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24 June 2004 Edition

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Sour grapes from 'Independent' hacks

BY JOANNE CORCORAN

We couldn't have expected the honeymoon to last. It was too good to be true — 342,000 votes, two MEPs, countless councillors, and a media response that, if not doing justice to, at least somewhat reflected Sinn Féin's success in the local government and EU elections.

But as certain papers came to grips with the party's triumph last week, it became clear that another agenda was coming into play.

"Yes, yes," went the theme. "You've put your trust in Sinn Féin, now let's get real."

Nowhere was this more evident than in Dublin's Evening Herald last Friday.

Its entire front page was given over to a picture of Mary Lou McDonald, with the headline "The smooth and dangerous face of new Sinn Féin". Inside it promised an investigation into the new Dublin MEP and "her party's unanswered questions".

A completely unoriginal 'Saints and Shinners' adorned the top of the four pages, devoted to unveiling the evil doings of Sinn Féin, which had somehow blindsided the people of this country into voting for it.

The 'investigation' also contained an article about Mary Lou's background. Nothing ominous there — except for the tone of lurking menace its author, Anne-Marie Walsh, was desperately trying to create.

This on its own could have been considered an isolated attack on the party by some bitter and twisted Herald hacks, had the theme not been carried over the entire weekend by several other newspapers.

Voting explained to the plebs

Top of the list for rancorous rubbish was the Sunday Independent, also of the Tony O'Reilly stable. In fact calling last weekend's edition a Sinn Féin election special wouldn't have been too far off the mark.

There are different strokes for different folks, and this was evidently the case among Sindo propagandists last Sunday. A unanimous line just could not be found on whether Sinn Féin voters were thick, suffering with amnesia, gullible or just misbehaving, so eventually it was decided they were all four.

Declan Lynch, speaking to those of the amnesia/thick mould, explained in the simplest terms: "So to recap — nationalism of the Sinn Féin variety can and should be seen as a festering hate-filled sickness of the mind and spirit."

Emma Blain, formerly of the Sindo's O3 team went down the gullible route: "It's well known that Sinn Féin are dynamically active on the ground. With the impressive resources aided by the generous funding of softheaded and sentimental Americans, they can devote time and effort to the hard work on the ground that many other parties simply can't afford."

Emma does not have exact figures for the cost involved in calling to doors and asking people if they need help with anything.

Eilis O'Hanlon derided anybody stupid enough to vote for the Shinners.

"The wife of Pearse McCauley elected to represent the gullible... sorry, that should be good people of Cavan. Though on second thoughts, maybe that sentence was right the first time," she sniped.

O'Hanlon described Sinn Féin's support as a protest vote. She ignored the fact that this 'protest' vote has been a feature of the last number of elections and voting for Sinn Féin is now a definite trend.

"The Irish have never had it so good," she effused.

Hello? A health service in tatters, a housing market beyond control, a police service with the nickname 'McDowell's militia', a rip-off culture, and no intelligent social or economic policies emanating from Government Buildings bar the smoking ban. Where do you fly home to on Friday, Eilis?

Elsewhere, failed comic Brendan O'Connor described Sinn Féin's voters as childish miscreants.

"Like a child who was deliberately bold and stuck a finger in an electric socket, purely because it was angry at mummy and daddy," was his expert analysis of voting patterns last week.

Allegations with no proof

The Sindo and Herald weren't alone in their offensive coverage of Sinn Féin and its voters.

In Saturday's Irish Independent, Sam Smyth dedicated pages to the party's funding, which he alleged was supplied by IRA criminal activity. Smyth cited endless fuel smuggling over the border as one of the activities supplying cash. Upon reading this, my mind was cast back to Primetime's special investigation into republican fuel smuggling, just before the election. Doing his best for cutting-edge journalism, RTÉ's Tommy Gorman gave a report on the so-called lucrative market, and how republicans have it sewn up. However, when he wasn't delivering his lines from outside a petrol station somewhere near the border, the only footage he had to speak of was of a loyalist fuel smuggling operation.

Just like Smyth's article — all the speculation was there, just no proof to hang it on.

Can they call themselves journalists?

Of course, these moral guardians probably didn't read Brian Feeney's piece in the Sunday Business Post, where he wrote:

"Politicians seem to forget that when they attack the sincerity and integrity of opponents they are also attacking the sincerity and integrity of the people who vote for them. It's tantamount to calling voters stupid and gullible for voting Sinn Féin."

Some hacks may have just scratched their heads when reading this and thought, "But they are."

So to recap, calling voters stupid and gullible is bad. People vote for who they want to vote for, not who they are told to vote for. If you're trying to sell a product, like a newspaper, it's probably not a good idea to call potential buyers idiots.

And neither Saturday nor Sunday's papers, despite their obvious dedication to covering alleged paramilitary activity, saw fit to cover the raging loyalist mob of 80 who descended upon the Mater Hospital in Belfast on Friday night, throwing patients out of beds and screaming sectarian abuse.

For whatever reasons, it's obviously frightening for these papers that Sinn Féin has garnered so much support in recent times. However, they are taking the wrong tack if they think they can use scare and bully tactics to turn people away from voting for the party.

Michael McDowell has already tried that one and it just didn't work.

And until these publications start acting like newspapers instead of propaganda machines for the establishment, their writers should stop calling themselves journalists. Fair and balanced reporters they are not.


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