Sunday, July 7, 2013

Feargal Cochrane's "Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace"

Feargal Cochrane is professor of international conflict analysis and director of the Conflict Analysis Research Centre at the University of Kent.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace, and reported the following:
When I was invited to contribute to this I was curious to find out what was on p.99 of my book and unsurprised to find that it mostly denotes a litany of murder and mayhem on the streets of Northern Ireland during the 1970s. My page 99 is therefore a grisly one –and if read in isolation, is decontextualized from the wider cultural and political dynamics that both underpinned and helped to rationalise that violence. This is, I think, a philosophically interesting point, as much of the violence that took place in Northern Ireland across the period loosely referred to as ‘the troubles’ from 1969-1998, was devoid of immediate triggers or explanations. It had become mundane, ingrained, and woven into the fabric of life in Northern Ireland, Britain and further afield.

The specific events on my page 99 relate to a series of Provisional IRA car bombs that went off without warning in the sleepy village of Claudy, Northern Ireland in July 1972 killing nine civilians, including a young girl. An attempt by the bombers to issue a warning to the police failed because the public phone box was out of order. The narrative also covers the La Mon hotel fire bomb, planted by the Provisional IRA on in February 1978, which literally burned victims alive due to the incendiary power of the device, killing 12 and maiming over 30, many of whom were left with disfiguring burns. Finally, the story moves on to a third grisly tale known as the Miami Showband massacre in 1975. Here, a group of light entertainment musicians were stopped at what looked like a British army checkpoint, (commonplace at the time) and were taken out of their minivan and lined up at the roadside, while the soldiers checked the van for explosives. However, all was not as it appeared, as these British soldiers were also members of the loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force and they were actually planting a bomb in the van, rather than searching for one –it was a paramilitary ambush, not a security checkpoint. Unfortunately for them, the device exploded prematurely, killing two of them, while the rest of the gang shot the band members in the back.

Beyond this particular litany of human tragedy, the book explains the wider political dynamics behind such incidents. These were not acts of ‘mindless’ violence, nor were they the actions of psychopaths as the popular media and many politicians frequently argued. This violence –though brutal- was politically motivated, coldly rational and strategic. Its roots lay in structural inequality, brutalised communities and a dysfunctional political system. The book explains how the violent conflict and the peace process which emerged during the 1990s were connected and examines the way in which the history of violence (for better and worse) has shaped the political institutions that exist in Northern Ireland today.
Learn more about Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue