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20 March 1997 Edition

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Identity Ideology and Conflict
by John D Cash

The Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland
By Joseph Ruane and Jennifer Todd

Both published by Cambridge University Press

Don't judge a book by its cover is good advice to readers who often comfort themselves wrongly with the notion that they have seen or read it all before, especially when the topic is about the conflict in Ireland. But sometimes the cover is just where you'll find the answer to the value of a book.

For some unknown reason people all around the world are driven to write books about Ireland. They write novels, plays and screenplays and now, more frequently, academic tomes.

John D Cash, a lecturer in political science at the University of Melbourne, used his stay in Ireland to write Identity, Ideology and Conflict, subtitled ``The structuration of politics in Northern Ireland''.

Cash's study comes across as a deeply flawed and at times arrogant analysis full of needlessly elaborate explanations and an array of multisyllabic terms that add nothing to his argument. It is full of obvious deficiencies beginning right at the title. This is not a book about ideology and conflict in the Six Counties. It is a book that deals only with unionist ideologies.

Cash believes that his book ``endeavours to develop a theory of ideology'' which can deal with a subject which is ``complex, dynamic and potent''. He then tells readers that the ideologies of ethnicity he found in the Six Counties are ``something of a mystery to our commonsense understanding''. You see Cash assumed that the modern western world would, in his words, ``eradicate'' ethnic ideologies which he describes as ``primordial'' (primitive to you and me).

Cash argues that the existence of these ideologies ``confounds all those theories of growth, modernisation or development which have their basis in Enlightenment tradition and which retain their faith in the power of reason''.

In all his studies here Cash never read or discovered that loyalism and republicanism are ideologies steeped in the philosophy of the Enlightenment period. His unionism begins in the 19th Century. This though is only one of the many gaps in this work.

For example, what role do you think the British Government plays in the development of unionist ideologies? Not much, according to Cash, who gives them the briefest mention in the book.

The UDP and PUP get one mention each in the book. The UDA get four references compared to eleven for the IRA while the UVF is mentioned only twice. The Orange Order does not get a mention at all.

This then is a book about unionist ideology which effectively leaves out many of the groups and individuals who play a fundamental public role in the articulation of unionist ideologies. It is a bad attempt to make a subject fit a theory.

These are just some of the missing links in this book. John Cash needs to do a lot more reading about Ireland. One final damning example is that he attempts to write a book about unionist ideology without a mention of Jenny Todd's groundbreaking article in 1987 on traditions in unionist political culture.

He mentions Gramsci, Marx, Trotsky, Foucault and so on. However, Todd is not completely forgotten. You will find reference to her latest publication, a collaboration with Joseph Ruane, a sociology lecturer at University College Cork, on the back cover of Cash's book, which is probably the best thing about it.

 


Todd and Ruane's The dynamics of conflict in Northern Ireland is a much more honest book.

It gives a considered analysis of all aspects of the conflict in Ireland. Todd and Ruane's conclusion can also be explained simply in a few words. They argue that a resolution of the conflict requires an emancipatory process where all those who are party to the conflict take part in its dismantling.

This would involve ``disassembling the structure of dominance, dependence and inequality''. They identify all the players, including the two governments, highlighting for example some of the shortcomings of the Downing Street Declaration while outlining the areas of contention in political and economic spheres, the failure of partition and the roles of the two governments.

It is also written in readable English and though readers across the political spectrum including republicans might not agree with their analysis it is still refreshing to see a rare glimpse of the true possibilities of academic study. John Cash should put a copy near the top of his lengthy must-read list.

By Neil Forde

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