The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Andersonstown News: Voice of Banana Republicanism?

On June 17, I resigned as a columnist at the Irish Echo when the publisher, Sean Finlay, buckled in the face of intimidation from the publisher of the Andersonstown News, Mairtin O'Muilleoir, over the contents of this column. Finlay had the column removed from the Irish Echo website - a clear case of censorship since the story is not only accurate but entirely legally defensible. Finlay also insisted that the Echo run a column from O'Muilleoir. This is right-of-reply and doesn't concern me. However, at Finlay's insistence, O'Muilleoir's column was accompanied by a 'Publisher's Note' describing the Andersonstown News as an independent newspaper with high journalistic standards. O'Muilleoir's "reply" did not address any of the issues of censorship and intimidation that I raised, resorted to personal smears, and included a boast of how he regularly threatens legal action against the media.The actions of O'Muilleoir prove the point of this column.
I stand by it entirely.

- Eamon Lynch

Eamon Lynch • June 18 2003
[Originally published in the Irish Echo, June 11, 2003]

As the largest newspaper in west Belfast, the Andersonstown News serves much the same function for Sinn Fein as Pravda once did for the Soviet politbureau and that Fox News now does for the Bush administration. It is a dependable organ of banana republicanism, promoting Dear Leadership and attacking dissenters with zeal.

Milking this cash cow publication as chief executive is the former Sinn Fein councillor Mairtin O Muilleoir, who kindly poured me a cup of tea at a book party a couple of years back (the tea was weak but the service was pleasant enough). I’ve never met the editor, an excitable scribbler named Robin Livingstone, but for several years have watched with amusement as he strolls into the propellers with depressing regularity.

Recently Livingstone conducted an exclusive, highly-touted interview with the high tout, Freddie Scappaticci, the man widely named as the British agent in the IRA code-named Stakeknife. A rigorous Q&A it wasn't. To wit: Scappaticci claimed that when told he would be named as the most important mole in IRA history, he simply went to sleep then strolled to a gas station the next day to pick up a paper. Livingstone apparently didn't think this faintly absurd sequence worthy of further examination.

Of course, Scappaticci was asked if he was a British double-agent. Never, he replied, before proceeding through the remaining chatter unmolested by troublesome inquiries. It was akin to asking Henry Kissinger if he would like to publicly deny being a war criminal then boasting about having asked the tough question when he cheerfully accepts the offer.

The interview seemed to be less about defending an innocent man against allegations by a venal press than about protecting Sinn Fein from the grave implications of the Stakeknife revelations. As an effort to declare the Scappaticci story bogus - the shoddy work of a 'mischievous' media, in Dear Leader's usual terminology - it failed miserably.

Writing in the online magazine The Blanket, Anthony McIntyre gleefully punched holes in the interview, noting that Scappaticci's denial convinced few people in Belfast. Once an imprisoned IRA member, McIntyre is now such an effective and articulate critic of Sinn Fein that his home has been picketed by the party faithful, including an Andersonstown News editor. This has not dulled his acid commentary on the republican leadership and its water-carriers.

While Scappaticci has not initiated a single defamation proceeding despite being accused of heinous crimes, the newspaper has taken up the cudgel in his stead.

McIntyre's article was linked on Newshound, the popular website of news about Northern Ireland. In response, the freedom-loving folks at the Andersonstown News threatened Newshound founder John Fay with a libel action. Faced with the punitive cost of defending a baseless suit, Fay was forced to remove links to two articles by McIntyre. Only one of the stories directly criticized Livingstone and the newspaper; the other discussed Sinn Fein's hysterical reaction to the Stakeknife saga, with only a passing reference to what McIntyre calls the "Andytout News".

This suggests that the newspaper’s executives were concerned with more than defending their reputations – a notion bolstered by the fact that no similar legal threat was issued to McIntyre or The Blanket. Demanding Newshound remove both stories suggests that the Andersonstown News wants to limit the reach of any theory on Stakeknife that conflicts with the official version as handed down in its pages.

Livingstone has a history of browbeating critics. In 2001, incensed at jabs by Newton Emerson's satirical Portadown News website, he had the joker fired by informing his employer that the site was updated during working hours. This contemptible move backfired when Emerson became a regular media presence. McIntyre too is frequently attacked in Livingstone’s pages but is denied right of reply, even in a letter to the editor.

Shinners often snarl that McIntyre is motivated by a personal animus toward party leaders, the same limp smear directed at Ed Moloney even before he published his masterful history of the IRA last year. But those who write with honesty and integrity are seldom applauded by politicians who survive on subtle obfuscation and outright lies.

Censorship is now endemic in the republican movement. Debate is stifled and dissension is met with assault, kidnap and murder. The Stakeknife fiasco could prove devastating to Sinn Fein, no matter how many loyal apparatchiks try to sow doubt in the public mind by dismissing it as a British dirty trick. With customary clumsiness, the Andersonstown News has only exposed Sinn Fein's desperation to bury the story and attack those with the temerity to ask awkward questions. It would seem that in west Belfast asking for information is the mark of the enemy, not passing information to the British.

There are many in Irish America who backed Sinn Fein's right to be heard here. Anyone genuinely committed to open debate and the free flow of ideas ought to be standing four square behind Anthony McIntyre and John Fay and resolutely against the squalid and censorious intimidation of the Andersonstown News.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



To limit the press is to insult a nation; to prohibit reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves.
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Index: Current Articles

19 June 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Andersonstown News: Voice of Banana Republicanism?
Eamon Lynch


A Gnat on the Back of an Elephant
Mags Glennon


In Defence of Eamon Lynch
Anthony McIntyre


Left Right?

Eamonn McCann


President-in-Exile in Jail

Pedram Moallemian


The Letters Page has been updated.


16 June 2003


Building an AntiWarMovement: Moving to Action
Davy Carlin


The Genealogy of Power: On Michel Foucault
Liam O Ruairc


Trade Union Bureaucrats Shaft Aldergrove Workers

Sean Smyth


The Supreme Commander

Anthony McIntyre




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