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Dublin Report: Politicians, not reporters must take risks for peace

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

You can perceive the great danger in their words. Take the Portadown woman who expressed the anger of a great number of Northern loyalists during the latest Orange demonstration when she said, "It used to be that they were the minority. Now we have to fight for our civil rights."

Her civil rights amounted to the ability to march through a nationalist area that did not want it. And she cannot see the reasons for the change in attitude. The military hegemony once provided by the RUC, its civilian voluntary wing, the B-Specials, and the British Army is on the way out. The British have lost the will to continue governing Northern Ireland in the fashion that the loyalists insist it should be run.

Successive British administrations and all of the political parties with the possible exception of a hopelessly outdated Conservative rump, have come to the inevitable conclusion that the loyalists are yesterday’s people. Militarily, in terms of the defense of the realm, the British regarded the northern six counties as a prized strategic asset.

Other NATO member states, with the silent support of the United States took the same view.

So long as the world, particularly Irish Americans in the U.S., stayed quiet about any Irish civil rights protest and so long as the statelet could be governed in a reasonably calm fashion without massive capital investment, the UK could continue on course.

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It can no longer do so. Demographic changes within the North, massive external political change, especially the downfall of international Communism, have changed everything.

That is dangerous.

But it is not all that is dangerous. Journalists still face perils as well. All emanate from the same type of stubborn mindset that fails to take cognizance of reality as distinct from legalities.

Ed Moloney, Northern editor of the Sunday Tribune, is the latest victim. He interviewed one of the prime suspects in the brutal loyalist killing of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989.

The man he interviewed was William Stobie, a loyalist member of the UFF, unquestionably the most vicious of all of the Northern paramilitary forces.

It operated primarily on the basis of attacking Catholics simply because they were Catholic. In all of its vicious, sectarian history, it rarely scored direct hits against nationalist paramilitaries.

In that respect, Finucane, who defended many charged with republican activities, was a relatively soft target.

Stobie claimed to Moloney that he was an undercover informer for the RUC Special Branch at the time of the shooting. He further claimed that he had told his police handlers that a nationalist was targeted just before Finucane was shot but was not clear as to exactly who it was to be.

Moloney is now charged with failing to comply with a court order to hand over his notes of that particular interview. The RUC claims that they may be of use to the Steven’s inquiry. which is investigating the Finucane killing.

Strongly supported by the National Union of Journalists, Moloney has appeared at Antrim Crown Court and refused to hand over his documentation in line with his union’s code of conduct.

In so doing, he has, of course, put himself in considerable danger, a threat that would not have arisen at all if only the RUC had approached the matter realistically instead of ideologically. Generally, notes are of little use to police in such inquiries.

Journalists have been shot in the North for less than Moloney. They have been threatened and physically attacked. Some have almost died.

Similarly, in the South, when Garda officials take the high moral ground, some journalists have occasionally suffered. There was the infamous jailing of RTE reporter Kevin O’Kelly because he refused to comply with a court order on foot of an interview he conducted with Sean MacStiofain, then chief of staff of the IRA.

These are the sort of perilous results that can arise from the head-on clash between blind law and stark reality.

The State did not need Kevin O’Kelly’s testimony to convict MacStiofain of IRA membership. Similarly, the Steven’s inquiry would find little if nothing of value in the notes of an interview between Moloney and Stobie, compared to what it has already unearthed.

While the Antrim Court judge has withheld a decision on the journalist’s stand, and while it is now something of a side show in the squalid saga of the investigation into the Finucane, Moloney has already been put in some peril. There are enough lunatics on the right wing of the loyalist paramilitaries to be dangerous to almost anybody.

It is not a case that should even have been brought. But it stems from the same arid mindset as that displayed by the anonymous woman in Portadown.

All reveal the depths of the deeply confused loyalist mentality, one that refuses to accept the reality of change. Dissent, especially ignorant dissent, is dangerous.

It is not confined to an otherwise innocent loyalist mother in Portadown. It extends into the upper echelons of the official Unionist Party and seems to embrace even the Nobel Peace prize-winner and UUP leader David Trimble.

To listen closely to the continuous loyalist diatribe concerning decommissioning is to wonder just what it is that the protesters really want.

Do they believe that peace is possible without the presence of Sinn Fein within the Northern Assembly?

Without Sinn Fein and the participation of other republican parties like the SDLP, the assembly has no chance of success. For that matter, without the agreement of the republican/nationalist population, Northern Ireland must collapse if only because of the demographic certainties.

British Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam recognized the reality last week when she concluded that the IRA had not breached its cease-fire. Pragmatism such as that may yet win out.

It all boils down to this: Loyalists and nationalists either desire peace and mutual forbearance or each insist on winning. In the case of the latter, there can be no winners at all.

Wooden-headed opposition for the sake of opposition, the upholding of a dubious law against the reality of certain risk, will further no politically progressive possibilities.

Yes, indeed, risks have to be taken. But they must be taken by the politicians who are elected to take them and not by the people themselves. Above all, they should not be taken by journalists intent on holding up the mirror for society to see itself as it is, however tortured and uncertain it may be.

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