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22 March 2007 Edition

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Media View

Democracy and Diarmuid McDermott

By john o’brien

Regular readers of this column will have noticed how prominently does the Sunday Independent feature in the list of worst offenders against good taste and journalistic integrity – a phrase, indeed, that is an insult in Middle Abbey Street today.
The sheer abandon with which the Sindo screeches out its rightwing message is only matched by a total lack of subtlety or balance.  It is possible to be rightwing and anti-republican even while keeping some semblance of honest debate, but the Sindo is having none of that.  This is Norman Tebbitt bootboy politics at its worst.
Last Sunday was no exception, again.  Still at the front of the paper’s concerns – after its ritualistic condemnation of republicanism – is the issue of stamp duty, with the caped crusaders increasingly turning their ire against Brian Cowen.
Of course, the Sindo has never been known for any concern for accuracy, and making up sources is second nature, but it was very hard to keep a straight face when I read the latest chapter.
Under the heading “Home tax: ministers snubbed by Cowen”, Ronald Quinlan “exclusively” revealed that one senior minister had told him that there was serious concern about Cowen ignoring the stamp duty issue. He then actually wrote the following nonsense:
“Once Michael McDowell, a senior minister, raised the issue at the PD party think-in last September, people started to ask why something couldn’t be done about it. That was followed by the articles in the Sunday Independent, a very influential newspaper. If there weren’t questions on the doorsteps before, or if there wasn’t an awareness of stamp duty and the potential for reform, there is now.”
However ‘influential’ the Sindo may or may not be, it beggars belief that anyone – senior minister or not – would make such a quote.  Instead the statement has all the hallmarks of an internal Sindo editorial meeting, with the assembled hacks fighting fiercely to pat each other on the back.
More sinister is the supposed wording of a letter which the Sindo claims was sent by a Corkman to Cowen before the budget in which he says that “if house prices increase as a result of removing stamp duty, at least the increase can be borrowed as part of a mortgage and not remain an additional cost”.
This is incredibly prescient of the Cork house purchaser and Sindo supporter, because this argument – that removing stamp duty will only result in house prices going up to the benefit of builders and speculators rather than the state – has only become part of the general debate in the last two weeks!
You’ve got to hand it to the Sindo, they’re always ahead of the posse, even if the line they peddle is one that suits their editors, owners and controllers.  And even if they only let the rest of us know after the event.

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Still, the pièce de résistance last Sunday had to be Diarmuid McDermott’s exposé of the outrageous way that the Shinners win votes in elections.  You might have thought that voters responded to the political campaigning carried on by Sinn Féin activists.  Not a bit:  it’s just a “ruthless application of military-style tactics to electoral politics.”
And if that doesn’t have you quaking in your boots, the bold Diarmuid tells us that “the new political soldiers of Sinn Féin” have turned on its head the old concepts of the Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, and are now practising their own definition: “Politics is a continuation of war by other means.”
Before dissecting this article, however, it’s worth remembering that McDermott  – a Derryman, who used to work in The Irish Press – once considered himself a radical republican. Now a defender of the Special Branch down at the Special Court in Dublin’s Green Street, McDermott seems to have gone the whole hog and forgotten that he ever considered himself a republican at all. But he remains a strong a supporter of armed struggle – the one being waged by the Yanks against the people of Iraq that is!
The fact that the DUP attempted to do the same thing – and did so in the cases of Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley – is not commented on, of course, and neither is the fact that it is the voters who fill in their ballot papers and either take or reject republican advice as they see fit.
But the crunch point is Diarmuid’s assertion that Sinn Féin try and get all the votes they can.  And why?  Well, “for Sinn Féin, electoral politics is another battlefield where they can pursue their ultimate goal of a united Ireland.”
Thank God, for that, I hear you say; but all of this obfuscation about military-style tactics, and ‘ruthless efficiency’, and ‘experience as guerrillas’, and so on, just is a smokescreen to hide the establishment’s real outrage.
For them, democracy is not a question of abiding by the popular will as represented by the ballot box.  A party is only truly ‘democratic’ in their eyes if it accepts their politics, if it argues about personalities but leaves the policies unchanged, the policies that suit the rich at home and abroad.
So expect more denunciations of ruthless militarism as Sinn Féin grows in electoral strength, and wins the support of more voters.
For in the establishment’s eyes, the truly ‘democratic’ thing for republicans to do is to cease to be republican at all, and to make way for the unionists and their Catholic counterparts in the SDLP and Fine Gael.

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