In today’s Sunday World Jim McDowell devoted his column to analysing my contribution to BBC Northern Ireland’s Stephen Nolan show last Friday. I said that in my personal view the loyalists would be watching Brexit very closely to see if any of the potential outcomes weakened the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.
To his credit Mr McDowell, albeit abysmally in my view, articulated his viewpoint without reducing it to personal insults or jibes. In terms of the Sunday World, this makes it a rather unique contribution.
However, McDowell demonstrates the inherent peace process driven narrative that has normalised republicanism, and criminalised loyalists. The former are peace loving freedom fighters, whilst the latter are- in a past tense- state sponsored murder gangs, and- in a present tense- thuggish criminals. Or so the post-98 narrative would have you believe.
In the same paper as McDowell’s column, which we will get to in just a moment, the Sunday World carried articles about legacy issues. Most of a double page spread was devoted to upcoming BBC Spotlight revelations, the majority of which focused on IRA gunrunning and footage of the IRA carrying out a bomb attack.
Wedged in the corner of the double page spread is a story about the UDA. The IRA are described in the article simply as the “IRA”, with those who planted the bomb described as “IRA men”. Yet on the same page, when the referring to an alleged UDA member regarding legacy issues, the editorial style suddenly changes. This individual is a “UDA terror chief”.
The article goes on to refer to other legacy incidents and describes them as “loyalist terror crimes”. No such description is attached to the IRA smuggling guns or detonating a bomb. I’d be keen to understand the editorial guidelines in the Sunday World in regard to legacy, given there is quite clearly double standards deployed.
We turn then to Jim McDowell’s column. He took issue with my comments around a potential loyalist reaction to any weakening of the union. Mr McDowell’s desire to use his platform to robustly challenge any suggestion whatsoever that there may be any violence following Brexit appears to only extend to the loyalist community.
I may have missed it, but I do not recall Jim McDowell writing any blistering articles over the past three years challenging the weekly assertion that we must have a backstop, or that we must not upset nationalism, because this could damage the peace process or lead to a return to conflict. It appears that due to the fact these threats to peace, to gain political leverage, were coming from nationalists, that they didn’t warrant an outraged column by Mr McDowell. One would have to wonder why?
It seems that nationalists using a threat to peace in order to secure a political outcome that would favour their ultimate objective of Irish unity is entirely acceptable, yet if loyalists raise the point that our community may not go quietly into an economic, or any other form of all-Ireland, suddenly there is outrage. This, again, flushes out the double standards. My comments on Nolan, and in preceding articles, were no different than what nationalists have been saying for three years. I simply reminded them that unionists and loyalists do exist in this country; to borrow a phrase- we haven’t gone away you know.
In my personal view many loyalists will look at the political leverage being gained by nationalism- including the Irish Government- by threatening the peace process, and naturally conclude that approach is effective. Good for the goose, good for the gander, so to speak. This, of course, is not a form of thinking I would ever advocate, but it is very hard to argue with the logic of it, especially in circumstances whereby nationalism are making political gains by virtue of repeatedly raising the prospect that the peace process could be in danger.
Dublin also appear to be deploying an increasingly aggressive tone which deliberately ignores the concerns of the unionist and loyalist community. I would surmise they have already been told they are poking a stick at an angry bear, one would wonder therefore why they continue to do it?
Let us just step back for a moment and consider Dublin’s approach. They are a foreign Government who are continually, on the European political stage, making noises around potential violence in Northern Ireland, a sovereign part of the United Kingdom. Their whipping up of this prospect is based upon the notion that nationalist terrorist organisations would engage in violence if there was a hard border.
Could you imagine, just for one moment, the outrage if loyalists or elected UK Government officials started swanning the European stage saying “we must protect the constitutional integrity of the UK and as such have a NI-RoI land border, because if we do not then we could go back to violence being visited on the Irish republic”. Such a veiled threat would, of course, be contemptible, but why is it deemed less so when it is a political tactic deployed by the Irish Government in terms of hinting at potential nationalist violence in Northern Ireland?
And this is the double standard that runs throughout Jim McDowell’s article. Indeed, at one point he even loses the run of himself to the point of describing loyalist ‘culture’ as being a “cult of crime and corruption”.
He then goes on, in typical dehumanising Sunday World style, to use his broad brush to refer to “loyalist gangsters”. Therefore, any loyalists who genuinely care about any potential weakening of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland are automatically classed simply as “gangsters”.
This exposes this article for what it is- a barroom rant, deploying all the buzzwords the Sunday World is famous for. Tabloid papers should steer clear of trying to carry political analysis, because ultimately it ends up as the type of salacious and muddled rant churned out by Jim McDowell today.
Whether you like him, or loath him, the former Sunday World editor has many decades of experience reporting on the darkest days of Northern Ireland’s past. Underneath the tabloid style barroom rants there is most likely a wealth of experience and knowledge that would be fascinating to read if articulated as a credible piece of analysis. Sadly, however, the Sunday World is unlikely to ever be a vehicle for such proper journalism.