Peter Taylor On The IRA’s Lost War: When Yesterday’s Heresy Becomes Today’s Conventional Wisdom

Don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted to see that the BBC’s Peter Taylor has finally come to terms with reality and pronounced the British and the Unionists the victors in their war against the IRA.

He will broadcast this analysis in a BBC documentary to be screened on Monday evening. I am delighted not at his conclusion but at his honesty in eventually saying something that has been obvious to anyone with half a brain for years. He is doing his job as a journalist, telling the truth to shame the devil, unlike the bulk of the Irish media.

Given his status, the respect grassroots republicans have for him and his impressive track record reporting on the Troubles from the 1970’s onward, Taylor’s conclusion will be a devastating blow to the SF leaders who prior to this were able to isolate the one or two journalists saying the same by dismissing them as “anti-peace process” whose reports gave aid and comfort to dissidents.

What are they going to say to this programme? Peter Taylor is a dissident? Peter Taylor wants to return to conflict? Peter Taylor is an enemy of the peace process?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the prospect of being maligned in public in such a bullying way by the likes of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness or Mary Lou McDonald terrified many of my erstwhile colleagues and shaped their coverage of events over the last twenty years.

I am not condemning them – the experience, as I can testify, is distinctly uncomfortable and lonely and I can understand their temerity – but rather reproaching them. Journalists should never be frightened of telling the truth; otherwise what is the purpose of their professional lives? If they believe and know they are right then vindication will come, even if it takes years.

What Peter Taylor apparently says in his documentary, according to this Belfast Telegraph report below, has been evident for most of the last two decades. Is it too much to hope that Ireland’s media might pay some attention? Or is that a silly question?

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23 responses to “Peter Taylor On The IRA’s Lost War: When Yesterday’s Heresy Becomes Today’s Conventional Wisdom

  1. Taylor’s views seem to be at odds with the boy Prior – who it must be remembered actually did something during the war..

    …and with due respect to Peter, who is after all British (and clearly ideologically so) and to journalists (and bloggers) – their opinions are of limited value – their real value lies is in their providing us with the information about what is going on – but to be fair to the boy Peter – he has ‘done good’ in that regard.

    Score draw in my book.

    …apart from the abolition of Stormo v1, getting the insurgents permanently into government in a Gerry-mandered-Stormo(v2.0), getting rid of the UDR, and the RUC, getting an institutional role for the Irish government in Green Field number 4 affairs, giving the Irish government and people a block on the North’s integration into the UK, getting all their prisoners out of jail, getting a curb on the excesses of loyalist ‘culture’ (via the parades commission)

    …did the Provos get a reasonable deal – on balance Yes.

    Did they win? No.

    Did they lose? No.

    • actually the 1974 sunningdale agreement was a much better deal than the GFA. the council of ireland was an actual mechanism that could lead to unity and there is nothing in the GFA comparable. but your guys opposed sunningdale, didn’t they, as a sellout! so peter taylor is not to be believed because he is british….isn’t that racism? for years he was one of the few british journalists to expose misrule in NI, unlike his irish equivalents, e.g. RTE which never allowed the sort of journalism taylor specialised in. what you give here sammy whatever your name is, is a foretaste of the coming provo takedown of taylor. go look in a mirror….

  2. Except James Prior and Norman Tebbit, right-wing ministers who served in a British government that was actually engaged in fighting/negotiating with the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army, gave very different answers. They are of the opinion that it was a military draw or in Tebbit’s words “a truce”. Neither side suffered a military or political defeat (nor victory). John Major seems to indicate a similar view.

    Could it be that what we have here are simply different and competing interpretations of the same event, based in large part upon people’s own political biases? (of which I’m as guilty as anyone else).

    1998 was not “Victory 1972” but neither was it “as British as Finchley”.

    • but what happened to the talk of irish unity by 2016, the centenary of the Rising? now, talk of victory has given way to an acknowledgement of a draw (at best). and for that we have the word of people you accept are ‘right-wing Tory ministers?’ really?
      the reality is that the IRA’s campaign was in fact an expression of Catholic discontent at the NI state, an expression of the belief that the state could not be reformed, that Catholics could not get a square deal in the constitutional status quo rather than a yearning for Irish unity. And since belief in reform evaporated in the early 1970’s, there was popular support for the IRA’s campaign to destroy the state instead. But the IRA campaign had a different consequence, forcing meaningful reform from the British so that now we have the GFA and with it a fair swig of the jug for at least the Catholic middle class. Not wishing to destroy a state within which they now have a stake, a substantial portion of NI Catholics & Nationalists will yearn even less for political re-unification with the South. The stated aim of the IRA’s campaign was to eject the British from NI and establish an all-Ireland republic. That project has failed and the effect of the GFA will be to delay or remove totally the possibility of that happening. If the Provos were honest they would acknowledge that and instead claim victory in the struggle to reform Northern Ireland.

  3. Yes, I agree that a lot of people believed in the simplistic “2016” argument if only because it was nearly two decades off at the time and so sounded fairly plausible if a transitional arrangement was put in place (though it has been overplayed as a factor in the internal discussions that went on). However many activists had a better grasp of reality that that and certainly knew by the early-mid 2000s that the movement was in for the long haul. Fighting to win the Long Peace rather than the Long War, as it were. That is still the view of many. The struggle is not over it has just moved on to a new front. Whether that will remain the case with the inevitable erosion of ideology when mixed with electoral politics is another matter. That erosion may well be under way.

    I think Norman Tebbit would be more inclined than most to crow victory over the “terrorists” if he believed that were truly the case. The British establishment is not holding its whist because it thinks declaring Bush-like victory would be counter-productive or lead to a renewed conflict. It’s simply a case of no victory to declare, even for the George Smileys of this world.

    In relation to the north-east you could be right about “reform” creating an unforeseen status quo that serves as a block to future progress. However that – or the failure of “reform” – may create its own momentum elsewhere. Cold Wars can become hot ones given the right (or wrong) circumstances.

  4. I am a big fan of Peter Taylor, he represents a rump within the BBC that does excellent investigative work. But he is British – just as I’m Irish and clearly his view on Irish politics is different from mine – he reflects his British background as I reflect mine.

    The GFA was a reasonable fudge that gave Northern Ireland a new constitution which requires the consent of the all the people of Ireland to change – constitutionally the Irish state is recognised – swapped for the aspirational articles 2 & 3.

    I agree with former secretary of State Prior – violence did work – not a great Republican victory – but an honourable outcome. Cleary there should have been a settlement earlier but that is down to the British and the Provos – and the logic of war and recrimination and stubbornness.

  5. Peter Taylor’s Who Won the War is no doubt a provocative topic for a documentary but it may be a bit premature to come to a conclusion about who won the war. From across the ocean, I think that for anyone to expect a united Ireland overnight –seems both naive and totally unrealistic on an island that has been partitioned for almost 100 years .As Gerry Adams said, “the struggle isn’t over.”

    • premature? twenty years later? you serious? that’s like asking in 1965 who won WW2…..

      • Yeah, but the Germans have won the peace/cold war! Today their state is reunited and free, unwarlike, encircled by friends, a stable liberal democracy, a or better the European powerhouse (the “good hegemon”) and one of the biggest economies on our globe. I would say that not many people saw this coming in the direct aftermath of WW2.
        Another example are the Easter rising and the civil war (both lost by “republicans” but turned into “victories” 1937/48).
        So the real question isn`t who won the troubles but rather which side will win the post GFA period!

      • you are confusing apples with oranges. the nazis, not the germans, lost the second world war. the war was fought to consolidate and extend nazi rule, to begin the 1000 year reich, but failed in that objective. so the nazis, as distinct from the germans, lost the war. equally the easter rising was staged to begin the struggle for full irish independence, i.e. a 32 county independent state. it failed to achieve that. what happened in 1937 or 1948, fianna fail taking power in a truncated state or fine gael christening that truncated state ‘a republic’ made no difference to that outcome. i think what has people confused here is the belief that the provo campaign was about correcting the failure of the easter rising to achieve its full goal when in reality it was de facto about reforming northern ireland, making it ‘a warm place’ for catholics, to paraphrase david trimble. except at the time, when the battle was red hot, only a few people realised that. as for the post GFA period, if the deal works out as it should more & more catholics will reconcile themselves to the existence of the NI state, the appetite for irish unity will lessen and that should have a knock on effect on unionists. go figure who wins in that scenario but i know who doesn’t.

      • “the nazis, not the germans, lost the second world war. the war was fought to consolidate and extend nazi rule”

        That’s the old outdated propaganda (’cause both sides needed them in the beginning cold war) of the allies and of the most surviving Germans of that time (denial). In the 1960s and 1970s the Federal Republic and its society has begun to change this view of history. The nazis weren’t aliens who came with space ships out of nowhere and invaded Germany. They came from inside the German society. In fact the war, the war of extermination, was fought with the Germans in the name of the Germans – the war, the genocides wouldn’t have worked without the involvment and acceptence/tolerance/ignorance (“I know enough to know that I don’t want to know more”, “I only obied orders” ) of the majority of the German people. You hadn’t to be a nazi party member to commit crimes or to participate. Only a verry, very, very tiny minority of these culprits were convicted after the war, and if so, often not really hard. It’s true, in difference to WW1, at the biginning of WW2 there wasn’t a joy for war inside the German society but the great victories changed this more or less. Only in 1942/43 more and more Germans began to dissociate themselves from Hitler, the ideology and the party because the luck of war turned. But even then a majority of the wehrmacht soldiers believed in victory until the very end.
        Oh, sorry Ed, this is a lot off topic stuff. Back to topic:
        “christening that truncated state ‘a republic’” That wording is a bit harsh, isn’t it? Sounds like the propaganda nonsense of good old deceased Ruairí (I mean even the hardliners around McKevitt thout that that is more or less bullshit). The republic is a real republic, maybe not the “holy” “republic” of 1916/19 but…no king nor queen, no commonwealth membership. The civil war wasn’t fought about partition, so FF has won the peace.
        You’re right: the IRA lost the conflict but it seems that SF could/will win the aftermath (maybe they won’t get a united socialist republic but posts, power and influence). They manipulated the peace process and created an even more sectarian society, in which they’ll get more and more votes, through their decommissioning policy plus its strenthening in the republic.

      • boy, peter taylor’s mild report really seems to have got under you guys’ skins! i wonder though how i would feel, if i had done say 20 years in the blocks, reading your comment that it was all to get SF positions & power, i.e. for bums on the back seat of ministerial cars.

      • Why so cynical? In some way the violence has worked for them. They haven’t achieved their goals but got votes, seats, posts, power and legitimation. So more and more people will accept their story telling of the conflict and its aftermath (press, society, other politicians – you moan about that, too, in your articles). Look at the press reactions of O’Higgins’ visit to the UK. Many reports sounded like the troubles were a real war between the republic and the UK, and not a “war” of a tiny minority of the minority.
        After the Easter rising the Dubliners spitted on the participants, today they’re heroes. After the civil war De Valera manged to reconciliate most “republicans” with the state and to legitimate the civil war when he won the elections. The same will happen, if SF should come into government in Dublin (in fact it’s already happening right know).

        “more & more catholics will reconcile themselves to the existence of the NI state”

        Probably, but in the same time frame the Northern Irish society became more and more sectarian and polarised, not less. The last election figures of Derry have shown this, even there is the SDLP under pressure from SF and dissidents! So sad…

      • again you’re basically saying that it is all good for the shinners who get their bums on the back seats of ministerial cars etc. fair enough but the war wasn’t sold in those terms. and your disgusting pleasure in the ratcheting up of sectarianism confirms my analysis; the provos were defenderist not republican in their ideological roots. who are you, by the way. my name is on this blog but you won’t put your name on your comments. why not?

      • Mr Moloney, I don’t get it. I think we’ve talked past each other. You seem to think I’m a shinner?!? If yes, why? I’m condemning SF and its policy of polarisation and the destruction of the middle ground. The most disgusting part of it is that they benefit more and more from it. So I wrote: “So sad…”. I’m condemning also its propaganda and lies. But the truth is that it sadly has worked for them – ok, only for the republican elite.

        “but the war wasn’t sold in those terms.” I know, so I wrote the IRA and its soldiers( around 10.000in 30 years?) lost. Though, the here and know SF and its current members and leadership could win the peace, ’cause their membership, goals and objektives have changed.

        “i wonder though how i would feel, if i had done say 20 years in the blocks, reading your comment that it was all to get SF positions & power, i.e. for bums on the back seat of ministerial cars.”

        Like in every war in history. At the beginning of a war no one knows its outcome (but mostly not a good one for the normal participants). That’s the price, if you want to be a “terrorist”, at least. Or should I say a “soldier”, a “rebel”, a “revolutionary”, a “freedom fighter”, a “dreamer”, a “hero”? You can choose. My pity for them is within narrow limits. The dead and their relatives on all sides have got more than 20 years. On the other hand there will be allways war profiteers. And do you really think that the most IRA veterans would have have a better life in an united Ireland or, if they would fight on for this dream? They should had abandoned the struggle in 1974 like you already wrote.

      • and your real name is……?

  6. Ed, this intractable conflict goes back 800 years.–. deferring to your superior knowledge and expertise on the subject–my opinion is that this war can be compared to no other..Sabina

    • you are right sabina. it was at best a series of skirmishes, at most a low-intensity conflict but it hardly qualified as a war. and aside from reforming the status quo left the essential political elements in place at the start intact. in fact you could argue that NI’s place as part of britain is more secure in 2014 than it was in 1969……..

  7. It’s impossible to argue with Taylor’s conclusions, particularly if you take Provos at their word. A ’32 county, democratic socialist republic’ has never been further from practical realisation. What’s emerged instead is a kind of comprador, nationalist middle class, integrated into the political economy of the NI state and dependent on the stability of its institutions.

    I reckon Sinn Fein will continue to flounder in its own contradictions – republican rhetoric and antecedents on the one hand, dependence on, and support for, British institutional arrangements on the other. Good luck with squaring that little circle.

  8. In Peter Taylor’s book ‘Talking to Terrorists’ (excellent read) he includes Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams so is that their tacit agreement with him? If not, how come he’s still pounding the pavements.

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