Establishment Englishmen Criminalising Irish Republicans

The French Marxist Louis Althusser, in grappling with the function of the press, radio and television as enablers of state domination and hegemony, developed the concept Communications Ideological State Apparatus to describe the phenomena. Browsing through a recent Guardian piece it was easy to see why Althusser thought as he did.

If a MI5 briefing memo to the press was uncovered it would read conspicuously like the piece in question. If it were to differ in any substantial way, I confess to not being possessed of the type of perspicacious mind that could discern it.

While MI5 were busy lobbying the North’s judiciary to refuse bail to alleged republican activists and thus refrain from disrupting a seamless process of internment by remand, a professor of journalism doubling up as a Guardian blogger was arguing in true blue Tory language for a reconfiguration of the media discourse around Irish republican activities.

If it was not for the time honoured ability of erstwhile revolutionaries to summersault and land “right” side up in the bosom of the establishment, it might have come as a bolt from the blue to find a former member of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), Roy Greenslade, making flesh the spirit of Margaret Thatcher.

Reasserting the Maggie mantra that republican activists like Bobby Sands were common criminals rather than insurgents engaged in political violence, Greenslade argues that:

Media outlets should take a leaf out of the BBC’s book by refusing to refer to ‘dissident republicans’ ... In the circumstances, gangs and gangsters is better. Better to criminalise rather than politicise.

Criminalise – that invidious British strategic term that so rang like tinnitus in the ears of ten republican prisoners as they breathed their last on hunger strike in defiance of its resonance. Some of the people today being targeted and harassed by the British police and MI5 as republican dissidents were on the blanket protest alongside Bobby Sands, Frank Hughes, Ray McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee and Micky Devine. Criminal, its seems like Tallyrand’s treason, "is just a matter of dates."

In his failed endeavour to push his fallacy over the line of resisting logic, Greenslade has sought to beef it up with a seeming endorsement of something termed “sensible self-censorship.” That too was a much sought after Thatcher objective in her drive to cut off the oxygen of publicity to people she labelled terrorists.

Pause for a moment and consider just how specious the Greenslade polemic against dissident republicans actually is:

I accept that they want a united Ireland, but the route they have chosen to take to secure it - pursuing a war discontinued 20 years ago by the former Provisional IRA - makes no sense whatsoever.

By implication, the Provisional IRA abandoning its war for a united Ireland 20 years ago - and Irish unity no closer - must also have rendered its campaign a nonsense and reduced the IRA volunteers who took part in the collective failure to criminals and gangsters. Not to mention the IRA members who robbed the Northern bank ten years after the war was discontinued: they must be bandits as well.

They have killed people. They have sown discord.

Something we are invited to assume the Provisional IRA is innocent of.

And it must be conceded that they have managed to recruit alienated, unemployed youth, often by suggesting that Sinn Féin, in sharing power at Stormont and in having eschewed violence, now represents “the establishment.”

This “travesty of the truth” has the professor ignoring the Sinn Fein president’s televised 2001 retort to then Irish Labour Party leader Ruairi Quinn that Sinn Fein was an establishment party or prominent Sinn Fein wall muralist Danny Devenney’s claim to the Financial Times to “have gone from agitator to establishment figure.”

It is also undeniable (look at the voting figures) that these groups have no validity in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the nationalist population, let alone the unionist population, in Northern Ireland.

The most that can be said in defence of his position here is that the minority nationalist backing for the Provisional IRA was larger than the minority nationalist backing for the current armed republicans. And his point is?

The dissident tag imbues them with a spurious legitimacy. It embellishes them with a political veneer ...

Even disregarding the fact that armed republicans in general dislike the term "dissident", it is spurious to argue that the act of ascribing a political motive to violence legitimises it. There are good politics and bad politics. Republicans in the H-Blocks always recognised the loyalists as political prisoners without in any way conferring legitimacy on their cause. To ascribe a political motive to the use of force is not to say it is legitimate or somehow morally superior to a violence driven by something other than politics. It is merely to assert a difference rather than an ethical superiority. Arguably, politically motivated violence is frequently more execrable than criminal violence. Republicans disappearing people, Loyalists butchering victims and state torture of those in custody all push mere criminality out of their path in the race to a moral society’s sewers.

The skewed reasoning snaking its way through the Greenslade piece is little other than self-incriminating confirmation of the author’s role as a shill for Sinn Fein, eager to kite fly for the party’s leader who has been making similar noises in recent times. Greenslade's relationship to the party is a long standing matter although not always one that was openly broadcast.

Few people are aware that The Guardian's media sage has affiliations with Sinn Fein. During the late 1980s, when he was managing news editor of The Sunday Times, he secretly wrote for An Phoblacht, the Sinn Fein newspaper, which then served as a propaganda sheet for the Provisional IRA. His pseudonym was George King.

Nor is functioning as a shill for the powerful and smearing their detractors a service Roy Greenslade has performed for Sinn Fein alone. A view from the Political Right:

he was the leading apologist for Tony Blair’s propagandist Alastair Campbell. Whatever Alastair Campbell wanted published, it seemed, Roy Greenslade wrote it. He launched vicious and lurid attacks on those Mr Campbell disliked (as I know to my cost because I was one of them). He boosted Mr Campbell’s friends. He repeated Mr Campbell’s lies and falsehoods.

And one from the Political Left:

The Mirror, under Greenslade's editorship, ran a savage campaign against the then miners' union leaders Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield. It published allegation after allegation of what Greenslade now calls 'cloak and dagger tales', without a shred of evidence. The paper accused Scargill of being corrupt, taking money from Libya to pay off his mortgage and lining his own pocket during the year-long miners' strike in 1984-5.

Greenslade’s affaire de Coeur with the power of the establishment to censor, label and define has also led to him endorsing the BBC buckling to political pressure to refrain from describing Islamic State as .... Islamic State. He now favours the use of the pre-fix “so called."

His exhortation to the media to "take a leaf out of the BBC’s book" might just gain credence, and his view considered as one genuinely held rather than merely grabbed for political advantage, when he takes a leaf out of the same book he wants others to abide by: and, in his Guardian column, unfailingly use the prefix "war criminal" when describing both Tony Blair and Benjamin Netanyahu.

There is so much wrong with the republican use of armed force that it is challenging to know where to begin the critique. Where it will not start is in the thoughts and words of Establishment Englishmen labelling Irish republicans criminals. Thatcher's mimic men are unlikely to succeed where she failed.


  1. Calm down Anthony, everybody knows he's a shinner lol

  2. It was written very calmly Steve

  3. Sort of damns the idea of 'journalistic objectivity' to the realm of fantasy.....not that I ever thought it existed in the first place

  4. Indeed Steve his allegiances are well known.
    Didn't Roy go bail for John Downey whilst he was awaiting trial on the Hyde Park bombing.

    We all have our biases and none of us are beyond a bit of spin.

    But I wonder if Greenslade would have the hard neck to describe Downey as a horse lover given that he's taken up rearing ponies as a hobby!

  5. AM

    Are you saying that the current armed IRAs are not criminals? Or that Greenslade is in no position to label them so?

  6. Peter,

    I am saying their campaigns are not criminal although it is beyond doubt that significant numbers of them are involved in criminality. I think it is fair comment were Greenslade to make that point but he didn't. He sought to criminalise republicans in a very Thatcheresque manner using logic that fails to stand up to scrutiny.

    I think a more important question is that of whether describing some forms of violence as political elevates it to a moral plateau. I don't believe it always does. ISIS violence is clearly political. At the same time it is worse than criminal. Being hopelessly at odds with armed republicanism I try to imbue the term
    political violence with a descriptive content rather than an ethical one.

  7. "There is so much wrong with the republican use of armed force that it is challenging to know where to begin the critique. Where it will not start is in the thoughts and words of Establishment Englishmen labelling Irish republicans criminals. Thatcher's mimic men are unlikely to succeed where she failed."


    Roy once wrote a book titled Goodbye to the Working Class, goodbye and good riddance some of us might say, excellent piece AM.
    'Establishment Englishmen Criminalising Irish Republicans yet again' might have been a more appropriate header ;)

  8. Roy is keen to label republicans, 'gangsters', and that is easy done with the current political leadership. You'd have to look no further than their offshore bank accounts, and vast property portfolios. And the same goes for the loyalists.
    Slab Murphy must be worth a pretty penny as well. I think it's fair to say that if your primary motive is financial gain, and not political progress, you're a gangster.

  9. Yet again it's another time an Englishman should mind his own feckin business!