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16 July 1998 Edition

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Television: Cynical republicans

Republicans have long looked on themselves as cynics of political TV, due in no small part to decades of misinformation and censorship by the media. One could more accurately describe it as an ability to read between the lines, and this was much needed when viewing BBC1's ``Plague Wars'', which tried to pass off the former South African regime's dirty biological war against its neighbours and enemies as the evil work of one man.

More than likely however this was carried out with the support of its Government and the knowledge and tacit support of traditional Western powers.

Dr Timothy Stamps, Zimbabwean Minister for Health, labeled the use of Anthrax by South African Intelligence agents against rebels fighting against the then colonial administration of Rhodesia in 1978 as ``the highest form of inhuman murder usually targeted against civilians.''

The former Rhodesia was used as a testing ground for the Apartheid regime as was Angola, and was later perfected in a State-sponsored biological warfare programme against ANC activists.

Dr Darren Basson led the by-now traditional and almost acceptable Establishment ``dirty tricks'' programme which included, contaminating water supplies in ANC strongholds with cholera, poison screwdrivers and cigarettes, thalin and toxin poisoning and the notion of sterilising the increasing number of blacks, in a desperate attempt to retain racist supremacy.

In almost comic fashion Fr Frank Chikane, ANC activist, survived two biological assassination attempts on his life when his underpants were laced with organic phosphate toxin.

What is shocking however, as we're long used to such tales, is the brazeness of various military leaders and politicians of that time who tell in a matter-of-fact way the exact details of how they went about their merry business and blaming it all on scapegoat Dr Basson.

Furthermore, the secrets of biological warfare somehow made their way from a British laboratory, which we're repeatedly told was used for ``defensive warfare'', to the desk of General Knobel, who acknowledges in a roundabout way, the ``tacit under the counter help'' from the British Government, which was led at the time by one of their strongest sponsors, Maggie Thatcher.

The Americans for some strange reason were also unaware of the goings on until Dr Basson departed for Libya in 1994, and suddenly the `evil' doctor became the enemy and is currently serving a lengthy sentence for, wait for it......drug dealing! And if you believe that......!

Them MI5 lads must be fierce thick!

So must those British voters who voted in the aforementioned Thatcher (but sure we can't talk with Garret the Good and Charlie of the handshake), following the ``Winter of Discontent of `79'', which was focused on in Channel 4 on Monday last.

1978 was the summer of Night Fever, flared trousers and hula hoops and Tom Hartley was modelling his latest duffel coat. The ``socialist'' Government of Jim Callaghan was in the midst of their assault on the nationalist working classes and their POWs, and the British trade Unions, which at the time were in close co-operation with Labour, were warning of the need to call an early election to avoid an upcoming series of strikes which would surely bolster the Tory camp. Callaghan, like all conceited politicians, ignored the advice and in a futile attempt to keep inflation down, put a cap on all wage rises at 5%.

The Ford Motors strike, which was to be a benchmark for all other disputes, originated from a company profit of £258 million, which led to an 80% wage increase for the bosses and a 5% rise for the workers. Naturally the workers burned the pay offers and after a three week strike succeeded in garnering a 30% increase and the Government paycap was already broken. This strike was followed by similar disputes by oil drivers, road hauliers, nurses, teachers, public servants and even grave diggers, some on a national scale.

The chaos was exacerbated by a particularly harsh winter and Callaghan added insult to injury by spending a fortnight in the Carribean, resembling an ageing James Bond. A national emergency was narrowly avoided on a number of occasions from chronic food, fuel and hospital shortages.

The ruling press seized on the opportunity portraying ``a scene of general mayhem'' and the Tories used the ``dirty tricks'' (that phrase again) campaign. Labour failed to recover in time, and with Thatcher waiting in the wings, Callaghan lost the election to the Tories, who then proceeded to eliminate many of the services temporarily lost during the strike period.

The Unions' power was subsequently smashed, with many Labour politicians castigating them for their own downfall, but one should more accurately give ear to the words of one trade Union official who opined that ``the Labour Government had lost its way and was such a farce that it didn't deserve to continue''.

Then again, nobody deserved Thatcher.

Teilifís na Gaeilge's ``1968 - Saol ar Strae'' went a little astray itself after a promising start, although it was worth watching for the old footage of courting couples. Matchmaking days were numbered and JB Keane lamented that there were ``fifty or sixty lonely bachelors for every caliín in the depopulated West.'' Farming courses instructed young men how to shave and wash, dress casually (how could a tweed suit be casual?) and hold a soup spoon in the correct manner.

1968 was also the year of the Housing Action Committee, which crusaded for improved housing conditions for Dublin's poor, many of whom were confined to one roomed hovels. Enter Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin, who thirty years later, although stating some accuracies, informed us that ``people are a lot more comfortable now and there are no community problems anymore''. Yes - no heroin, no mass alienation, unemployment, etc etc.

Unfortunately Brenda continues to observe the world through middle class tinted lenses and proceeded to round on the Womens' Lib movement, which some women are often as keen to distance themselves from, as some Southerners are to distance themselves from Republicans.

And sure they're all cynics.

by Seán O' Donaile

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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