Whose republic is it anyway?
Published by the Ireland Institute
When you use the term `republic' or `republican' today it can conjure up a range of diverse images. Enter then the assorted collection of people old and young that are the Ireland Institute and who describe themselves as providing ``an active intellectual environment for the study, discussion and promotion of Irish republican thought through historical and cultural research''.
To compliment such a wide range of objectives the Institute has produced a first edition of its own Journal titled ``The Republic''. It has a wide cross section of contributions including some long pieces from Mary Cullen, Theo Dorgan, Kevin McCorry, Liam O'Dowd and Colm Rapple. It also has an introductory article from Finbar Cullen and a range of smaller contibutions from representatives of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, National Women's Council of Ireland, The Irish council for Civil Liberties, the National Youth Council of Ireland and the Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism.
The journal has a commendable cross section of contributions, however these are dominated by the long introductory essay to the Journal by Finbar Cullen titled ``Beyond Nationalism: Time to reclaim the Republican ideal''.
Cullen's article is hard to read being written completely without any sort of footnotes or references in the text to the subject matter. Add to this a difficult theme to grasp - the relationship between nationalism and republicanism and you are just not having fun.
Finbar tells us that ``Republicanism is a term which has long been misused in Ireland and largely separated from its meanings and origins''. He never explains by whom the term is misused and this is the central drawback of the paper. There is a hidden ``some'' ``many'' and ``they'' littered throughout the text.
Cullen tells us early on in the work that the confusion of republicanism with nationalism needs to be unpicked. He doesn't do this. What he does is insult this republican reviewer by writing a range of assertions better found in the Irish Times or Independent, most particularly in one paragraph that says ``In the last 30 years it has become common to equate republicanism with militant or armed nationalism and an absolutist rejection of any British involvement in Ireland''. Then we are told that ``many who might have shared the goals and principles of republicanism, retreated from the word itself''. Finbar tells us ``We must try to ensure that it will never be co-opted again for undemocratic or chauvinistic purposes, or to serve the goals of nationalism''.
In contrast Theo Dorgan's Poetry and the Possible Republic is a joy to read and covers some interesting new ground. Mary Cullen's paper on Republicanism, Feminism and the Writing of Industry was also good reading as was Colm Rapple's Beyond the Boom.
However the two other papers by Liam O'Dowd on the Changing World Order and the Republican Ideal in Ireland and Kevin McCorry's Towards a Politics of Democratic Renewal also highlight other shortcomings of the journal. For example in Kevin McCorry's paper he says ``Clearly Sinn FÈin must be at the centre of any new radical politics in the South and North''. Yet neither he nor O'Dowd make any attempt to address the alternatives offered by Sinn FÈin or comment on the range of discussions carried on these issues in An Phoblacht.
Even though this is hopefully the first edition of many why is there no contribution from someone in Sinn FÈin to give their view of the republican ideal? It makes you wonder just who's republic this is? Or maybe that's just my undemocratic chauvinism showing through!
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
A squaddie's tale
Soldier of the Queen
BY BERNARD O'MAHONEY with MICK McGOVERN
I generally have little time for the memoirs of British soldiers. They are either tales of ``Wot Won the Empire'' or a self-congratulatory spin on a ``career'' spent stiffing ``wogs'' as part of a civilising mission.
I also have a bedrock aversion to ghost-written anything, but this book is a squaddie's story, ghost written to boot, that every republican under 30 should read.
The first point of interest is that this is the story of a working class Irishman born in. The chapter on his early childhood is titled Irish Born and Beaten. ``Memories of my mother screaming as she was beaten still haunt me,'' he says. He was determined that he wasn't going to be a victim in life like his mother. He carried out his first street robbery when he was 13. He developed, he admits, into a ``natural born hooligan''.
By 1978, he is 18 and facing several charges at one sitting of the local magistrates court. He is, effectively, offered the ``jail or Army'' option. He takes the Army.
He joins an Irish Armored regiment, the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards. He reckons that a tank regiment has very little chance of getting sent to the Six Counties.
When he finds out that ``Irish'' regiments at that time aren't sent to the war zone, he is delighted.
The infantry despised his Irish tank regiment: ``They thought we were either war-dodging cowards or IRA sympathisers who had joined to get military experience to use against them.''
He settles into life as a barracks soldier in Germany, but then his world falls apart when the MoD changes its policy. His unit is sent to Fermanagh during the 1981 Hunger Strike.
On the last night in Germany, with kit packed for Fermanagh, the news comes through that Bobby Sands has been elected. This is the best part of the book without doubt.
His ``hands up to it'' honesty about the harassment and intimidation meted out to ordinary nationalists is compelling. He also admits that there was a formal policy of harassing Owen Carron every minute of his day.
Our subject subsequently starts a relationship with a woman from the unionist tradition and tries to settle in the Six Counties when he leaves the British Army. He is at first accepted by her DUP parents,
He successfully conceals his Fenian DNA from them for a while. Then one day the RUC meet him outside of his work and tell him he is in mortal danger and must take him to the boat at Larne immediately.
He meets up with his fiancée six months later in England - she admits that his parents had found that he was a fenian and that they had been ``living in sin''.
All his belongings had been burned and her family had used their influence in the RUC to get him out of their wee Ulster.
He concludes: ``In the future, my journey would take me to some strange and violent places where I would mix with some strange and violent people, yet nothing would compare with the dangerous peculiarity of that truncated corner of Ulster.
``With my Irish blood and British upbringing I should have felt at home there. But I never felt, and would never feel, so alien. As I imagined my possessions going up in flames my anger was tempered by a sense of relief. I would never return there. They were welcome to their bonfires.''
This is a book worth reading and I would congratulate Steve MacDonagh on another prescient bit of publishing. This might set the standard for the ordinary soldier to tell how it was for him in Britain's senseless dirty war in Ireland.
BY MICK DERRIG