That the agents of imperialism and the ruling elite everywhere weaponise information is nothing new. Two thousand years ago Augustus Caesar had supporters paint salacious and damaging stories about his enemies on the walls of Rome.
Technology has changed since then, but the underlying objective and methods remain the same. The process is carried out using a two-track approach: distort the truth shamelessly but convincingly, and where possible prevent the other saying anything at all.
Evidence of this is all around us, from the bilge broadcast by Fox News to the sophisticated narrative spun by RTE and the BBC, including their reporting of the American bombing of Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad, the imprisonment of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, and, more locally, the imposition of the old section 31.
Pressure on those offering an alternative or anti-imperialist outlook is relentless. Google deleted the Youtube account of the British channel of Iran’s Press TV in January following the assassination of the Iranian general Qasem Suleimani. Meanwhile the US government is seeking ways to close down Telesur, the media network based in Venezuela and supported by Cuba.
Unless any reader might think that the egregious lie is confined to Trump and his spooks, reflect for a few moments on matters this side of the Atlantic. Last month the Independent (London) published an article by Keir Starmer under the breathtaking heading “Our radical socialist tradition must remain at the heart of Labour.”¹ This ostensibly left-wing sentiment was written by the man who bears most responsibility for forcing the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn to prevaricate on its Brexit policy, thereby facilitating a massive Tory victory in the last election.
This former director of public prosecutions, head of the Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales and pillar of the British establishment has the brass-necked effrontery to pose as a radical socialist while winning the approval of every right-wing commentator in Britain.
Not, indeed, that we are spared similar machinations in Ireland. Since Sinn Féin’s shock success in the recent general election in the Republic, though, they have reached new heights as pandemonium reigns throughout the establishment on both sides of the border.
For years unionism has taken comfort from a belief that the South’s electorate had little or no interest in reunification. There is no longer the same certainty. However, an opinion poll conducted by the University of Liverpool and published conveniently in the days after the election provided a measure of reassurance for unionists. With only 29 per cent of Northern voters supporting reunification, according to the survey, Jon Tonge, professor of politics at the university, was able to say that “the data offers an antidote to excitable recent commentary concerning the imminence of Irish unity.” The timing of the report’s publication was perhaps merely a coincidence, but, understandably, many are sceptical.
Meanwhile south of the border every reactionary element in the 26-County state has taken part in the Stop Sinn Féin offensive. The hostile media were unsparing in their vitriol, one right-wing hack going so far as to claim that “24.5% of the electorate voted for the Irish equivalent of the Monster Raving Loony Party.”² It’s hardly necessary to make a comprehensive list of the mainstream media contributors to this brouhaha; but special mention has to be given to the intervention of the Garda commissioner, Drew Harris.
With exquisite political timing, the former RUC officer made a speech claiming that the Provisional IRA’s Army Council is Sinn Féin’s governing authority. If the commissioner is so worried about this he might share his concerns with his colleagues north of the border. The chief constable of the PSNI, Simon Byrne, was happy recently to employ the services of Sinn Féin’s vice-president, Michelle O’Neill, and her colleague Gerry Kelly during a recruiting drive for the force.
In reality, Harris must know that, even if the Army Council still existed in its old military form, no group of seven persons could exercise control over thirty-seven popularly elected members of the Dáil. But fear of a secret army was never really the issue here. Raising the spectre of subversion is the political equivalent of the cardsharp distracting punters as he performs the three-card trick. While attention is focused on a non-existent terror threat, the issues that won Sinn Féin a large slice of the vote are being played down
Make no mistake, it is the issues rather than Mary Lou McDonald’s party that are causing such consternation among the wealthy ruling elite and their followers. If a programme attempting to address inequalities and deficiencies in society gains momentum among the public it would threaten the privileged cohort benefiting from neo-liberal austerity.
This group is growing increasingly nervous, and therefore aggressive, as the global economy is threatened with at best a slowdown, if not outright recession, exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic.
It’s important, therefore, not to let the situation descend into a war of words centred on Sinn Féin. Doing so would merely allow right-wing apologists to shift the narrative away from the reality of biting hardship and inequality and towards nebulous arguments that will never be resolved—because those dissembling have a vested interest in altering the narrative.
In this respect the Right2Change unions have made a positive contribution with a statement issued last month.³ While not being dismissive or disrespectful of the part played by Sinn Féin in making progressive demands, spokespersons for the four unions involved emphasised the need for action on the issues. Brendan Ogle of Unite identified these clearly as “housing, health, education, public services and long-overdue improvements in workers’ rights,” adding that if such a programme cannot be implemented at present “then it needs to be developed to ensure a brighter future.”
He hits the nail on the head here by concentrating on the importance of the programme to be implemented and, if it’s not possible to do so now, that we persist until we succeed. It is vital, therefore, that we are not diverted by those peddling misinformation on behalf of capital and the empire.
As always, there is a world to be won if we keep our eye on the real objective.
1. Keith Starmer, “Our radical socialist tradition must remain at the heart of Labour,” Independent (London), 22 February 2020 (at https://bit.ly/2Vgjtki).
2. Ian O’Doherty, “Sinn Féin: A party of crackpots?” Spiked, 24 February 2020 (https://www.spiked-online.com/).
3. Right2Change, “Right2Change unions call for an historic left led Government for change,” at https://bit.ly/2Vf2RJL).
Tommy McKearney is a left wing activist and author of