David Granville asks whether the trend to 'editionalise' newspapers is being used to keep the British public ignorant of successive governments' responsibility for criminal and anti-democratic acts conducted by state military forces and security agencies throughout the conflict in Ireland
I'VE OFTEN wondered about the origins of that most stupid and irritating of sayings: "ignorance is bliss". It wouldn't surprise me, if I was to learn that it was originally dreamed up by the British ruling elite and circulated by the various departments and agencies of the state at their beck and call as part of a propaganda drive aimed at ensuring that working people remained uninformed and firmly in their place ie beyond the reach oflevers of power and, importantly, well beneath those at the top of the tree.
However, as the Chartists and all organisations and movements that have striven to emancipate working people from the yoke of tyranny and exploitation have always known, the exact opposite is true: "knowledge is power", while Ignorance lies at the very root of powerlessness, subjugation and class exploitation.
Of course, working-class struggles over the last two centuries or so have put a significant dent in any such ruling-class strategy. However, it survives in vestigial form, and nowhere more so than with regard to what people in Britain have been allowed to know about our relations with Ireland, particularly with regard to the the struggle for Irish freedom and unity.
One thoroughly up-to-date consequence of this is that most readers of this paper outside of the six counties of Northern Ireland will no doubt be surprised to hear that perma-tanned, part-time pro-consul Peter Hain has recently issued dire warnings concerning the likely fall-out from a devastating report into collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries.
Based on comprehensively leaked conclusions, Hain's admission that Police Ombudman Nuala O'Loan's report into the 1997 death of Belfast-man Raymond McCord will be "extremely uncomfortable" for the British state may yet prove to be something of an understatement - not that readers in Britain would know about this, in view of the minimal coverage these have been given on this side of the Irish Sea.
Indeed, if these leaks are anywhere near accurate, and Hain's gloomy prediction suggests that they are, the report deserves to raise a might ruckus - on both sides of the Irish Sea.
It would appear that O'Loan's team have concluded that the Royal Ulster Constabulary's special branch allowed loyalist informers to carry out around a dozen murders, included that of McCord.
Since McCord, who was linked Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), was beaten to death by a UVF gang on the outskirts of Belfast in 1997, his father has fought a tireless and uphill battle to prove that his son was killed to protect a senior loyalist under investigation by the paramilitary group in connection with drug dealing, and that those who committed the murder were Special Branch informers acting with the knowledge of their police handlers.
Given the gravity of the report's conclusions, it will be hard for the even the British media to ignore its expected publication in October. However, I for one don't expect it to have anything near the impact that evidence state-sanctioned murder would have virtually anywhere else in the world outside of the likes of Colombia, Burma or Azerbaijan Besides, if past form is anything to go by, and it usually is, it won't be long before the majority of news about Ireland will be back to focusing on the 'unreasonableness' of Sinn Fein or the 'criminality' of anyone who could tendentiously be described as a republican.
Well, maybe it will ever be so until such time as we get off our collective knees here in Britain and take it upon ourselves to bring about a democratic change for the better. A socialist republic any time soon wouldn't be a bad interim objective, I suggest. In the meantime here's one or two other developments over the last few months with relevance to democracy in Britain and the Irish peace process that readers may just have missed:
• the unearthing of documents from 1973 by the Pat Finucane Centre and Irish News reporter Steven McCaffrey which suggests that between five and 15% of the Ulster Defence Regiment, a unit within the British army, were linked to loyalist groups and that the regiment was "the best single source of weapons" for loyalist terror gangs. The document, entitled 'Subversion', was prepared for the the government's Joint Intelligence Committee. Another document, from 1975, confirms that former Tory premier Margaret Thatcher had been briefed by the then Labour secretary of state Merlyn Rees that "elements in the police" were "close to the UVF". The same memo describes the UDR "as heavily infiltrated by extremist Protestants". (May)
• further revelations in the Irish News of how former unionist councillor Clifford Davison was a commander in the UDA during the 1970s whilst serving in the UDR. He later went on to join the RUC. Mr Davison left Northern Ireland 20 years ago and is now a successful businessman. (May)
• the UDA, the loyalist terror group responsible for some of the worst sectarian atrocities of the conflict, asking the British and Irish governments for a £30-million pound hand out to help 'retire' its thousands of activists. (July)
• the revelation that George Seawright, rabid sectarian, former Paisley right-hand man, and former DUP Mayor of Belfast, was a member of the loyalist terror gang the Ulster Volunteer Force. (August)
• the admission by the Historical Enquiries Team (controversially established earlier this year to investigate over 3,000 unsolved murders committed during the conflict) that it had been unable to find around 1,000 RUC files relating to these cases - or that this latest revelation follows a string of other revelations and admissions concerning the loss or destruction of vital forensic evidence relating a number of these cases - including that relating to the case of six innocent Catholics gunned down by the UVF in Loughinisland in June 1994, a crime now known to have involved a number of British security agents. (September)
The truth is that the establishment and their media-empire friends have found a marvellous new way of keeping the majority of people in Britain ignorant of what is being done, or has been done in the past, in the name of Her Majesty's imperial government - newspaper editionalising.
Now, in the name of technological advancement and of 'being responsive' to readers' desire for a higher proportion of 'regional' and 'localised' news coverage - neither, in themselves, bad nor unreasonable wishes - stories with major implications for democracy in Britain and for our understanding the somewhat misnamed Irish peace process are simply omitted.
While people in Dublin or Belfast, courtesy of the Irish editions of the Guardian, the Times or the Daily Mail etc, can read about such matters, the chances are that the average reader in Britain will remain blissfully ignorant unless they have access to the internet.
While there's probably more chance, given the influence on Scottish society Irish immigration over the centuries and the relevance of issues relating to maintenance, relevance, or otherwise of the Union, of Scottish readers getting an opportunity to learn more about events in Northern Ireland, as a result of editionalising, it's quite difficult to check exactly what story appears in which edition.
Whatever the situation in Scotland, which some attentive reader will no doubt inform me of through the columns of the letters page, the chances of the good folk of London or Leamington Spa getting the same information and being able to form a rounded view on developments in Northern Ireland remains remarkably slim.
And, as any study of the way that successive government's and their media-mogul friends operate, that's just the way they like it.
For further information about collusion between the British state loyalist paramilitaries, including the investigation undertaken by the Pat Finucane Centre and Stephen McCaffrey visit the Pat Finucane website at: http://www.serve.com/pfc/
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Copyright © 2006 David Granville