Cruise O’Brien’s part in a sordid chapter of recent Irish history

THE indignant rant of Pierce Martin (Letters, January 12) in response to my letter of January 5 (‘Intellectual giant who turned into a political pygmy’) clearly shows that even three generations into partition, and all the horrors that have flowed from that seismic event, there are still some among us who resent the removal of British colonialism from Ireland.

Mr Martin vents his anger at the British government for “yielding to terrorists and their irrational demands” by entering into negotiations with republicans in 1921.

In the 1918 general election, probably the key defining moment in modern Irish history, Sinn Féin were given an overwhelming mandate to establish an independent all-Ireland state.

In contrast, the previously dominant Irish Parliamentary Party, still campaigning for the elusive Home Rule, was swept from power and even its leader John Dillon failed to be re-elected. The refusal of the British government to recognise the legitimacy of the 1918 general election and the first Dáil in January 1919, and the subsequent insistence of the British to continue to impose its rule in Ireland against the democratic wishes of a majority of the people, led to the War of Independence.

It is risible for Mr Martin to imply the Irish electorate, having elected to power in 1918 a political party which espoused separation from Britain, should acquiesce to a belligerent imperial bully and permit the continuation of its domination. Mr Martin went on to claim that when viewed within its proper context, my attempt to besmirch Dr O’Brien’s reputation “vanishes like smoke in the wind”.

It was not my intention to besmirch Dr O’Brien’s reputation. I didn’t have to — he had already done that himself.

In my letter of January 5, I quoted from the interim report of the commission of inquiry, led by Mr Justice Henry Barron, into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

The inquiry stated that “the Government of the day showed little interest in the bombings”.

To add further substance to my criticism of Dr O’Brien, allow me to quote from a former Government colleague of his, Justin Keating, Minister for Industry and Commerce in the coalition government of 1973-’77.

In December 2003, Mr Keating, in offering a fulsome apology, said he “accepted and admired the contents of the (Barron) report”.

He said he “believed the report was accurate” and added: “I don’t believe we (the government) showed the diligence in pursuing it that we should have done... and I think there were political reasons which seemed good to the government of the time but which did not, and don’t seem, good to me”.

Speaking about his autobiography in 1998, Dr O’Brien revealed that in 1974 he had supported police brutality by a group who went on to beat confessions out of, and obtain convictions against, innocent people.

Dr O’Brien, by his inaction, set standards of behaviour among some members of An Garda Síochána that were damaging not only to civil liberties, but to the reputation of the gardaí — a reputation which has commanded due respect since the foundation of the force.

In a further bout of spleen, Dr O’Brien, on his appointment as editor-in-chief of the Observer newspaper, sacked journalist Mary Holland because of an article she had written for the Observer magazine to mark the 10th anniversary of the Troubles in the North, and of which he disapproved.

This article is still regarded as one of the most accurate and influential reports ever printed on the Troubles. This action by Dr O’Brien spoke volumes about his journalistic and political ethics.

To give blind allegiance to Conor Cruise O’Brien, as Pierce Martin does, is to ignore fact and contribute to the myth of his greatness, and confers a bogus respectability on what can only be described as a sordid and squalid chapter in recent Irish history.

Tom Cooper

Delaford Lawn


Dublin 16

More in this section


Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox

Discover the

Install our free app today

Available on


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

  • 2
  • 10
  • 12
  • 13
  • 38
  • 40
  • 17

Full Lotto draw results »