Current Affairs Politics

British Journalist Lectures The Irish People On “Democracy”. Laugh Now Or Laugh Later?

One presidential candidate, two journalists and two conflicting opinions.

The first journalist is Nick Cohen, a regular contributor to various centre-left publications in Britain, including the Guardian and Spectator. In a lengthy article for today’s Observer he writes:

“All the countries the euro crisis is ravaging can recall a time of dictatorial rule and revolutionary violence. Franco’s fascistic regime clung on until 1975, late in the day even by the lax standards of the 20th century. Portugal’s 1974 revolution against the Salazar dictatorship was a glorious moment of civil disobedience, but the carnage the revolution accelerated in the old Portuguese colonies of Mozambique, Angola and East Timor continued for decades. Assassination attempts and naval mutinies preceded Greece’s revolution against the military junta in 1974 and terrorist groups carried on operating in Greece into the 21st century, as they did in Spain.

The first example of the “new politics” emerging from the wreckage of the eurozone is the campaign for the Irish presidency by Martin McGuinness, the butcher’s boy who became head of the IRA’s northern command. Ireland wasn’t a dictatorship in the 1970s, although the gerrymandered Protestant statelet in the north and the Catholic conservative republic in the south were not democratic models anyone else wanted to follow. The violence in Ireland was worse than anything southern Europe saw, however. Between 1968 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, more than 3,600 were killed, around 2,000 of them by McGuinness’s IRA.”

Ah yes. Nothing like having a British journo lecturing Irish people on our history or our democratic institutions. Because Ireland’s democracy was (is, Nick?) so much more inferior to Britain’s. Oh, hold on. That “gerrymandered Protestant statelet in the north”? Now, whose creation was that again? Erm. Let me think. It begins with a “B”. Big place. Near Ireland. Never very good at recognising other peoples’ rights or freedoms. Oh, it’ll come to me eventually.

Well, anyway, back to young Nicky.

“… the early polls say that far from viewing McGuinness as the candidate from the psychopathic edge of the lunatic fringe, Irish voters are taking him seriously. A scandal about his views on underage sex has stymied the chances of the best of his rivals, David Norris, who did more for Ireland than the IRA ever managed when he overturned the anti-homosexuality laws. Whatever virtues the rest possess, the failure of the economic system has discredited them, as it has discredited democratic politicians across the west.

One should no more go to men who once bombed businesses for an economic policy than seek the advice of the Taliban on the emancipation of women, but when the untutored and forgetful listen to Sinn Féin they hear plausible critiques of the European Union’s unbearable demands for debt repayment.”

Poor wee Nick, where has he been these last twenty years? He does realise that Martin McGuinness is the democratically elected Deputy First Minister of the North of Ireland and has been for quite a while? Actually, Nick’s a British journalist discussing Ireland, so the answer is probably no. But he has more pearls of ignorance wisdom to impart

“Too many Dublin journalists don’t demand answers but repeat the conventional wisdom that McGuinness and Gerry Adams deserve praise for becoming men of peace. Praise would indeed be due if the IRA’s leaders faced the past truthfully.

Their war was futile because the power sharing and cross-border institutions the IRA settled for in 1998 had been on offer since 1974. Sometimes, it seems as if the only person stating the obvious is the Guardian and Observer’s Ireland correspondent Henry McDonald, but his point needs repeating: the ranks of the IRA were filled with the world’s slowest-learning murderers. It took them a generation to realise their dream of uniting Ireland by violence was a malign fantasy.

As the remnants of the IRA rise in Ireland and nationalist anti-immigrant parties rise across Europe, we may be about to learn that recessions rarely bring anything but change for the worse.”

Really? So the last remnants of the British colony in Ireland would have democratized itself without the armed struggle of the Irish Republican Army? But it had decades to do so without an armed struggle by the IRA and it simply never happened: in fact things got progressively worse. Can you explain that, Nicholas? As for “Sunningdale for slow learners” (which is what Nicky means), sorry, but who brought down the 1974 Sunningdale Agreement? Why, none other than the British Unionist minority in Ireland with the connivance of right-wing British nationalists in the British government and military and Intelligence services.

Someone, get this man a history book, please.

By the by, would this be the same Nick Cohen, British journo and commentator who signed and vigorously promoted the Euston Manifesto? The same document described as a “Pro-Imperial Left Manifesto” and condemned by many liberal and centre-left writers and thinkers? By the hokey, I do believe it is! Yon Nicholas Cohen, he who supported the war in Iraq and numerous other “Western” escapades that involved lots and lots of, well, killing. But all in pursuit of political aims Nick agreed with. So that’s okay then.

Our second journalistic opinion is from Duncan Hamilton in the Scotsman and thankfully this time it is free of self-righteous hypocrisy:

“THE decision of Martin McGuinness to seek election as the next president of Ireland deserves to be recognised as a big moment in the history of modern Ireland.

Can a man who was second in command of the Provisional IRA in Derry at the age of 21, now seriously expect to be elected as president under a constitution he opposed as legitimate?

The answer to that lies in the hands of Irish voters. What is already apparent, however, is that the early predictions that McGuinness had no chance have given way to a sense that he just might pull it off. An RTE poll this week had him winning, and his early odds at the bookmakers of 33-1 have been slashed to 3-1, making him second favourite. More than that, his advantages in this campaign are real – he is the only real opposition anti-establishment candidate given that the others have close links to parties which are viewed with contempt by many Irish voters. In the wake of the banking crisis and amidst claims of political corruption, that matters. Interestingly, because Sinn Fein has only 17 TDs (Members of the Dail) and Senators, McGuinness needed the support of three more independent TD’s even to get on to the ballot. Having now reached the threshold of 20 with support from out with his own party, he can legitimately claim to be a candidate capable of reaching across party boundaries.

First, let me declare something of a bias. I have met McGuinness a few times – both in Boston when I was studying and more recently in Belfast as part of a Scottish Government delegation in 2007. I was hugely impressed by him. He is intelligent, engaging, funny, positive and politically astute.

The truth is that the people of Northern Ireland have accepted McGuinness as their deputy first minister for the last four years and before that as minister for education for the best part of a decade. That doesn’t mean everyone has forgiven and forgotten, but it does mean that he has a legitimacy of a democratic mandate and a track record of exclusively political leadership. He is now described by people like Jackie McDonald, the leader of the UDA, as “a man of peace”.

Critics also claim his election would send out a negative message to the international community. But this is a man praised by President Obama for his “outstanding leadership”. Do you see any other candidates in the race with that endorsement? McGuinness cites the fact that he has been invited to the White House by three US presidents and to South Africa by Nelson Mandela. Does that sound like a man the international community can’t deal with?

Yes, the role of president is largely symbolic and ceremonial. But that is exactly why the election of McGuinness might be a vital next step for Ireland. The Sinn Fein agenda and policy mix has always been viewed with suspicion. Electing McGuinness would be to embrace his positive and vital role in the peace process without adopting the full Sinn Fein agenda.

Ultimately, it may be a step too far for Irish voters. That is a matter rightly and entirely for them. But to the outside world, the feral reaction of some in the Republic to this candidacy serves only to present a country still not at ease with its past. If men like Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson can accept the conversion of McGuinness, maybe it is time that the people in the south did so too.”

Is anyone in our national media establishment listening? Probably not. They’re too busy reading the hysterical ravings of Nick Cohen who they’ll no doubt be quoting at length and soon in a newspaper near you.

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