To get respectability Sinn Fein must decommission their online army
26th April 2021
Shortly after Sinn Féin’s healthy showing in the 2020 general election Mary Lou McDonald’s press handlers sent a notice for an ‘event’. The party leader would address her new parliamentary party in a drab hotel basement room and we’d be permitted to watch her do it.© Provided by Extra.ie
No questions mind. I didn’t think much of it. We’ve received similar ‘no question’ instructions from leaders as diverse as Donald Trump, Leo Varadkar and Silvio Berlusconi. The drama rarely varies: you shout questions, press officer tells you to shut up, munificent leader overrules the press officer and answers questions. In Donald Trump’s case the press corps usually runs out of things to ask. In Berlusconi’s case, in Helsinki one time, I was so stunned he spoke to me I forgot all about bunga bunga. I probably asked him his favourite colour or something, I don’t recall.
The difference with Ms McDonald on this occasion was that she hadn’t been elected to any government position and she’s a member of a fanatical organisation. And fanatics stick to dogma, they can’t deviate. So the event descended into a shouting match.© Provided by Extra.ie Shortly after Sinn Féin’s healthy showing in the 2020 general election Mary Lou McDonald’s press handlers sent a notice for an ‘event’. . Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Sinn Féin TDs, senators and one ex-TD weren’t happy. A few heckled, nothing out of the ordinary. But then Gerry Adams turned, with his cold eyes and incongruously toothy smile, and said: ‘The man from the Daily Mail.’
Many would have seen it as a good-humoured put down from a cuddly grandfather. Yet, I knew: ‘The Man from the Daily Mail’ is a song, with lyrics such as ‘the IRA just sent me a timebomb in the mail.’ If I’d been sensitive, I could have seen it as a reminder that he knew who I was.
I know who he is. For nearly 50 years he was the leader of the political wing for the most successful paramilitary murderer gang in the Western world. A few months before the incident in the hotel a former comrade, Des Long, who was himself on the IRA’s army executive for 17 years, said Adams was once the chairman of the IRA’s Army Council. He sat opposite Adams at executive meetings.
After I left the abortive press event the social media attack began. Last week after a series of disclosures about Sinn Féin’s data collection, in the Irish Independent, their journalists were targeted in a sustained social media campaign.© Provided by Extra.ie Gerry Adams turned, with his cold eyes and incongruously toothy smile, and said: ‘The man from the Daily Mail.’. Pic: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images
One post, directed at political editor Philip Ryan, carried cartoon characters and a shotgun. Another referenced organising a ‘minute’s silence’ for him in the future. It’s the pattern. All working journalists experience it. And some significant people in Sinn Féin endorse these posts. I spoke to a Sinn Féin member about their endorsing of posts, and they said they didn’t interpret them like I did.
That’s another pattern: pass off malignancy as a joke. Say or write something negative about Sinn Féin and a vile, repulsive, stinking torrent of personal abuse comes your way. Sinn Féin TDs sometimes interact with it, as they have done with me, but they cunningly keep it clean. Nevertheless, they are participating, driving it.
Female journalists are targeted with sexualised remarks about their appearance. I’m of a generation that was not brought up on social media. Still, to earn a few quid, I have adapted while social media morphed into a vital work tool for journalists.
It is an essential means of communication for many industries. Companies large and small use social media as a marketing tool – some might even credit it with keeping them afloat during the pandemic.© Provided by Extra.ie For nearly 50 years Gerry Adams was the leader of the political wing for the most successful paramilitary murderer gang in the Western world.. Photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Twitter is used by all political parties to release information to the legitimate press corps and the public. Aren’t people entitled to go about their work and communication without packs of malcontents attacking them on the internet? Malcontents who fraudulently appropriate left-wing politics and republicanism. Younger people have a more intimate relationship with social media. It disturbs them more than older warhorses like I.
Don’t doubt the menacing potential of social media. Don’t think it’s snowflake overreaction. Social media played a key role in the whipping up of hate that led to an attack on the most closely guarded, most powerful political assembly on earth – the US Capitol building.
These are not ancient events, they are not 30-year-old bombings that Sinn Féin’s apologists can write off as ancient history. Social media is supercharging hate and conspiracy theories now, in a manner never seen before in human history.© Provided by Extra.ie Social media played a key role in the whipping up of hate that led to an attack on the most closely guarded, most powerful political assembly on earth – the US Capitol building. Pic: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images
When we see a group of people, who either legitimately or falsely connect themselves with Sinn Féin or the IRA, sending threats masked in dull humour, what do they think? In the case of journalists, well, the younger ones just decide it is not worth investigating Sinn Féin. That’s the point.
When you turn on your phone and see them posting photos of family members, or intimating that they know where you live. Well, that makes you think. I have received old-fashioned death threats from terrorists and they were investigated by the gardaí. This was along time ago now, before social media, but we forget that this is a dangerous profession.
I was also working at Independent Newspapers on Middle Abbey Street in Dublin on the day news began to drift in that Veronica Guerin had been shot dead. Her murderers were tried in the Special Criminal Court.© Provided by Extra.ie I was also working at Independent Newspapers on Middle Abbey Street in Dublin on the day news began to drift in that Veronica Guerin had been shot dead Pic: Photocall Ireland
Sinn Féin wants to be in government and if the electorate continues its move towards them, they can do that. We have written to other political parties, including Fianna Fáil, about the behaviour of their employees on social media. It is a vast, unregulated, open range. Ultimately the villains of unfettered power are the social media companies, who have become more prevailing than any companies since Standard Oil. And, eventually, the US Government broke up Standard Oil.
For now, if Sinn Féin wants the respectability their TDs tell me they crave, then along with all political parties in Ireland they can sign up to a respect and dignity charter for social media.
They can punish miscreants. And they can vote for the Offences Against the State Act in a few months’ time. That is the law that annually reestablishes the Special Criminal Court, which is principally used to prosecute gangsters now.
They’ve never done that before and that will be the big test of whether Sinn Féin are ready to move onto the broad sunlit uplands of decency