Out of the West

Stormont could not have been closed down without help of media

I remember well the morning the PSNI raided the Stormont offices of Sinn Féin. In the office here we were watching it on TV and laughing. Not the kind of belly laugh you get when Bob McCartney reminds you that he’s a barrister, or when you see Sammy Wilson on a motorbike – more an incredulous and indignant are-we-really-seeing-this sort of whinny.

The really scary part about it is that while events have shown that every other journalist in Ireland should have been doing the same, most were in reality banging away at their keyboards and churning out the kind of fact-free, sensationalist claptrap that would have senior Special Branch members drooling over their morning toast.

As the whole case gradually and inevitably comes falling down, you have to wonder about the ability of newspapers here to comment authoritatively on anything that doesn’t involve Michael Barrymore or Jade from Big Brother.
To paraphrase Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, if that’s journalism then I’m a banana.

The busiest journalist in Ireland is my old pal Phil White, and even as the PSNI Land Rovers were making their way down the Stormont drive, acres of white were quickly being filled without the need even to pick up a phone.
If this was just makey-up stuff about C-list celebrities, then you mightn’t mind so much. But it’s quite literally a matter of life and death.

The British government called off a crunch meeting with Sinn Féin and ordered Gerry Adams to explain himself. David Trimble, with completely straight face, said the Stormont affair was “ten times bigger than Watergate”. With creaking inevitability, Stormont fell, the lights went out and we’ve only the cheap and flickering candle of the current review to show us the way forward.
It’s always nice to be proved right, and the Andersonstown News, virtually alone amongst Irish media outlets, was right in its total, immediate and contemptuous rejection of the Stormont charade.

But it’s hard to feel any sense of vindication at the exposure of the Stormont debacle. Because when you think about it, all it means is that the British state and/or its security agencies can do whatever the hell they please without the need to resort to subtlety or guile, and crucially, without the nuisance of an enquiring press to contend with.

In England, Tony Blair is in the eye of the WMD storm. Great swathes of the media there treat the Prime Minister and his government with ill-disguised contempt for no other reason than they themselves showed ill-disguised contempt for the press and the public when they made the case for war.

Now consider the Stormont affair, consider the coverage given to it by newspapers here, consider the intemperate rantings of politicians and editorial-writers alike. Do any of these media outlets that turned the Stormont raid into the catalyst for the collapse of the institutions, and possibly yet of the peace process, propose to do anything to put the wrong right?

Cue another cheerless laugh. Far from resolving to get to the bottom of things, or even to try and do their best to make sure it doesn’t happen again, they’ve forgotten about it and gone back to snapping randy vicars and sicko pervos – until the next time the British government or the PSNI asks for the lend of their front pages for a few days.

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