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Letters

By SuzanneLady Mahon / September 4, 1996



Reinforcing Perceptions About the IRA

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I was alarmed and dismayed to read the review of Kevin Toolis's book "Rebel Hearts: Journeys Within the IRA's Soul," in the article "Lens of Empathy Reveals the Workings of the IRA," July 17.

As an Englishwoman who has lived in Ireland for most of the last 40 years and has traveled extensively in America, I am keenly aware of the misconceptions (on both sides of the Atlantic) upon which the review is based, and of the damage such ignorance can do.

Most of the IRA's atrocities are carried out against civilians - innocent members of the public. The group bombs city centers, attacks major road and rail intersections, and destroys shopping malls at the busiest times of the day. Added to this, they are a constant presence. It can be routine to have a journey disrupted because of a suspect package or a hoax bomb warning. We have paid for it in lives, lost businesses, exorbitant taxes, and soaring insurance premiums during the last 25 years.

The reviewer brings none of these facts to bear on his analysis of this partisan book. Instead, he is evidently mesmerized by the myth, echoing the "note of awe [for the IRA], of admiration even," which he sees in Toolis's work.

Equally, he fails to place the IRA's activity in its wider context. The IRA does not represent public opinion in Ireland, either north or south. Its political wing, Sinn Fein, drew only 15 percent of the vote in recent elections in Northern Ireland.

There is a perception in this country that the United States has been one of the IRA's main sources of funds and arms. Many British people take this to mean that Americans are pro-IRA and soft on terrorists. This is absurd. And this review will have done nothing to correct it, but will have reinforced it.

It's unfortunate that it was published at a time when the US is facing terrorism within its own borders.

Suzanne, Lady Mahon

Winchester, England