The left-leaning Guardian newspaper in Britain seems to have a bit of a myopic soft spot for its former columnist, Lionel Shriver. Despite her recent echoing of opinions and rhetoric more readily associated with the fellow-travellers of the hard-right, the publication continues to offer the controversial American author and occasional feature writer regular PR opportunities. Of course, Shriver’s rather wayward politics long predate her now frequent criticism of behaviours she views as onerously liberal or “politically correct”. She has kept a close eye on the issue of immigration and multiculturalism since the early 2000s, unsurprisingly supporting the isolationist cause of Brexit or the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the multinational European Union.
The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, the North Carolinian emigrated to Belfast in 1987, during the latter part of the so-called Troubles, the three decade conflict in the shrunken remnant of the United Kingdom’s historical colony on the island of Ireland. She spent some twelve years living near the city’s affluent Lisburn Road, an area later marred by anti-immigrant violence. At the time she made no bones about her sympathy for the lost cause of British unionism in the country, speaking of the perceived values of the pro-union minority while serving as a harsh critic of Irish republicanism and certain aspects of the nascent peace process of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Indeed Shriver became so enamoured of northern “loyalism” that at times it seemed to make her oblivious to the import of her own actions. In 2013 she appeared in a publicity photo for Britain’s right-wing Daily Mail newspaper with a mug beside her; one printed with the name and logo of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (aka. the Ulster Defence Association). For those readers who are unaware of the organisation, the UFF-UDA is a pro-UK terrorist group in the contested Six Counties which took the lives of hundreds of Irish men, women and children during the course of the 1966-2005 war. Such memorabilia is usually sold to help fund its activities and subsidise its gunmen and bombers, past or present. While the sight of such an item in the American writer’s home drew much online comment in Ireland, it was largely ignored by the London media, most of which views armed unionist gangs not as “terrorists” but as “paramilitaries”.
Unfortunately, its seems that the Guardian falls into that flexible category of British journalism, where people who kill in defence of the United Kingdom are less reprehensible than those who kill in opposition to the United Kingdom. Regardless of the origins of the UFF-UDA mug in Lionel Shriver’s possession, or her own well-known and frequently stated condemnation of all politically-motivated violence, to pose with the item, the name artfully turned to face the camera, sends out a message of some kind, to someone, somewhere. And by continuing to promote her career in the arts and literature through the pages of its newspaper, the liberal publication is complicit in that message, whether it likes it or not.
Update: Lionel Shriver has responded to the above piece with a short article in Britain’s conservative Spectator magazine, claiming that it is “riddled with errors of fact”. Readers of An Sionnach Fionn are welcome to read both and make up their own minds.