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13 March 2008 Edition

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A powerful message

Magazine Review
Iris — the republican magazine
Issue No. 21.
Price €7

Reviewed By
Séamus Bergin

The latest issue of Iris features the tragic events of 20 years ago in March 1988 when British army gunmen, acting on the orders of Margaret Thatcher, shot dead three unarmed IRA Volunteers in Gibraltar. It turned out to be one of the worst months of the entire conflict and had long-term consequences for the development of that conflict.
It was in that same month Sinn Féin and the SDLP held the second of their ground-breaking series of meetings that sowed the seeds of the peace process. At the time it was almost impossible to see any prospect of peace as the British government stepped up its militarisation of the Six Counties. In the months and years immediately following March 1988 the British Government refined counter-insurgency by collusion with unionist paramilitaries. Thatcher, taking her cue from Section 31 censorship in the 26 Counties, imposed the broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin. The Haughey government extradited political prisoners.
All of this flowed from the Hillsborough Agreement of 1985 and the ever closer collaboration between governments in London and Dublin in their efforts to defeat the IRA militarily, to isolate and silence Sinn Féin and to intimidate broader republican opinion nationally and internationally. This counter-insurgency strategy served only to make republicans more determined. But it also made it much more difficult to argue within the Republican Movement for a more refined armed struggle or to question the long-term viability of armed struggle. It was argued that ‘politics’ had been tried and had been met with repression and censorship so the only answer was armed struggle.
There was a cycle of conflict which was very difficult to break. That is what made the Sinn Féin peace strategy so courageous. The first move is always the most difficult but even in the terrible month of 1988 tentative first steps were being taken to evolve a peace strategy.
Iris retells the events of March ‘88 and puts them in political context. Especially moving is the account of Joe Austin who had the task of bringing home the bodies of Mairéad Farrell, Seán Savage and Dan McCann from Gibraltar. His memoir is riveting.
Two other excellent features are the interview with actor Dónal O’Kelly and the case against the Lisbon Treaty by Jimmy Kelly of the Unite trade union who spoke at the recent Sinn Féin Ard Fheis.
This issue of Iris delivers a powerful message and should be read and promoted by all republicans. For future issues I would say that much more emphasis needs to be placed on current political and social affairs, while continuing the magazine’s important role in chronicling the last four decades of struggle. It is important also that significant Irish language content should be included.

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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