the largest newspaper in west Belfast, the Andersonstown
News serves much the same function for Sinn Fein as
Pravda once did for the Soviet politbureau and that
Fox News now does for the Bush administration. It
is a dependable organ of banana republicanism, promoting
Dear Leadership and attacking dissenters with zeal.
Milking this cash cow publication as chief executive
is the former Sinn Fein councillor Mairtin O Muilleoir,
who kindly poured me a cup of tea at a book party
a couple of years back (the tea was weak but the service
was pleasant enough). Ive never met the editor,
an excitable scribbler named Robin Livingstone, but
for several years have watched with amusement as he
strolls into the propellers with depressing regularity.
Recently Livingstone conducted an exclusive,
highly-touted interview with the high tout, Freddie
Scappaticci, the man widely named as the British agent
in the IRA code-named Stakeknife. A rigorous Q&A
it wasn't. To wit: Scappaticci claimed that when told
he would be named as the most important mole in IRA
history, he simply went to sleep then strolled to
a gas station the next day to pick up a paper. Livingstone
apparently didn't think this faintly absurd sequence
worthy of further examination.
Of course, Scappaticci was asked if he was a British
double-agent. Never, he replied, before proceeding
through the remaining chatter unmolested by troublesome
inquiries. It was akin to asking Henry Kissinger if
he would like to publicly deny being a war criminal
then boasting about having asked the tough question
when he cheerfully accepts the offer.
The interview seemed to be less about defending an
innocent man against allegations by a venal press
than about protecting Sinn Fein from the grave implications
of the Stakeknife revelations. As an effort to declare
the Scappaticci story bogus - the shoddy work of a
'mischievous' media, in Dear Leader's usual terminology
- it failed miserably.
Writing in the online magazine The Blanket, Anthony
McIntyre gleefully punched holes in the interview,
noting that Scappaticci's denial convinced few people
in Belfast. Once an imprisoned IRA member, McIntyre
is now such an effective and articulate critic of
Sinn Fein that his home has been picketed by the party
faithful, including an Andersonstown News editor.
This has not dulled his acid commentary on the republican
leadership and its water-carriers.
While Scappaticci has not initiated a single defamation
proceeding despite being accused of heinous crimes,
the newspaper has taken up the cudgel in his stead.
McIntyre's article was linked on Newshound, the popular
website of news about Northern Ireland. In response,
the freedom-loving folks at the Andersonstown News
threatened Newshound founder John Fay with a libel
action. Faced with the punitive cost of defending
a baseless suit, Fay was forced to remove links to
two articles by McIntyre. Only one of the stories
directly criticized Livingstone and the newspaper;
the other discussed Sinn Fein's hysterical reaction
to the Stakeknife saga, with only a passing reference
to what McIntyre calls the "Andytout News".
This suggests that the newspapers executives
were concerned with more than defending their reputations
a notion bolstered by the fact that no similar
legal threat was issued to McIntyre or The Blanket.
Demanding Newshound remove both stories suggests that
the Andersonstown News wants to limit the reach of
any theory on Stakeknife that conflicts with the official
version as handed down in its pages.
Livingstone has a history of browbeating critics.
In 2001, incensed at jabs by Newton Emerson's satirical
Portadown News website, he had the joker fired by
informing his employer that the site was updated during
working hours. This contemptible move backfired when
Emerson became a regular media presence. McIntyre
too is frequently attacked in Livingstones pages
but is denied right of reply, even in a letter to
Shinners often snarl that McIntyre is motivated by
a personal animus toward party leaders, the same limp
smear directed at Ed Moloney even before he published
his masterful history of the IRA last year. But those
who write with honesty and integrity are seldom applauded
by politicians who survive on subtle obfuscation and
Censorship is now endemic in the republican movement.
Debate is stifled and dissension is met with assault,
kidnap and murder. The Stakeknife fiasco could prove
devastating to Sinn Fein, no matter how many loyal
apparatchiks try to sow doubt in the public mind by
dismissing it as a British dirty trick. With customary
clumsiness, the Andersonstown News has only exposed
Sinn Fein's desperation to bury the story and attack
those with the temerity to ask awkward questions.
It would seem that in west Belfast asking for information
is the mark of the enemy, not passing information
to the British.
There are many in Irish America who backed Sinn Fein's
right to be heard here. Anyone genuinely committed
to open debate and the free flow of ideas ought to
be standing four square behind Anthony McIntyre and
John Fay and resolutely against the squalid and censorious
intimidation of the Andersonstown News.
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