The Provos' Big Mistake

By Kent, Gary | New Statesman (1996), December 15, 2008 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Provos' Big Mistake

Kent, Gary, New Statesman (1996)

Gunsmoke and Mirrors: How Sinn Fein Dressed Up Defeatas Victory

Henry McDonald

Gill & Macmillan, 256pp, [pounds sterling]16.99

This is the tale of two IRAs, the Officials and the Provisionals, which split in 1969 over whether to reform or destroy Northern Ireland. The Officials renounced violence and their political wing embarked on a journey on which its most gifted parliamentarians became leaders of the Irish Labour Party. However, the Provisionals prevailed in the early 1970s even as the peaceful civil rights movement emerged successfully to tackle discrimination. They became "the most well-armed and sophisticated paramilitary force in the western world", according to this veteran Ireland correspondent's book.

The supreme irony is that the Provisionals' belief in sickening the UK into abandoning Northern Irish Protestants has substantially or perhaps permanently deferred Irish unity. "A charade of gunsmoke and mirrors" has subsequently covered a retreat from their early revolutionary rhetoric as Sinn Fein plays catch-up with the Officials and the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

This fast-paced and passionate (but occasionally sloppy) polemic is a scathing indictment of republican illusions and brutality, without neglecting loyalist and state actions, in a conflict that claimed thousands of lives and cost billions. Henry McDonald argues that the Provos spent years sending violent messages to "the wrong address"-to the UK Establishment rather than the local Protestants. They were long dismissed as imperialist stooges but are now being "love-bombed" by Sinn Fein, which requires some of them to amass a majority for unification.

Republicans failed to cajole the UK into withdrawing and being a persuader for unification. Instead, London built solid relations with the Irish government and insisted that Irish unity required consent rather than coercion. In the 1990s, republicans gradually dumped the ballot box and Armalite for an unarmed strategy to advance a unitary Ireland through an alliance of UK sympathisers, nationalist Ireland in the 2.6 counties, and American supporters.


However, these hopes evaporated and Irish unity seems unlikely by 2016-the centenary of the Easter Rising. Partition is an increasing fact of life in the Republic, where Sinn Fein is more isolated because it is seen as irrelevant to domestic issues. Hostility there has also been fuelled by several high-profile, bitterly contested and so far unresolved murders.

The United States became less sympathetic after the 11 September 2001 attacks, and even before that the IRA's dalliance with Fare narcoter-rorists in Colombia infuriated the Bush administration, which rounded on Gerry Adams.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Provos' Big Mistake


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?