A human story of the Northern Ireland troubles

24th of October 2009– A human story of the Northern Ireland troubles – By Avid – There are two stories here, the human story of a family man and friend, and the story of a Special Branch officer who was fighting in what was a very dirty war.
I greatly enjoyed reading about the family life and friendships and I feel the book was well worth reading as a human story. Ian was by all accounts a good friend to friends and a source of pain and suffering to his enemies, this was what he got paid for. Fluffy bunnies don’t inhabit the sharp end of any war effort.

The Special Branch part of the story was pieced together from diary entries of the officer, as such lacked the warts and all quality that would have provided a true picture of how the war was being fought. The first casualty of war is truth, and truth is always subjective and murky grey as opposed to black or white.

In reading his thoughts on strategy with regard to winning the military side of the war against the IRA he was prone to using the SAS to protect the police from any scrutiny that might arise out of dead terrorists, which I suppose he thought of as fair game. I would say that this policy was probably the best recruiting sergeant for the IRA at the time. Many people were killed who could have been arrested.
The book preempted and “brushed off” allegations of collusion between security forces and Loyalist/Republican terrorists. To have a book on the troubles without even one entry of concern about the Stevens Inquiries was unusual, given that Stevens concluded in 1990 that collusion was,” neither wide-spread nor institutionalized.”

The crash happened in 1994 so I would have thought that Ian would have had day to day meetings with Stevens’s enquiry team members, yet it was never mentioned once in the book.

Perhaps Ian felt that he didn’t want to “go there”, at any rate, by 2003 Stevens had revised his views and decided that collusion was,” a level way beyond his 1990 view.”

It is odd that an insider account didn’t even mention worries that the rule of law was being subverted by the very people charged with upholding the law. There was never a moment in the book where the morality of how the war was being fought was mentioned.
In light of his death we shall never know if he would have included a chapter or chapters on this later from a safer position. For that reason I feel that this part of the book lacked the credentials it claimed to have and the impartial tone of the book suffered as a result.
I would still recommend it and it is worth noting that we have no way of knowing what Ian Phoenix would have written had he lived. The authours did the best they could with the information they had.

All and all it was a good book, I would recommend you read it with the proviso that you should also read the following books for balance: Stakeknife: Britain’s Secret Agents in Ireland, The Committee: Political Assassination In Northern Ireland (Banned in the UK), Gangs And Counter-Gangs by Frank Kitson.