Month: January 2009

Gunsmoke and Mirrors: by Henry McDonald

Henry McDonald makes a valuable contribution to historical perspective on the role of Sinn Fein over the past half century. The theme of his book is ‘how Sinn Fein dressed up defeat as victory’. But it does more. The reader may be of a mind to believe that actions speak louder than words, or conversely that the pen is mightier than the sword. Either way, the bringing together of the words and deeds of the IRA/Sinn Fein over a period of over half a century is a sobering read.

The book thoroughly lays bare the futility of the IRA’s campaign, and the lies used to propagate that campaign and on which the pursuit of its political objectives has been prosecuted.

MacDonald outlines the lies. These could be direct as in the attempt to shift the blame for the Abercorn bombing onto the British Army or a unionist grouping. Or they could be more subtle as in the effort to justify the murder of Edgar Graham as somehow inevitable through his being part of a ‘Unionist establishment’ at Queen’s University Belfast where he lectured – as if that could ever justify murder.

He outlines the disingenuous. How, if collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British forces was endemic, as republicans strongly contend, were only 3% of those killed by loyalists over 30 years militant republicans? The IRA promoted itself as the ‘defender’ of the local catholic population in many areas: yet the single largest loss of life in the predominately nationalist Short Stand was caused by an IRA bomb exploding prematurely.

Mostly he outlines how anything now claimed to have been achieved by the IRA could well have been achieved equally through non-violence. This book is not an easy read. First, and the only criticism, it would have benefited from a stronger editorial hand in organising the information. Second, and perhaps the order of the information makes no difference, the book is depressing.

The book is depressing because it suggests that the IRA is the same as it ever was: the lies over Abercorn, the cover-up over Robert McCartney, the wall of silence over Paul Quinn.

Even more depressing is the code of republicanism in its attitude to Protestants/Unionists. With the exception of one or two who McDonald rightly praises for their individual effort, that effort seems overwhelmed by the words and deeds of others. For the most part Protestants/Unionists simply don’t matter.

McDonald’s book is an inconvenient truth for Republicans. It is a valuable handbook for anyone who wants an insight into the Republican mindset. It is a welcome contribution to understanding the present and learning from the past. To conclude on a positive note. If we learn from the past, and better understand our present, there is that little bit of extra hope for the future.