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16 December 2004 Edition

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A busy week in the media

BY LAURA FRIEL

It's been a busy week in the media, with most newspapers producing lengthy articles on the imagined state of play in the stalled Peace Process. Headlines and opinions have been diverse, with talk of 'self-indulgence' and 'dancing to tunes' and 'lights going out' and 'false dawns' and 'cancer' and 'purgatory' and accusations of lying and spin and 'speaking in tongues'.

For the Sunday Business Post it was a case of the British and Irish Governments "dancing to the DUP's tune". The Post accused the two governments of pandering to Ian Paisley by appearing to back his wild card notion of photographic evidence of the IRA putting weapons beyond use.

"It is now apparent that the two leaders [Blair and Ahern] believe that republicans should meet the DUP's demand," writes Paul T Colgan. "The position adopted by the governments had been expected by Sinn Féin. Saving Private Trimble has become Saving Private Paisley."

Colgan suggested that the two governments' game plan is to "pave a way for a DUP victory over the UUP" in next year's elections "in the hope that a resounding win will embolden Paisley to be more reasonable". Hardly surprisingly, Colgan suggested such an idea is "deeply naïve" and "the strategy of DUP appeasement is a potentially dangerous one".

Dubbing the DUP leader "Dr No", the editorial identified the Unionist veto as the problem plaguing the Agreement. "The IRA has tabled a compelling offer," said the Post, while "Unionism, under its latest political leaders, the DUP, has instead raised another excuse designed to block nationalists in their pursuit of equality and just government".

Meanwhile ,the Sunday Independent was pursuing its own particular brand of anti-Agreement rhetoric, with enough vitriol to make Ian Paisley proud. It was a case of 'liar, liar your bum's on fire'. Republicans were deceitful criminals, full of 'bullshit' and masters of 'spin', declared a litany of Independent journalists on the front page.

Now just in case anyone is foolish enough to believe this nonsense, let's expose the paranoid judgement of the Independent a little further. According to failed comic Brendan O'Connor, RTÉ has become so "overwhelmed by SF/IRA spin" that "RTÉ has come to stand for the Republican Television Experience".

Inside, the Independent concentrated its efforts on Mary Harney and the Progressive Democrats, whose antagonism to Sinn Féin and the IRA is a matter of record. The DUP's insistence on a process of humiliation was not "the only outstanding issue", claimed Harney, speaking in the Dáil.

For the DUP, the process of humiliation had been defined in terms of a Polaroid; for the PDs it would involve a pledge "to stop all criminal activity". In a statement in An Phoblacht last week, the IRA reiterated its commitment to the Peace Process and confirmed it would "move into a new mode" and that IRA Volunteers would be instructed not to "engage in any activity that would endanger the Peace Process".

To anyone else these might have been words of re-assurance and renewed commitment but for the Progressive Democrats they were like a red rag to a bull. The PDs declared there was "a glaring omission" which they would not allow to pass, the IRA had "refused to renounce criminality". We were back to the old sackcloth and ashes scenario again. And the PDs were threatening to "block any North deal" without an "IRA pledge".

When Gerry Adams pointed out that attempts to criminalise republicans had failed and had led to the deaths of ten prisoners on hunger strike, the PDs and their supporters at the Independent went on overdrive. 'SF/IRA' had humiliated the Dáil and reduced the Taoiseach to "the status of a messenger boy". The problem was, wait for it, "the unrepentant behaviour of SF/IRA". And the only politician "far too cute to follow"? Ian Paisley, of course.

The Independent went even further and warned of a "new corruption" that, unlike the ordinary run of the mill political corruption that appears to have dogged the 26 Counties, is "really dangerous" and "threatens the State".

Can you guess what it is? It's the Peace Process.

"Our political parties have to experience the humiliation of being policed by a raft of ethics commissars [re Flood etc] while they are told that the word of the most ethically-corrupt political party in Europe [ie. Sinn Féin] must be 'taken on trust'," wrote John Drennan.

For The Independent and their political allies, "the prospect of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in the Dáil would be impossible".

The Sunday Tribune was also focusing on the PDs' preoccupation with bringing down the Peace Process. After a 'raw' and 'stormy' meeting the "junior coalition party has upped the stakes quite deliberately", said the Tribune, forgetting to add that 'upping the stakes' was code for 'erecting another barrier' to peace.

"The PDs are now insisting that any deal with Sinn Féin will depend on an unequivocal commitment by the IRA to end criminality." The party was full of "frustration and indignation" because of an alleged "omission" in an IRA statement but just what would satisfy the PDs? Well nothing, was the Tribune's conclusion. "The IRA could quite easily sign up" to the "wording at issue" and "still continue its criminal rackets", said the Tribune.

According to the Tribune, you can forget the intransigence of the DUP and its 'Never, never, never' leadership and ignore the last 80 years of a unionist veto to progress; the problem is the "inflexibility of Sinn Féin" and "the insistence of the IRA on holding a veto".

It was back to the old British model of two warring tribes for Liam Clarke of the Sunday Times. The DUP and Sinn Féin are as bad as each other and the editorial concurred. "Both sides are to blame for the current impasse," said the Times, and both parties are guilty of "intransigence and ineptitude".

For the Sunday Times, Paisley's demands are "within his rights" and his mistake lies only in "making a song and dance about humiliating the IRA". If Paisley had only "avoided the temptation to use inflammatory language", groaned the Times‚ editorial. But such regret is to miss the point of demanding photographs, in the first instance; it was always going to be about public humiliation and Paisley making a song and dance about it.

Keeping the biblical metaphors flowing, the Times editorial cautioned us all to "prepare for purgatory". Not only are they both as bad as each other (the war cry of the old imperialist), republicans are to blame for the DUP.

Apparently oblivious to Britain's historic (and brutal) role in creating unionism and its record of nurturing and pandering to the sectarian division of Ireland, according to the Times, "republicans have paved the way for the DUP's victory".

"Now they are faced with Ian Paisley, a curmudgeonly hardliner who has elevated triumphalism into an art form [at least we can agree on some things]. It's hard to feel much sympathy for them. They won Paisley's battle within unionism for him and now they must deal with the consequences," said the Times.

Of course, the crisis within unionism and Trimble's collapse into DUP anti-Agreement rhetoric had nothing to do with it, any more than the British Government's decision to step outside the GFA and suspend the power sharing institutions at the behest of anti-Agreement unionism.

But at least the Times ended on a 'happier' note. "History will not remember Paisley as a statesman or a diplomat. Government with him would be, as Gerry Adams put it last week, 'purgatory' but, like purgatory, it might not last indefinitely."

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