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14 August 2008 Edition

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David Ford: on his head

THE world is stood on its head and republicans must be wondering who are the good guys and who are the baddies.
On the ‘good’ side are Sinn Féin (of course!), the DUP (!), The Irish Times (!!) and the Irish Independent (!!!). And the baddies are those normally moderate, civilised politicians in the SDLP and the Alliance Party.
Let me explain.
After much persuasion, the DUP has been dragged kicking and screaming into an agreement to support the devolution of policing and justice powers in the North. The DUP has also agreed that the Justice Minister should be neither a DUP or a Sinn Féin member. The best candidate for the job, both parties agreed, is the Alliance Party as it would be acceptable to all sides. This fine example of cross-community agreement on a most sensitive issue would normally earn its proponents the applause of alleged moderates in those parties which are usually most anxious to install acceptable justice and policing structures.
Not in this case, apparently.
The Alliance Party refused to accept the job on the idealistic grounds that it is in the Assembly to oppose, not to assist, the workings of the cross-party Executive. That other gleaming example of moderation and constitutional politics, the SDLP, went for an opportunistic power-grab and its leaders demanded the job for themselves, even though they know it would wreck agreement between the other main parties.
Enter all-round good guy Maurice Hayes, former civil servant and Ombudsman in the North, former senator in the South, chair of the Patten Commission on Policing (among many other things), and the most moderate and statesmanlike paragon in the universe.
Hayes is also a director of Independent Newspapers and a columnist at the Irish Independent. He was so appalled at the Alliance Party’s stance that he devoted a long article to what Eoghan Harris might call their ‘delinquent behaviour’.
In a surprisingly trenchant and even sarcastic article denouncing the Alliance Party, Hayes described them as being “the former good guys” who have decided “that the time has come for them to make trouble” just when “the awkward squads on both sides” (he means Sinn Féin and the DUP) have mastered “the art of negotiation and compromise”.
Referring to the Alliance Party’s self-professed ethos of building bridges between unionists and nationalists, Morrie accused Alliance of now trying to demolish the newly-built bridge between such sides. And in a withering passage he described their refusal to accept the justice position as “like Oliver Twist at the workhouse table demanding not more but less”.
Alliance leader David Ford replied with a particularly lame letter to the Indo in which he said that because Sinn Féin and the DUP had, up until recently, been unable to agree on justice and policing, the Alliance Party should not jump in now to rescue the Executive. Ford was also angry because the proposal would not give him or his party a place on the Executive, something the party has not earned through elections to the Assembly.
While this debate raged in the Indo, The Irish Times kept quiet until – perhaps shamed at its silence in the face of such hardline, obdurate attitudes from the Alliance and the SDLP – it published an editorial on the matter last weekend. In strangled phraseology and through gritted teeth, the leader writer stated that agreement on justice between the DUP and Sinn Féin was “welcome, if limited” and offered hope on other issues. It also warned of the dangers posed by the failure of politicians to act with “responsibility” in this “fragile” situation (whoever could they be talking about?).
Aware that an editorial praising Sinn Féin and denouncing the Alliance and the SDLP would be the greatest heresy possible from The Irish Times, the editorial nevertheless grasped the nettle and reminded politicians that they have a responsibility to protect peace in the North. And in case readers were in any doubt about who was responsible for threatening such peace, the newspaper decreed that commitment to this desirable goal is required from “all the political parties and not just the DUP and Sinn Féin”.
That Munster Fenian, Geraldine Kennedy, ought to wash her mouth.

IT’S not just in the North that The Irish Times has come over all aggressive. For many weeks now it has been running a diary of the colonial adventures of Irishman Lieutenant Paddy Bury, who is fighting Johnny Foreigner for the British Army in Afghanistan.
Nothing illustrates the hypocrisy of those who feign moral revulsion of people’s armies like the IRA at home while beating the drum for the British Army abroad. Bury’s diary reads like something from a late 19th Century column from The Times of London  with stirring descriptions of the smell of cordite and warrior battle cries as Tommy Atkins and ‘The Fighting Irish’ put down a native rebellion.
Much of this would have been ignored but the real motivation behind this embarrassing exercise breaks through: the effort to persuade naïve young Irish men that life in the British Army is a worthwhile and exciting career alternative. Now Irish readers have begun to react negatively to the attempt to characterise the squaddies engaged in efforts (futile) to put down the Taliban as somehow “Irish soldiers” and how we have a respectable tradition in fighting Britain’s dirty wars abroad.
Fact is, the Brits are undergoing a human resources crisis and The Irish Times is consciously involved in the most cynical recruitment exercise at a time when young Irish men and women face rising unemployment. This from a newspaper that constantly lectures people on the evils of violence as well as unethical behaviour in every area of life.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
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