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History, And The Peace Process, Has Proven Roy Greenslade Right About The Troubles

The current furore in the London press over an article by the veteran British journalist and newspaper editor Roy Greenslade in the British Journalism Review describing his sympathies with the Irish republican cause as a consequence of reporting on Britain’s “dirty war” in Ireland during the so-called Troubles of 1966-2005, particularly the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972, is simply another example of that country’s inability to grasp with the forty year history of the conflict. It can be seen in the post-2010 insistence by right-wing commentators and historians in the UK that the Irish Republican Army was “defeated” in the 1990s and that the burgeoning peace process was the result of a British “victory” over the insurgency rather than the outgrowth of a military and political stalemate in the contested region, as most participants acknowledged at the time (or as a dispirited Boris Johnson wrote for The Spectator magazine back in 2000, the IRA “won” and the UK “connived in its own defeat”).

Such jingoistic revisionism handily ignores the record of backchannel negotiations by successive Conservative and Labour governments with their Irish republican opponents from 1969 onwards, or that the main impetus to ending what was becoming a generational war was the failure of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement to deliver the security upper hand that then prime minister Margaret Thatcher had desperately hoped for and her subsequent – and quite bitter – acceptance that the road to peace lay through talks with those she latterly acknowledged in 1990 were engaging in “guerrilla warfare” under what they regarded as “rules of war”. Instead a small but growing cadre of unionist-imbued writers and newspaper columnists prefer to invent a dangerously delusional flag-waving myth of the Troubles that can be added to a list of Britain’s supposedly unbroken military glories alongside “standing alone” in World War II against the might of “fascist Europe”.

Which of course for the UK press makes Roy Greenslade, very much one of their own, an inconvenient figure with his talk of legitimate “armed struggle” and some home truths for the British people on their recent and less than glorious history in Ireland. One of the ironies of all this is that the political affiliation of the former editor of the left-leaning Daily Mirror has been common knowledge on both sides of the Irish Sea for over two decades. There is nothing particularly revelatory about it, no matter the paroxysms of vulgar outrage in the hibernophobic media circles of London. And I’m sure that regular readers of An Sionnach Fionn could probably name several other former senior British journalists, individuals prominent during the era of the Troubles, whose Irish republican sympathies – and perhaps more than sympathies – were equally well known.

In fact, while we’re at it, we could also name a number of British journalists, at least one of whom is still active, who made no bones about their partisan feelings when it came to loyalist or pro-UK terrorists in Ireland. Or in the preferred terminology of the British press, loyalist “paramilitaries”. Then there are the British correspondents who were quite prepared to use the protection lent to them as members of the press to sniff out information about the IRA or Sinn Féin in parts of Belfast, Derry and elsewhere, and feed that back to the UK authorities. And that is leaving aside the way Britain’s media as a whole acted as a knowingly deceitful and dishonest self-censoring propaganda arm of the British state during the northern conflict – which plenty of autobiographies quite happily boast about.

If one looks at the history of the colonial war that was the Irish-British Troubles, of deeply flawed right versus deeply flawed might, no one side emerges with an unblemished record and no one side can entirely claim the high moral ground. It was a grubby squalid war, of bloody insurgency and bloodier counterinsurgency. But it was also a contest of the incredibly weak versus the incredibly powerful, of those fighting a great historical injustice in opposition to those seeking to maintain a great historical injustice, and in that light Roy Greenslade was – and is – on the right side of history.

9 comments on “History, And The Peace Process, Has Proven Roy Greenslade Right About The Troubles

  1. The reaction of Kelvin Mckenzie was hilarious are we really meant to believe he didn’t have a clue about where Mr Greenslade’s political sympathies lay. The Sun newspaper is the Security services favourite newspaper in a national crisis. Are we really to meant to believe MI5 didn’t know the Deputy Editor of the Sun was moonlighting at the Republican News under a pseudonym.

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    • Exactly. The British were well aware of what was going on.

      Just as Irish journalists knew which of their British counterparts in Ireland or commenting on events from Ireland were cooperating/liaising with Britain’s security services in the “counterterrorism” campaign against Irish republicans.

      Speaking of which, one amusing aspect of all this has been observing certain veteran Irish and British journalists, retired or semi-retired, attacking Greenslade with unashamed glee. Especially those individuals employing the term “Greenslime”. Nothing of course to do with their former ideological loyalties to Official Sinn Féin/Workers Party, the one-time political wing of the Official IRA/Group B and rivals of the Provisionals’ movement Greenslade sympathised with…

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  2. MI5 and MI6s list of tame journalists must be worried about exposed. This always happens. When Richard Gott was named as a KGB agent by the right wing press Dominic Lawson was subsequently exposed as a MI6 Agent by the left wing press. Robert Maxwells Daily Mirror newspaper employed a number of Israeli agents in the 1980’s. It would not surprise me if the Daily Mail and Daily Express employ a number of KGB agents.

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  3. “Private Eye” have been writing about Roy Greenslade, or “Roy of the Provos” as they styled him, since about 1990, so his sympathies were certainly well-known to any readers of that organ. How supporting a campaign of violence which took almost 2,000 lives and lead to the maiming of many more puts him on “the right side of history” is beyond me. If you lived through the entirety of the “Troubles” as I did, the chief lesson was that all violence was futile and just lead to more violence. Personally, I despise armchair revolutionaries like Greenslade and others, how easy it is to sit in your armchair, living your comfortable life in London, or elsewhere, never having to come close up to the victims of the cause you espouse, never to get blood on your own hands.

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    • In fairness to Greenslade, he was one of only a handful of UK journalists who tried to keep the Troubles in the UK headlines when the London media had no interest beyond a transitory focus on the odd spectacular in Britain. And he gave equal coverage to losses in the unionist community, putting names to the statistics as I remember very well.

      So yes, a supporter of the armed struggle, but equally someone who supported a negotiated peace from very early on in his journalistic career. And in the end, that point of view was right, and it was negotiations that ended the whole bloody thing not violence. Something he played a small part in facilitating.

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  4. It was Mr Greenslade who raised the issue in the press of a hierarchy of victims of the conflict. With British victims at the top of the hierarchy and Irish Catholic males at the bottom. Nobody else raised this issue so he deserves credit for that. And more importantly nobody has been able to prove him wrong.

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    • Just one thought here. Since many of the Britons killed fit one of two categories: fairly high ranked people such as Mountbatten (whom Prince Charles loved dearly they say) and British members of the British military.

      It could be that most of the British weren’t working class people from Northern England, but members of the Royal Armed Forces or the high ranked and well connected.

      Since the British at one level really respect the Royals and follow their dramas, my guess is the idea of Prince Charles losing such a beloved mentor had a significant impacts.

      As for those who were members of the British military? In my experience the social dynamics behind that sort of thing can be a sort of maze with no escape. On the one hand, nobody wants to tell a grieving mother “Your son died for nothing.” but on another that can get conflated with supporting the mission itself. There is something very, very strange about the psychology of military deaths. At one level morning those often cut down in their prime is tragic. At another……it has real potential to become something very twisted and very manipulative.

      Look at how British opponents of WWI were looked upon in England not only before, but especially AFTER most people realized how senseless WWI was. (In Germany the outcome with the Freikorps….and…yea much nastier.)

      If British soldiers deaths are eulogized or the dear mentor of Prince Charles is eulogized, a lot of people who may not at all believe Irish Catholic men are less important than Mountbatten or Redcoats might be very, very reluctant to say anything. A lot of people who don’t understand how destructive these dynamics can get, may believe there’s no harm in “going along to get along” especially when there’s a crying mother involved or they are connected to Britain’s biggest celebrities.

      If you don’t know how dangerous a Dolchstoss can be it’s a fairly rational decision to just opt not to hurt anyone’s feelings. If you aren’t going to get recognition for Irish victims either way, why rain on the parade of that crying mother who lives within 100 miles of where you come from?

      Add to that pot British libel laws, the fact freedom of information is a fairly recent thing in the UK (in most democracies to be fair), and the fact that the whole “public school” system is very good at fostering extreme in-group loyalties.

      In short, for some journalists and members of the public I suspect social pressure and a something like (but not quite the same as) emotional blackmail may be a bigger factor than genuine belief. (Though it’s a lot more complicated and more sinister than ordinary emotional blackmail. Most people do not intuitively pick up on that.)

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  5. What did the IRA gain by fighting on to 1998 that wasn’t on offer at Sunningdale?
    They ended the war by decommissioning their weapons and with an agreement that Ireland would only be united if both states agreed – something they’d rejected since 1922.

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  6. notimportant

    I honestly don’t understand how anybody studying the Troubles can see the British as being on the right side of history yet even in the US they paint the Irish Catholics as terrorists and it being a sectarian conflict rather than colonized people fighting for independence and the British following the same divide and conquer strategy they employed in every former colony as it was breaking up.

    It’s impossible to find an accurate depiction of the situation unless you’re reading Irish publications or watching Irish documentaries or movies. Our US press basically pushes UK propaganda, and even our most liberal media members try to make Irish Catholics out to be as toxic and backward as right wing extremists. Or they write about victims of the IRA while completely ignoring victims of the loyalist terrorists or British security apparatus.

    There’s actually a major but subtle tide of anti-Irish sentiment coming back in the US disguising itself as progressivism. It’s pretty insane.

    I really hope that one day we get the full truth about the Troubles and kids outside of Ireland are taught the real comprehensive history of Ireland.

    I recommend your blog to everybody I can so people can educate themselves.

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