Yes, IRA violence was remorseless, but what caused it? And who brought it to an end?

Martina Devlin with a timely observation:

A debate about the North has become intertwined with the presidential race — one which should have taken place at the time of the Good Friday Agreement more than 13 years ago, but was sidelined amid euphoria about peace in our time.

Quite so. It is an important debate. The problem is that partition has worked to the extent that the largest body of opinion in the Republic, feels ‘the North’ is an embarrassment to the rest of the island. As Malachi O’Doherty so memorably put it:

It’s not hard to see why the Troubles are an embarrassment. For one thing, they went on too long. They seemd to represent a society which was incapable of learning from the sensible and mannered intellectuals. The sensible and mannered intellectuals quickly ran out of things to say and concluded, therefore, that the violence was just an embarrassing lapse into barbarism. The North, as far as Dublin was concerned, was the attic in which the mad old uncle might be allowed to drink himself to death.

But there is another reason. For although the Troubles went on too long, there is a prevailing idea that they ended too easily. But they ended. And maybe the best thing is not to scrutinise how they ended or test the compromises by which they ended, in case we bring them back.

Well, they aren’t coming back. The killing went on too long for any easy return. We have a whole generation of radicals whose appetite for bloody rebellion has been sated, like Wilfred Owen’s passing image of a devil ‘sick of sinning’.

And with the strong entrance of Martin McGuinness into the southern democratic state that important debate is now being had on the hoof, as an aside to the more urgent task of electing a President.

Devlin then inveighs against the constitutionalist ‘revisionism’, presumably of Mitchell and others, by noting the sins of moderates, the ‘understrappers’ of injustice:

Herman Melville’s novel ‘White-Jacket’ contains the following passage: “You are the moderate man, the invaluable understrapper [underling] of the wicked man. You, the moderate man, may be used for wrong but are useless for right.” Melville was suggesting that moderates allow iniquity to be perpetuated because they do not challenge the status quo, and never support what is sometimes necessary to expunge tyranny — such as the tyranny of the Northern state, where ethnic cleansing lite was tolerated and citizens were denied fundamental human rights. There is more than one kind of violence.

This acceptance by revisionists of subjugation in the North allows them to claim it was wrong to resist the status quo, except peacefully. Conveniently, they forget how the agents of the state used rifles and batons to force civil rights campaigners off the streets.

They ignore statistics showing how one sector of Northern society was favoured for jobs and housing at the expense of another. Left to them, the Northern state would have stayed gerrymandered, defective, deviant.

Politicians in the Republic countenanced gross inequalities in the state on their doorstep, perpetuated against people who defined themselves as Irish. Few commentators or voters called them on it.

Yes, IRA violence was remorseless, but what caused it — and, more important, who helped bring it to an end? As history books about this period are written, whose names figure on their pages?

It seems like Eoghan Harris (for whom this campaign is not going well) has at last a worthy opponent!

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