The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Tongue

I would rather a thousand times be a free soul in jail than to be a sycophant and coward in the streets. If it had not been for the men and women who, in the past, have had the moral courage to go to jail, we would still be in the jungles
- Eugene Debs

Anthony McIntyre • 30 January 2003

I am not a buyer of the Andersonstown News. Like its sister paper An Phoblacht/Republican News, which I stopped wasting money on a number of years ago, it has become repetitious and predictable - a programmed purveyor of the line and a site of simulacra rather than the source of real news and substantive analysis. While a young imprisoned IRA volunteer in Magilligan in 1974-1975, I looked forward to getting the paper. It seemed community rather than business driven and covered a range of topics that would appeal to a 17 year old. These days it occasionally has good pieces and Des Wilson is always thought provoking. And arduous as it may be it can also be worthwhile to wade through Danny Morrison’s presentation of whatever the line for the week happens to be. But my first inclination when reaching for it in any house I happen to be in is to read Fiona Brady or Allison Morris who invariably have something useful to tell us about ordinary life in working class areas.

I suppose in some ways if everybody in West Belfast can get up in the morning and with the minimum of difficulty persuade themselves that they are smarter than the editor of the Andersonstown News - C Company members in the Lower Shankill included - then there is not a lot to be expected from its pages.

I am not sure why things in Teach Basil over on Hannahstown Hill have ebbed to such a low point. The manager of the paper Mairtin O Muilleoir, whatever I may think of his political views is - besides being nifty with the pen and by all accounts in possession of a shrewd business acumen - not a man lacking in moral courage. And behind the at times flippant demeanour I have always sensed a humanitarian spirit that would pull you out of a hole rather than put you down one. In prison I had a certain regard for O Muilleoir which has lasted to this day. Such sentiment was buttressed no doubt by finding out on release that City Hall unionists despised him more than the other Sinn Fein councillors. Maybe because he hailed from the party stable his sense of symmetry is infused with a dizzying touch of political vertigo inhibiting his sense of balance. Why else, in the pace driven editorial world of today’s newsrooms, appoint a goat rather than a greyhound as editor?

I have heard the paper described as a Sinn Fein rag. I wouldn’t use that term out of respect for the decent staff who would find the term ‘rag’ offensive. But I remain unconvinced that its party organ label is inappropriate. What sort of a deputy editor other than a party hack doubles up as one of the most vociferous amongst a gang of Sinn Fein devotees to picket a local home because the occupants challenge the party version of events? I suppose I could delude myself and say that he was just there reporting and only shouted at my pregnant wife to make himself heard above the howls of the mob were it not for his recent nomination by Sinn Fein as its representative on Foras na Gaeilge - the all-Ireland Irish language implementation body for a further three-year term.

A couple of years ago myself and Tommy Gorman were allowed to write in the paper’s letter page after I had been anonymously criticised courtesy of the editor. Refusing to hide behind pseudonyms, we got a fair hearing, adequate coverage and our contributions were not edited in any way. But it was a battle so easily won and there was no real point returning to the mart to sell the same cow twice as they say in rural areas.

Since then matters have changed. In a phone conversation with the editor Robin Livingstone I was informed by him that despite the management's stated policy I was not to be allowed to write in the paper under any circumstances - no right of reply regardless of what was said about me in its pages. He explained that the paper’s legal advisors had informed him to pursue this course. I didn’t believe him. It seemed such bizarre and dodgy advice to be given by anybody other than a plumber fixing pipes in a solicitor’s office that I concluded if Robin had indeed received such advice it must have come from someone with the same level of competence as himself. But here is the rub - since then the only person to have a go at me in the paper has been Robin! In this context the supposed legal advice takes on the appearance of a self-serving fiction.

Robin’s vendettas in the past have been the cause of some misfortune for the paper. In a letter submitted to its ‘Mala poist’ section just over two years ago allegations were made against a named Belfast journalist that he was a gatherer of information for loyalist terrorists. That the letter got through the libel filtering process seemed an act of such gross ineptitude that whoever’s watch it slipped by on, better for the public that the guilty party worked in the Andersonstown News and not in air traffic control.

The journalist concerned established that the letter writer did not exist at the address which appeared in the paper. Then the whispers started emanating from Hannahstown Hill that the whole thing was an inside job - a comment from another time, another place resonated strongly, ‘Livingstone I presume.’ In any event the paper lost cash as a result of having to settle out of court and lost face due to having to apologise to the maligned journalist.

When Newton Emerson found himself on the receiving end of Robin’s ire - the latter having touted to Emerson’s boss that the Portadown News editor was using company time to update his website, leading to his being sacked, the ‘Newt’ and colleagues intellectually destroyed Robin and the case became a sort of cause celebre among the anti-censorship community. Robin became a laughing stock amongst his colleagues and the paper’s reputation suffered as a result. At one point Andersonstown News staff were telling fellow drinkers over after-work bevies about being detained in the office later than normal while Mairtin O Muilleoir lambasted Robin for his crass stupidity.

All of which left me puzzled - I never quite could work out if the Andersonstown News systematically set out to be an organ of demonisation or if the editor used it as his own personal instrument to keep those he took umbrage with down. Given the in-house tongue lashing Robin received it seems to be the latter. In any event the malign little venture has failed lamentably. Robin just doesn't have what it takes to ‘put manners’ on those of us who refuse to be cowered by the new established authority which insists on not being questioned.

Outfoxed by the libelled journalist and publicly humiliated by Emerson, Robin, mustering all the courage that led him to benefit from rather than participate in the republican struggle, looked around for an easier target against whom he felt it safe to have a poke every now and then. Probably because he has designated me a ‘banned person’, he felt I would have little recourse other than to laugh at him. Regrettably, for him, The Blanket is beyond his censorial control and not in hock to the private financiers which enables it to give a voice to the banned among others. And here, following Steve Biko rather than the practitioners of Section 31, we write what we like.

I occasionally wonder what drives Robin to pursue vendettas which he invariably fails to win. And I am tempted to think of Erich Fromm's view on the need of some people who lack a sense of self-worth to compensate for the perceived deficiency through latching onto a group:

Even if one is the most miserable, the poorest, the least respected member of a group, there is compensation for one’s miserable condition in feeling “I am a part of the most wonderful group in the world. I, who in reality am a worm, become a giant through belonging to the group”. … and they react with rage to any wound, real or imaginary inflicted on the group.

A case of wanting to be one of the boys and if the boys are attacked then their reputation must be defended. Yet Robin was not one of the boys when the boys really were the boys facing real attack. But I guess he too wishes to nail his colours to the mast now that being one of the boys carries all the risks of being pampered.

Yet Robin equipped - Geoffrey Howe like - with all the savagery of a dead sheep hardly manages to disturb those he attacks. Dull, insipid, uninspiring writers rarely incite passion one way or the other. Although he remains useful by allowing the rest of us to pass half an hour indulging in a bit of ridicule. And, unintentionally, he is a valuable gateway through which other issues can traverse which the paper’s management would prefer remained unsaid.

I never get annoyed by Robin. I don’t read him and he rarely comes to mind. When he does it is invariably in the form of a joke a current member of Sinn Fein once told me - seemingly, I am hardly alone in finding him an incurable sycophant: Gerry Kelly was rushed to hospital where after a two hour operation the chief surgeon announced that despite fierce resistance doctors had managed to remove Robin’s tongue from Mr Kelly’s backside.

Having read Robin’s fawning eulogies to Gerry Kelly in Ireland On Sunday would anyone out there be really surprised if they were to be told that Robin’s handlers in Sinn Fein refer to him ‘affectionately’ as ‘our little glove puppet’?

Robin put the kettle on
Robin put the kettle on
Robin put the kettle on
Gerry wants tea





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
- Thomas J. Watson

Index: Current Articles

3 February 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


A Carefully Crafted Message - Little Revealed, A Lot Concealed
John Meehan


What if They Give an Election and No One Comes?
Eamon Lynch


The Conscience of a King
Seaghán Ó Murchú


Lost Honour, Lost Cause
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Bogota Diary
Jimmy Sands


The Tongue
Anthony McIntyre


Glossary of Occupation

Paul de Rooij


26 January 2003


Drugadair and the Drugadiers
Anthony McIntyre


Thesis Antithesis
Paul Dunne


The Hungry Continent
Terence McMenamin


Sean Torain


Do They Talk to You?
Annie Higgins


Fight Against American Hyper-Imperialism and Oppression

Sean Matthews


The Letters page has been updated.




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