Wrong Measure

Exaggeration is a blood relation to falsehood and nearly as blamable – Hosea Ballou

A recurring feature of much peace process commentary has been to ignore what sits in front of it in favour of something which demonstrably does not. Although Sinn Fein has been the most persistent offender it has never had the field to itself. However, while others show some sense of unease about calling a spade a shovel Sinn Fein doesn’t even blush. Jonathan Powell in his memoirs wittily recounts an interesting exchange in this regard between the British and Sinn Fein. Gerry Adams stated that what he liked about Powell was that he always blushed when he told a lie. ‘Unlike you Gerry’ was the instant retort from Bill Jeffrey of the NIO. Sinn Fein leaders may not feel they are personally dishonest when they are spoofing, just a matter of engaging in strategic lying. Terry Eagleton once described how those who employ this type of lying actually feel they are promulgating revolutionary truths. The rest of us who are not revolutionaries have a somewhat different take. Sinn Fein’s need to overlook all the evidence is shaped by the fact that the political project it has embarked on is so far removed from anything identifiably republican, in fact is arguably treasonous to republicanism, that every effort must be made to mask it. This does not mean that individual members are incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, black and white, truth and falsehood, or would be deceitful in their personal dealings with others; just that the abandoned political ground is so huge that it has no equal in terms of what other bodies have vacated apart from the Workers Party, and consequently more flannel is needed to camouflage it. On occasion the lie is not resorted to. But the outcome is no more accurate for that. Presentation of the issues is performed in so lopsided a fashion that the outcome is as straight as a corkscrew. A recent example of this was when the Belfast writer Danny Morrison in a letter to the Irish News challenged the basis of criticisms made of Sinn Fein by the former IRA prisoner Padraic Mac Coitir. Mac Coitir had earlier in the same outlet publicly vented his annoyance at comments by Martin McGuinness accusing physical force republicans of being traitors. In his rejoinder to Mac Coiter, Morrison spoke of how measured the Provisionals have been in their response to the jibes, actions or provocations from their republican critics. The obvious question here is what measure was Morrison using? A brief recall of some of the ‘measured’ Provisional responses should suffice to make the point. The following claims have never been seriously refuted: • Joe O’Connor, shot dead • Brendan Shannon, kidnapped • Brendan Rice, kidnapped and beaten • Mickey Donnelly, limbs broken • Bobby Tohill, kidnapped and badly beaten • Paddy Fox, kidnapped • Stephen Moore, kidnapped • Geordie McCall, shot and injured • Kevin Perry, shot and injured In addition to this there have been house visitations, threats, smear campaigns, bugging of homes, censorship and marginalisation. Can it really be the case that killing Joe O’Connor is a more measured response than calling Gerry Adams a modern day De Valera? Are any of the above attacks more measured? The playing of the victim role for so long has so distorted logic and proportion that this is what we end up with. It is the sort of self-pitying perspective that would lead someone with a sore finger to trample cancer patients and pull people out of intensive care beds to get themselves to the front of the hospital queue. The total collapse of all sense of proportion is as startling as it is instructive. 99 per cent of propagandists it seems give the rest a bad name. They fall victim to forgetting that, as Friedrich Nietzsche so lucidly put it, 'the most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.'


  1. AM,

    I think it's only when we examine the past, we realise how much things have changed. I went to see Stiff Little Fingers on Friday night. I've no idea what you think/thought of the band, but as someone with irish ancestry growing up in London they seemed to me to offer some sense of normality and hope that one day the situation might be better.

    Listening to songs such as Alternative Ulster and Suspect Device were a sudden jolt. I hadn't realised how much my perception of the situtation had changed till I heard songs that had such an impact.

    I guess I come from a different place to you, having always believed that non violence was the answer.

    As a Barnet Councillor recently made some anti Irish racist comments, I've been looking around for some inspiration for my next blog.

    The conclusion that I've drawn is that the likes of Adams, Paisley et all are too rooted in the past to take the situation forward. We eed a new generation of Irish politicians who are a bit more forward looking.

    I suspect that Ireland won't truly move on until this generation have moved on. It seems that there is a (not surprising) fixation with old rows and old deals.

  2. Hi Anthony.

    I've read an awful lot of articles you have written and I was wondering if you could outline to us how you believe a united Ireland can be achieved. Or do you believe it is unachievable?

    The reason I ask this is because you oppose the SF strategy as well as military strategies of the dissidents.

    But what is the alternative? It's something a lot of readers of your blog would like to know.


  3. I know you’re directing the question at Anthony, but I’ll step in and hog the limelight.
    From my point of view, violence won’t unite the country and neither will supporting PSF. The remaining alternative is to make the most out of your own life, fight for social equality, seek the removal of the shoneen class from power in the south and then just wait for a nationalist majority.

  4. Rog T,
    No doubt things have changed. Many of us remain interested in why they changed. Very few of us want them to change back to what they were. Stiff Little Fingers were a group that were on the go I think while I was on the blanket protest. They like much else in the world at that time passed me by. Led Zeppelin continues to hold me in a time warp.

    Non violence being the answer – I think we have a human obligation to ensure it is the answer but unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way.

    I think you are right that some people have been around far too long and that cannot be good for progress. Although I am not convinced that they alone keep up what you call the fixation with the past. In a small society there really is no escaping the past, just finding ways of dealing with it.

  5. M, it’s nice to know my blog has sufficient readers for there to be lots of them interested in anything that is written on it.

    I don’t now what you have read but there have been articles where I have made it clear that I don’t think there is any way to achieve a united Ireland. Much of the origins of this thinking are contained within a lengthy document I wrote in prison about 18years ago. Ending partition is like the magical fly killer – problem is how to catch the fly.

    The British terms for unity are quite clear – consent within the north, which the entire armed campaign was waged against. But even getting unity on the terms stipulated by the Brits seems a no hoper. Gerry Adams once called it a partitionist fudge. The unionists won’t be persuaded. If they were to be persuaded it would have to be by somebody other than SF. But who other than SF is interested in persuading them?

    Militarily, no campaign will achieve a united Ireland. If the Provisional IRA which I belonged to failed then what other IRA can succeed?

    In my view there will not be a united Ireland and no one has come with anything that has persuaded me to the contrary.