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Toffs, Mopes and Cokes

The Anglo-Irish Murders
Lines of Most Resistance
Bandit Country - the IRA and South Armagh
by Ruth Dudley Edwards
by Edward Pearce
by Toby Harnden

by Gary Kent

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The Anglo-Irish Murders
by Ruth Dudley Edwards
Harper Collins

Ruth Dudley Edwards has carved out a niche for herself with a series of irreverent murder thrillers satirising the British establishment and political correctness. Her latest foray is well suited to her as a Dublin-born writer who is heavily involved in Anglo-Irishry.

The Anglo-Irish Murders takes the piss out of the "peace and reconciliation industry." The action is set at a conference on "cultural sensitivities" which is inhabited by the key players in the peace process. These appear in thinly veiled disguise and include the "cultural stormtroopers" of the MOPEs (Most Oppressed People Ever), the DUPEs (Downtrodden Unionists for Parity of Esteem). A worse mixture of the truculent, intransigent, insensitive, hypocritical and lethal is difficult to imagine.

The murders start too late in the plot but then they come thick and fast. Dudley Edwards pulls no punches in her merciless mickey-taking (no offence or pun intended) and her revisionist observations. One such is the Irish farmer's comment: "I don't give a shite if we have a United Ireland. As long as it has no effect whatsoever on the twenty-six counties." I happen to know that this was originally said by a Dublin cabby. There's much more like this to prick the pompous.

There is a serious point, however. Assuming that the "wars" are over, we shall be seeing many more cultural conflicts as different sides seek to win support for their versions of the past in order to dominate the future. Marrying politics and a thriller is not easy and Dudley Edwards doesn't always pull it off. But this novel would make a good present for your best friend or your worst enemy. I'm tempted to send a copy to Tim Pat Coogan.

Lines of Most Resistance
by Edward Pearce
Little, Brown

Ed Pearce seems to have found a rich seam of parody but in fact it is the recorded rantings of rabid reactionaries in the Lords and their press against both Home Rule for Ireland and reform of the Lords, from the time of Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George. Pearce may have degraded his eyesight with repeat visits to the microfiche but has done us all a favour by unearthing priceless examples of racism, ignorance and stupidity from Hansard and right-wing journals. Pearce is erudite and usually has a lovely turn of phrase - for example, referring to Gladstone's party management skills over the Home Rule Bill in 1886 - "Gladstone was an inspirational statesman and a terrible personnel manager." It is not always light reading and would have benefited from a chronology of events and glossary for those who would get lost in the thickets of the times.

Bandit Country - the IRA and South Armagh
by Toby Harnden
Hodder and Stoughton

The former Daily Telegraph Ireland correspondent, Toby Harnden's best-selling book on South Armagh is, unfortunately, no parody but a fascinating and unrelenting account of what makes "Bandit Country" a place apart from both the rest of Northern Ireland and Ireland. Death and violence fill most pages. There were nearly 2,500 bomb and shooting attacks within a 10-mile radius of the heart of South Armagh during the Troubles. The IRA's London bombs and the Real IRA's Omagh bombs were built there. Both Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher toyed with redrawing the border so that it could be shuffled into the Republic of Ireland - Wilson is quoted as saying "Should the Government of the Republic show enthusiasm, it is a matter that we should not be slow to follow up, but I think that it is most unlikely."

Harnden allows the key players, both paramilitaries and security forces, to speak for themselves as he details the brutal derring-do and audacious, aggressive and accurate ingenuity of the South Armagh IRA in perfecting their sniping, bombing and smuggling - a traditional pastime in South Armagh which allows, it is said, many volunteers to live very well. Fuel smuggling alone costs the Treasury some £460 million a year in lost taxes. Harnden concedes that the Provos have popular support and concludes that "even a genuine political accommodation in Northern Ireland is unlikely to bring to an end a rebellion that has already lasted centuries," although the security forces had made inroads into this "forensic redoubt." The great fear now is that the Real IRA (the Cokes, after the Real Thing) will take over from the Provos.

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Gary Kent is the Westminster Correspondent of the Belfast based Fortnight Magazine. This article appears in the January, 2001 edition of the Fortnight.

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