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War and Peace in Northern Ireland

Eamonn McCann, Hot Press Books Dublin 1998. ISBN 0 95249 474 4 £9.99

EAMONN McCANN is quite well known in Ulster. He is a regular broadcaster on the Talkback programme on BBC Radio Ulster where he comes across as a philosophical, cuddly, teddy-bear Trotskyist. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists' Irish Executive and he's probably the most famous member of the Socialist Workers' Party of Ireland.

This volume is a collection of articles and columns written by McCann for Hot Press, the entertaining Dublin-based music and current affairs magazine. McCann, unlike some of his contemporaries in the old Civil Rights Movement, is still very strongly committed to the Marxist idea of the 'class war'. Unlike other 'socialists' in the republican movement, however, he has remained untainted by sectarian bigotry. Despite his cuddliness, however, he is like all ultra-leftists, keen to persecute those whose ideas conflict with his own. His SWP has sought to sack a professor from the University of Ulster because they don't like the alleged implications of his findings. This isn't terribly surprising as, at the time of writing, his comrades in England are busy seeking to prevent our colleague Patrick Harrington from receiving a university education in London. Left wing communism is indeed an infantile disorder!

But, back to the book. One of McCann's articles deals sympathetically with Davy, a Protestant friend whose family went through the agony and horror of discovering that one of their youngsters was a UFF killer. Others honestly describe the sheer sectarian hatred and bigotry, which is strong in areas like the Creggan in Derry. At one community meeting he attended in the Rathmore Community Centre, a speaker denounced, "unionists, Orange Tories, Protestants, call them what you will." The message was crystal clear; Prods are 'reactionary bastards' as far as republican activists are concerned. McCann is devastating in his criticisms of Irish republicanism. He interprets the support for Sinn Féin and the IRA as more communal than 'theological' - something not understood by the likes of Republican Sinn Féin.

Some of his articles are very witty. I loved the 1990 story where Mickey Bradley, the one-time bass player with The Undertones, was stopped in the republican Shantallow estate by the RUC. A heavily-armed peeler looked him up and down, "You Mickey Bradley, hi?" He was. Right away, "the copper instantly becomes covered in smiles and makes with the handshakes and ultra-friendly body language as he explains that he has all The Undertones' stuff, etc, etc." As this was going on, Mickey became aware that local people took quite a lot of interest in this unusual event. As McCann couldn't help noticing, Mickey has started to grow a beard!

An article from 1992, dealing with a recent conference entitled Beyond Hate is a brilliant devastation of vapid liberal nonsense. He quoted Peace People leader Mairéad Maguire - we are all guilty - as coming close to accepting full responsibility for all of the 3000+ deaths in the Ulster conflict. This mentality – that the conflict in Ulster is caused by hate - means that only individuals can transcend the conflict by "getting beyond their hatred" and thinking beautiful thoughts. This thinking changes nothing. The only way to end hate is to change the circumstances that lead to the conflict in the first place. McCann recognises this. His solution is a Trotskyite state. We also recognise this but our solution is a free, independent, distributist Ulster state. Where we agree is that liberalism is nonsense.

It is interesting to read his commentary as the Hume-Adams 'peace process' began and to follow its path up to September 1998. After Omagh, McCann believes that the 'war' really is over and that those republicans " who want the war over, but who sense that nothing adequate has been achieved, should do now is begin to discuss which road other than republicanism offers the best way ahead." Who could argue with that? Well worth a read - but you'll not like everything in it!

David Kerr


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