Saturday, May 14, 2011


I had occasion recently to do a clearout of old papers in the course of which I came across a very interesting monograph written in 1985 on the crisis in Northern Ireland. You might like to read it? But first a bit of background on the author.

Marianne was born in France of Irish-French parents, and French was the language of the home.

When it came to career time, she decided she wanted to be an interpreter and went to the interpretation school in Geneva, just across the border from where she lived in France.

Sensibly, one of the course requirements was to spend some time in a country of the language she was hoping to interpret, and, while there, complete a monograph on some aspect of that country's linguistic, social or political life.

Marianne was taking English and Spanish, and, as she had Irish relations, she decided to come to Ireland and do her English language monograph here. Given the intensity of the Northern Ireland problem at that time (1985) she decided to do the monograph on the North.

She read widely around the subject before she put pen to paper and when she got around to formulating her outline she had a well thought out analysis of the situation from a political science viewpoint.

One aspect of her approach was to distinguish between what was going on at the political level on the one hand and the underlying interplay of violence (physical force) on the other. In doing this, she naturally assigned the IRA, UDA, RUC, Crown Forces etc. into the latter category. At the end of the day, these entities were all engaged in trying to force a military solution.

I thought this a perfectly valid academic approach to analysing the problem. Imagine my surprise then when her supervisor in Geneva threw a freaker. No way were the Forces of the Crown going to appear in the same bucket as the IRA. She was told that these two groups were in no way morally equivalent and could not therefore be lumped into the same section of the analysis.

What a load of cobblers that was. But what provoked this irrational, unscientific and unacademic outburst? The explanation soon emerged. Her supervisor was British.

As she needed her qualification, she had to compromise, which she did, barely.

You can read her paper here. I think that anyone with a modicum of understanding of the Northern Ireland situation, as it evolved up to 1985, and, indeed, since, will see that the paper was well thought out, and even prescient.

I leave it to you to judge.


spailpinlux said...

Absolutely marvellous analysis really hit the nail on the head at that period.

I myself have experienced nasty comments regarding the northern Ireland situation from "Little Englanders" who had absolutely no knowledge of the Northern Ireland situation but wanted to trumpet the "enlightened approach" of their army and government, totally ignoring the fact that they were a major part of the problem.

Congratulations ...very well done.

Cathal from Luxembourg

Anonymous said...

How fascinating - and frustrating for her.
Funnily enough I've met various Swiss people who studied N.Ireland trouble academically - as a European case study. Felt a bit odd to be the subject of such attention.
I remember when studying history at secondary school, we took a module which was originally titled "The Irish Problem" - after some protesting it was altered to "The Irish Question". I myself prefer Ireland's Disease: The English in Ireland 1887 by Paschal Grousset.
But each to their own.