‘Putting manners’ on whom precisely?

Gesture politics has a way coming back and biting you,particularly if gesture is all it turns out to be. Martin McGuinness has taken exception to Tom Kelly’s piece in the Irish News the other day. In today’s version of the paper he fights back, mostly at the expense of Kelly’s acceptance of the OBE.

Tom Kelly is a political opponent of Sinn Fein.

His column (February 5) is one long, ill-thought-out and incoherent attack on the Sinn Fein leadership and on me in particular.

This is not surprising given that Tom is a long-standing supporter of the SDLP and that party is currently embroiled in problems of their own making. These problems result from an equally ill-conceived advert in The Irish News printed in the name of the party leader.

I reject entirely the misrepresentation of my position contained in Tom Kelly’s article. Of course the vast majority of public service workers are hard working and conscientious.

I am in contact with these workers every day, many of them are my constituents and some are members of my immediate family. I salute their dedication and commitment. But of course Tom knows full well that I was not referring to ordinary health, education or other public service workers.

He knows that I was referring to the small usually faceless elite which has been responsible since the creation of this state for the nightmare that brought the nationalist community to the point of open rebellion in 1969.

Since then this permanent government of unionists and securocrats in the Northern Ireland Office and London have been responsible for institutional sectarianism, religious discrimination, internment, Bloody Sunday, torture, collusion, state executions, wholesale imprisonment of young nationalists, persecution of the Irish language, the demonisation of whole nationalist communities, censorship of Sinn Fein… I could go on and on and on.

Many of those responsible for this litany of oppression were honoured by the English queen for their service and loyalty. Tom might want to explain to us his rationale – Irish nationalist, democratic or socialist – for his grateful acceptance of a similar ‘honour’ (the Order of the British Empire, OBE) from the English queen.

Whatever Tom Kelly thinks about Sinn Fein, he cannot question the commitment or motivation of our political representatives and activists. We have lost friends and family members to the death squads. We have been interned, imprisoned and censored.

Our interface with the English queen has been very different to Tom’s. Irish republicans played an historic role in demolishing the British empire of which Tom is now an honoured ‘officer’. We will continue to challenge inequality and privilege wherever it occurs.

By going back to the negotiating table again and again we have achieved equality, human rights and accountability mechanisms which will help us to ensure that the abuses of the past are never repeated. Sinn Fein will use these mechanisms on behalf of all our people.

Tom might have a problem with our approach but the letters after our names derive from the people who vote for us – not from the English queen. I commend him to put his opinions before the electorate as I do. That’s democracy.

Martin McGuinness, MP

And yet, what McGuinness’s colleague John O’Dowd said: “It is Sinn Féin’s intention to put manners on the entire civil service, to anyone who is there working for the community and the people… they need to be ensuring they understand one thing, they are there working for the people.”

Given the kind of drift we have seen under direct rule it is possible to understand the kind of battles O’Dowd may have had in mind. But his terms of reference directly contradict those of McGuinness’s apologia.

  • Oilibhear Chromaill

    I think McGuinness hits thenail on the head with his piece. The facless elite are the targets of SF’s attack and the column by Kelly was an attempt to put others in the line of fire so, a familiar tactic from the officer class who sent countless thousands ‘over the top’ during the First World War yet stayed behind the lines themselve in considerable comfort.

    In a similar vein, it’s interesting to note how there’s been no sign of the Direct Misrule Agriculture Minister David Cairns (in case you may not be aware) during this period of the Avian Flu alert. In a report in today’s Lá Nua, the DARD NI cite ‘security concerns’ as they refuse to confirm whether Mr Cairns is in fact in the north, manning his desk or out and about.

    His invisibility is in sharp contrast to the high profile approach of his southern counterpart, Mary Coughlan, who has been on the tv etc assuring the public.

    No doubt he doesn’t take any salary for the job he doesn’t even acknowledge on his website and he won’t be getting a ministerial pension. He – and the civil servants who’re covering for him so pathetically – are the civil servants who need manners put upon them.

  • borden

    Martin obviously doesn’t do irony. Kelly may have taken his MBE but McGuinnes will gleefully use MP beside his name. An Irish republican?? standing for election in a British state and legitmising British rule in NI.

    Wise up Martin, and all the Provo Sinn Fein/Pseudo republicans.

  • Mick Fealty

    Interesting segway Oili… will try to catch the story…

  • Again we see SF trying to retrospectively claim they were targeting civil service chiefs as opposed to rank-and-file workers, despite the fact they never made such a differentiation at the time. Perhaps the fighting language of an ard fheis or the phraseology used in a gormless interview given when a more senior politician was not available to talk to the media does not go down so well with the nationalist electorate as it does with provo cheerleaders.

    McGuinness-

    “…institutional sectarianism, religious discrimination, internment, Bloody Sunday, torture, collusion, state executions, wholesale imprisonment of young nationalists.”

    Indeed these things did happen, and they must be remembered and those responsible brought to justice.

    But of course the provos were never involved in anything like this. Apart from the religious discrimination they displayed when they shot dead Protestant workmen at Kingsmills (another strike forward for the workers, eh?) or the blowing up of innocent Protestants at Enniskillen in 1987, et cetera ad nauseum. And the torture of alleged informers within their own ranks (often ironically by those who themselves were Crown Force colluders). And the ‘state execution’ of dozens of people (in their role as the self-styled ‘Government of the Irish Republic’) followed by the dumping of the victims’ bodies in ditches. And encouraging young nationalists to ‘get involved’, thus resulting in their imprisonment.

    If we’re going to talk about the past, let’s put everything in the open. It’s strange to see certain politicans complaining about ‘human rights abusers’ within the ranks of bodies such as the police, apparently completely oblivious of the human rights abusers who permeate every level of their own organisation (and indeed who are hero worshipped for those very actions).

    Again we see that in Sinn Féin’s Ireland of Equals, some are more equal than others.

  • Dec

    Pretty devastating sign-off by MMG.

    Regarding, the apparent contradiction between MMG’s stance and John O’Dowd’s, it’s inevitable that some of the ground troops will occasionally use more than one roll of wallpaper to paper over the cracks of recent party policy.

  • páid

    Hmmmm…….

    put manners on the police

    put manners on the civil service

    What’s next?

    put manners on the SAS?

    I agree with SF’s joining the police and getting Nationalists in the NICS.

    But I smell a soggy doggy soundbite.

  • Dec

    standing for election in a British state and legitmising British rule in NI

    Borden

    I suppose Bobby Sands was a sell-out too?

  • Shore Road Resident

    The hysterical tone of MMG’s letter struck me as very unprofessional from someone who aspires to be Deputy First Minister. There’s no doubt that he lost his temper here and managed not to find it throughout the time it took to write and send this totally OTT letter, which serves only to remind Irish News readers of a throwaway Ard Fheis remark that Shinners really shouldn’t be reminding people of by themselves.

  • Nevin

    “Our interface with the English queen has been very different to Tom’s.”

    Has Comical Marty had an audience with the Queen – yet?

  • Overhere

    Talking of manners I see McQuillan is set to sue Mark Durkin over the advert in the Irish News.

    Oh I forgot we are all victims now and can get compo for everything. Though with inflation rising I suppose pies are getting dearer and he looks like the type of chap who has downed a few pies in his time.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/6339641.stm

  • merrie

    Quotes:

    Trimble: republicans need to be house-trained

    Paisley: I’ll make SF/IRA wear sackcloth and ashes

    Adams: put manners on members of the PSNI

    O’Dowd & McGuinness: put manners on (certain) members of the NI civil service

    I think if anything like the above had been said on Slugger, it would have been edited out, with virtual red cards

  • Dougal

    For Martin McGuinness to critise Tom Kelly for having accepted an OBE really does emphasise how SF sees “An Ireland of Equals”.

    Martin McGuinness is in NO position to criticise anyone, given that he actively and enthusiastically supports/supported an organisation that indiscriminately murdered it’s fellow countrymen! What a hypocrite he is!

  • Mick Fealty

    Dec,

    The sign off is also slightly controversial.

    I’m certainly no fan of media as political opposition. But it is also dangerous for politicians to view writers as political opponents. Political opponents are, by definition, the people who stand against you at an election: not newspaper columnists, even if they are inveterately opposed to your politics.

    Ultimately, successful politicians win power and patronage: columnists don’t (or shouldn’t)! Any serious elision between the two roles is corrosive. In the end, good fences make for good neighbours.

  • Votail SDLP

    Sounds like McGuinness is trying to put a damage limitation spin on the SF attack on civil servants.

    …many of them are my constituents…”

    This is the real reason behind his latest verbal assault on an SDLP supporter!

  • Nevin

    Bad hair days for SF: Mary Lou puts manners on Barroso.

  • merrie

    Mick

    Isn’t Kelly an SDLP person? If so, he is not simply a writer, an impartial observer.

    Politicians are aware of the power of the press, look how Blair went out of his way to crony News International’s Murdoch. It is a shame, but it appears that sometimes elections can be won or lost by opinions expressed by journalists. Democracy can be corroded by a too-powerful media.

    If MacGuinness felt that Kelly was putting out the wrong message about SF then I am glad he has replied to it – a bit heavily, I must admit.

  • Sean Og

    So Alan McQuillan is now going to put manners on the SDLP!! Big Gerry didn’t know what he was starting with his comment in Derry a couple of weeks ago!
    Who will be putting manners on whom next?

  • The Dubliner

    “Political opponents are, by definition, the people who stand against you at an election: not newspaper columnists.” – Mick

    This esteemed (but entirely imaginary) impartiality is, presumably, why newspapers take great care not to proffer political agendas or endorse political parties at elections, isn’t it?

    Most media is politically partisan. Journalists are paid by publishers to push whichever agenda the publisher deems most beneficial to his interests. Indeed, it is hard not to name a newspaper which is not partisan.

  • eyes without a face

    one wonders how the british government gets anything done with all these ‘nameless, faceless’ automans at the helm of the civil service and the secruocrat machine

  • Henry94

    borden

    The Queen appoints OBEs. The people appoint MPs. That’s the difference.

  • Diluted Orange

    Nice to see McGuinness is an MP when it suits him. For someone who doesn’t bother representing his constituents in the House of Commons at all and therefore denies them of a voice it’s a bit rich using the title to sign off letters with.

    I assume Tom Kelly warranted receiving his OBE for his services to his community, contrast his dedication to the actions of McGuinness throughout his life, who was responsible for the bombing, maiming and killing that same community.

  • Jocky

    If Martin doens’t want people mis-stating his position maybe he should say what he means.

    What drivel. “institutional sectarianism, religious discrimination, internment, Bloody Sunday, torture, collusion, state executions, wholesale imprisonment of young nationalists, persecution of the Irish language, the demonisation of whole nationalist communities, censorship of Sinn Fein… I could go on and on and on.” eh no Martin you are already going on and on and on, couldn’t SF come up with some snazzy abbreviations for the above if they are going to trot it out when discussing any subject. I.S.R.D.I.B.S.T.C.S.E.W.I.Y.N.P.I.I.D.W.N.C.C.S.F. or something similar.

    Aren’t Internment and Wholesale Improisonment of Young Nationalists the same thing?

    I wonder if Martin could clarify exactly who the evil empire were colluding with in SF?

    Further drivel “we have achieved equality, human rights and accountability mechanisms which will help us to ensure that the abuses of the past are never repeated” cause they’d never be there if it wasn’t for SF. Do people honestly believe this drivel? It beggars belief he can say this with a straight face. It right up there with the BBC man claiming to have taken Baghdad.

    Wonder how Gerry and Marting will manage the inevitable U-turn when the get the call to the big house?

  • Mick Fealty

    merrie and TD,

    Where exactly did I say impartial? This is what I actually said:

    Political opponents are, by definition, the people who stand against you at an election: not newspaper columnists, even if they are inveterately opposed to your politics.

    There has been a lot of intellectual sloppiness in this area, not an inconsiderable amount of it originating in the media itself. But I hope my point is now clear enough.

  • mickhall

    “The Queen appoints OBEs
    Henry94”

    Indeed HE does.

    Mick
    If you gave someone like MM real power, it would be dangerous for the likes of him to view writers in the manner you mentioned, fortunately for some, he is only being given an illusion of power to play the fool with, but I take your point.

    Best regards to you both.

  • Teach

    The Queen appoints OBEs. The people appoint MPs. That’s the difference.

    Posted by Henry94 on Feb 07, 2007 @ 06:52 PM

    The Queen might had them out but it’s the Government(elected by the people) that chooses who’s to get them.

    Maybe he slipped old Tony a few quid……..

    Cash for honors anyone ?

  • Rory

    A journalist accepting a gong. How vulgar. An Irish journalist accepting a British gong. How demeaning.

    The quintessentially English playwright, Alan Bennett, spoke recently on radio of how he has consistently refused such meretricious patronage, even while his dear old mum , who would have been thrilled to see her boy knighted, was still alive. He understood too well that the purpose of these awards is not to honour the writer but to transfer the public honour and affection that the writer has earned from his work to the politicians who associate themselves with the granting of the award. No decent Englishman today will any longer taint his honour by accepting such hideous bribes to the soul.

    Though perhaps if as a writer you have never earned any public esteem you might as well take what you can get.

    I should like to hear Tom Kelly’s views on the matter.

  • brendan,belfast

    Ouch! looks like Tom touched a raw nerve within PSF.

    OC – you’re back! and you say “the facless elite are the targets of SF’s attack.”

    Of course as Mick reminds us, O’Dowd went on to say “It is Sinn Fein’s intention to manners on the entire civil service.” i assume that means on the family members of Martin’s who work for the civil service. they are after all part of the “entire civil service.”

  • marty (not ingram)

    O’Dowd must do sterling work on the ground to justify his vote as he always seems to come across as a bit of a numskull on TV & radio.

    He was probably feeling quite pleased with himself that he found another organisation that he could “put manners on” just a few days after Adams used the same expression regarding the PSNI.

    Who next? The bloke that delivers Maine Lemonade and other soft drinks?

  • Marty-

    “Who next? The bloke that delivers Maine Lemonade and other soft drinks?”

    Don’t be ridiculous- they only want to put manners on those faceless securocrats who run Maine and insist on continuing to supply it in glass bottles when republicans demand the right to drink it from plastic bottles. The nerve!

  • Brendan, Belfast

    Interesting conclusion from The Boss:

    “I commend him to put his opinions before the electorate as I do. That’s democracy.”

    Is the interim Deputy First Minister suggesting that no-one but elected politicans have the right to express a view? no place in SF’s new Ireland for dissenting voices, commentators, the ahem Jim Gibneys of this world?

  • gerry

    I think with this piece marty has made more problems for himself than he has solved. marty has taken on a formidable opponent, it will be interesting to see what form kelly’s reply takes.

    Fasten your seat belt marty.

  • The Dubliner

    “Where exactly did I say impartial? This is what I actually said:

    [i]Political opponents are, by definition, the people who stand against you at an election: not newspaper columnists, even if they are inveterately opposed to your politics.[/i]

    There has been a lot of intellectual sloppiness in this area, not an inconsiderable amount of it originating in the media itself. But I hope my point is now clear enough.” – Mick

    You confuse political candidates with political opponents. Journalists can be partisan and impartial. Media proffers political agendas and endorses political parties during elections. Both Tom Kelly and the Irish News are political partisans (SDLP), not impartial journalists, and their attack on PSF should be properly understood within that context, not duplicitously divorced from it. Let us have more openness and transparency within the media, and less insidious chicanery from partisans posturing as impartial observers in an effort to deceive the public.

    And while we are on the subject of “intellectual sloppiness”, you should clarfy that McGuinness’s refutation to Kelly concerned his claim that he showed civil servants who was boss. Yet you misrepresented this as being a refutation of the “putting manners on them” comment from O’Dowd:

    “And yet, what McGuinness’s colleague John O’Dowd said: ‘It is Sinn Féin’s intention to put manners on the entire civil service, to anyone who is there working for the community and the people… they need to be ensuring they understand one thing, they are there working for the people.'” – Mick

  • The Dubliner

    In case you gloss over the last point, Mr. McGuinness’ clarified the context of his “showed them who was boss” remark in his refutation to Tom Kelly. He specified to whom he was referring. You, however, chose to obfuscate that clarification by irrelevantly pointing to O’Dowd’s use of a different remark, suggesting that the clarity McGuinness offered was bogus because the irrelevant remark from O’Dowd pointed to a broader context.

  • Opto

    I think the postie better watch out next time he delivers the NIE final demand to O’Dowd’s house.

  • Sean

    el matador:

    McGuinness-

    “…institutional sectarianism, religious discrimination, internment, Bloody Sunday, torture, collusion, state executions, wholesale imprisonment of young nationalists.”

    Indeed these things did happen, and they must be remembered and those responsible brought to justice.

    Is it your contention that these practices have stopped?

  • The Devil

    Did someone spike Marty Macs dinner with madgic mushrooms???????

    He lambasts Tom Kelly for accepting an OBE yet he prepares to take to post of Deputy First Minister in an Ulster Parliment up at Stormont
    (you know that place where the shinners would never go and anybody who said they would was either MI5 or a drunken liar)
    under the direct orders from Ian Paisleys party the DUP.

    Shinners have taken paid community jobs from the British establisment for years the same “honoured” people that Marty Mac detests have personally earmarked money for projects run by Shinners to give them money that after a while they would need like a drug
    (better than meeting them in carparks with stuffed envelopes like other sections of the establishment do)

    The fanzine that the Shinners have, called the Andy Town News cried like a bitch for money from the British establishment and got it, they also can’t answer which department of the establishment made out the cheque but safe to say the person had letters after their name.

    As for the negotiating table i doubt that any Shinner could find it because all they come back with is excuse after excuse for failed talks and unbelievably bad deals for nationalists were the DUP had completely outclassed them, so perhaps Marty Mac should stick to poetry and rabble rousing dishonest speeches at a rigged ard fheis because Mr Kelly may well end up putting manners on him.

    Kelly took an OBE… so what, many of Marty Macs former collegues took code names and he covered it up, maybe you should remember that the next time you sit down to scrawl nonsense, or at least check through your food to see if the mushrooms look odd

  • Rory on Feb 07, 2007 @ 08:26 PM wrote “… I should like to hear Tom Kelly’s views on the matter. ”

    Rory, I’ll assume that’s a loaded question aimed at me because you knew I’d go and look for the following…

    http://sluggerotoole.com/index.php/weblog/comments/sdlp_man_accepts_gong/P50/

    Tom Kelly OBE even joins in the debate about his gong in Slug postings about a year ago.

  • Pete Baker

    TD

    You, however, chose to obfuscate that clarification by irrelevantly pointing to O’Dowd’s use of a different remark, suggesting that the clarity McGuinness offered was bogus because the irrelevant remark from O’Dowd pointed to a broader context.

    While Mick can defend himself, it’s worthwhile pointing out that Kelly’s original article dealt substantially with John O’Dowd’s comments.

    Firstly, ‘el presidente’ Adams told the faithful they were signing up to policing because they wanted to “put manners on members of the PSNI”.

    Not to be outdone in worker bashing, Martin McGuinness said that on his first day in office as education minister he showed them who ‘the boss’ was. The latest unsophisticated attack on another group of workers came from John O’Dowd, the Sinn Féin Upper Bann spokesman for all matters when no-one else more senior is available, extended the Adams mantra from putting manners on PSNI members to putting manners on all civil servants.

    After a week of sustained attacks on workers, the meek union leadership at Nipsa decided enough was enough and called time on such ridiculous comments.

    It’s hardly “irrelevant” to point, again, to O’Dowd’s comments in circumstances where Martin McGuinness is taking umbrage with Kelly’s article as if he was the sole target of criticism.. and in a way that, on Slugger, would be in breach of the Commenting Policy.

  • the column by Kelly was an attempt to put others in the line of fire so, a familiar tactic from the officer class who sent countless thousands ‘over the top’ during the First World War yet stayed behind the lines themselve in considerable comfort.

    Someone needs to send this line to “Pseuds’ Corner” in Private Eye.

  • Rory

    Thank you, Anonymous, for the archive material direction. My desire to hear Tom Kelly’s views on the acceptance of gongs and how he might defend himself against the opprobrium that he must have known was bound to arise was simply that, not a loaded question directed at you as you seem to have deduced, for reasons that I cannot fathom.

    In any case, thanks. Kelly says in a nutshell that he was entitled to do as he pleased and he seems to consider that the personal benefits of accepting the award outweigh the resulting contempt of his fellow countrymen. That’s his choice and he must live with it.

  • merrie

    The Dubliner:

    Good comments.

    Rory: Agree. It’s not the right time for Nationalists in the six counties (presuming Kelly is a nationalist) to acccept English honours though maybe later when there is a unified Ireland again it might become acceptable – for example Bob Geldorf’s knighthood (though if he lived in Ireland it might be different).

    In Australia people who accept Pommie honours are generally held in contempt.

  • Nevin

    “Martin McGuinness said that on his first day in office as education minister he showed them who ‘the boss’ was.”

    If I can paraphrase the experiences of ‘Jim’, one of the bossed:

    “I picked up a few files that I needed for a meeting and stepped out of the office into the corridor. I was immediately bundled back inside by some ‘minders’ with the phrase ‘the Minister’s coming’ ringing in my ears”

    So much for the Enlightenment 🙂

  • TD,

    “Yet you misrepresented this as being a refutation…”

    Where on earth did you get that from? Martin’s letter is quoted in full. And to be honest, the central row is not something I particularly wanted to comment on. I thought hard before blogging it at all, for the reasons Pete has mentioned.

    My suspicion is that the original phrase was intended for internal consumption, but nevertheless it was reported widely and created a PR storm. My guess too is that none of this has the slightest implication for policy or the way the party will actually deal with Civil Servants when they get back into government.

    That is why I used the term ‘gesture’ in my commentary. As yesterday’s raw sewage story displays only too well, senior civil servants need clear political guidance to do their job well. So there is a case to be made for any party to adopt a robust approach. In some respects, it is disappointing to see just how little substance there was in the party’s professed approach.

    As for your point about certain of the media being the political enemy, that does not contradict in the least what I have said. I suggest you read it again and come back with something that relates to what I have actually argued.

  • Nevin

    “need clear political guidance”

    Just a thought. How did a minister who knew little or nothing about his brief spend his/her day? Were there any Prescott moments?

  • Nev and Teach,

    You are both at the same thing. It’s tedius and timewasting. Pack it in, or leave the field of play!!

  • kensei

    “As for your point about certain of the media being the political enemy, that does not contradict in the least what I have said. I suggest you read it again and come back with something that relates to what I have actually argued.”

    You said:

    “Political opponents are, by definition, the people who stand against you at an election: not newspaper columnists, even if they are inveterately opposed to your politics.”

    Ok, political opponents are just the people that stand against you at an election? What about the Party, the support staff, the election workers, the PR people and everyone else that needs to be there to support he candidate. And if someone is acting as the PR department for the said party, then how are they different from the party workers. It is too easy to have someone disassociate themselves a minimal amount in order to pose as independent.

    The attempt to divorce politicians form the rest of society is also mad and counter productive. your political opponents are all those who oppose your politics. That doesn’t mean they are all treated in the same way, any more than an army should deal with insurgency the same way it deal with a regular army.

    There is intellectual sloppiness here, but it’s not with those you are levelling criticism at.

  • TKmaxx

    Mick
    The McGuinness letter had me in stitches. Firstly I thought has he lost the run of himself. In hindsight I think it was written by an over enthusiastic press officer.

  • Nevin

    “It’s tedius and timewasting”

    Tut,tut. I produced a relevant illustration to show how the ‘the boss’ operated, how ‘manners’ were put on civil servants in his department.

  • silly us

    The Devil,

    100%

  • Ken,

    I must say I have to marvel at the time some people can put into arguing on Slugger… but there is an important issue at stake here…

    You said:

    The attempt to divorce politicians form the rest of society is also mad and counter productive. Your political opponents are all those who oppose your politics.

    On the face of it that is a perfectly reasonable statement. Politicians are ordinary citizens. As are journos. It is also quite true that individual papers and writers may have their own agendas. It should be noted however that those agendas are only as good as the quality of their own outputs. For instance, if it takes an ATN journo to track down a bad story on the SDLP, then so be it. The story is what should be judged, not the perceived or real bias of the writer.

    Professionally, these two cadres have quite separate functions. If successful, politicians wield considerable power and patronage. Journalism, in a free society at least, should seek to hold politicians accountable for the way in which they wield that power and patronage. Some distance between the two is always desireable. It is their job, and whether they do with prejudice or bias, or ‘impartially’ or not we as ordinary citizens depend on them continuing to do it.

    In a democracy politicians compete with other polticians for the affection of the people. A competition that is often powerfully mediated by large corporations (not least the BBC, RTE etc). Nevertheless, once (as a politician at least) you widen the term enemy to include players in the media, you are creating a dangerous elision between those inside the political game and those ‘outside’.

    That this elision is customary, and not simply confined to the media, was amply demonstrated in Mitchel’s ‘undermining of confidence in the Unionist community‘ comment. Sinn Fein should be working flat out to undermine confidence in Unionism: but not the community that currently has it as their primary political creed.

    That distinction is absolutely critical in a democracy.

  • Pat

    Martin Mc Guinness has one hard neck.

    How can Martin Mc Guinness complain about somebody
    accepting an OBE when he has no problem accepting a regular pay cheque from the same British establishment?

  • merrie

    I think I read somewhere that Martin’s paycheck goes to SF, not to himself.

  • Nevin

    “Journalism, in a free society at least, should seek to hold politicians accountable for the way in which they wield that power and patronage.”

    Except that we don’t have a truly free press and it’s really governments (and press barons et al) rather than politicians who wield this power and patronage. Whatever happened to investigative journalism – and accountability in parliament?

    “The story is what should be judged, not the perceived or real bias of the writer.”

    Is this where context comes in? I’d prefer to make my mind up after reading a range of stories on a particular theme as well as bearing in mind the background of the authors – and the publishers.

  • merrie

    “Journalism, in a free society at least, should seek to hold politicians accountable for the way in which they wield that power and patronage.”

    This takes a very high-minded view of journalists. In our free society the lines are very blurred. Politicians become journalists (Portillo) or are journalists (Boris Johnson). We can enjoy or loathe reading Tom Kelly’s and Brian Feeney’s articles and learn from them – but always take what they say in the knowledge that they too have political agenda.

    The problem is also that some journalists (unelected) and press barons (self-appointed and unelected) wield their own power and patronage in such a way that their bias can undemocratically topple governments or prevent people from being elected in the first place.

    Who can hold journalists and press barons accountable? There is the MacDowell way: attack a journalist who revealed more than McD wanted about the patronage for his PD party. The revenge, the revenge. This won’t work in most instances. And in this case I felt what MacDowell did was wrong.

    I don’t think journalists were ever non-partisan. I remember reading about “that devil Wilkes” who was nevertheless honoured – there is a statue of him just off Fleet Street in London.

    Journalistic power is being diluted by the Internet (blogs like this one) and cameras on mobile phones, but the information we get is unlikely to be more honourable, non-partisan, etc.

    So if an SDLP man writes an article in a nationalist newspaper slagging off a politician, that politician has a right of reply. This is a free society.

  • kensei

    “I must say I have to marvel at the time some people can put into arguing on Slugger… but there is an important issue at stake here…”

    I blame IT systems taking an age to restart.

    “The story is what should be judged, not the perceived or real bias of the writer.”

    This is fine as far as real journalism goes. And I would not include tracking and publishing stories in itself as opposition. Once you stray into the realm of the op-ed and commentary though, bias certainly does matter.

    “Some distance between the two is always desireable. It is their job, and whether they do with prejudice or bias, or ‘impartially’ or not we as ordinary citizens depend on them continuing to do it.”

    Precisely. The argument here has been that separation has broken down in this instance.

    “Nevertheless, once (as a politician at least) you widen the term enemy to include players in the media, you are creating a dangerous elision between those inside the political game and those ‘outside’.”

    Modern politics is total spectrum. You only have to look at America, where Republicans have successfully mastered pushing their message through not only their politicians, but favourable media outlets. It’s not just they are pushing the message, they are very often pushing the same words. If you spend all your time focused on destroying one party, or favouring another, then whether or not you are directly competing for votes you are a political opponent. Journalists can stay away from the fray and offer criticism – but only if they maintain some kind of independence.

  • TKmaxx

    This story came straight from SF – they started it and expanded on it. Not once but three times. It is legitimate to write about it. My view own point is irrelevant – funny Martin did not take pen to hand -when I agreed with his recent analysis of the DUP position and his/SF short term held view of participation in the ‘Hain’ Assembly or of his work in Sri Lanka – SF dont like criticism but like the IRA – I won’t go away just yet. SF recognise all parts of NI – its position within the UK- its regional parliament at Stormont- its courts and its police. They are on a level playing field and everyone has a right to get their elbows up – even non combatants!

  • Rory on Feb 08, 2007 @ 11:17 AM wrote …“…you seem to have deduced, for reasons that I cannot fathom.
    In any case, thanks. Kelly says in a nutshell that he was entitled to do as he pleased and he seems to consider that the personal benefits of accepting the award outweigh the resulting contempt of his fellow countrymen. That’s his choice and he must live with it. “

    I tried to humourously point out that I’d spend (waste) time and energy searching for the relevant thread. A little joke at my own expense… don’t think of it any more.

  • Ken,

    It seems we may be talking about two different things. You are talking about the line between news and comment. I’m speaking of the baseline between politics and journalism.

    At times it can be a nice distinction – as when a politician writes a column (such Gerry Adams in The Village). Or when the journalist writes for a party organ. And I’m aware this argument can be vulnerable to merrie’s ‘too highminded’ argument in the shove and push of big media.

    It also has to be said that some journos behave as though the popularity of their sales outweigh’s a politician’s mandate. Clearly it doesn’t. But then that is another example of this same elision.

    All I am arguing is that a fundamental distinction should both be made and maintained. Journos/columnist have some power to shape public opinion. But they do not, and should not, shape and execute public policy. Each to their own.

    Put bluntly: the day any of us need a mandate to express a critical opinion of some political interest or another, we will all be the poorer for it.

  • I Wonder

    Mick

    You will excuse some of us that feel we are no poorer if we do not see certain criticisms, certain basic lack of civility in attitude; if we do not see the urging of violent political solutions, if we do not see black people labelled “coons” and believe we must somehow accept these as, apparently, the price for general freedom of expression.

  • kensei

    “All I am arguing is that a fundamental distinction should both be made and maintained. Journos/columnist have some power to shape public opinion. But they do not, and should not, shape and execute public policy. Each to their own.”

    See others above. They are certainly capable of shaping policy, if not executing it, and those at the top of media organisations weld undue power and patronage. There used to be laws to restrict that, but with those gone, the lines blur.

    “Put bluntly: the day any of us need a mandate to express a critical opinion of some political interest or another, we will all be the poorer for it.”

    Fair enough. The point MMG was making I think was that the electorate was endorsing his party’s opinion rather than Tom Kelly’s right to express it.

    And none of that stops Tom Kelly being a “political opponent” of SF.

  • kensei

    “rather than Tom Kelly’s right to express it.”
    should be “rather than attacking Tom Kelly’s right to express it.”

  • Kensei-

    “Journalists can stay away from the fray and offer criticism – but only if they maintain some kind of independence.”

    Do you include AP/RN in that?

  • kensei

    “Do you include AP/RN in that?”

    Of course. I wouldn’t argue for a second it’s in any way independent.

    It’s not that people don’t have the right to do it, or that it can’t produce interesting results. But that wasn’t the question.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ken,

    “…those at the top of media organisations wield undue power and patronage. There used to be laws to restrict that, but with those gone, the lines blur.”

    I’d be interested in some detail on this power and the formerly binding laws? Without examples it is difficult to see what you’re driving at…

    “The point MMG was making I think was that the electorate was endorsing his party’s opinion rather than Tom Kelly’s right to express it.”

    I can absolutely see that’s what he may have intended. But one does not equate to the other.

    Martin’s mandate allows him (or it will when the DUP agree) to take on certain powers and responsibilities. But it cannot (of itself) trump a case put by columnist in a newspaper.

    That just requires logical refutation.

    IW,

    “…some of us that feel we are no poorer if we do not see certain criticisms”

    For the most exposure to criticism is a matter of personal choice, surely?

  • kensei

    “I’d be interested in some detail on this power and the formerly binding laws? Without examples it is difficult to see what you’re driving at…”

    The Communications Act 2003 removed several barriers to cross media ownership, continuing a trend that had been going for a while.

    Having consolidation of major media outlets means that an owner can influence the agenda, direction and stories of their organizations. Effectively running a giant advertising campaign, they have power to effect public opinion, and the get policy changes they desire. Patronage? How many people have cozied up to Murdock? Why bother getting elected when you can get representatives to give you what you want?

    Even individuals within those organisations can weld a great deal of power.

    It is somewhat offset by the growth in the internet and alternative outlets like this site. But let’s not kid ourselves that the MM doesn’t still weld considerable influence.

    “I can absolutely see that’s what he may have intended. But one does not equate to the other.

    Martin’s mandate allows him (or it will when the DUP agree) to take on certain powers and responsibilities. But it cannot (of itself) trump a case put by columnist in a newspaper.”

    In a sense, it’s an appeal to popularity – which is a fallacy unless the person is speaking on what people want.

  • Teach

    Who actually owns the Irish News ?