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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .

The Long War: The IRA and Sinn Féin
Brendan O’Brien

New York: Syracuse University Press, 2nd edition 1999
Pb.: $19.95; ISBN 0-8156-0597-8

This is the Second Edition of Brendan O'Brien's book on Irish republicanism and like the previous updated edition, takes us up to 1999 when the dust had yet to settle after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The author's extensive experience within Irish journalism stretches over two decades and has included a particular emphasis on the conflict in the north of Ireland. Not so much a comprehensive history of Sinn Fein and the IRA (for this see Tim Pat Coogan's book on the subject), O'Brien's work is concerned more with the recent Irish peace process and the role of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in modern Irish republicanism.

The ideological and tactical shifts within Irish republicanism in the last three decades are examined in depth, showing how circumstances such as the cease-fires of the mid 1970s and the failure of Sinn Fein to make an impact in southern Ireland in the 1980s led to a more sophisticated and pragmatic approach to the pursuit of a united Ireland, as well as a greater attempt at understanding unionist sentiment. The book contains interviews with many of the important figures plus a valuable appendix of milestone documents.

While the conflict in Ireland is not an ethnic one as such, it does contain elements relevant to the subject and O'Brien looks at how the various government initiatives such as Sunningdale in the 1970s and Hillsborough in the 1980s made some attempt to address relationships on the island. In greater detail he deals with the tortuous negotiations in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement and the various mechanisms built into it to help ensure that as many nationalist/republicans and unionists as possible could feel comfortable enough to work the compromise. There is also a chapter on unionist/loyalist attitudes to Sinn Fein and the IRA. More perhaps could have been written on the importance of demographic change as a factor in the current peace process and on the reasons behind and enormous impact of the British government's 'Ulsterisation' policy when locally recruited forces largely replaced the regular army on the front line. Such a policy helped form the view among the international community that the conflict was essentially an ethnic one.

In the large library on the subject however, 'The Long War' is one of the better accounts of Irish republicanism.

Martin Campbell

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