If their suspect conduct over the past number of weeks in the run-up to tomorrow’s Irish general election is anything by which to judge, the mainstream media in Ireland certainly won’t bother probing this, so I suppose I’d better…
Last Tuesday, Regina Doherty, a TD for the centre-right governing-coalition party Fine Gael, alleged that she received an anonymous death-threat in the aftermath of a heated argument she had had the previous day on Louth radio station LMFM with Gerry Adams, the leader of the establishment-challenging Sinn Féin.
Of course, we have no way of knowing for certain the veracity of Doherty’s allegation, but, in the sense that it has served to remove the heat from her controversial victim-blaming comments about Adams (as well as his family, associates and, possibly, other “Troubles” victims, depending on one’s interpretation of her words) and allowed her to turn the tables to present herself as “the real victim” in the national media, we should at least remain critical, if not sceptical.
Whether the threat was genuine or not, it undeniably presented Doherty with a convenient means by which to to smear her political opponent(s).
The relevant segment of the radio discussion has been uploaded to YouTube and can be heard below:
One can make up their own mind as to the actual import of her words. For what it is worth, my own interpretation is that what she said was crass, simplistic and woefully ill-informed.
That is irrespective of whether or not she was referring singularly to Adams’ expressed personal suffering as having been “all brought on by your own [singular] actions” or whether she was referring collectively to the suffering of other victims Adams had mentioned and on behalf of whom he had been speaking in the lead-up to her comment as having been “all brought on by your own [collective] actions”.
The word “your” can have either a singular or a plural connotation. Her use of the word “all”, however, seemed all-encompassing; that is, I sensed she was applying her comment to all the information that Adams had just shared with her.
Either way, regardless of whether she was generally declaring victims of the British army and loyalist paramilitaries as having been responsible for their own fate (as her initial reply might have suggested), whether she was referring to just Adams and his family (as she then immediately tried to claim via clarification, despite the prior context of the discussion) or, indeed, whether she was trying to hold Adams responsible for the deaths of other victims too (as her later comments in the exchange appeared to imply), her remarks were nevertheless problematic.
In effect, she was denying the agency and responsibility of the British army and loyalist paramilitaries whose committed actions discussed were also entirely illegal under British law. The retort of “you started it” – something more suited to a school-yard than a serious discussion about a sensitive issue between governing representatives – was not merely exceptionally petty, it was also staggeringly ignorant of the origins of the conflict in the north of Ireland.
Presumably, she was conflating Sinn Féin with the now-decommissioned and no-longer-militarily-active (Provisional) Irish Republican Army. This is a common tactic employed by opponents of the republican political party, but there was a conceptual and practical distinction between the two “partnership” organisations; not all members of the political Sinn Féin were members of the military (P)IRA and not all members of the (P)IRA were members of Sinn Féin, for example. The two organisations, although ideologically-complementary and sharing the same ultimate goal, pursued separate methodological paths.
Anyway, I’ve digressed. It is important that I provide some broader context in respect of the actual roots of the conflict and to get beyond the fictive and partial “it was all the IRA’s fault” narrative peddled by Doherty.
The status quo in the British-ruled north of Ireland in the 1960s – and since partition, in fact – was a state of social, economic and political supremacy for Ulster Protestants over their Catholic or nationalist neighbours. Catholics were, in effect, second-class citizens.
Many Protestants, unionists and loyalists regarded the civil rights movement that developed in the mid-1960s in direct response to the sectarian, two-tiered nature of this society as an unwelcome challenge to the established order. The movement, which was disobedient but peaceful, agitated for reform and against the institutional discrimination suffered by Catholics.
The loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force, in fear of this perceived “Papist threat”, had been engaged in bombing and killing of civilian Catholic targets in the mid and late-1960s; this was actually before the (P)IRA emerged in December of 1969.
The civil rights movement’s violent suppression by the unionist state, aided by Protestant mobs and gunmen, served as one of the primary catalysts for the resort to riotousness and, eventually, insurgency (in direct response to the UK government’s deployment of the British army) by frustrated, desperate and disenfranchised nationalists brutalised by the material conditions, injustice and oppression of their milieu.
As mentioned, by August of 1969, the British army had been deployed – arriving with what Fintan O’Toole described as “a colonial mentality” – to buttress the status quo through the threat and use of further state violence after the local unionist government requested reinforcement for the Royal Ulster Constabulary in order to subdue the escalating communal unrest and restore order.
The (P)IRA’s immediate intention was to provide communal protection for the nationalist community from the sectarian and state violence – most volunteers joined for self-defence purposes or, as Eamonn McCann put it, because “they wanted the bigot’s boot off their necks and the British Army off their backs” – and, further, to eventually overthrow British rule in the north of Ireland. British control was regarded as the root cause of the problem.
Guerilla warfare against the state apparatus, on frequent occasion devolving into reckless disregard at the cost of civilian life and reprisals against active and hostile loyalist hit-men, became the norm and continued over the next three decades, through varying stages and degrees of intensity, in what was a small, highly-militarised and tactically-limiting theatre.
In the British state, the (P)IRA was confronted with one of the world’s foremost security, counter-insurgency and intelligence structures; the state portrayed itself as “neutral referee” to the public whilst colluding with loyalist death-squads intent on dragging the north of Ireland into an entangled and cyclical tit-for-tat sectarian or tribal conflict by intentionally targeting Catholic civilians for the sole “crime” of being Catholic. (“KAT”, or “kill all taigs”, was a popular loyalist slogan.)
The official policy of the (P)IRA was to avoid sectarian and non-combatant killings, although some elements, often acting rogue, did retaliate in such fashion. Empirically, such killings were exceptions rather than the rule, however, whilst, statistically and contrary to how the media often portrays the conflict, the IRA were actually the most discriminate proportionately of all parties involved in terms of civilian deaths by considerable distance.
In dismissing Adams’ position on Monday, however, the faux-indignant Doherty was, more or less, saying that, irrespective of what had happened to Adams’ family, they deserved it or could have no legitimate qualms about their suffering because of their association with him. The implication was that everything was the fault of Adams on account of his militant republican connections.
This was vindictive and also indicative of double standards; what Doherty went on to say sounded tantamount to a legitimisation or exoneration of one sort of violence (that of the British army and loyalist paramilitaries) whilst condemning another sort (that of militant republicans).
Doherty is an admirer of Michael Collins; a man who led the struggle for Irish independence in the early 20th century. Indeed, her party revere him. Collins, like the (P)IRA did in the latter half of the century, utilised guerilla tactics against British forces prior to the southern state achieving independence via the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. He was later shot and killed in an ambush by an anti-treaty column in August of 1922 during the subsequent Irish Civil War, but I wonder would Doherty similarly assert that his fate had been “all brought on by [his] own actions”?
Anyway, as I say, listeners can reach their own conclusions with regard to Doherty’s comments, but the fact remains that an anonymous and unspecified threat from who Ruth Dudley Edwards has publicly presumed, without any evidence whatsoever, was a “Shinnerbot” remains hanging in the air, to the detriment of Sinn Féin’s reputation.
Lucinda Creighton of the right-wing Renua Ireland also explicitly associated the name of Sinn Féin with the alleged threat (and was even sure to bring up the party’s “past” in the process), despite it being unclear as to whether she had even seen the supposed offending message, never mind knowing who might have sent it. As was reported by Daniel McConnell in the Irish Examiner:
Condemning the threats, Renua Ireland leader Lucinda Creighton says that it is a chilling reminder of Sinn Féin’s past.
“Sinn Féin needs to unreservedly condemn the death threats made against Regina Doherty, which have no place in a democratic republic,” she said in a statement.
She added: “There is growing tendency amongst the media, and even in the larger political parties to shy away from reminding people of Sinn Féin’s past, instead focussing solely on their tax or economic policies.”
“The reality is that that there is no other attack against a political party leader except Sinn Féin which could result in death threats being made against that person, and that’s why it is so important that Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin lead from the front in condemning this threat,” Ms Creighton said.
When the media sought a comment on the matter from Sinn Féin, the party condemned all threats of this nature (presumably under the assumption that what Doherty had alleged was true), but, as is often the way with these things, it is unlikely we’ll ever hear anything further about the threat or from where it emanated. All very convenient for Doherty and Fine Gael: “Damage done; job done!”
I am sceptical of the allegation for a number of reasons and I feel it is vital that the Irish public are kept informed in respect of the matter as these types of stories can bear influence upon developments and electoral results.
Need we recall the occasion towards the end of 2014 when numerous TDs from Fine Gael’s governing-coalition partner party, the Labour Party, cynically spun a “death-threat” from a “lonely” woman receiving psychological treatment into a weapon with which to smear Ireland’s Right2Water campaign?
We already know that engaging in dirty-campaigning tricks is not taboo-territory for Fine Gael. On Monday, for example, members of the Fine Gael electioneering team for James Bannon were caught stealing Sinn Féin and Labour Party promotional literature in County Longford by Sinn Féin candidate Paul Hogan.
Following the debate on LMFM radio, Ms Doherty received a series of abusive messages via text message and social media from anonymous individuals.
One message warned that Ms Doherty’s throat would be “slit” as a result of her comments made during the debate.
The prominent backbencher has spoken with her local superintendent and an investigation has been launched.
I performed an advanced search on Twitter (where Doherty has an account) for tweets to or mentioning her account that feature the word “slit”, but I could not find any communication threatening such an act.
If the threat was indeed delivered in the form of a text message – to her private mobile phone presumably – how then would it have been anonymous? Unless a stranger somehow went out of their way to get their hands on her number and then texted her…
Would someone realistically go to such lengths when there are much more straightforward methods of contact available in this, the age of communication? Social media, of course, being the rather obvious choice. And how would a stranger manage to obtain Doherty’s private number in the first place?
Doherty also maintains a Facebook profile, but, then, Facebook isn’t an anonymous platform either. Might someone have set up a false profile just to threaten her on Facebook? The whole tale seems rather dubious and implausible.
Of course, it is possible that a private message was sent via social media – indeed, something must have been sent from somewhere if the Garda superintendent felt launching an investigation was appropriate – but clarification or further information would be most welcome. Transparency on this matter is very much in the public interest, considering Doherty is a public representative seeking re-election.
Most suspiciously of all, however, is the fact that in 2013, Doherty made the exact same (very specific) allegation against “pro-life” campaigners who, as was reported at the time, took issue with her stance in respect of legislating to clarify in greater detail the law in Ireland governing the matter of abortion.
Yes, in May of 2013, a story in the Irish Examiner by Juno McEnroe reported that “pro-lifers” had also threatened to “slit [Doherty’s] throat”. It’s a very precise threat and surely unusual that a person would receive it twice in three years from different sources.
Is it simply a weird coincidence? Or is this a sham tactic; a go-to smear that Doherty is now using to discredit her political opponents by playing the victim and removing the heat from herself in the process?
Craig Fitzsimon has speculated that, after making her gaffe, Doherty might have been in touch with “online-black-arts specialists” to concoct a virtual false flag attack and then had allies in the mainstream press spin a story in her favour. It’s not implausible; material with the potential to be crafted into a stick with which to bash Sinn Féin has been in high demand within the establishment media this past fortnight.
Certainly, it is also possible that whoever sent Doherty the threat was the same individual on both occasions, but, then, supporters of Sinn Féin – a socially-progressive party who are supportive of repealing the eighth constitutional amendment that imposed in 1983 an Irish constitutional ban on abortion, save for in instances where it can be deemed there is a provable “real and significant risk” to the life (rather than the health) of the pregnant woman concerned – don’t tend to be rabid “pro-lifers”.
The lack of media impartiality with regard to Sinn Féin is not something that should concern merely Sinn Féin supporters; it is a matter that should worry all Irish citizens who stand for journalistic ethics, democracy, fairness and transparency. Continued and intense scrutiny of our national media on matters such as this helps keep accountable those who govern, fear-monger and manipulate to their advantage.
I have written a follow-up piece to the above here.