Current Affairs Irish Republican Journalism Politics

Irish Troubles – Or “The Get Roy Greenslade” Campaign

Peculiar times in the world of British journalism as the media turns on one of its own with the so-called “revelation” that the veteran reporter, editor and regular Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade is a long-time advocate of a negotiated UK withdrawal from Ireland and the agreed reunification of the country (shock horror!). As part of that advocacy he has maintained strong contacts with many people in Irish nationalist politics, particularly in Sinn Féin, and has long argued for greater and better-informed reporting by the press of the conflict in the north-east of the island. Since the early 1990s he has been a supporter of the peace process and has spoken out in favour of the present administrative arrangements in the Six Counties.

Greenslade has also drawn attention to the murkier aspects of Britain’s Dirty War in Ireland and how the actions of the British Occupation Forces both prolonged and deepened the conflict, and undermined democracy and the rule of law in the United Kingdom.

Yet he now stands vilified for all of the above in the eyes of some right-wing British writers following a series of deeply personal, and at times frankly hysterical attacks on him. It all begins with a report by the Irish journalist Henry McDonald, the Guardian’s long-time Ireland Correspondent. Earlier this month McDonald reported on the murder of a known criminal and drug dealer in Belfast:

“A west Belfast man has been shot dead in what appears to have been a paramilitary-style assassination. The victim was named locally as Christy Mackin, originally from the Whiterock area of the city.

He was shot repeatedly at close range at around 9.30pm in College Square North, close to Belfast city centre. Ambulance crews arrived at the scene and took him to the nearby Royal Victoria Hospital but he died later.

Republican sources in Belfast told the Guardian that it was likely a republican organisation had targeted the 25-year-old over alleged drug dealing. Locals living in flats in the area reported that up to seven shots were fired during the attack”

In this case McDonald’s “Republican sources” got it wrong. Within hours it emerged that the PSNI, the British paramilitary police force in the north-east of Ireland, were following the line that the real culprits were fellow gangsters in the city.

Subsequently two people have been charged with the murder and await trial in what looks like a complex case of personal feuding. So, Henry McDonald jumped the gun (as it were) in his article and got the facts wrong. However such things are commonplace in journalism, especially in the world of 24-hour news where every trained reporter’s rival is some local amateur observer with a Twitter account (or a blog).

Henry McDonald, the well-known Ireland correspondent of the Guardian newspaper of London
Henry McDonald, the well-known Ireland correspondent of the Guardian newspaper of London

Today’s newspaper headline, tomorrow’s lining in the kitty tray. So what’s the big deal? Well Roy Greenslade, as a commentator on journalism, did see a big deal and articulated this in his Guardian Media Blog:

“I am sometimes criticised for failing to hold The Guardian to account in the same way that I do other papers.

But today I’m afraid I must do so.

Last Friday, The Guardian ran a story headlined Republicans blamed for shooting of west Belfast man. It concerned the killing of Christopher (Christy) Mackin, who was shot dead in Belfast’s city centre the night before.

The story, written by the paper’s Irish correspondent, Henry McDonald, stated that “Republican paramilitaries” had been responsible for the “paramilitary-style assassination.”

Leaving aside the wrong use of the term “assassination”, it cited “Republican sources” as saying it “was likely that a republican organisation had targeted Mackin over allegations he had been dealing drugs.”

However, the police issued a statement denying any paramilitary link.

What concerns me about The Guardian story was the message that it sends. I am not in any doubt about the threat posed by republican dissidents.

But it is clear that this small group feeds off any publicity that implies it is larger and more active than is really the case.

The net effect of the headline and story is to bolster the “prowess” of a group that wishes to pursue a murderous armed campaign.

There is a second, slightly more sinister, message too. The use of the word “republican” in such a context tends to taint the republican movement as a whole, meaning Sinn Fein.

Reporting in Northern Ireland remains a sensitive matter and this inaccurate report, sadly, was anything but sensitive.”

Okay. Greenslade expresses concern about the report, the language used, and the implications that may stem from it. Unusual to find a member of a newspaper criticising the standards of another member but hardly unprecedented (to say the least). So again: what’s the big deal? Well, it seemed there was none until Stephen Glover, a conservative British press columnist, decided to take the opportunity presented by Roy Greenslade’s article to launch a full-scale attack on him via the Independent:

“An extraordinary item appeared last Tuesday on Professor Roy Greenslade’s MediaGuardian blog. It was a harsh attack on his colleague Henry McDonald… Mr Greenslade was right that in the heat of the moment Mr McDonald had got his facts wrong, apparently relying on incorrect information from Republican dissidents [ASF: McDonald doesn’t name Dissident Republicans as his source, though the “heat of the moment” may be correct]. …Mr Greenslade, who has long-standing links with Sinn Fein, evidently resented the imputation of Republican involvement.

Before writing his piece he did not contact his colleague. Nor did he do so last August when he wrote a blog criticising British newspapers, including Mr McDonald’s [ASF: And Roy Greenslade’s!], for not covering the annual Sinn Fein conference during which a Presbyterian minister and former British Army chaplain, the Reverend David Latimer, called Martin McGuinness one of the “true great leaders of modern times”. Had the Prof spoken with Mr McDonald, he would have learnt that he had intended to attend the conference but did not do so because his mother was dying [ASF: Actually Greenslade never mentioned McDonald in the article].

Few people are aware that The Guardian’s media sage has affiliations with Sinn Fein. During the late 1980s, when he was managing news editor of The Sunday Times, he secretly wrote for An Phoblacht, the Sinn Fein newspaper, which then served as a propaganda sheet for the Provisional IRA. His pseudonym was George King. We know this from Flat Earth News by Nick Davies, a Guardian colleague and instigator of the journalistic investigation into phone hacking. When Mr Greenslade reviewed Mr Davies’s book on his blog in 2008, he did not deny what some may regard as a pretty serious allegation [ASF: Who are “some”? Right-wing British journos?]. In a more recent blog, he described Mr Davies as his friend [ASF: Which would seem to imply that he was not bothered by the “revelation” and was quite content for the facts to be known].

The connections endure. Last June, Mr Greenslade spoke at a Sinn Fein conference in London on the 30th anniversary of the hunger strikes, and he wrote an article on the same subject for An Phoblacht [ASF: Under his own name and to wide publicity]. He has had a house in County Donegal for many years [ASF: Greenslade lived part-time in Ireland? Definitely suspect – him and 4 million other people. Or maybe that is Glover’s point?]. One friend is Pat Doherty, from 1988 until 2009 vice president of Sinn Fein, who has been named as a former member of the IRA Army Council.

Given his sympathies, it is fair to surmise that Mr Greenslade dislikes Mr McDonald’s articles about Sinn Fein’s links to organised crime, and saw his recent piece as an attempt to blacken the organisation [ASF: What links? No such links were mentioned in McDonald’s article or in any recent ones I have read].”

From my bracketed points in the article above the stupidity and prejudice inherent in Glover’s argument is plain to see. Crude insinuations and allegations of guilt by association do not make for good journalism. Furthermore though supposedly outraged by Roy Greenslade’s well-known contacts with the Sinn Féin (currently standing in the Irish opinion polls as the country’s second most popular party) Stephen Glover seems oblivious to the personal history of the man he defends with such (opportunistic) passion.

For Henry McDonald has his own relationship with Irish republicanism, beginning his public life as a committed hard-left activist with Official Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Official IRA. He progressed through that party as it made its transition from the ideology of democratic socialism to totalitarian communism, eventually restyling itself as the Workers Party (WP), until he left to become a full-time journalist. The WP itself remained a trenchant and frequently violent opponent of the Sinn Féin movement it had split from, in the process allowing its paramilitary wing (the Official IRA, later codenamed “Group B”) to forge close links to various British terrorist groups as well as the UK Forces in Ireland. Does that youthful personal history call Henry McDonald’s politics and objectivity into doubt? No more so than Greenslade’s I would say.

Ruth Dudley Edwards, an Irish-born British writer and historian closely associated with the Negationist or Revisionist school of Irish-British history
Ruth Dudley Edwards, an Irish-born British writer and historian closely associated with the Negationist or Revisionist school of Irish-British history

However, as bad as things were following Glover’s personal attack on Roy Greenslade it was about to get far worse. For into view lumbers the grand dame of British apologists. It is, but of course, commentator Ruth Dudley Edwards with an article big enough to beat a starving Irish peasant with:

“There are two Roy Greenslades. The professor of journalism at City University London since 2003 is the distinguished Dr Jekyll Greenslade, upholder of high journalistic standards.

Mr Hyde Roy Greenslade — who writes about Ireland — is tunnel-visioned, partisan and angry and has been guilty of ethical lapses.

There are many interesting examples of Hyde Greenslade’s affection for the Shinners. In 1998, for instance, An Phoblacht was ecstatic about his Damien Walsh Memorial Lecture in West Belfast. Walsh, a teenager, had been a victim of a loyalist sectarian murder.

The Hyde Greenslade thesis — that in media coverage of Northern Ireland there is a five-rung “hierarchy of death” which gives most attention to British victims of republican violence and least to victims of loyalist violence — fed straight into the Sinn Fein mantra about a “hierarchy of victims”.

He spoke at the Sinn Fein London Conference in June 2011 when denouncing press coverage of the 1981 Hunger Strikes.

Jekyll took a potion to turn into Hyde. With Greenslade, he recalled later in World of Hibernia, a short-lived magazine for the Irish diaspora, it was a kiss that turned this Englishman’s “youthful infatuation” with Ireland into “a full-blooded love affair”.

This green mist descended in 1971 in Donegal, to which the beautiful Mirror journalist and divorcee Noreen Turner, mother of two tiny children, had taken him: “I gave in to Donegal’s embrace and realised my life had truly changed.” He hunted vainly for an Irish connection, but settled for those of Noreen, whom he married soon afterward.

At first they lived only in Brighton and visited Donegal frequently, but in 1989 they bought the fine Georgian Ballyarr House in Ramelton and restored it to its earlier splendour. They loved that it had been owned by Lord George Hill, who had evicted ancestors of Noreen’s. (They put it on the market in 2007 for €3m but kept a small house there.)

When she became an actress, Noreen’s daughter Natascha took her mother’s maiden name of McElhone.

The neighbours are friendly. Gerry Adams has a holiday home nearby, and according to Glover, Hyde Greenslade is a friend with resident Pat Doherty, a Sinn Fein MP and closest of close colleagues of Adams and McGuinness in all their endeavours over the past 40 years.

But if he gets bored with Shinners, nearby is a traditional tribalist, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, like Doherty, a Glaswegian.”

So, Roy Greenslade is guilty of marrying an Irish girl, living some of the time in Ireland (and in County Donegal of all places), having neighbours who are elected Sinn Féin politicians or well-known local journalists (some of whom, even worse, were born in Scotland), and was quite concerned that the murder of Irish citizens by British terrorist groups in the country went under-reported by the London news media. Should we prepare the rope and scaffold now?

Seán O'Callaghan, self-declared spy and informer
Seán O’Callaghan, self-declared spy and informer

Of course maybe we shouldn’t dismiss Dudley Edwards’ diatribe just yet. After all she has her own personal knowledge of the “men of violence” through her peculiar friendship with Seán O’Callaghan, the notorious former Irish Republican Army volunteer-turned-traitor. In one of the more bizarre episodes in their oddball relationship he was tied up and beaten during a robbery at her home in Britain – a robbery that happened after he invited two men he had been drinking with in a well-known London gay-bar back to her house. In their defence the men claimed it was all part of a sex-and-bondage session that had got out of hand though both were later convicted of burglary and assault at their trial.

Whatever about the gruesome twosome of Edwards and O’Callaghan, away from the fringe of UK politics the respected Irish journalist Ed Moloney has also contributed his own somewhat surprising piece to the growing “Get Greenslade” campaign. Though he has previously voiced his views on Roy Greenslade, this latest and uncharacteristically personal attack makes for less than edifying reading, with a particularly nasty headline: “Roy Greenslime Outed In Independent“.

“Roy Greenslade’s disgracefully dishonest career as a Sinn Fein shill masquerading as journalist, academic and media commentator was comprehensively exposed today by Stephen Glover writing in the Independent.”

Considering that Greenslade’s interest in Irish matters through his wife and family, as well as his associations with Sinn Féin, have been public knowledge for the last twenty years and more (I certainly knew about them back in the early 1990s) I fail to see the “dishonest career” here. A dishonest headline maybe…

Cic Saor has more on this entirely artificial, and frequently hypocritical, storm in a teacup. As for me I have no doubt that I shall continue to read in the Guardian and elsewhere Professor Greenslade’s many cogent observations on newspapers and print journalism in the 21st century. Not least his belief that we are living through the last days of journalism as we know it. A belief that has made him hugely unpopular amongst traditionalist journalists and newspaper folk.


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