Anthony McIntyre thinks that underlying the latest snowflaking in North Belfast politics, is a shared antipathy towards freedom of speech and opinion.

Sinn Fein’s North Belfast councillor JJ Magee has developed into something of a hate figure for unionists in the constituency. The provenance of unionism’s particular animosity towards him lies in his bringing to public attention a loyalist marching band exercising sectarian bragging rights outside a Catholic Cathedral 7 years ago.

Since then sharp exchanges have taken place between Magee and the local unionists, in what is now euphemised as a cultural war. Last year Magee went as far as to apologise for doing nothing more than retweeting something about the British national anthem that some unionists took offence at. In a world where taking offence is a premium, snowflakes soon become snowstorms, usually in a teacup.

Unionists depict Magee as a flaming bigot while nationalists consider him no more than a bit rough at the edges and remarkably restrained for one who lost a sister to unionist gunmen during the North’s violent political conflict.

The latest clash has blown up as a result of a Twitter exchange between Magee and a unionist in the wake of Karen Bradley’s stupid but revealing comments about the nature of attacks by British forces on civilians in the North - that they merely massacred "in a dignified and appropriate way."

Bradley will not benefit from the fool's pardon she is eminently qualified to obtain, even though she has since inanely claimed "I do not believe what I said." Damning her is that prior to her utterances about dignified massacres she had been advocating getting British military killers off the hook.

Unionism, sensing an opportunity to hold Magee over a spit, seems to be trying to cause him to join Bradley at silly point, by having him recant and apologetically proclaim that he too does not believe what he said.

Sinn Fein have ostensibly, but not really, rallied to Magee’s defence, reportedly claiming that their councillor "was responding to the first question on answering questions with questions." Which will lead seasoned observers to feel that the innocuous, rather than the insurgency, is what the party is intent on defending.

Unless there is something being withheld, it seems pretty clear from the above exchange that Sinn Fein's explanation does not bear scrutiny. The order of tweets would indicate that the questioned answered with a resounding "no" was the one about whether IRA killings were crimes.

From a republican perspective he has done nothing wrong. Bobby Sands and nine others died on hunger strike proclaiming both the existence and armed struggle of the IRA as a political endeavour, not a criminal one. Despite Nuala McAllister's condescending posturing on the matter, Magee is merely expressing a core tenet of republicanism - IRA killings were political, not criminal.

Such a stance does not mean Magee regards IRA killings as legal. They patently were not. He does not have to view them as either just or right. He might even feel the IRA campaign was seriously misguided, perhaps unethical. Quite possibly he may not approve of a single IRA killing while at the same time believing that they were not criminal, nor the IRA a criminal enterprise.

Despite the holier than thou breast beating from critics, stating that an action is not criminal is not to say that because it is political it is somehow ethically better. Political killings can often be much more heinous than criminal ones. What action from the criminal underworld in Ireland over the last 50 years has been as unremittingly iniquitous as the Kingsmill Massacre? The loyalist killings of nationalist civilians, including that of JJ Magee’s sixteen year old sister, were political not criminal. They were all the more calculative and crueller for that. When republican prisoners won political status in 1972 they did not object to it being extended to loyalist prisoners. They looked more benignly on nationalist criminals but acknowledged the essential political nature of the loyalists while despising them for their politics and political violence.

Where Magee is clearly wrong is in seeking to silence his unionist detractors through a legal cosh, arguing that his "position has been misrepresented on social media. On that basis I have initiated legal action." At first glance his case seems tenuous and the unionists are adopting a bring it on stance, with Jamie Bryson dismissing the legal action as "laughable litigation."

The legal firm representing him is not Paul Tweed, a robust advocate of conservative libel law, but an entity long associated with human rights, Kevin Winters Law. The same firm previously tried to silence criticism of the acquitted rugby rape trial accused, Paddy Jackson. This is a precarious path for a human rights law firm to be dragged along: the right to hold and express an offensive opinion is something human rights lawyers should be protecting not prosecuting.

Magee's legal muzzle is being manufactured for the jaws of his fellow councillor, Dale Pankhurst of the DUP. Magee claims to have been offended by Pankhurst's characterisation of him as depraved and sick. Not that Pankhurst is an innocent abroad. He had earlier threatened to muzzle Magee by complaining to the Local Government Commissioner For Standards on the grounds that what Magee said "cannot be allowed to be said by anyone holding public office."

In a race to the bottom of the censorship barrel, Magee and Pankhurst are trying to muzzle each other through what Kevin Myers once described as "politically correct gagging laws." Instead of the faux, for the optics, swooning, fainting and rattle tossing, in response to comments found offensive, there should be more vigorous exchanges, an aversion to the language of sameness decried by Professor Kathleen Lynch when she hit out at the neutralisation of public discourse and debate. Womack and Womack, with a slight tweak of the lyrics, could have provided the background music to all of this: ๐ŸŽœSnowflakes on the dancefloor - remind me councillors of you.๐ŸŽœ

The solution to this is alluringly simple: Magee should not be hauled before the Local Government Commissioner For Standards. Pankhurst should not be subject to the law as muzzle. Let a hundred flowers blossom, not wilt like shrinking violets.

Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill. 

Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

11 comments to ''Snowflakes "

  1. Excellent writing, highlighting serious issues of freedom of speech and insecure attempts to silence dissenting opinions.

    This is why Twitter is such an appalling medium for proper debates and conversation.

  2. This gives a clear insight into why, when the Movement shifted to the peace strategy, the legitimacy of the Republican Constitution should have been upheld. TUAS was probably the correct line under the circumstances, particularly in hindsight, but how it was developed is another story. While I see Republicanism now as having been very much confined, there is still a faint hope that a project like that of the 1916 Societies can pick up the direction that should have been pursued.

  3. The hope would be that others might join them in a broad based initiative geared towards Irish Freedom.

  4. Hmmm , Jj and his colleagues in Sinn Fein have a tendency to pass judgement on others views and opinions both publicly and privately , I speak from personal experience , it's all about profile and ego and who can do the most in order to get noticed , I don't believe Jjs personal loss would in any way dictate his views on I.R.A actions , he's too sincere for that , but along with that sincerity come delusions of grandeur and a belief that he is right about everything including other people's commitment to Republicanism.

  5. Staffenberg - I have no idea what he thinks but in the time I knew him I never once recall him uttering a sectarian sentiment. I always saw him more as a community type person rather than a politician. Was a bit surprised that he ended up a SF councillor. He would hang a door as readily in the Shankill if it were needed as he would in the New Lodge. Sure, he has expressed some daft opinions but I think the unionists have turned him into a hate figure, something of a voodoo doll for them. My issue here is that both he and Dale Pankhurst are becoming embroiled in a legal battle which ultimately is based on silencing opinion. If JJ was mocking the Shankill dead or Pankhurst mocking JJ's late sister, it would be understandable that each would move against the other. But not for opinion and polemic.

  6. Anthony , Yes for sure , I've never seen or heard him behave in a way that would suggest he has a deep dislike of the unionist community , you , me and everyone one else are aware of the long list of sectarian killings which were carried out by loyalists in North Belfast down the years and the subsequent reaction of of Republican paramilitaries in dealing with those responsible for organizing it , so there may well be historic reasons for the Unionists dislike of him , coupled with the incident at St Patrick's a few years back it looks like the Unionists want to publicly give him a taste of his own medicine if you like.

    Like I said earlier Anthony and this goes for Jj and Pankhurst alike , some people like to believe they are never wrong , there are others around them winding them up and telling them how invincible they are , a bit like a coach in a boxers corner.

    1. Staffenberg,

      " you , me and everyone one else are aware of the long list of sectarian killings which were carried out by loyalists in North Belfast down the years and the subsequent reaction of of Republican paramilitaries in dealing with those responsible for organizing it "

      Or simply killing innocent Prods in retaliation.

  7. Seems JJ Magee isn't the only one to feel the wrath of snowflakes. Tommy Tiernan from Derry Girls fame has been reported to police' over stand-up remarks about unionists....

    In a tweet, Councillor Dale Pankhurst said that he'd had "numerous calls from unionists who had to get up and leave the Tommy Tiernan concert in the Ulster Hall due to comments made regarding contentious issues"

    One concert-goer who didn't want to be named said Tiernan used four letter words to describe a number of politicians.

    "He really overstepped the mark. I'm slow to anger but setting aside what he said and who he said it about, it was his language which I found to be completely misjudged,"

    I wonder what both Councillor Dale Pankhurst and the unnamed Unionist concert-goer think about the debate within the BBC concerning over 75's possibly being asked to pay at least part of their TV license while John Sweeney from the BBC Flag Ship Panorama getting very drunk on license payer's money and in the wake of Karen Bradley's cock up , openly admitting that one of his political heroes is the former head of the IRA "Daniel..Danny McGuiness and he(McGuiness) got on well with the Queen"

    Take down Tommy..Fast forward until until 22mins.

    Or this... this...Recently MLA's salaries have been reduced from approx £45,000 to £28,500 PA..

    "The initial reduction will see MLA salaries fall from £49,500 to £35,888 followed by the reduction of a further £6,187."

    Basically 90 MLA's got a slice of a £10 million pound slush fund..

    In the real world only £17,000 of a £7 million pound welfare package to help people move to Universal Credit has been released that 116 people benefited from.

    In laymans terms...£10 million for 90 MLA's... On the streets,from a £7 million pound welfare fund only £17,000 has been released divided among 116 people...And John Sweeney has no problems in running up a £220 pound bar tab on license payers money while admitting he is an admirer of the former head of the Provisional IRA...

  8. Steve R , I don't know how familiar you are with North Belfast , I was born and grew up there and understand very well the tribal attitude that exists , I spent my early teenage years going into Tigers Bay and lower Shankill and vandalizing loyalist murals or even lighting their bonfires before the 11th night , unionist politicians were very good at cranking up sectarian tensions when it suited them and my community suffered for it , when I set about defending my community which I did along with many of my friends I would get arrested , get a hiding from the cops and then get landed in court , Tom Travers was sick of the sight of me.

    There's no point you and I point scoring about how many innocent people lost their lives at the hands of paramilitaries from either side , the fact is Steve we are in another time in history , we've moved on hopefully , I'm not happy at how PSF go about their business but this is how things are and we're stuck with it.

    1. Staffy,

      Fair enough, both sides were not innocent. I agree, point scoring is pointless today, let's move on together.

  9. Steve , Without a doubt , I think Anthony was making a point about opinion being silenced , he's absolutely right but there you go , The Shinners feel they have a God given right to impose their will on anyone who disagrees with them , this way of thinking seeps from the top down , from the M.P to the humble councilor and community activist and they use whatever means at their disposal to silence anyone who backchats them.


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