In the Irish News last week, Jim Gibney took the party line on who’s to blame for anti-social behaviour and criminality in west Belfast. Since then, and with particular reference to the Squinter episode, Tom Kelly has had his say, “Freedom of speech would be a good starting point, including the right to critique the record of the local MP”, and Susan McKay was pointed in her column, “Talk about sackcloth and ashes.” But perhaps the most effective criticism comes from Fionnula O’Connor in the Irish Times today [subs req],
Sinn Féin in Stormont has failed to shine and Martin McGuinness powersharing with Ian Paisley has its drawbacks, not least relegation for Adams. It is a long time since he last looked presidential, and now he has lost face at home. In its own defence, “the West” long ago became self-aggrandising. It is struggling to adjust to the most predictable of outcomes – that an end to war would not deliver prosperity and crime-free streets, no more than in Harriet Harman’s Peckham or Ahern’s Dublin.
Fionnula O’Connor goes on to say
Signing up to support civil policing produced no miracles beyond the spectacle of senior officers sitting down in public meetings with local people. Not at all surprisingly, the PSNI has not defeated “the hoods” any more than IRA beatings, shootings, exiling and the occasional “execution” did.
Some locals always jibbed at Sinn Féin dominance, though not necessarily because they loathed the IRA. It was the new establishment many disliked: agencies fronted by Adams’s supporters, cheerleaders at cultural events not exactly rattling jewellery in the best seats but setting a communal tone, with a backbeat of IRA enforcement.
Most acknowledged the uplift for a formerly downtrodden community, but resented the imposition nonetheless.
The violent deaths of two local men who apparently confronted young hoodlums have pointed up painful reality – perhaps most for ageing republicans aware of their own mortality.
Without the IRA at their backs, some have arrived on the doorsteps of “problem families” to be told where to go, or, worse, asked who they think they are.
It may be that leadership status has to be won afresh in west Belfast. Ranting against inadequate policing lets off steam, but is a diversion, like attacking critics – as Adams may have found out already. “Do nothing of any knee-jerk,” he once idiosyncratically appealed to republicans, at a tense moment for negotiations. But knee-jerk he did when lambasted a fortnight ago by the Squinter column in the Andersonstown News. Squinter is editor Robin Livingstone: the Andytown News has been Pravda to the Sinn Féin Kremlin. Blaming Adams – because he has been an MP for 20 years – for shirking responsibility for local ills might have been a mite skewed, but Squinter the rebel was a revelation.
The rebellion was brief. The next edition carried a stiff Adams objection on the front page and a slavish apology. Squinter’s defiance and the raft of substantially supportive responses – one comparing Sinn Féin unfavourably with Ian Paisley jnr’s lobbying at St Andrews for his “own people” – were wiped from the paper’s website.
Obviously nobody dared tell the Dear Leader what a comedown this was from windy talk about democracy and equality.
He may grudge the limelight to Deputy First Minister Martin. But if you want to stay number one in a collective leadership, self-awareness should surely be a help.