It’s hard to move in Dublin bookshops these days: you have to negotiate the mounds of books on every conceivable aspect of Ireland. Economics, politics, history, literature, social structures, religion, examinations of our ‘culture’ and ‘identity’ – these are the stuff of our latest native industry. Just try finding a book on ‘the English identity’ in Foyle’s or Black-well’s. Bruce Arnold, a political commentator for the Irish Independent, has now added his contribution to this profusion, What Kind of Country, subtitled ‘Modern Irish Politics 1968-1983’.[*] This book was the subject of a particularly vitriolic review in the Sunday Tribune by one Martin Mansergh. Mansergh’s father, Nicholas, is the distinguished Cambridge historian, and Mansergh fils (a Protestant) is Head of Research in the opposition Fianna Fail party. ‘Research’ is Fianna Fail code for ‘Northern Ireland’, and English readers will get some idea of Mansergh’s consequent relationship with his leader, Charles Haughey, if they consider Mephistopheles and Faust. Bruce Arnold is English, and has lived here for many years. His weekly column in the Independent is undoubtedly pro-Government in taste and bias or, more accurately, anti-Fianna Fail. This has become more evident (and Arnold’s column less valuable) since he and another journalist had their private phones bugged by the last Fianna Fail Administration in 1982. Ostensibly this was to gather ‘useful information concerning subversive activity’, but plainly it was because Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy were writing articles on the strains and splits within Fianna Fail.
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[*] Cape, 241 pp., £12. 50 and £3. 95, 26 April, 0 224 02046 3.