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29 April 2004 Edition

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Nazis and Gulags - The media response to the IMC

BY LAURA FRIEL

The media just can't make up its mind. For Ireland on Sunday, the IMC report "could destroy Adam's reputation as a statesman", while for the Sunday Times it was like water off a duck's back. The IMC report "would be expected to cause problems for most political leaders, but not Adams", wrote that well known anti-republican, Liam Clarke.

On the day of the IMC's publication, Clarke recorded that Adams "enjoyed the same largely uncritical reception when he addressed a meeting of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce" and worse still, "it was so large that it had to be moved from its original venue to the Burlington Hotel to accommodate the crowd".

While the tabloid press indulged in the failed rhetoric of gangsters and godfathers reminiscent of the criminalisation strategy, Liam Clarke adopted the more subtle approach of criticising Adams for being too 'constitutional'. With half the media screaming for Sinn Féin to fully embrace the democratic process, Mary, Mary quite Contrary reminded the Sinn Féin leadership of the teachings of Mao Tse-tung.

"The extent of Sinn Féin's march is considerable but where exactly is it taking the party?" wrote, Clarke but the question was merely a prop to enable the reply. "The answer is that it is bringing it into the heart of constitutional politics, to the very space that it once decried the SDLP, Fianna Fáil and the old Northern Nationalist party for occupying," wrote Clarke.

But this isn't the simple 'it's a sell out' story attempting to sow disquiet within republican grass roots. Clarke's message remains one of political exclusion. If republicans are allowed to enter the political institutions, Clarke warned, "the democratic process will be corrupted and debased".

Meanwhile, the Sunday World was pushing the propaganda boat out and allegations of cheating and coffers and crime weren't enough. Blood was in the water and the feeding frenzy had begun.

"Their Godfathers, Gerry Adams and Martin Ferris, tried their best to bully and intimidate and lie their way out of trouble," wrote crime editor Paul Williams, but "Sinn Féin and the IRA were finally officially exposed by the Independent Monitoring Commission as a mob of lying, cheating, criminal thugs".

The list of allegations is as familiar as it is endless. The Republican Movement "has metamorphosed into this country's new Mafia specialising in drugs, extortion, prostitution and fraud", wrote Williams, "while their growing army of liars in politics" are buying "scores of luxury holiday homes".

Nothing escaped the journalist's bile. According to Williams, even the peace process is just a licence for Sinn Féin "to rob, cheat, steal and murder to their heart's content". And democracy is "only a means to an end. To get hold of complete power and turn the Republic into a Sinn Féin fascist state".

Williams appears unable to make up his mind. One moment, Sinn Féin is nothing more than a bunch of "spoilt brats", the next its members are drug dealers and then again anti-drug beaters; one minute they're socialists, the next they're fascists. My personal favourite is Williams' wildly delusional notion of Sinn Féiners running "lap-dancing businesses which is nothing more than a front for white slavery".

And this is how Williams identifies Sinn Féin as "the nearest thing we have ever had to the Nazi party in this country". The comparison with fascism is plain to see, said Williams. And this is how Williams suggests you can spot fascism when you see it. According to Williams, the first sign is "there is never a hint of debate or disagreement among them" and the second, that "Sinn Féin spokespeople are always on message" (This must come as a great relief to Richard McAuley, Dawn Doyle, et al).

But of course, the nonsense spinners didn't have it all their own way, for every article of denunciation against republicans there was another slamming the IMC and its flawed report.

Writing in the Sunday Tribune, Susan McKay described the IMC report as "pompous, biased and full of errors" and suffering from "a general shoddiness".

McKay questioned the IMC's supposed 'independence', highlighted the commission's anti-republican bias and accused them of wilful ignorance and hypocrisy.

"There is much opining about "the responsibility we feel to everyone in NI to help them end paramilitary activity" but, writes McKay, "there is no evidence of any understanding of working class communities, whether loyalist or republican.

"The bias is clear in, for example, the way it declines to name the Orange Order, while telling the story of a man who had been a member of a 'society' for many years but felt betrayed when another member of the 'society' carried out an attack on a member of his family and was not expelled." McKay identified the story as a loyalist murder by an Orangeman and asked, "why so coy"?

"The Orange Order has welcomed the support of loyalist paramilitaries and will this summer once again attempt to parade through Catholic areas, along with bands which openly declare their paramilitary credentials. Will Orange politicians, including leading members of both the DUP and the UUP, be sanctioned? Not by this commission," wrote McKay.

McKay cited the hypocrisy of highlighting cases that are sub judice, such as the Tohill and O'Hare cases, in sharp contrast to the British Government's position on the Pat Finucane case. "There can be no inquiry says the Prime Minister because of pending criminal prosecutions. Will the IMC's next report deal with the claim made by a member of Stevens' inquiry team that the British Government tried to get it to make misleading statements in order to block an inquiry into this, its involvement in paramilitary murder? No."

Meanwhile, the Andersonstown News announced that the "IMC can take their report and shove it". According to Robin Livingstone, "the IMC report reads like something straight out of a secret police report from Stalinist Russia, only without the style.

"I'm telling you that your tawdry attempts to put us back behind the wire of the gulag we used to live in will fail miserably, just as surely as your attempts to get us to vote Alliance, move to Craigavon, listen to the Cardinal, back the RUC and keep bloody well quiet failed as well," wrote Livingstone.

"It failed because the people who were trying to get us to do these things were exploding children's heads with plastic bullets, blasting Pat Finucane to death in front of his wife and children and slaughtering Rosemary Nelson for refusing to be a good Fenian and stick to conveyancing.

"They sentenced men and women by the thousand to life on evidence that wouldn't have passed muster in Idi Amin's Uganda, drank pints with loyalist sledgehammer gangs, tortured, robbed, interned, gassed, abducted and censored."

For the Sunday Business Post, the IMC report was just part of an elaborate charade, published, "two months early and issued at a moment when it was certain to put the kibosh on any talks between the northern parties."

The Post's 'Backroom' reporter suggested that the DUP has no intention of getting involved in substantive talks until they defeat the UUP in 2005 and until then Blair and Ahern have decided to "coerce republicans".

"The six-monthly reports by the IMC — or more frequent ones if Dublin and London decide that suits their purpose — will ratchet up the pressure on republicans," said the SBP.

But such a strategy is flawed because it "hands the DUP a veto on any talks because each IMC report creates a deadline which the DUP will exploit.

"Unless the report is to their satisfaction they will refuse to negotiate with Sinn Féin. Guess what? They will never be satisfied."

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