Malachi O’Doherty has a piece in tonight’s Belfast Telegraph which goes over the Squinter column incident from the last few weeks. It’s difficult to judge at this distance which sustained the more damage: Sinn Fein for intemperately slapping down legitmate journalistic comment; or the paper for folding so completely and abjectly in the face of that pressure. At the heel of the hunt O’Doherty suggests that Adams has lost an opportunity that he may regret: “it was raw emotion and ill formed. It could have been answered.”By Malachi O’Doherty
When the editor of the Andersonstown News, Robin Livingstone, writing under his pseudonymn Squinter, called last wek for the resignsation of his consituency MP, Gerry Adams, the speculation took several directions.
Some thought this was such a brave thing for Squinter to be doing that he must have backings. So, was a serious contender to Adams standing in the wings? Obviously, if anyone was thinking of moving against Adams from within Sinn Fein, that person would need to have the local paper on side. But who could it be? Every other Sinn Fein representative owes his or her political profile to Gerry Adams.
Does anyone seriously think that our current education minister, Caitriona Ruane, has built her profile on years of service and experience or that anyone would cry out at the injustice of it if Gerry Adams replaced her tomorrow?
There are only two conceivable heirs to Gerry Adams as leader of Sinn Fein and they are Conor Murphy and Martin McGuinness. And – who knows? – each might be twitching to remove the leader because there is something embarrassingly unemployed looking about him. The master plan was that Adams would lead a resurgent party in the south while McGuinness took the spoils in the North and that they would unite Ireland – symbolically at least – across the table as ministers in their respective governments. Instead, Gerry now looks like a wallflower at his own wedding.
But if either Murphy or McGuinness was plotting against Adams, it is unlikely that they would deploy Squinter against him. And if someone else is behind Squinter, then it is a pointless exercise because that someone else is not going to be party leader.
Another theory about the call for the resignation of Adams was that Squinter had just taken a rush of blood to the head and done something daft. Certainly he has damaged himself and the credibility of his paper, which opted to apologise and withdraw the column and the accompanying blog from the internet. The graffitti on the Falls Road mocks this move with: O Muilleoir No Balls. Mairtin O Muilleoir is the managing editor of the Andersonstown News group of papers.
Squinter has also, whether consciously or not, provoked Sinn Fein into presenting itself as a dictatorial party. It would have looked more like a normal democratic party if it had engaged in the argument he had started, and it may come to regret being so censorious. The next time Sinn Fein brags about its liberal credentials and its democratic spirit, those who doubt they see either in the party will ask where the silencing of Squinter fits in with them.
And it is not as if Squinter had made a strong coherent case that was so shocking in its import and thrust that it could not be withstood but had to be stood down.
He was characteristically witty and brash in damning Gerry Adams as an MP who had neglected his consituency and allowed hoodlums to thrive, but it is naive to assume that the local MP regulates the level of crime. For some of those who joined the blog discussions, before they were withdrawn, the real issue was that Adams had emasculated the IRA and that hoods were no longer being kneecapped.
The Squinter blog provided a forum for dozens of people to attack Adams from different directions, and they did. But there was security and reassurance for Adams in that, for it showed that there was not a unified movement against him that he would have difficulty answering. All he had to do was turn them against each other.
It is inconceivable that the column and the blog would have been erased if Adams had not wanted them erased. Had he thought the thing through, he might have seen that he would have done himself more credit by leaving them in place and taking on the arguments and showing how fractious and fragmented they were.
Which raises another speculation; that Adams is not secure after all, for he has not met this with the confidence of a secure party leader. He has come out of it like a sullen dictator who will brook no discussion about his failings.
Last week Squinter opened the floodgates for dozens of people to express their disdain and contempt for their MP in West Belfast. It was astonishing because it was new for people to criticise, and it was an insight into the secret feelings harboured by many. But it was raw emotion and ill formed. It could have been answered.
Unanswered, it surely gives Gerry Adams with something to think about. If the box is closed and the discussion ended for now, it may only be when he is gone that the discussion will resume. He will not then be uniformly remembered with fondness and respect.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty