"Liestown, where the inhabitants always lie"

Another article worth paying attention to, from John Waters in the Irish Times – whose previous IT article, back in January, on the thawing consciousness of Irish society is looking more and more prescient. This time his focus is on Sinn Féin’s credibility problem

The article deserves to be read in full, so I’ll resist the temptation to excerpt isolated lines or paragraphs, but I have added emphasis –

Sinn Féin’s credibility problem – John Waters

My daughter and her friend recently gleefully posed me a riddle: There are two towns, Liestown, where the inhabitants always lie, and Truthstown, where everyone tells the truth. A man from one of the towns says: “I am from Liestown” – do you believe him?

Sinn Féin’s credibility problem is a bit like this. In republican theology, Sinn Féin members who also belong to the IRA are obliged to deny this connection because it involves a criminal offence. Sinn Féin denials of criminality, therefore, literally cannot be believed.

Similarly, persistent demands by Sinn Féin for “proof” of criminality, implying that no charge can be sustained against the republican movement other than on the basis of the accepted legal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”, are an unsustainable invocation of the logic of Truthstown.

Everyone knows the IRA exists, what it does and why, that it has leaders, and that there are strong ties and a high degree of cross-membership between Sinn Féin and the IRA. And everyone knows also that Sinn Féin, to the extent that it is separate from the IRA, not merely respects but venerates the military wing. To suggest that there is something preposterous in the observations being made about such connections is to treat the public as though it was unentitled to employ common sense.

Although continuing exchanges about republican criminality exhibit superficial similarities to a debate, the discussion is taking place in two distinct languages pertaining to irreconcilable perceptions of reality. Politicians such as Michael McDowell believe that, as defenders of the rule of law, they speak to the highest form of public morality.

But republicans, in their own minds, also inhabit the high moral ground. They believe that years of combating injustice under the banner of the Irish nation’s struggle for integrity confer on them the right not merely to engage in what Michael McDowell insists on calling “criminality”, and to deny such involvement in order to prevent him putting them in jail, but to refuse the idea that the term “criminality” is appropriate at all.

Thus, republicanism is protected by a series of semantic Chinese walls which the logic of the wider world is not just incapable of penetrating but actually doomed to strengthen with every attack. This siege mentality will ensure that recent events may prevent Sinn Féin making political progress while failing to dent its existing base.

There is a political background to this. The Belfast Agreement offered, in theory at least, the opportunity for all sides to stand down traditional positions and strategies, inviting each to concede something in the interests of a settlement. You could argue, as I did at the time, that unionists acted in bad faith by seeking retrospectively to turn the agreement into a republican surrender. But republicans also refused to stand down their core rationale, based on their sense of being beleaguered in a state run by their political enemies.

What was being offered to republicanism in the Belfast Agreement was not just power- sharing but co-ownership of a peaceful, democratic society. You might say that the true act of decommissioning required of republicans in return was not of bullets, bats and rackets, but of victimology, the standing down of the sense of grievance that had been their driving force.

The republican leaders ultimately lacked the confidence to accept that challenge, and instead encouraged their constituency to cling to a historic sense of victimhood. Their big mistake was believing that the duplicity of their opponents took all the pressure off them – that as long as unionists continued to behave as unionists always had, the republican culture of grievance-based subversion could continue. The IRA could go on, the rackets could go on, the “community policing” too – and, more than that, the nod and wink, the “aren’t we the bould Fenian boyos” mentality, could continue.

Republicans have misunderstood the motives of many who supported their right to a voice, misreading a desire for peace as an endorsement of their overall demeanour and ethos. Many of those who worked for their inclusion do not think the Provisionals anywhere near as cute, clever, sexy, bould or even Fenian as they appear to think themselves. There is widespread repugnance of the Jesuitical contortions they have achieved to redraw lines between right and wrong, enabling a settled justification of actions incompatible with democracy.

And there is a growing perception that the corruption of idealism within the movement has vindicated the most apocalyptic prophecies of the Provisionals’ most virulent opponents.

These are serious questions in the minds of people who bear Sinn Féin no particular antipathy. If, regardless, republicans wish to continue standing on their claims of victimhood and demands for judicial proof of every suspicion voiced about them, then we, the public, are entitled to draw conclusions. The alternative is for Sinn Féin to emerge from the ghetto and make a significant concession to the disquiet of the world outside itself.

© The Irish Times

[emphasis mine]

  • spirit-level

    Most impressive indeed
    S’good how simple, but cold hard logic,
    offers an unequivocal insight.
    I eagerly await a shinners rebuff.

  • lámh dearg

    A fine article, not only about the RM failings but about the missed oppertunities for all in what was a clever document, the GFA. How long must we all rue these lost opportunities?

  • barney

    Sad to see Slugger dying on its feet.

  • lámh dearg

    “Sad to see Slugger dying on its feet.” ??

    Point?

  • barney

    A good tranche of articulate contributors are sitting out Pat’s exclusion and the rest have lost their bite. Also, the staple diet of SF bashing is wearing thin. Its called the law of diminishing returns.

  • Ringo

    A good tranche of articulate contributors are sitting out Pat’s exclusion and the rest have lost their bite. Also, the staple diet of SF bashing is wearing thin. Its called the law of diminishing returns.

    Good man Barney. On the other hand – maybe this is a glimpse of how harmonious the world would be without Shinners?

  • barney

    Yeah Ringo, like the way onalists don’t have to argue with the wife. IMO the wheeze of excluding Pat has backfired somewhat.

  • Ringo

    Are you suggesting that all the Shinners have left http://www.sluggerotoole.com for http://www.tuggerotoole.com? 😉

  • peteb

    Feel free to put forward an argument on John Waters’ article, Barney. Otherwise it sounds like you’re simply clinging to the same “sense of victimhood” he referred to.

  • slackjaw

    One wonders if Waters’ daughter’s mise à jour of the Cretan Paradox was influenced by Adamstown?

  • barney

    By your logic there are a lot of peole with a “sense of victimhood” peteb. You haven’t exactly been swamped with comments on mr waters latest tedious effort. Take a look at the other ‘topics’, the average number of comments is one and it invariably agrees with the intro. I’m disappointed with Slugger’s peformance since Pat’s exclusion but, to be fair, it has been going downhill for a while now.

    Nice one Ringo, LOL.

  • Stephen Copeland

    Barney, et al,

    Take a look at the other ‘topics’, the average number of comments is one and it invariably agrees with the intro. I’m disappointed with Slugger’s peformance since Pat’s exclusion but, to be fair, it has been going downhill for a while now.

    Speaking as a previously active poster, I can only say that I agree with you. I have barely posted here over the past 6 months for a variety of reasons, one of which is simply ennuie. A constant diet of anti-Sinn Fein stories really does get tedious, especially as the comments that follow them are so predictable. The stories posted are too restricted, the bloggers too skewed towards one tradition, and the comments too repetitive. Time to go, Slugger … ?

  • Davros

    Pat, as with SF in Stormont, excluded himself by his behaviour. There was no “wheeze” to ban him.
    He was on a yellow. He knew that.
    There was trouble.
    He was warned Twice more before getting a second yellow.
    The other person got a straight red.

    His red has been very, very convenient for certain posters.

  • James

    I’m disappointed with Slugger’s peformance since Pat’s exclusion

    Pat is the movement’s version of the Monty Python’s Black Knight who, no matter how damaged, no matter how outgunned, no matter how outnumbered, always came back valiantly swinging. The energy and stamina he displays were paid the ultimate compliment by the unionist contributers who speculated that he was not real but a tag team of debaters fielded by the infamous, dreaded Monolithic Republican Movement. Taken by itself, his is a truly admirable accomplishment.

    Taken in the context and anonymity of the Internet, the results of the conflict bored the tits off me. The fire and ire he attracts invariably degenerate into slagging sessions in which combatants armed with obscure, arcane and tenuous historical precedents in Irish history battle it out midst the shot and shell of endless whataboutry to prove the efficacy of the historical metaphors and similes they put forth to try to prove a point in current affairs. Mathematically it is akin to mapping 1690 into 2005. That is itself a simile.

    I’m beyond saying that this is either good or bad, just that it’s inevitable.

    BTW, this is not a debate.

  • lámh dearg

    Is this the right room for an argument?

    The “debates” on Slugger were usually the weakest part of the experience as the INVARIABLY degenerated to tribal slagging matches of boring predictability.

    Have two of the worst slaggers got ejected? I don’t know but am relieved if they have.

    I like to read the articles, follow the links, be a bit more informed, sometimes entertained, often depressed, and just occasionally post.

    Don’t take yourselves so seriously

  • Belfast Gonzo

    It’s probably got a lot more to do with the Typekey access restrictions. When I as a mod have trouble getting logged in – and can only now do it via logging into Movable Type first (discovered by total fluke and unavailable to you lot) – I can imagine how many other regulars have done.

    I was speaking to Mick earlier about a possible forthcoming project for Slugger, and he was saying that he’s getting Typekey changed. Unfortunately we had to upgrade security, as the message boards were being hit with some rather offensive spam.

    The other point I would make is that if anyone finds Slugger not to their taste, there are plenty of nationalist/republican boards about, some of which are far more censorious than this one. And Mick had a longstanding invitation for writers to join the team, which no nationalist or republican took up after Mark McGregor left.

    Now whose fault is that?

  • Stephen Copeland

    Now whose fault is that?

    Maybe they all have real jobs now? Sign of the times?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Right, now back to the topic with some meandering thoughts…

    I think Waters article is perceptive, in that he (and some other commentators) seem to be aware that the new site of conflict in Ireland is not a physical one, but a struggle for meaning.

    We seem to have reached a defining point. That is a good term for it, since both republicans and British are disagreeing over definitions –

    Definitions of crime, murder, morality, acceptability and so on, are the battlefields now, not the back streets of Ballymurphy or the Bogside. What we all seemed to agree on in the Agreement turns out to have been mean different things to different people.

    This represents a fundamental shift in the whole political situation. Because no-one is willing to back down and admit they were wrong about anything, they still cling to old ways of justifying actions that really belong in the past.

    What is happening in Northern Ireland could maybe be compared to moving from a ‘hot war’ situation into a ‘cold war’ one. An old mentality in a new situation. Instead of open hostility between opposing old enemies who are supposed to be working towards meeting each other in a spirit of compromise – which it can appear on the face of things – we have something else entirely bubbling under the surface.

    Just because two old enemies know they cannot defeat each other militarily doesn’t mean they do not attack each other in other, often more subtle, ways. No matter who was responsible for Stormontgate, Castlereagh or the Northern heist, it points towards a different kind of conflict. We’ve simply moved it on to a different plain.

    The IRA’s ‘new mode’ is as likely to involve espionage, spying, blackmail and intelligence gathering on politicians as it is about forming an old comrades’ association.

    We’ve also seen continuing use of propaganda and, on the other side, how the PSNI has deliberately entrapped RIRA paramilitaries. So the duplicity isn’t one-sided. If the PSNI is to convince republicans of its credentials, it has to play by the rules. Now MI5 is to replace Special Branch here, which fits the ‘cold war’ pattern nicely.

    Any failure by the state to adhere to its own standards diminishes it, and gives sub-state organisations space to try to equate its actions with the state’s.

    Bombs have been replaced by riots during disputed Orange parades – a struggle for cultural supremacy. Ulster Scots vs Gaelic. Funding for St Patrick’s Day vs Funding for The Twelfth. Cultural struggle is often just a fairly simplistic competition for resources, rather than an attempt to do anything ‘cultural’.

    Critical engagement is less important than landing on on ‘themmuns’. The deliberately exclusive nature of cultural events ensures that there is little scope for compromise.

    We seem to be in a new, different form of conflict. It could go on forever…

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Stephen

    Oh please…

  • peteb

    “We seem to be in a new, different form of conflict. It could go on forever…

    That’s a reasonable point Gonzo.. but I’d suggest that John Waters’ point – when this article is taken in conjunction with the previous one, which I also linked to – is that the different form of conflict you’ve noted is where we’ve been for the last 8 years.. now we’ve reached a point where that is no longer tolerable to the ‘thawing consciousness’ of the people – at least that is my reading of the articles.. and, needless to say, it’s a point that I’d agree with.

  • barney

    We now have SIX consecutive anti RM threads. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. A visitor would be forgiven for thinking there is only one political movement in Ireland – they might be right of course.

  • Davros

    Mick had a longstanding invitation for writers to join the team, which no nationalist or republican took up after Mark McGregor left.

    Anybody who regularly reads Newsroom on the SF website will realise that even they are struggling to “blog” items that give their party good press. They are very definitely on the back foot. So, if the party itself is struggling, it’s hardly surprising to find that it’s showing on Slugger has been pathetic.

    That’s not because of Mick or his blogging team.
    It’s because of the self-inflicted mess in which Sinn Féin and the IRA have found themselves.

    When the SDLP hit the self destruct button I didn’t notice any calls for people to ease off from the people currently whinging. In fact they were enthusiastic contributors.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    barney

    Is that your hand in the air? Can you write? Are there other message boards you frequent that you can list as more balanced?

    I am genuinely curious.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    peteb

    When I said “We seem to have reached a defining point” that is exactly what I meant.

    We appear to have reached the point where ‘constructive ambiguity’ is no longer helpful or useful. That is why all sides now have to agree on the same definitions, common standards, and shared understandings.

    That is why the scene is shifting.

  • peteb

    Ah.. my mistake, Gonzo.. I was thrown slightly by the last line of your previous post.

  • barney

    You mean more balanced than the pete/gonzo love in? Now that’s a toughie.

  • peteb

    AS I said earlier, barney, feel free to put forward an argument on the points raised in John Waters article.

  • Davros

    Barney – Can you suggest some newsworthy topics you would like addressed ?

  • Roger W. Christ XVII

    Barney, you said in another thread that Slugger is bad, keeps going downhill, is anti-republican, etc etc etc. Why are you still here ?

    If Slugger is as popular as Morris Dancing then what have Pat & Co got to prove by having a boycott ?

    To me this behaviour is just typical of the republicans. If you can’t control it, try to wreck it, and that is no doubt what the objective of the “protest” and your attempts to play down the blog’s relevance is.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Name the site then.

    And are you volunteering to write?

    I have no idea what ‘love in’ you’re on about.

  • barney

    The other political parties must be doing something worth talking about? How about Mark Durkan’s unquestioning faith in Hugh Orde as a way of keeping his seat in Derry, Michael McDowell’s PD party losing support in the south (25% drop since last poll), FF councillor calling for McDowell to resign, UUP members quitting the party ‘cos David Trimble is a disaster area, DUP trying to revive the GFA before Ian dies??? I’d hate to see the Northern job revived, especially as the ‘intellegence’ has dried just like those in exile said it would.
    Face it guys, Slugger is feeding the notion that SF lead and everyone else reacts.

  • Stephen Copeland

    At the risk of staying off-topic forever ….

    Nationalists and/or republicans are no more monolithic than unionists, so trying to imply a Sinn Fein control over bloggers from that broad cultural community is wrong. The question then arises – why are there no obviously nat/rep bloggers here? And tokenism isn’t the answer – a balanced blog should have as many nat/rep bloggers as unionist ones. Are nat/rep people turned off by the bias of Slugger? If not, then where are they?

  • barney

    Gonzo,

    I’m actually trying to help Slugger. You cannot seriously believe that this site is anything but heavily biased. Is it not possible to put up a varriety of subjects instead of the same one time after time? I’m not too happy with your suggestion that the solution is to have an institutionalised sectarian blog committee.

  • Davros

    Stephen – Nat/reps cannot take the heat and have left the kitchen. The same thing happened in the past to the equivalent from the other side of the fence- that’s apparently why McCann jumped ship.

  • barney

    Pat walked out of Slugger the way Keano walked out of Saipan. The Sluggercrats knobbled him. I wonder if Pat has any more respect for the Sluggercrats than Keano had for McCarthy?

  • PaddyCanuck

    A lot of hot air, not much heat in this kitchen.

  • barney

    PC – I know! The dumb Waters article puts the tin hat on Slugger/Tugger’s decent into nothingness. How has it come to this?

  • peteb

    Barney, once again, you denounce John Waters’ article without attempting to counter any of the points he raised.

  • PaddyCanuck

    Its been a pleasure Barney, have you seen davros, he seems to hav left the kitchen!

  • Belfast Gonzo

    barney

    Perhaps you could go through this month’s articles and count how many threads I’ve started that criticise Sinn Fein and how many criticise the State.

    Like I say, you could redress any imbalance you see by simply offering yourself to write for Slugger. You complain about bias, then when I suggest a way to introduce greater balance you say I am talking about an “institutionalised sectarian blog committee” when in fact, as even a cursory glance at what I wrote, I suggested nothing of the sort.

    I hope you have also been writing to Nuzhound, the Belfast Telegraph, the BBC, UTV, the Irish News, Daily Ireland, the Indo, the Times and the Newsletter for producing all those articles that have been critical of Sinn Fein or the IRA in recent days.

  • PaddyCanuck

    Redress the balance, I will write for slugger!

  • Davros

    P-C : e mail mick.

  • barney

    BG – they write lots of other stuff too. Resist the temptation to latch on to one theme, thers’s plenty of variety. BTW – why do you suppose that the opposite to SF is ‘the State’. Sure aren’t they just neutral arbitrators? Not combatants at all, they wouldn’t even hurt a fly.

  • Stephen Copeland

    Davros

    Nat/reps cannot take the heat and have left the kitchen.

    There are actually lot of non-unionist posters here. My question is why there are so few non-unionist bloggers. It is the bloggers who set the agenda with their constant diet of anti-SF stories, and who give this whole site a very biased image.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    barney

    Where have I ever said the State is blameless?

    This is primarily a political site, and the simple fact of the matter is that in terms of media coverage – the stories we inevitably link to and comment on – the spotlight is firmly on the Republican Movement. There are also emerging themes over issues such as criminality and so on that are deserving of debate.

    Did you read Daily Ireland’s editorial today?

    When you read this in a republican newspaper, you know that there is some justification in the level of coverage on events concerning the IRA and Sinn Fein.

    Nevertheless, I would agree with you in that there isn’t enough variation in the topics, which is something I have tried to redress. Getting the time to do it isn’t always easy, and if you have any suggestions for stories, please feel free to email them to me at reclaim98@hotmail.com

    I check it every couple of days at least. I welcome republicans onto this board as much as anyone.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Stephen

    If you are volunteering to blog, please email Mick!

    As for bias, have you seen the Danny Morrison board? :o)

    Anyway, I didn’t notice you, barney or paddycanuck post once on the “UUP surprise attack on Sinn Fein…” or thread on SF’s green paper on Irish unity…

  • Davros

    Stephen – BG makes Good points in his post. I’ll add that several interesting and non-partisan or non-tribal or however you want to describe posts about, for example, special needs and cultural matters have had little interest shown. People want to debate politics. The problem for the nationalists and republicans here is that the Unionists and Loyalists haven’t screwed up and as such what is being discussed makes them feel uncomfortable. Would it be different if the McCartney murder had been carried out by Loyalists ? Do you think if the media spotlight was on them in the same way there would be nationalists saying – hold it lads let’s go easy on those poor Unionists and loyalists ?

  • PaddyCanuck

    Gonzo I offered to write, how come you only extended an invitation to Stephen?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Paddy

    Email Mick, since I am a mere pawn in this game. I trust his offer is still open.

  • Roger W. Christ XVII

    Barney, regarding your accusations of balance there is no organization in Northern Ireland or involved in Northern Ireland politics in any way, shape or form that has not been accused of bias in one way or the other. You have to carefully consider accusations like that given the fact that people like David Vance and Andrew McCann regard the site as the electronic wing of An Phoblacht, full of appeasers, republican apologists and liberals. Do you really think that Slugger is unbalanced in the same way that A Tangled Web is ? Why do you suspect that Vance appears to regard this place as republican leaning, where you regard it as unionist leaning ?

    The articles which are appearing as blog posts on Slugger reflect what is appearing in the media and (in my personal experience) what people are mostly talking about when they banter about the situation while out and about. Agree with it or not, you have to accept that the present political environment on this island is extremely hostile to Sinn Fein. It goes with that territory in the current climate that at the very least articles in newspapers which are dealing with matters related to NI are going to mention the robbery, McCartney’s death, the protests and the serious hit that Sinn Fein’s credibility has taken. Is Slugger supposed to ignore all that ? Are we supposed to talk about things that by and large people don’t give a damn about right now ? I haven’t seen any articles in the paper at all for the last number of weeks that we could discuss on Slugger aside from the odd boring bit of fluff about things like the Belfast city centre regeneration, which apparently will generate 4000 jobs but passed today almost completely unnoticed.

    Prior to the bank robbery, my personal attitude was that unionists were equally, if not slightly more, responsible for the impasse than anyone else and I found it difficult to justify SF’s exclusion given the progress that had been made over the ten years. My attitude was to take them more or less on their word and believe they were serious about trying to make things work, and that unionists should come into the 21st century. The bank robbery seemed a slap in the face not only because it showed how the republicans didn’t give a tuppenny feck about the process, but also that they had shown no regard for the moderates across the board who had been arguing for their inclusion, who now suddenly found every word that had been uttered by the anti-agreement blockers during their election campaigns about the republican movement’s long term intentions proven right. Don’t the moderates among us have a right to be a bit annoyed ?

  • Hardy Handshake

    Roger

    Moderates my curvy butt. Redneck bigots with grammar school educations – opportunist weasel-wording vipers. If the orthodoxy is partitionist capitalist gombeen chancers then shove it kid.