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8 June 2006 Edition

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Book Reviews: An analysis of how the GFA changed politics and latest offering by Philip Roth

Thought provoking study of peace process

Sinn Féin and the SDLP. From Alienation to Participation. By Gerard Murray and Jonathan Tonge

Published by The O'Brien Press

Price €21.95

This authoritatively researched book is a thought provoking study of the peace process, which attempts to analyse how the Good Friday Agreement fundamentally changed the political landscape of Ireland. The main focus of the analysis is a comparison of the strategies employed by the SDLP and Sinn Féin. Strategies, when worked through, have in recent years seen a relative decline in the electoral fortunes of the SDLP and a growing ascendancy for Sinn Féin. The book's research is remarkably well supported by the author's surveys of grass-roots political activists, as well as interviews with leading political figures.

Gerard Murray and Jonathan Tonge, are academics at Queens University Belfast and the Centre for Irish Studies at the University of Salford respectively. They have divided up the book into their respective specialities, the SDLP, and the Peace Process. This has led to a somewhat contrived division between the chapters, so that one chapter on the SDLP is followed by a chapter on the Republican movement or the Peace Process, a pattern broadly repeated quite rigidly throughout the book. This limits to some extent the possibility for comparisons and contrasts within chapters. More importantly it rather artificially places the two political traditions into sealed compartments, reflecting organisational and political differences which may have been of primary importance to activists, but may well not have been as clear on the ground, as nationalist voters discussed issues and positions freely in homes, clubs, pubs and GAA grounds. Therein lies the main analytic weakness of this book, it ponders the process so far, and the reader becomes aware that the key question for the authors is why the SDLP has not being more richly rewarded electorally for their role in the process, summed up in the concluding comment that " the verdict of nationalist voters may seem exceptionally harsh."

This approach minimises the extent to which nationalist voters may have perceived accurately that it has been the tenacity and single-mindedness, as well as the flexibility of the Republican movement, which precipitated the very conditions for change. Most nationalists of any shade (or indeed Unionists and crypto-unionists in the 26 Counties) would concede that the Good Friday Agreement could not have occurred without the driving force provided by the Republican movement. Surely this fundamental fact underlies, both the efforts (whether in Dublin or Belfast) of the usual suspects to stultify the peace process, and the continued growth of Sinn Féin? Where exertions expended towards the former, are closely connected to attempts to stymie the latter.

Other factors alluded to in the authors' extensive survey research may also help to explain the recent electoral trends. In 2000 the average age of the SDLP membership was 57 and two thirds of the membership surveyed declared themselves as "inactive" within the party.

Listening to the SDLP's Eddie McGrady tentatively, almost apologetically, calling for the suspension of the PSNI officers involved in the recent fatal shooting of a young driver in Ballynahinch, constantly emphasising he was not wishing to "apportion undue blame" , was in stark contrast to the vituperative bile he habitually reserves for Republicans. Perhaps it is within this telling little cameo, and countless others like it through the years preceding it, that the answer to the central question posed in this informative and stimulating book lies, particularly the reasons behind the reduced credibility of the SDLP?


Painful human story

Everyman. By Philip Roth.

Published by Random House. ISBN 0224078690/ISBN 9780224078696 (from Jan 2007)

£10.00 Stg

Ok cards on the table. I am a huge Philip Roth fan. His epic novel- The Human Stain, remains for me the finest polemic on the United States and race I have ever read. Doubly sad then what Hollywood and Nicole Kidman did to his work. Subsequently this recent offering was gleefully plucked off the editor's desk. By the time the bus had brought me back to Letterkenny it was read.

Philip Roth's 27th book takes its title from an anonymous fifteenth-century English allegorical play whose drama centres on the summoning of the living to death and whose hero, Everyman, is intended to be the personification of mankind. The fate of Roth's Everyman is traced from his first shocking confrontation with death on the idyllic beaches of his childhood summers and during his hospitalisation as a nine-year-old surgical patient through the crises of health that come close to killing him as a vigorous adult, and into his old age, when he is undone by the death and deterioration of his contemporaries and relentlessly stalked by his own menacing physical woes. A successful commercial advertising artist with a New York ad agency, he is the father of two sons who despise him and a daughter who adores him, the beloved brother of a good man whose physical well-being comes to arouse his bitter envy, and the lonely ex-husband of three very different women with whom he's made a mess of marriage.

Everyman is a painful human story of the regret and loss and stoicism of a man who becomes what he does not want to be. The terrain of this savagely sad short novel is the human body, and its subject is the common experience that terrifies us all.

This is not feel good stuff, but it is a short novel that everyman should have the courage to face as the years tick by one by one and the body begins to betray you.

A must for your bookshelf.


An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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