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13 February 1997 Edition

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Editor's desk

The ugly face of political censorship was shown in Newry this week.

For a number of weeks Sinn Féin member Anne-Marie Willis has been writing a weekly column for the Newry Democrat newspaper, giving much-needed advice on welfare rights. The editor was happy and the people of Newry were happy. Then this week Anne-Marie was told her column was axed. Why? A local politician had complained that it was giving ``free publicity'' to Sinn Féin.

But Anne-Marie had agreed not to use her column to promote Sinn Féin and in none of her columns was there any mention of Sinn Féin, its policies or even its first-class welfare rights service. So what was the problem?

I rang up the editor of the Newry Democrat. I found him quite embarrassed about the whole thing. He talked about the need to be neutral in the run-up to an election, to not give one party a platform over another and so on. It was as far as he would go.

I wonder if an SDLP member had been writing the column and Sinn Féin had complained - it would have been a long time before the column was axed.

 
The Sunday Times has accused republicans of most types of skullduggery over the years. Everything from pirate videos to angel dust are money-making scams of the IRA, it has reported. Evidence is not a problem - the Sunday Times doesn't let that spoil a good smear campaign. They didn't even bat an eyelid when it turned out that the angel dust racket was run North and South by big farmers of a Unionist and Blueshirt persuasion.

Then on the Sunday before last the Sunday Times got it spectacularly wrong. They told their readers of the latest IRA money operation: a stolen car ring. It said the RUC was investigating the theft from car dealers in the North of England of more than 120 cars worth nearly £2m. The money, it said, was making its way to the IRA

The reporter, the well-named Johnathon Leake, had most of his facts right. Except one. Those under investigation were not members of the IRA - they were members of the RUC.

 
The Roisín McAliskey Justice group wrote to a number of women MPs asking them to be part of a cross-party delegation of women politicians to visit Roisín in Holloway prison on International Women's Day in March. One of those they asked was Conservative MP Edwina Currie. In her reply to the group she showed her concern for the human rights of a pregnant woman who has not been charged, let alone convicted, of any offence. She wrote:

``Since all MPs are a target for the IRA (and several of my colleagues have been killed or injured), you're asking the wrong person.''

 
The loyalist protestors at Harryville have developed a refined grasp of public relations. When they're not punching journalists and cameramen some of them do give interviews. The first voice we heard on the Radio Ulster report of Saturday's band parade outside the Catholic Church in Harryville explained their deeply-held, if complex, beliefs: ``We should be able to walk where the bleep we want,'' she said.

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