Criticism is valid, and necessary, in a democracy

In the Sunday Independent, Ruth Dudley Edwards provides a ‘weary correction’ to Brian Feeney’s assertion that “all her heroes have failed or failed her” – “Trimble, whom I admire for his courage and decency, did not let me down; the Orange Order was no more a hero to me than Ballinamallard Knitting Circle; and I’ve been denouncing Paisley as a bigot and a wrecker for all my journalistic career.” – before making an important point about elections.. and, indeed, journalism.

I’m in favour of a deal rather than no deal, though I’m gloomy about the prospects of success for a power-splitting arrangement between religious and political bigots which institutionalises sectarianism. But what I enjoyed was Feeney’s nerve in implying that to be critical of the way people vote is to be anti-democratic. This from the man who wrote last year that: “To advertise their political dementia to the world, unionists have repeatedly voted for a man regarded as a ranting buffoon to be their tribal leader.” Quite, Brian. If you had added that “to advertise their moral dementia, nationalists have repeatedly voted for a hypocrite known to be a terrorist leader to be theirs”, we’d be in complete agreement for once.

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  • tony

    perhaps the problem for Edwards and her ilk is the realisatiom that for all their ‘supposed’ power and influence within the media, she is a total irrelevance.

  • Pete Baker

    No more so that Brian Feeney, surely.. or was that your point?

  • heck

    can I add “to advertise their moral dementia, the british have repeatedly voted for a hypocrite known to be a liar and war criminal to be theirs”?

  • Pete Baker

    For once, heck, your single transferable comment is not entirely irrelevant.. given Tony Blair’s involvement in The Processâ„¢

  • SuperSoupy

    If this story is to be linked surely it could be done with the blogger’s normal thoroughness?

    This pissing competition was started by Myers:

    http://www.unison.ie/columnists/kevin-myers/stories.php3?ca=428&si=1800919

    Where he declares the deal won’t stick and has a pop at Feeney.

    Leahy in the SBP has also laughed at the Cruiser’s contribution.

    http://archives.tcm.ie/businesspost/2007/04/01/story22300.asp

    Ruth may be batting for the team as the one looking the least ridiculous at present but if Feeney has got 2 out of 3 right, he is odds on over the last.

    (but of course these links don’t appear in the entry above I don’t wonder why)

  • Henry 07

    the Orange Order was no more a hero to me than Ballinamallard Knitting Circle

    Looking forward to he book defending the Ballinamallard Knitting Circle then. She could call it Pulling The Wool

  • SuperSoupy

    Myers: Feeney is wrong

    Edwards: Feeney is a fool

    I await,

    Cruiser: Feenye, he ate all the babies after landing in his IRA flying saucer

  • abucs

    For someone who has spent a lot of her journalistic career wanting an end to violence and also deriding SF and the DUP, i can see why there is some confusion now.

    It’s obviously those pescky, ignorant voters that have caused her problem….. whoops, I mean the problem. :o)

  • Aquifer

    What do you do with parties addicted to brinkmanship? Throw a few of your own in. Hain has them taped.

    Having our commentators tearing strips out of one another is a useful corrective to the tribalism of our media.

    Meanwhile the ‘centre’ parties can stand by and wait for the two ethnic pyramid selling schemes to collapse.

    And SFDUP try to postpone that day by reinventing themselves as parties of firm and fair governance.

    When they fail could they try to sell the same ethnic pyramids again?

    Happy Holidays

  • cynic

    This sounds a bit like the debate on other topics on the Trolls, playing the man and backbiting in Slugger. Remove Feeny and Edwards from some of these posts and substitute various contributors here and it would be a fair description of some recent discussions / recriminations.

    Is political blogging just getting more and more like real life to the point where it isnt about the issues – its just the personalities and debate for the sake of debate?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I regard both Feeney and Edwards as deranged. But I’d love to see Feeney writing an article some day about the circumstances under which he parted company with the SDLP. Neither he nor the SDLP seem to be particularly keen to say much about it.

  • GavBelfast

    This has nothing to do with this thread, but I’ve just stumbled across the ‘live’ coverage of the 1992 General Election on BBC Parliament at present (Sky channel 504, not sure what numbers on any other platform).

    Very nostalgic and odd watching it from a perspective of what then followed – especially Chris Patten confidently looking forward to another (fifth) victory in 1997!

    We’re over six hours into the programme, so it’s about 4.15am on election night now. No results from NI yet – 15 years and they’re still counting ….

    😉

  • susan

    Denis Bradley made a lot of sense in the Irish News last week – and not for the first or last time in his life so don’t even start with me. Bradley (comparatively) gently takes Myers, Edwards, and other journos and academics to task for basing their doomsday scenarios not on “the evidential past” but on “sweeping emotionally-charged presumptions.” The “evidential past” Bradley considers is the enormous, once inconceivable distances already travelled by the British government, by SF, by the IRA, and by Paisley.

    Bradley’s conclusion is (again, comparatively) optimistic:

    “So the future is difficult!

    There is going to be a battle a day.

    It is based on flimsy morals!

    Tell us something new.

    Anyone with an ounce of sense knows how difficult the future is going to be.

    But at least it is a future.

    All the more reason then that the intelligentsia and academia get past their own prejudice and bile. They have a responsibility, in the future, to contribute to good debate and proper analysis.”

    Bradley’s entire piece can be read here: http://www.nuzhound.com/articles/irish_news/arts2007/apr6_time_our_intelligentsia__DBradley.php

  • Nic

    Hi all,
    I feel it’s relevant in the feely happy glow of historic handshakes to keep in mind that we were a hairsbreadth away from an armed IRA running the police and community services in NornIron.

    This was clearly the preferred outcome of the Fianna Fail and the British Labour parties, and was supported wholeheartedly by most of the Irish and British media.

    Thank God for the dissenters.

  • Mordechai

    Too true.

  • Obscure Reference

    Journalism is show-business. It’s another branch of the entertainment industry. Anyone who thinks the Sindo is anything more than that is fooling themselves, I can’t aggrandize the role of these individuals into worthy commentators on democracy in action.

    Everybody loves a fight and Feeney started one, it’s a journalistic reality show, a way to be part of the story, personality over analysis.

    Feeney won. RDE’s weary correction was so weary it couldn’t get out of bed.

  • Pete Baker

    A couple of points

    Obscure

    Personalities aside, I quoted the section from Ruth Dudley Edwards because she hints at a point relating to both the Finnuala O’Connor article and the attempted chastisement of the BBC’s Mark Devenport by Gerry Adams – namely, criticism is an integral part of a functioning democracy and to attempt to denigrate it, or to wish it away, damages the wider society.

    Susan

    Relating to the point above, Denis Bradley’s article was, IHMO, disgraceful.

    For an active participant in The Process™ to characterise critics as members of “the intelligentsia and academia”, driven by “their own prejudice and bile”, is not, in his terms, contributing to “good debate and proper analysis” – it is blatantly playing the man.

  • susan

    Oh. I see. If a commentator portrays the electorate as driven solely by their own prejudice and bile it is good journalism and the only sane conclusion of all right-thinking people everywhere, but if Denis Bradley points out that Feeney and Myers in their hyperbole and intra-journo feuding are not immune from prejudice and bile themselves, then that is “disgraceful” and “playing the man.”

    Bradley isn’t coy about which critics he is criticisng:

    “There is a group of journalists, political commentators and academics who are also outraged at this coming together of Sinn Féin and the DUP.

    This group is made up of some of the most experienced and respected of commentators. They write for some of the best newspapers, they teach in some of the most respected educational institutions. They say important things and, often, very insightful things. They are influential in many political and social circles. They inform the opinion of people who inform opinion.

    There is quite a large group of them but the most public and best known are Kevin Myers and Ruth Dudley Edwards.”

    Bradley examines some of their recent work and argues that some of their grim predictions are more coloured by their emotions and their own presumptions than by logic and the evidence of the recent past.

    Obviously you disagree, Pete, and you may even be right. But criticising the critics is also valid, and necessary, in a democracy and is well within the rules of fair play.

  • Pete Baker

    Susan

    Criticising the critics is entirely within the remit of my original point.

    The important point to note, I’d suggest, is that Denis Bradley first casts his net widely.. before narowing it to named individuals.

    “There is a group of journalists, political commentators and academics..”

    In doing so, I’d argue that he seeks to group all critics of The Processâ„¢ under his subsequent analysis.

    And it’s that analysis that I criticise.

    Because he does not, as he exhorts others to do, engage in “good debate and proper analysis”, instead we are advised that “intelligentsia and academia [should] get past their own prejudice and bile. They have a responsibility.”

    As I said, he has been an active participant in that Processâ„¢.

    As such it is disingenuous, at least, for him to now criticise the critics of that Processâ„¢ by avoiding their criticism, and instead ‘play the man’, claiming that they are abdicating their responsibility by voicing such criticism.

  • SuperSoupy

    “As I said, he has been an active participant in that Processâ„¢.”

    So. You haven’t defined what that participation was and why you think that means his opinion should be dismissed (other than he clearly doesn’t fit your world view).

    He doesn’t dismiss criticism, he dismissed prejudice and bile and you seem to be the one rejecting a view you don’t like in your case with the undefined man-not-ball dismissal of his views as he is a ‘participant’ as if that matters a hill of beans.

  • The Dubliner

    Susan, Bladley’s spiel is an exhortation to all to abandon reason and ethnics, and watch the bright new future being forged for us by the same depraved sociopaths who forged our dark past. Yes, the mad shall lead the blind to the Promised Land… or so the mad would have the sane believe.

    Bladley’s article, unwittingly, is a good example of what those commentators he condemns mean by the moral corruption that underlines the process and how corrosive that insidious corruption is to a society’s values. People have voted for some truly awful people who are fundamentally devoid of decency and principle. In the case of PSF, people who murdered thousands and maimed tens of thousands for no purpose other than achieving political power for the sociopaths who orchestrated the violence and for the sectarian gain of the nationalist community who supported that violence. It is a direct reward for mass murder campaign, conferred jointly by the nationalists and the governments upon the sociopaths under the threat of further violence were said sociopaths not so rewarded. Paisley, likewise, emerged from this moral sewer in the political ascendancy, also rewarded. Those convicted of murder were released by into the communities they terrorised. Their gangs rewarded with million pound donations from the taxpayers. Bladley sees this as progress and undermines those who apply a moral system or critique that generates a different view to the process-sponsored view. He implies that dissenters are either hypocrites, misguided, unbalanced, elitist, begrudges, or otherwise flawed in their opposition, distaste, or disapproval. Just as we surrendered our future to the lunatics, so too, he implores, must we surrender all moral codes and critical judgement. Bladley has been forced into a moral sewer by the process. He is welcome to it, but he has no right to demand that others join him there.

    As Vice Chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, his lack of support for the concept of opposition and free speech is particularly disconcerting.

  • Roisin

    I’ll have to go for the man not ball when it comes to Bradley. He was a dishonest broker, and as such has no credibility in my opinion. Why he’s even still hanging around puzzles me.

  • Mordechai

    You make a lot of sense, Pete. Quite a few people are interpreting this election as a fait accompli. A prize. A triumph. A ‘justification’ of their long march, without analysing that long march itself. As if it was enough that the road to power, like the road to Hell, be paved with good intentions.

  • wee slabber

    RDE, Kevin Myers, Conor C – what a weary bunch of nobodies. Why should we all be excercised by these bufoons?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Pete

    “Relating to the point above, Denis Bradley’s article was, IHMO, disgraceful.”

    You mean you disagree with his analysis. That’s all.

    “For an active participant in The Processâ„¢ to characterise critics as members of “the intelligentsia and academia”, driven by “their own prejudice and bile”, is not, in his terms, contributing to “good debate and proper analysis” – it is blatantly playing the man.”

    First off, could you clarify exactly why you include a TM every time you refer to the peace process? It’d be interesting if you could just spell out exactly what you’re trying to say.

    Secondly, whether Denis Bradley has been a participant in the peace process is makes no difference in terms of whether his analysis is correct or not. (You also seem to imply that as a participant in the peace process, he should be somehow disallowed from responding to critics of that process – where’s the logic here?)

    Thirdly: to describe Edwards, Myers, O’Brien, and let’s add Harris in for good measure, “the intelligentsia and academia” is simply a statement of fact; to suggest that they have been motivated “their own prejudice and bile”, seems like fair comment. Bradley is ten times cleaner a ball-player than any of these.

    Furthermore, there is an eminently reasonable debate to be had about the phenomenon of the anti-republican, pro-union, rightwing quasi-British tendency (personified in Harris, Edwards, Myers, Cruiser) that dominates the Irish print media – a phenomenon largely at odds with the instinctive tendencies of the population at large. And within that debate, it will of course be necessary to refer to the work of specific individuals. They are all public figures, paid handsomely for their work – they are fair game for such debate.

    But again you’re confused by the fact that you tend to agree with the Edwards-Myers-Cruiser-Harris axis – hence the bluster about playing the man etc.

    “…Denis Bradley first casts his net widely.. before narowing it to named individuals. In doing so, I’d argue that he seeks to group all critics of The Processâ„¢ under his subsequent analysis.”

    So you think that by naming two specific individuals, he “groups all critics under his analysis”? Explain the logic of this.

    “As I said, he has been an active participant in that Processâ„¢.”

    What does that have to do with whether his point is valid?

    “As such it is disingenuous, at least, for him to now criticise the critics of that Processâ„¢ by avoiding their criticism, and instead ‘play the man’, claiming that they are abdicating their responsibility by voicing such criticism.”

    Sorry Pete, but you’re jumping through hoops to try and find an excuse to lambast Bradley – when it’s very clear to all that your problem with him is his role in what you so derisively refer to as the Process TM.

    Who’s really playing the man here?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Incidentally, I noticed that in his column in the Indo on Saturday, the Cruiser confidently predicted that there would be no deal on power-sharing between Paisley and SF.

    Presumably in this week’s column he’ll explain to the nation why Ian Paisley will never shake Bertie Ahern’s hand…

  • Yes Billy,

    I read the Cruiser’s column with a degree of incredulity on Saturday. How the editorial team allowed it make print is an even bigger mystery…

  • susan

    I’m sorry Pete, but it still seems to me you’ve one standard for the critics and another for those who criticise the critics.

    For an example of prejudice and bile, you need look no further than the Ruth Dudley Edwards piece with which you opened. Edwards states that those who voted DUP did so “to advertise their political dementia,” while those who voted SF did so “to advertise their moral dementia.”

    Frankly, I have seen more consideration given to the dignity and diversity of experience of laboratory animals than Edwards gives to the Northern eletorate. Does Edwards also consider her neighbours in London to be suffering from “political dementia” because they oppose the war in Iraq yet voted for Labour? And what about all those who will continue to vote FF despite the nursing-homes scandal — has Edwards outed them for “moral dementia” ?

    I do not believe the voters are bereft of human decency compared to those paragons of voting virtue in Dublin and London. Many of the ideas now trumpeted by SF and the DUP originated with the SDLP and the UUP. There are many reasons those parties are losing so much ground to SF and the DUP. Attributing the changes to mass “dementia” of the populace might be tempting to some, but that sort of “We did not miss the bus, the bus has missed us” thinking is the on ramp to extinction in electoral politics.

    Asking why people vote the way the do is valid and necessary; answering the question only with one’s own reflexive distaste and demonisations is not, as Edwards does here, is not.

  • Pete Baker

    susan

    At the risk of repaeting myself, as I said earlier in-thread

    Personalities aside, I quoted the section from Ruth Dudley Edwards because she hints at a point relating to both the Finnuala O’Connor article and the attempted chastisement of the BBC’s Mark Devenport by Gerry Adams – namely, criticism is an integral part of a functioning democracy and to attempt to denigrate it, or to wish it away, damages the wider society.

    Her criticism of voting patterns could have been countered in a good debate with good analysis.. but Brian Feeney chose not to do that. Instead his response was of an entirely different form.

    He sought to define democracy solely as a vote by the people – without any checks or balances..

    I’m not sure if you watch Adam Curtis’ The Trap recently, but there are echoes in his description of partial democracies, Philipines, Russia, where the people were allowed to vote.. but little else happened.

    There are other essential elements in a democracy.

    Nevertheless, Denis Bradley weighed in with the article that you quoted.

    In that article he characterised critics of what the The Processâ„¢ has delivered in the manner described.

    As I’ve previously noted – “nothing good can be built on such poisonous foundations” – critics of that Processâ„¢ extend beyond the individuals named by Brian Feeney – named, I would suggest, because of their particular resonance with a perceived audience.

  • abucs

    Not sure if this is included in your original remit Pete :

    Of course there should be lots of voices saying all kinds of political things. Hopefully if they have some following they will continue, and if they have some following then they have an important part to play in the political process.

    But against that, if a journalist builds a career (from whatever political persuasion) that denigrates a certain group this may not always have positive effects.

    Perhaps some groups need to be denigrated. But to build a career on it to the point where your popularity depends on denigration, is to perhaps close your eyes to new realities and developments in order to protect your career, standing and self ego. This may start to actually be detrimental to outcomes that which the person started out trying to promote.

    Truth and goodwill may give out to a continuation of journalistic political denigration all in the name of a democratic voice.

    Perhaps at some point, journalists should begin to make their observations in a more diplomatic vein.

    Not singling out any particular journalist with those comments.

  • susan

    Pete, if you reread Preston’s assertion that “nothing good can be built on such poisonous foundations” in context — which I’ve just done, admittedly through slightly gritted teeth — you are reminded that the primary target of Preston’s criticism is not the electorate, but the “silent, tacit” approval with which “sanctioned killers who the forces of supposed law and order left to get on with their grisly business.” His inspiration was to the findings — and spectacular lack of reaction — to the investigation of police protection of Haddock and other protected informants within the Mount Vernon UVF.

    Preston does mourn the reversal of fortunes of those he identifies as the “moderates of history” — the SDLP and the UUP — but he ignores the fact that their moderation is not history, but part and parcel of the proposed fragile power-sharing between SF and DUP.

    I think critics are right to point out that much of the Agreement institutionalises sectarianism — but it is also true that the Agreement is a reflection of polarisations and divisions that are already there and will not be willed or wished away in the immediate future.

    As Bradley pointed out (in so many words), only a complete and utter idiot could be unaware of how tenuous and fragile the future is. But tenuous and fragile is not the same as impossible, especially when so many impossibilities have already become humdrum reality. The decisions of Mendelson, Mowlam, Hain, and the Process itself to cater to what were formally the extremes may well have contributed with voter shifts of allegiance, but just as the electorate have shifted to “dance with them what brought you,” so SF and the DUP are under real pressure to deliver the devolved government the majority of the electorate clearly desires.

  • Pete Baker

    susan

    My criticism of Denis Bradley’s article is his focus on three individuals in order to colour the criticism of the nature of the devolved government we have been presented with at this stage of The Processâ„¢ a particular shade.

    Other notable academics and journalists, critical of where we are now, and whom Denis Bradley failed to indentify, include Peter Shirlow

    The truth of the matter is that the truth does not matter, and that suspicion and mistrust remain as politics in Northern Ireland.

    And, more recently, Fred Halliday

    Second, this deal, like many others in the modern world, is being carried out by leaders who, by dint of their compromise and the international support attached to it, will enjoy complete immunity, if not absolution, from the errors and crimes of their own past.

    There is an additional point to note, despite attempts to portray it as otherwise – the election was not a referendum.

    My main point in this post, however, was that the journalist’s/commentator’s role does not include, as Fionnuala O’Connor suggested, putting tongue firmly in upper cheek, whistling softly.. it’s to ask those ‘stupid’ questions.

  • Mordechai

    It looks like the ‘winners’ are busy covering their asses and indemnifying their future. But the ghosts of Jacob Marley offer them a bright redemptive future in exchange for a complete break with the negative in their past. Perhaps, that too is worth celebrating.