Letter: Imaginative myth of IRA-Dublin pact

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The Independent Online
Sir: Conor Cruise O'Brien's views on the dangers of negotiation with the IRA are perfectly legitimate ('Partners under the camouflage', 25 March). The question as to whether one should sup with the IRA at all, or the length of the spoon required, is a valid one.

What is not legitimate is to infer from current events 'a partnership between the present Dublin government and Sinn Fein-IRA' and a risk to a firm security policy. In conceding that a good working relationship existed between the RUC and the Gardai, apart from 'one partial exception' in 1970 and its immediate aftermath, he now suggests that 'individual Gardai . . . may well feel, as many of them did in the early Seventies, that the safest course . . . is to leave the IRA alone'. That assertion is not, in fact, correct for the early 1970s; moreover, in the height of the arms crises in 1970, events were exposed precisely because of the loyalty of the state's servants.

Dr O'Brien is prey to the conspiracy theory of history (as he showed recently in his heated views as to how English historians treated a fellow Irishman, Edmund Burke). As a result, his imagination leads him into multiplying the dangers that crowd in upon a profound and complex tragedy.

Whatever the way forward in a saga marked by the real fears of nationalists and Unionists alike, frequently simplistic assumptions in the Republic, disturbing judicial and policing issues, and wavering and inconsistent policies in London, we could do with less of this sort of emotive vision, tailored to the argument of the hour.

Yours sincerely,


Trinity College


25 March

The writer is professor of Modern Irish History at the University of Dublin.