A partial, partisan view of the process by which Northern Ireland’s warring factions were brought to conference in the mid-1990s, a process that yielded the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
Adams, the longtime leader of the republican Sinn Féin party, was a key player in those negotiations—and, he is understandably reluctant to say, in the sectarian violence that made those peace talks so desirable. His memoir, certainly of interest to all who have followed the tortuous, bloody course of Northern Irish politics since the 1960s, offers numerous villains for consideration: radical unionists, who favored keeping Northern Ireland a part of the UK; the Royal Ulster Constabulary, given to spraying Catholic neighborhoods with machine-gun fire; and especially the British government, and even more especially the administration of Margaret Thatcher. (“When ten men died in the H-Blocks” following hunger strikes in the early 1980s, Adams insists in a typical turn of rhetoric, “Margaret Thatcher and her regime were seen to be the criminals.”) These three forces, Adams writes, were responsible for introducing an early campaign of “ethnic cleansing” in Northern Ireland by forcing the relocation of hundreds of Catholic families in 1969, which quickened the pace of violence and retaliation; all three behaved badly since, reluctant to give up the gun and truncheon. On the other side, the Irish Republican Army (of which Sinn Féin is the legal, political wing) committed its share of atrocities, too, and while Adams doesn’t much like to talk about such things, he does admit IRA responsibility for the Enniskillen bombing of 1987, when 11 civilians died: “My response,” Adams writes, “was that what the IRA did was wrong. The people who had gathered there were victims of an IRA action which should not have happened.” Finally weary of the bloodshed, the warring parties agreed to negotiations in the mid-1990s, a process moved forward by intervention from a farther shore indeed—namely, Irish-American politicians and Bill Clinton, who took a strong interest in brokering a peace that has yet to be fully realized.
An account that will likely satisfy those with republican sympathies. A truly objective take on the Troubles and the peacemaking process will probably have to be written by a Martian.