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23 August 2001 Edition

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Interpreting O'Donnell

Book Review

Peadar O'Donnell

By Donal Ó Drisceoil

Cork University Press

This biography of Peadar O'Donnell comes two years after Peter Hegarty's fine book and is the fourth biographical study of the subject. Hegarty's is still by far the best in this reviewer's opinion, but Ó Drisceoil can say, with some justification, that this is ``the first to attempt to treat his politics in a chronological, systematic way''.

The author concludes his introduction with the hope that O'Donnell was right when he said there was nothing that could not gain by cutting and condensation. I fear in this case, however, that there was too much condensation. This has led to a highly concentrated book, with too little discussion of O'Donnell's ideas. The author adopts an authoritative tone but he does not show his own hand.

For the uninitiated, a CV of O'Donnell might be useful at this point: gifted son of rural Donegal, teacher, trade union organiser, IRA fighter in the Tan War, IRA Executive member in the Civil War, prisoner and hunger striker, novelist, organiser of campaign against land annuities, principal figure of the IRA Left in the late `20s and early `30s, founding member of the Republican Congress, co-founder of The Bell cultural magazine - all this to 1940.

By then, O'Donnell had clearly failed in his aim to build a revolutionary movement led by the working class that would push forward to achieve the All-Ireland Republic. This was his fairly consistent theme throughout his life. But the triumph of Fianna Fáil in the 26 Counties and Orange Unionism in the Six put paid to his hopes and those of a generation of republicans across the spectrum.

The author is out of sympathy with O'Donnell's belief in the integrity of the IRA as a force for change. He relies perhaps too much on the anti-republican academic Henry Patterson. Ó Drisceoil describes Liam Mellows as a ``narrow thinker'' and the term ``bourgeois'' is thrown around a lot. We are told towards the end that the ``Provisionals'', who had a ``rhetorical adherence to the aim of a `socialist republic' - eventually embraced a partitionist, reformist settlement''. He tells us that ``socialist republican ideals remained extant only in a handful of miniscule groups...'' (And who are these, I wonder?) Such conclusions undermine the whole book.

Much of O'Donnell's own writing remains out of print and it would be good to see The Gates Flew Open (on his Civil War prison experiences) and There Will Be Another Day (the Land Annuities campaign) available again. The reader should rely on such sources rather than on questionable interpretations such as those presented in this book.


Driving the radical debate

Magazine Review

Left Republican Review

Issue 4

This is a commemorative and celebration issue, with family, friends, comrades paying tribute, each in their individual ways, to the hunger strikers: Lily Fitzsimons, Jim Gibney, Mary Doyle, Laurence McKeown, Danny Morrison and Strini Moodley, a former Black Consciousness political prisoner and hunger striker, who was editor of the student magazine where Steve Biko wrote his `I write what I like' column.

Margaret McCauley now writes what has become a regular feature of the LRR, the ``I say what I like'' column. She writes how her brother, hunger striker Mickey Devine, said to her: ```You're all I have and I am counting on you. Please don't sign me off near the end. I know what I'm doing is right. Can I count on you until the death?' After about 10 seconds I said, yes.

``Did I do the right thing? I have been asked over the years was it worth it and I always reply ten brave men thought it was...''

And then, linking to today, a review of Laurence McKeown's important new book Out of Time, which traces, through the narrative of the jail struggle between 1972 and 2000, the ongoing critique of the ideas, attitudes and strategies of different generations of prisoners as they developed the struggle.

And the LRR includes some major contributions to developing the struggle. Helen Harris raises the question how to move forward, on the strength of current party policy and a commitment to human rights and the equality agenda, towards a policy that pro- or anti-abortion proponents can embrace and implement.

Then an article of great importance by Robbie Smyth, a board member of InterTradeIreland, the trade and business development body, one of the six All-Ireland Implementation Bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement. Robbie points out, in the context of the glaring failures of the Celtic Tiger to address economic and social inequalities, that there is no plan or mission statement for the Economy, neither a Plan A nor even a Plan B for the possible collapse of the Celtic Tiger. The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF) is only the ``glossy imaginings'' of PR driven politicians.

Robbie points out that such a much needed plan has to involve choices in the allocation of resources. Crucially, who makes the plans, and how are they going to do it. This is a key policy issue that all Sinn Féin party activists need to address. Priorities have to ranked, choices made and the people across the 32 counties must be involved in these choices. This is what democracy is about.

There is much exciting stuff in this issue:

Claire Hackett discusses the relationship between equality agenda and discrimination against gay people and how this interconnects with republican politics.

Paddy Woodworth, Irish Times journalist and author of recently published book, Dirty War, Clean Hands, on the Spanish state-run death squads known as GAL, writes of interviews with two members of GAL, one of them former deputy Interior Minister Rafael Vera, convicted of a GAL kidnapping.

There is also an historic interview with Abalardo Méndez Arcos, an international representative from Chiapas and there is, as we've come to expect in LRR, the short annotated bibliography of some recent Irish titles.

This little magazine is part of the radical developments that are engaging republican activists now. Get it, sell it, read it, share it, discuss it, and write for it. Take part in the debate.


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