16 September 1999 Edition
New in print: Counting on trouble
Northern Ireland's Troubles - The Human Costs
By Fay, Morrissey and Marie Smyth
Published by Pluto
YOU HAVE TO applaud anyone who sets out to write a book about the conflict in Ireland. Rarely does someone's work get put under the microscope with more serious intent. An Olympic athlete's urine sample can come under less rigorous examination than a book about Irish politics.
Add in an objective of describing ``the human costs of Northern Ireland's Troubles, and to set those human costs in the historical, political, economic and social context of Northern Ireland'' and you are asking for it.
But this is just what Marie Therese Fay, Mike Morrissey and Marie Smyth have set out to do in the book Northern Ireland's Troubles - The Human Costs.
The book comes from the efforts of a company called The Cost of the Troubles Study, the directors of which are people injured and bereaved in the conflict.
They want to establish ``quality, well-documented and scientific research on which work aimed at addressing the impact of the Troubles on the population can be based''.
Cost of the Troubles have assembled an independent database of deaths in the conflict since 1969. This book derives a lot of its content from analysis of that database. It is this element of the book that makes the most interesting reading.
The section on the impact of the conflict on the children in the Six Counties, for example, tells us that 26 per cent of all victims in the conflict measured by the Cost of the Troubles Study were under 21 years old. People under 29 account for over half the deaths.
That being said, there are serious problems with other parts of this work. For example, the first section of the book offers a context for understanding the conflict both nationally and internationally. It kicks off with the obligatory map and then gives ``Outlines of Protagonists''. First up is the IRA and we get nearly three pages of background. Then comes a couple of paragraphs on the `Official' IRA, the INLA, the IPLO and others. The UDA, UFF and UVF get a mention. No room though for the LVF or the Red Hand Commandos, etc. Why not?
The section on the RUC contains just two sentences which could be remotely construed as critical of the organisation. We are told they were dogged with allegations of shoot-to-kill operations and reckless use of plastic bullets. We are also told that the RUC made some mistakes in 1968 and 1969 in its dealings with nationalists.
In the section on ``Northern Ireland: A State in Conflict'', the authors provide us with a concise political history of the Six Counties. It relies heavily on the work of Paul Bew and Roy Foster. No mention though of The Orange State, the seminal work by Michael Farrell on Six-County history.
These might seem like small quibbles and the authors make it clear in the introduction that they are coming from the perspective of victims of the conflict. However, when you are driving down an imaginary middle of the road you sometimes cannot see over the ditch. Just look at the title of the book - the word ``Troubles'' is used and appears repeatedly in the book. You get the view from reading the book that the term conflict or war is not an acceptable one.
You could be forgiven for thinking that a lot of young nationalist men and women woke up one day in 1969 and just decided to end British rule in Ireland.
I know this is flippant and that a lot of good work went into this study. It is dissipated, though, by the other sections which, by trying to be dispassionate, come off as shoddy and have too much emphasis on the interpretations of academics and not enough on the voices of what the authors term protagonists and victims. If this book is really about the victims, surely it is their voices we should be reading.
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN