant synchronicity, as Dublin audiences exulted in past IRA violence, Henry Patterson's account of the IRA's ruthless Border campaign against Protestants, 1971-1996, 'Ireland's Violent Frontier', appeared. Outside the scope of that book, but entirely consonant with the traditions of appeasement which made that ethnic cleansing of Border Protestants possible, occurred the 30th anniversary of the shooting of Chief Prison Officer Brian Stack in Dublin. Paralysed from the neck down, he died 18 months later. This was the most ruthless single deed in the course of a republican campaign of intimidation of our prison service, and which included the public discovery in a park of a 'secret' list containing the names and addresses of some 130 prison officers. The outcome was, of course, capitulation: terrorist prisoners in Portlaoise Jail got what they wanted, even as the Border remained effectively open to the republican campaign against local Protestants.

But where's the connection between those events and Tom Barry? Well, it was Barry himself who described the consequence of the burning by the British of a small farmhouse and a labourer's cottage. "The following night, the IRA burnt out four large loyalist residences in the same neighbourhood." These people had nothing to do with the earlier burnings; they were merely Protestant and unionist, and therefore fair game. Barry continued, as IRA arson attacks proliferated: "Our only fear was that . . . there would be no more loyalist homes to destroy, for we intended to go on to the bitter end."

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