ECHOWAVE by JOE JOYCE ; a review

ECHOWAVE
JOE JOYCE
LIBERTIES PRESS 329 pp €13.99

Echowave, by popular author and journalist Joe Joyce, is the third book to feature hero Paul Duggan, a captain in Irish Army Intelligence during the early years of World War Two when Ireland strove to preserve a precarious neutrality.

Echowave, set in 1941, follows his previously acclaimed books, Echoland and Echobeat, but is also a thoroughly entertaining stand-alone novel. Like them it is a stylish and accomplished thriller which evokes the period, the political pressures and the atmosphere of the time in a markedly realistic fashion.

The Dublin of 1941 is brought to life, from the huge mound of turf in the Phoenix Park – the “New Bog Road” as the Dublin wits had it – to a society where reliance on the black market to counter wartime shortages was almost a prerequisite for survival. Additionally. much of the book’s action takes place in Lisbon. Portugal, like Ireland, was a neutral country and Lisbon, because of its location, was the European spy centre during the War. Joyce’s portrayal of the Lisbon of the time, under the autocratic thumb of Salazar, is particularly compelling.

Now, we take our neutrality for granted. Back then it was anything but. For this was June 1941. Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany and was just emerging from the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. Germany and its allies dominated the Continent and, even as it undertook the fatal mistake of attacking the Soviet Union, seemed likely to prevail over Britain. The United States was neutral, though very clearly committed to supporting Britain, through Lend-Lease and Atlantic convoys, as well as preparing for war with the first peacetime draft in 1940.

Neutral Ireland was being squeezed. Ireland was heavily dependent on Britain and her ships for vital supplies, her Atlantic ports a prize for Britain and the USA, offering a potential haven to convoys under sustained U Boat attack. Churchill was making noises about seizing them, and seemed deterred only by his military and intelligence advisers. Germany was pressing for Ireland not to favour Britain; the North Strand bombing in May 1941, killing twenty eight, emphasised what entering the war might involve.

The novel opens with Paul Duggan in Lisbon, tasked to convince German intelligence there that he is an IRA man, acting as the contact and conduit for a captured German spy, Hermann Goertz. On his return he is sent to Mayo to investigate the crash of a US plane, its cargo looted by black marketeers. The cargo was mainly consumer luxuries for the US Embassy in London, but contained also a piece of secret military hardware – the Norden bombsight – of considerable interest to the Germans. Duggan and his Special Branch associate, Peter Gifford, must find the bombsight before the Germans do. They recover it after some revealing encounters with Irish black marketeers.

But what to do then? Here a number of strands become entwined. The British want to plant some disinformation. The USA wants to catch a high level German spy ring. Ireland, with her supply situation becoming critical, needs two ships promised by the Americans who are foot-dragging over delivery. And the Germans want the bombsight. The consequences for Ireland of a wrong move could be very serious and open to misinterpretation. Paul Duggan must return to Lisbon to work out a satisfactory solution. The pace and tension are maintained to the end in what is a satisfying, highly readable and informative book about Ireland’s not too distant past.

One for the Christmas stockings.

S.F.
1/12/2015

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WINTER IS COMING by GARRY KASPAROV ; a review

WINTER IS COMING

GARRY KASPAROV

ATLANTIC BOOKS 320pp €17.99 e book €13.89
Garry Kasparov, long time World Chess Champion and one of the greatest chess players ever, retired from professional chess in 2005 to join the political opposition in Russia. He was jailed briefly and is now, like many of Putin’s opponents, in exile. This book is an emotionally charged look at Russia since the fall of Communism, centred on the rise and rule of Vladimir Putin.

With a title lifted from “Game of Thrones” and a subtitle that reads “ Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World must be stopped,” the content and tone of the book is not hard to discern. It’s difficult to find anything good to say about Putin and Kasparov doesn’t disappoint, delivering a polemic against Putin combined with a scathing attack on Western politicians for failing to stand up to him.

Kasparov traces the rollercoaster evolution of Russia since 1991. Yeltsin, though flawed, and increasingly corrupt, was the least bad leader for Russia at a time when there was a very real threat that the Communists might return. His 1996 victory over Zyuganov was relatively narrow, and, per Kasparov , Zyuganov was not the “performing pet Communist he is for Putin today” but rather a determined Communist revanchist who had resolutely opposed every liberal reform.

Interestingly, Kasparov suggests that the rise of the Oligarchs was facilitated by Yeltsin’s reformers, Gaidar and Chubais, worried lest the economic reforms might be rolled back by conservatives , selling off the state’s assets at absurdly low valuations. There was, however, freedom of a sort, in politics and the media, though the last two years of Yeltsin’s presidency were marred by increased and obvious corruption, a serious economic meltdown, resurgence of the war in Chechnya, rising crime levels and terror incidents in Russia itself.

Enter Vladimir Putin, relatively unknown, and, as Kasparov wryly notes, someone he then considered perhaps “might just be what Russia needed at the time.” The next fifteen years proved how wrong he was. Putin consolidated his hold on power, crushed the Chechens in a brutal occupation, cowed his domestic political and financial opponents and gradually tightened state control of the media. Kasparov suggests an analogy with the mafia, with Putin rising to become the capo di tutti capi in what is virtually a mafia state. He has now embarked on foreign adventures, annexing the Crimea, supporting Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine and intervening in Syria.

Play ball with Putin and you will survive. Oppose him and suffer the consequences – prison for Khodorkovsky., exile for Berezovsky (and Kasparov!), death for Litvinenko , Anna Politkovskaja, and, most recently, Kasparov’s friend Boris Nemtsov. His rule has been consolidated until recently by rising oil prices. The number of billionaires in 2000 was zero; by 2015 it stood at eighty eight. Kasparov notes that, in 2008, with genuine opponents disqualified from running by one subterfuge or another, the presidential contest was between “ the token nationalist nutcase Zhirinovsky, the token Communist caveman, Zyuganov, and Putin, represented by his shadow, Medvedev”.

The book’s second theme is that the West should have taken action against Putin earlier and should take stronger measures now – including, for example, sanctioning or restricting Russia’s energy exports to Europe, as well as arming Ukraine. Kasparov is scathing about the West’s political leaders, Schroeder, Sarkozy, Clinton and Obama in particular, for pursuing policies akin to appeasement, when different policies could have helped bring about a different Russia. Yet Kasparov concedes also that Putin is a Russian problem and it is for Russians to figure out how to remove him.

A fascinating and thought provoking book.

S.F.
8/11/2015

1916 : THE MORNINGS AFTER by TIM PAT COOGAN : a review

1916 : THE MORNINGS AFTER

TIM PAT COOGAN

HEAD OF ZEUS 329 pp €22.50

Tim Pat Coogan has been writing books about Ireland for half a century. His latest – the sixteenth – has the subtitle “From the Courts Martial to the Tribunals” and gives the author’s highly personal and idiosyncratic view of the period since the 1916 Rising.

In 1966 Coogan, now eighty, published his first book, “ Ireland Since the Rising.” As he notes in the current work, it was “suffused with optimism” as Ireland celebrated the golden jubilee of the Rising and the emergence of a new generation of decision makers. Two decades later he wrote “Disillusioned Decades”, commenting that the title said it all. “The Mornings After” he describes as chronicling “what can validly be termed the age of scandal and betrayal.”

Coogan sets out to tackle some of “the uncomfortable realities of what has happened in this country” as 2016 approaches. The tone is very much sorrow mixed with anger. He contrasts the ideals of 1916 as expressed in the Proclamation and the sacrifice of the leaders , with events thereafter, culminating in the catalogue of scandals, cover-ups and corruption recently revealed . He is particularly seized with the failure to cherish “all of the children of the nation equally.”

The book is entertaining and easy to read , with some good quotes and stories as well as reminders of events overlooked or forgotten. Any 300 page book covering this period must necessarily be selective and the author combines a focus on certain issues with a broad-brush approach that is anecdotal rather than analytical .

The first sections take the story from the Rising to 1932. These are followed by events since and developments in the North from the Troubles to the Good Friday Agreement. The last chapters are taken up with the failings and scandals enveloping the Catholic Church – Coogan’s major bete noire – together with the revelations in recent decades of political and business corruption and financial mismanagement.

One anecdote from 1916 recounts how Tom Clarke, the night before his execution, was humiliated and stripped naked on the orders of a British captain; several years later Michael Collins had the officer shot. Coogan notes that as acts of historical reprisal go “the Irish executions were comparatively mild” but decisively transformative. And he quotes O Higgins during the Civil War, when the Government began shooting republican prisoners, that “This is not going to be a draw, with a replay in the autumn.” De Valera, long one of Coogan’s targets, is characterised as “supremely lucky”, though given praise for the feat of keeping Ireland neutral in World War Two.

The Northern section focuses on the Blanket Protest ( on which Coogan wrote a book) and the Hunger Strikes, including Bobby Sands’ comment that “ our revenge will be the laughter of our children”. Paisley’s malign influence is acknowledged as is his 2007 volte face. But the biggest plaudits are for Albert Reynolds who was “absolutely instrumental” in securing a peace deal, achieving more than all his predecessors combined.

The major recurring theme throughout the book is the Catholic Church. Coogan makes positive reference to its role in Irish society at times since the Famine. He cites examples of decent and dedicated churchmen, from Bishop O’ Dwyer of Limerick in 1916 to Bishop Birch of Ossory and to the continued current activities of Brother Crowley and Peter McVerry as well as the important role of Fr Alex Reid in the Northern Peace process.

But these and others pale against the prevailing Church culture – controlling and manipulative, particularly where the sexual morals of the nation were concerned. This Church was typified by dominant figures such as Archbishop McQuaid, Bishop Browne of Galway, Lucey of Cork and others reflecting the “ self-satisfied” attitude of a Church leadership which ran hospitals, schools and institutions later shown to be rife with abuse. The Vatican is censured for its sustained support for the Irish hierarchy.

“Paedeophilia is unfortunately one of the areas in which the Irish demonstrably punch above their weight.” Coogan is not, of course, referring to the Irish as a whole, but rather to the incidence of paedophilia among “ priests who are either Irish or of Irish descent,” quoting additionally Pope Francis’ estimate that two per cent of all priests could be paedophiles. The usual cases are cited, Sean Fortune and Brendan Smyth ,who indirectly brought down a government and a Cardinal, as well as the more recent Fr Paul McGuinness, all protected by a culture of secrecy and cover-up.

That culture applied also to the horrific saga of institutional sexual and physical abuse in places such as Daingean, Glencree, Clonmel and Artane as well as the notorious Magdalen Laundries . Moreover, when the extent of the scandals was publicised, what Coogan describes as a “deplorable compensation deal” was negotiated in 2002 between the then Minister for Education Michael Woods and eighteen religious congregations which effectively indemnified the orders against legal liabilities, at a cost to date in excess of € 1 billion. Far from cherishing all children equally, he observes “ In these institution, it seems rather that children were all victimised equally.”

The concluding chapters feature “a never ending conveyor belt of scandals” – including Ansbacher, DIRT, the Galway Tent, right down to the present – in some of which Charlie Haughey ( another recurring “player”) features. Haughey’s well known misdeeds are detailed again here as is the charge by Judge Moriarty that he devalued democracy and his avoidance of prosecution after a judge ruled he could not get a fair trial . Separately Coogan claims that when diagnosed with cancer in 1996 Haughey refused to have his prostate removed lest it make him impotent.

The Stardust Disaster Inquiry is covered and comparisons made with the Cavan orphanage fire of 1943. Lest we forget also Coogan reminds us of the Hepatitis C scandal and the tragic case of Brigid McCole.

Coogan packs in some of the findings of political and business corruption from the McCracken, Moriarty , Mahon and Beef Tribunals together with the post -2008 revelations about the antics of banks, bankers and speculators which brought the Troika down on the country. The Anglo Tapes, the curious ongoing Cerberus affair are also mentioned. The author calls for increased powers for the Public Accounts Committee and greater transparency under the FOI legislation.

Yet Tim Pat manages to end on a cautiously positive note, describing the economic situation today as improving after the government took “ the dreadful but, overall, necessary decisions needed to get through” the “worst crisis since independence”. There is praise and admiration also for the GAA today as providing “a working model” for some of the aims and ideals of 1916.

S.F.
19/10/15