You are here:   Text > The Cruiser
The Cruiser
February 2009

In 1997, the Irish novelist Colm Tóibín was asked by the New Yorker to write a piece about the possibility of Seamus Heaney running for President of Ireland in succession to Mary Robinson - a popular but unsubstantiated rumour at the time. Tóibín wrote, inter alia, that Heaney was so popular that he could even survive being endorsed by Conor Cruise O'Brien, which normally meant "the kiss of death" in Ireland. The legendary New Yorker fact-checking desk, unable to let a single statement go uncorroborated, found out Cruise O'Brien's Dublin phone number and rang to inquire if his approval meant the kiss of death in his native country: they then telephoned an astonished Tóibín and reproachfully told him: "Mr O'Brien said: ‘No, it didn't'."

It was the kind of anecdote that gathered around Conor, and which he relished. But his answer was the right one, as was usually the case. At his funeral mass last Christmas, the officiating priest described him as "a prophetic figure", inhabiting the somewhat lonely spaces that prophets often do. "It is I think in the nature of prophets to be prickly, awkward, angular, contrary in every sense, saying things we don't always want to hear and calling for us to change our way of thinking in building a world based on truth and justice." It was well said, though Conor a few years before had vigorously denied feeling "isolated" because "my views are not everyone's cup of tea", he wrote in the introduction to Passion and Cunning (Simon & Schuster, 1988). "I live and move in the best of company." He deserved no less, and he lived to see many of his stances vindicated. There was also, at the end, some honour in his own country.

O'Brien (right) with (from left) Simon Hoggart, Geoffrey Owen, George Gale, Neil Kinnock and Ian Aitken (PA Photos)

View Full Article
February 15th, 2009
3:02 PM
I thank Mr Corr for taking time to reply. I'd like to address a few points. The reason I "ignored" the reference to Murphy was that it was not particularly relevant to the points I wanted to make. Everyone knows that there are a significant number of criminals - loyalist as well as republican - still making quite a good living from the proceeds of crime. If you want me to provide some basic information on Murphy, however, I can oblige. Murphy is allegedly a member of the South Armagh PIRA, and believed to be a former chief-of-staff of that organisation. He has been under the scrutiny of British intelligence since approximately 1972, and detailed reports have been made about Murphy and his brothers regarding alleged involvement in the PIRA. Both British and Irish anti-fraud units carried out investigations into his financial affairs in 2005. In 2006 a diesel washing operation was discovered at Murphy's residence, he was charged, but he and his brothers settled the case in a payment to the tax authorities of approximately €1 million. A large amount of assets were subsequently confiscated from Murphy by British and Irish authorities. He denies any wrong-doing. I ask Mr Corr - do you really think that an independent Northern Ireland would have been free of organised crime. And Murphy is almost irrelevant, because there are many more like him on all sides of the ideological divide. Let me briefly address the point about the British tax payer. Yes, I agree, they are unthanked for their contribution to Northern Ireland - here is why. Firstly, unionists believe that as part of the UK Northern Ireland is entitled to every penny they get from England. They certainly do not feel the need to thank the government for spending public money. Nationalists, then, don't feel that the British should be there in the first instance, and are not going to give thanks for money from what they regard as an occupying power. And if the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone vote for "an abstentionist supporter of terrorism", what should the government do? Cut spending to the region until they decide to vote the "right way"? Surely that is a complete violation of the democratic process. It would also be unfair to those who voted for other candidates in that election. You can't have it both ways. As Merlyn Rees once said of Ian Paisley, "you can't be a democrat here [Westminster] and a demogogue in Northern Ireland". The same kind of principle holds for the government of Northern Ireland. You cannot begin a process which has encouraged those previously engaged in violence to turn to politics, and then punish people for voting for those politicians in an election. While I sympathise with Mr Corr's exasperation at the amount of money spent on Northern Ireland which I imagine he feels could be better spent in England, I fear there is no alternative - other than convincing the 1 million plus unionists of Northern Ireland to leave the UK and join the Republic.

Bill Corr
February 5th, 2009
12:02 PM
We can chew over the facts about what is, what was and what-might-have-been in Northern Ireland endlessly. The REALLY distasteful reality is that the English taxpayer has the quite unenviable, certainly unthanked and largely unsung task of paying for almost every last little thing and every single big ticket item in Northern Ireland. The good people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone choose to vote for an abstentionist supporter of terrorism, do they? Good, let's give they a gleaming new sports centre in Enniskillen. PLus much, much more of the same. SMcD chose to ignore my reference to Slab Murphy and his current activities on the border. Do other readers know a little about Tom Murphy, that "Good Republican" and would they care to enlighten us?

February 2nd, 2009
2:02 PM
The comment about the possibility of an independent Northern Ireland bears no relationship to the political realities of the time. Firstly, Northern Ireland would still have had a significant minority population with legitimate concerns over how they were treated under Unionist rule. It does not follow that England would thus have been spared any political violence if Northern Ireland had become independent. Rather, the resentment created by the civil war which would have inevitably followed British withdrawal would arguably have increased resentment towards Britain and probably have meant more UK mainland attacks. Secondly, the point about the Ulster Workers Council is misleading. How was the 1973-74 settlement a 'craven sellout'? The IRA were not even consulted about Sunningdale. No paramilitary groups were. Policy, both north and south of the border, was focused on curtailing the activities of these groups. It was certainly no sellout to terrorism. And there was no question of a move towards a united Ireland without unionist consent. With regard to the current agreement, it may be pertinent to ask - just who sold out to who? Was the GFA not rather an admission by republican and indeed loyalist groups that their campaigns were, to borrow and slightly misquote a phrase, totally outdated and pointless? Have the government sold the principle of democratic politics? No. Have the former men of violence renounced their campaigns and accepted that the status quo can only be altered democratically? For the time being, yes. Is it distasteful that former purveyors of violence are now in government? To many, yes. Is it better that they are in political power than engaged in acts of violence? Infinitely. Perhaps the British are sick of Northern Ireland; perhaps citizens of the Republic are too. However an impoverished independence for Northern Ireland would have solved nothing. It is the men of violence who have performed a 180 degree ideologicl turn. The slow retreat is theirs, not the government's.

Bill Corr
February 1st, 2009
3:02 PM
Roy Foster's memory is sorely at fault. The primitive, even primordial, Neanderthals of the Ulster Workers' Council may have been disconcertingly uncouth but we can see, in retrospect, that they were totally right all along in rejecting a craven surrender cunningly disguised as sweet harmony. Northern Ireland should have become a fully independent country in the late 1960s; those terrorists, terrorist sympathizers and enablers who felt unable to live in such an entity could have caught an Ulsterbus and tried living on the less-than-bountiful dole in the 26 Counties. An independent Ulster would have known how to deal with traitors very briskly and decisively. A clear political settlement in the late 1960s would have spared the English the Birmingham and Guildford bombings, along with much more. Instead, and at immense cost in blood and hard cash, successive British governments continued the long slow retreat in the face of Republican terrorism which led inexorably to the disgusting humiliation of the Good Friday Agreement. Today, IRA thugs - now besuited and superficially suave - play at being government ministers at the continuing expense of the English taxpayer. For many on the border, the everyday reality is that Slab Murphy of the IRA Army Council and the vile thugs around him live above the law. Why do we read so little of Slab Murphy, whom Adams - Brownie the Barman - calls "a good Republican who supports the peace process," in the mainstream media? Are journalists simply unwilling to spit out the truth or is it the case that the media bosses are bored sick of Ulster and its parochial quarrels?

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.