The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
A Gnat on the Back of an Elephant

Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad with power.
- One of four lessons of history attributed to Charles Beard

Mags Glennon • June 19 2003

In Dublin there is a newsagents called Reads, located close to Trinity College. It is a well known shop because it's advertising ploy is that it baits Easons. All Reads ads mention that it sells stationery, books and magazines at a large percentage cheaper than Easons. No doubt this irritates the Easons company, a major multiple with large stores in all of Ireland's major cities and towns. Easons deals with the problem by biting its corporate lip and ignoring the cheeky rival. It has not been known to threaten Reads or its customers with legal action, for example, nor has it sought to intimidate Reads suppliers or the publications which carry ads for the shop. That is the way it works in business, if you have a profile you will have opposition.

The Reads and Easons situation applies to most scenarios really. In the absence of business or intellectual monopolies we all have to tolerate opposing views of progress within society.

However in West Belfast a different dynamic seems to apply. Initially the problem arose in Belfast, but it then leeched into cyberspace and now has surfaced in the print media in the US. There are important principles at stake in the dispute and in no way should it be ignored as some inter-Republican spat, of no concern to society at large.

The Andersonstown News is the local newspaper in West Belfast. It started off as a community paper years ago, but now has several editions for different areas of the city and employs 60 people. The paper says it supports the Peace Process and prints many views, but the editorial tone is strongly biased in favour of the views of Provisional Sinn Féin. By it's own admission the paper is opposed to what it calls "dissidents"; indeed it says it will "stand up" to them. So the Andytown News admits that it is not neutral.

Also operating out of West Belfast is a website called 'The Blanket', produced by ex-POW Anthony McIntyre and his wife Carrie. It is an online magazine that publishes news and comment from writers on Irish and international affairs. If you have a sensible and sane opinion or campaign on a progressive issue they will happily post up your contribution on 'The Blanket'. While sceptical of the views of Provisional Sinn Féin the site has posted articles submitted by party members. The site has always made it clear that it opposes the continuing armed struggle of some Republican groups. The website uses a quote from Bobby Sands to explain their mission "You cannot put a rope around the neck of an idea".

So that is the scenario. A well funded local paper with 60 paid staff, as opposed to a couple with a website and a dozen or so voluntary writers. A gnat on the back of an elephant. No contest you would think.

However in recent weeks an extraordinary campaign has been instituted against the website by the newspaper. There have been differences of opinion going back a few years now. McIntyre, and other contributors to 'The Blanket', claim that they are banned from the Andytown News, that no articles or letters they submit will be published because their views conflict with those of influential people at the newspaper. At one stage the paper had printed articles from writers on 'The Blanket' where they raised criticisms of the Good Friday Agreement, but the debate came to a sudden halt. 'The Blanket' has commented on the Andytown News, in both serious articles and via satire. McIntyre has also written an article or two, in a humourous vein, describing a verbal attack on him by a Sinn Féin councillor. Them is the breaks; McIntyre seems to dislike the Andytown News, but 'The Blanket' has a very strict anti-censorship policy and in this spirit if the Andytown News chose to defend itself the site would carry the reply.

The recent Freddie Scappaticci furore has moved the dispute onto a different plane. When this man was named as 'Stakeknife' in the media, McIntyre was interviewed for his views on the matter. As a non-Provisional Republican he gave his opinions, mainly around analysis on what the revelations would mean for the future of Republicanism. At no point did he say that Scappaticci was the informer known as 'Stakeknife', even though quite a lot of people in Belfast seem convinced that Scappaticci has a number of questions to answer. On a 'Spotlight' TV investigation other so-called "dissidents" were far more scathing of Scappaticci and the Provisionals. Despite being branded a tout in dozens of mainstream newspapers at no stage has Scappaticci sued any of them for libel. While he is taking legal action, this is based on demanding that the British government say he is not an informer.

A week after the first revelations the Andytown News published a very soft interview with Freddie Scappaticci, in which he denied being 'Stakeknife'. A writer for 'The Blanket' wrote a satirical spoof of the interview, which appeared alongside serious comment pieces on the topic everyone in West Belfast was discussing.

In another section of cyberspace there exists a website called 'Nuzhound', owned by John Fay. He performs a selfless task, catering to all of us who do not have time to read the world's media. Each day 'Nuzhound' carries links to all articles relevant to the conflict in the North, including stories on 'The Blanket' site. Recently the Andytown News contacted Fay and threatened him with legal action if he did nor remove these links. Fay did not have the money to fight a legal case, he had no choice but to cave in. The links were removed. Visitors to 'Nuzhound' would not now know of the views expressed in 'The Blanket'. Round One to the Andytown News.

At this stage a Belfast born journalist called Eamon Lynch, a columnist with the US based 'Irish Echo' newspaper, wrote an article about the censorship of 'Nuzhound' and was critical of the Andytown News. Cue more threats of legal action, which resulted in the publisher of the Irish Echo caving in to the demands of the Andytown News for a free run to promote themselves and their views in the Echo. Lynch immediately resigned from his job. Round Two to the Andytown News.

A couple of thing become obvious from all this. Firstly, 'The Blanket' is no longer being challenged directly. The McIntyres have made it clear that they are not for turning, legal threats will have no effect - the website will continue to publish what is submitted to it, whatever the Andytown News thinks. Thus the focus has moved in the direction of preventing other media outlets from publicising the heresies of McIntyre, with two successes so far.

Secondly, the dispute has little, if anything, to do with the Scappaticci matter. It is quite understandable that Republicans, from any or no group, would feel reluctant to embroil themselves in this murky affair. However it is the mainstream media which has raised the informer allegations, not 'The Blanket', which has merely reported and commented on views related to the main story.

Thirdly, the role and activities of the Andytown News deserve scrutiny. It has been said by some that the newspaper wishes to ensure that only views favourable to the analysis of Provisional Sinn Féin are read in West Belfast. To an extent this may be true, it is well known that senior staff in the paper are sympathetic to that party. However the reality is that alternative views cannot be stifled to this insane extent - it would mean ensuring that no other publication could be sold in West Belfast, that people could not have TVs tuned to unapproved stations that might broadcast programmes critical of Sinn Féin. Obviously this is unlikely to occur.

What is aimed for though is a hegemony which smothers any alternative views, internal dissent in West Belfast must be minimised, if not eliminated. It is somewhat ironic that the enemy appears so puny - after all not that many people in West Belfast spend their days hunched over keyboards trawling for "dissident" views. The citizens of Ballymurphy, having fought a war for 25 years against the British, are well able to identify the enemy.

What they must be "protected" from is the enemy within. Thus it is essential that persons expressing alternative views are demonised, even if the person is pro-peace and anti-militarism. Which is why the considered opinions of such as Anthony McIntyre are misrepresented. In it's freebie ad in the Irish Echo the Andytown News moans of being "denigrated and attacked by dissident Republican Anthony McIntyre and his associates". However in the very next line he is accused of running a "one man campaign". Which is it, one wonders? The article continues, accusing him of the despicable crime of felon setting and the inaccurate claim that he has called people touts. It speaks darkly of his "background", without explaining that this includes 18 years in jail, much of it on the blanket in Long Kesh. But since he promotes his deranged views "in the darkest recesses of the internet" - shades of porno sites here - one has to ask again what the Andytown News is getting worked up about? This McIntyre is obviously a nut, as the writer — handily knowing the views of everyone else — says he has "zero support in Belfast". But that is what the guy is like, and you can't have any other view on him - no links to his site, no press coverage for the madman.

Because the Andytown News has stated openly that it has told the "mainstream media" it will sue any publication which prints McIntyre's views. This is a truly amazing statement in its arrogance and intimidatory intent. It is hard to imagine any other local paper in Ireland making such a promise. Get your head around that statement - if any newspaper prints an article by Anthony McIntyre which criticisises the Andytown News it will be up the high steps straight away. Can anyone imagine the evil empires of Rupert Murdoch or Tony O Reilly - real players in the world media - having the cheek to issue such an ultimatum?

It should be clear to any political activist, Republican or not, what the implications are for freedom of speech and political activism in Ireland if the threats in the last paragraph are continued beyond the two outlets already targeted. The stakes are obviously higher too in West Belfast, where being a "dissident" can - and has - led to beatings and death.

One small step people can make to oppose this squalid little Inquisition is to include a link from their website to The Blanket - A Journal of Protest and Dissent




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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.
- Claude Adrien Helvétius

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




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices