“Anyone who disagrees with the top cabal is suddenly transformed into a class traitor, unreliable, drunk / mad, lying irrational scumbag who must be shunned by decent society”.
That’s taken from a comment on sluggerotoole.com today. It’s the kind of comment you get from someone looking at powerful governments throughout the world and throughout history: the way in which governments firmly in charge make sure they stay that way, by labelling opponents as crazies and so discrediting anything they may say about anything.
Except this particular comment isn’t talking about a government. It’s talking about a party - Sinn Féin. So if that’s true, how do Sinn Féin manage this trick of demonising opponents? They don’t have anything like the same media power as their opponents. Think of the main Irish newspapers - The Irish News, The News Letter, Irish Times, Irish independent, Irish Examiner, Belfast Telegraph. Leave aside what they frame as political news and how they frame it, and concentrate on their columnists, their writers of what is now called ‘op-ed’ pieces. With one exception - Jim Gibney in The Irish News - I can’t think of a single columnist who isn’t hostile to Sinn Féin. Mind you I don’t habitually buy papers any more, so I tend to rely on what I find online. So if I’ve been missing something I’ll be happy to hear about it. But it does seem to me that the tone and content of newspapers on this island is well over 90% anti-Shinner.
Take the Gerry Kelly/Carál Ní Chuilín incidents last Friday. There is video of the incident which shows Gerry Kelly assuring people of the area that the police vehicle that has passed is going to pull in and talk to them and particularly to the boy’s mother. When this doesn’t happen, Kelly tries to get another police vehicle to stop and talk. The upshot is, Kelly is carried some distance on the front of a PSNI vehicle and Ní Chuilín is hospitalized.
The commentary on this incident in the Belfast Telegraph is interesting. There are two op-ed pieces - one by Henry McDonald, one by Malachi O’Doherty. Henry’s is headed ‘Would the real Sinn Féin please stand up?’ In it he is critical of the DUP, but his main criticism is for Sinn Féin: one part of it in the person of Martin McGuinness who is projecting responsible partnership to Barack Obama; another part is in the person of Gerry Kelly, reassuring grass-roots in on-the-street incidents that it is concerned for them.”For McGuinness, Kelly and Sinn Féin, heads are constantly twitching in opposite directions”.
Malachi’s piece is entitled “What did Gerry Kelly think he was doing?” He argues that Sinn Féin scored an own goal by publishing their video of the incident, because sympathy for Gerry Kelly and Caral Ni Cuilean is lost when people see the incident. Kelly’s efforts to get the police vehicle to stop are denounced as the actions of someone “who should have had more sense than to be there”. He speaks repeatedly of Gerry “barking” at the police vehicle to pull in. “He [Kelly] sees no contradiction between his presumption of the right to bark at the police and the legacy of opposition to political policing”. He concludes that “the party itself, in releasing the video, has provided the evidence which damns him”.
Twitching, barking: maybe a clue is contained in those two words. Henry talks of the Sinn Féin neck “twitching” as it tries to reconcile Martin McGuinness commitment to power-sharing with street protest and Gerry Kelly. Frankly, I don’t see the contradiction. If political opponents are prepared to share power and both parties work for the common good, that makes sense. It makes equal sense that Sinn Féin’s MLAs should be doing all they can to maintain calm at crisis points created by Orange Order marching, and that they should insist on the police explaining actions that are inflaming the situation. But clearly that’s not the way Henry and Malachi chose to present the situation.
The one thing that neither op-ed piece mentions is the SDLP’s Alban Maginnis. He also appears in the video and is clearly supportive of Gerry Kelly’s actions and attempts to avoid public disorder. In other interviews on radio the next day he confirmed that support. This, from a man and a party who are emphatically opposed to Sinn Féin politically.
I take off my hat to Alban Maginnis for his presence at the scene and his honesty in response to what happened. It’s odd that both Henry and Malachi forgot to mention him in their pieces.