Saturday, March 29, 2008

Squintergate















Strange, censorious things have been afoot in the publishing houses of West Belfast this week. I’m reminded of an episode of Doctor Who, where a villainous fiend travelled back in time to rewrite history, so that what you think you remembered never actually happened.

It all started with the recent death of Frank ‘Bap’ McGreevy, a former republican activist who was terrorised and killed by children outside his Lower Falls home. Soon afterwards, The usually loyal Andersonstown News published a harsh attack on Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams in particular, blaming him for failing to take any responsibility for the lawless state of a constituency where much of his electorate live in fear of anti-social elements. The author of the piece, Squinter (AKA Andersonstown News editor, Robin Livingstone) asserted that Adams had failed as a leader and dismissed Sinn Fein as having abandoned the people of the lower Falls “who now fear the night a million times more than they ever feared the Brits or the loyalists.” Strong words.

The article was repeated on Squinter’s website, but don’t go looking for it as it has mysteriously disappeared. And if you take a look at this week’s Andersonstown News, you’ll notice that Squinter’s weekly column has also disappeared.

It would appear that Squinter touched a nerve in vocalising what many in West Belfast have been talking about in private. Instead of treating the matter with any degree of seriousness, Gerry Adams issued a rather wet complaint in which he outlined his disapproval at the tone and timing of the piece before attempting to rally his community to act as one to help secure jobs and make the Falls a better place to live.

The Andersonstown News replied with a sycophantic apology, which is all the more bizarre in that the author of the article in question issued it. Thus, Mr Livingstone has demonstrated himself to be a journalist of little worth, while illustrating that the Andersonstown News is nothing other than a propaganda sheet for Sinn Fein. So much for free speech. It appears that the party once censored by government is now quite happy to censor any voice of dissent emerging from within its former fan base.

Thankfully, Squinter’s article has been preserved over on Slugger O’Toole. However, the dissenting comments from West Belfast residents, which accompanied its original online version, have been wiped away forever. They made interesting reading. One came from a Sinn Fein activist, embarrassed by the truths contained in Squinter’s missive. Another reinterpreted Bobby Sand’s quote “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children,” as an ironic statement on the wayward youth of the lower Falls. Many scorned Sinn Fein for abandoning the likes of Ross Road, the site of Mr McGreevy’s death, for their holiday homes in Donegal.

In publishing his attack on Adams, Squinter had given permission for those in West Belfast who have had enough of Sinn Fein to speak out, which is what makes the disappearance of the article and all accompanying comments, deeply sinister. It’s like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. Stalin would be proud.

As if to add insult to injury, the headline sitting aside Adam’s complaint on the front page of this week’s Andersonstown News cries: “We Want Bap’s Home Levelled.” It would appear that it’s not enough to blame the police, the Housing Executive, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all. You see, it was the flat that was to blame for all this nonsense and to demolish it will ensure that all anti-social behaviour will also vanish.

There’s a picture of MLA Fra McCann, with a stern faced companion. She’s wearing Reebok and glares at the camera, as if willing the very site of the murder out of existence. Only then will the whitewash be complete, for there will be nothing to remind us that anything actually happened.

Such is the nature of the distraction wheeled out by the party machine as the cracks begin to appear across its once-confident fa├žade.