Saturday, December 20, 2008

Good riddance to O'Brien!

Conn Corrigan on the death of Conor Cruise O'Brien:

Ferdinand Mount, the British politician and journalist, described the late Conor Cruise O'Brien as 'a man whose function it is to be gloriously wrong.' And nowhere else did Cruise O'Brien more clearly demonstrate this than in relation to Northern Ireland.

Such was his opposition to physical force republicanism in Northern Ireland, that he approved of the torture of republican suspects. Upon hearing about an Irish policeman who had beaten up a republican prisoner, Cruise O'Brien said that he refrained from telling his minister colleagues in case it would worry them - adding "It didn't worry me".

But it was really toward the end of his career in journalism that Cruise O'Brien would distinguish himself for being wrong on pretty much every pronouncement he could possibly make on Northern Ireland.

Cruise O'Brien consistently argued that talking to the IRA was utterly futile and dangerous. He advocated instead a security crackdown. In 1994, for example, he wrote, "The quest for a non-existent political solution distracts from the harsh necessity to meet increasing terrorism with more stringent security measures."

When the IRA announced a ceasefire in 1994, he wrote, "This is not peace; it is simply a prelude to a different war."

In 2001, he nursed a fantasy about how the IRA, through community policing, would try to eliminate the loyalist paramilitaries, before calling on the British to withdraw. Because of Sinn Fein's involvement with community policing, he warned, "Northern Ireland's slide into anarchy, under cover of the peace process, may become unstoppable."

And when the peace process did run into difficulties, Cruise O'Brien, excited at the prospects of being proven right, could barely contain his glee, and confidently predicted a return to war.

In 2001 he wrote, 'A few things are clear. One is that the IRA now believes that the peace process, useful as it has been to them in the past, has outlived its usefulness...the Good Friday Agreement appears to be doomed.'

In 2003, a Guardian interviewer talked about Cruise O'Brien's "undisguised pleasure" at the possible disintegration of the Belfast Agreement and the peace process. 'I'm glad to see this whole bloody thing crash,' he told the interviewer.

Because he sincerely hoped that the agreement would fail, he convinced himself it would.

Having been a critic of the Northern Ireland peace process from the very beginning, he eventually found himself backed into a hole he simply couldn't get out of - when political progress was being made.

In March 2007, he wrote that he was 'quite sure [Paisley] is not going to do a deal with the British and Irish governments.' Shortly afterwards, he was proved wrong - again - and that May, Ian Paisley went into government with Sinn Fein.

Thankfully by the end of his journalism career, very few politicians - at least the politicians who mattered when it came to Northern Ireland - took Cruise O'Brien's writings on Northern Ireland seriously.

Because if they had, no doubt Northern Ireland would still be at war.

While an intellectual heavyweight in many respects, Cruise O'Brien, on the Northern Ireland peace process, proved himself to be nothing more than a silly old crank.

A great Con indeed


At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Se├ín Mac Cann said...

Spot on.

He may, as some of the frothier commentators in the Southern media
suggest, have been an "influential" mindset in the Southern zeitgeist,
but I doubt that his "influence" extended far beyond the usual clique of revisionist tuppence-hapenny D4 dupes.

In the North, throughout the Troubles, Nationalists viewed the guy with a mix of indifference and contempt. He was too pampered, too out of touch, too politically stupid to be worth detesting. Just another lickspittle half-sir, just another pompous bore with a phoney accent, someone suffering
from a post-colonial disorder that impelled him towards seeking to
outdo the colonists in vilifying his own.
Only in a context where self-abasement to the culture of former rulers has become a political way of life could an addled political pygmy like O'Brien have been dressed up as an intellectual worth listening to.


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