Fintan O’Toole and Fascism.Paul Larkin Céadaoin an Luaithrigh/Ash Wednesday 2006
Irish Time’s journalist Fintan O’Toole’s article about the ‘feral tribalism‘ displayed in the Dublin riots of Saturday last revealed more about his own fears and prejudices than managing to shed light on what was an important event in the recent history of our country. O’Toole of course cannot talk about the existence of a single country in Ireland because his whole body language as a journalist is pro partition. Or put another way, in his struggle to retain his radical chic (so important amongst the scribes for the ‘Paper of Record’) and yet still assert his disgust at the Irish republican ideal, he literally splits himself in two. When O’Toole speaks of the “Republic” he is referring to the 26 county republic and he cannot comprehend or analyse the fact that many people across Ireland, including many young people, reject this partitionist mindset. For O’Toole, every one of the youths who came out to protest against the routing of an unwelcome loyalist parade through the centre of Dublin was a “Green-fascist yob”. He makes no mention of the fact that loyalists wished to march and bang their drums past the very spot where loyalists killed and maimed large numbers of people in Dublin in 1974. Indeed O’Toole cannot even conceive of the possibility that these youths who “wrapped the tricolour around them” may have come to a political decision about protesting against the so called “Love Ulster” march. This despite the fact that most of the youths involved sang or chanted political slogans and described the gardaí as doing the job of the “Black and Tans”. O’Toole would presumably argue that these youths were referring to some kind of Provo Alcopop. Of course it needs to be said very clearly that attacks on the Garda Síochána have no place in this kind of protest and the sporadic looting by opportunist thieves should be condemned without question. For the record, it is my view that Sinn Fein made a tactical mistake in failing to oppose the march. I would argue that the presence of a disciplined core of protestors whose focus was simply to prevent the march from proceeding by sheer weight of numbers would have lessened the chance of violence considerably. The slogan No Talk No Walk should be an all Ireland policy for all progressive groups.
This question of dialogue the core issue where the Realpolitik of the Love Ulster debacle. The question must be asked as to why the Irish government (primarily in the guise of Michael MacDowell who was to meet a delegation of loyalists subsequent to their march) was intent on seeing that the march took place in the absence of such dialogue. In other words, why was the Garda Síochána placed in the invidious position of having to defend a march which would never have taken place in the Six Counties without, at the very least, a pretence at dialogue with local residents. In this scenario, the relatives of the victims of the Dublin bombs in the early 1970s would also have been consulted before any march took place. Is it possible that all these considerations were ignored because Michael MacDowell was determined to put the march through? Is it possible that the whole shambles was a trial run for the putative trip to our shores by the Queen of England?
All the above questions are vital in what should be a probing debate about the approval for the Love Ulster march and its violent aftermath. Unfortunately, Fintan O'Toole raises none of these issues in his article. Indeed, I am not aware of one journalist, or journalistic agency, which has pressured the Irish government or any of its ministers to explain the extraordinary decision to allow the Love Ulster march to proceed. Even if our government, and Fintan O’Toole by extension, has no idea of the deep rooted affinity which many working class Dubliners share with their compatriots in the North, Northern unionists are very aware of that emotional link. It is precisely because of that emotional link that Dublin was bombed by the loyalists, with the aid of British intelligence, in the 1970s.
It is difficult, therefore, to come to any other conclusion than one where the Love Ulster organisers wished to provoke the ordinary citizens of Dublin. This was presumably after they received reassurances from the Irish government, which they so despise, that their procession would receive full protection. Fintan O’Toole rejects this view saying that the Love Ulster organisers simply wished to demonstrate - “that the history of the conflict cannot be reduced to propagandistic simplicities.” This is an extraordinary statement for a veteran journalist and commentator to make. Particularly when he provides no evidence whatsoever that this was the intention of the likes of the DUP members involved in the march, or indeed the march organiser Willie Frazer. Is O’Toole not aware of Unionism's long and sorry history of clinging to propagandistic simplicities? In fact any journalist who simply cares to review the history of the Orange Order, and more specifically the recent history of Willie Frazer can only come to the opposite conclusion to that of O'Toole's. Frazer has always been open about his belief that the loyalist paramilitaries were a necessary part of the war against the IRA. During a protest against the release of republican prisoners as part of the Good Friday agreement, he was asked about his attitude to loyalist prisoners and replied - “They should never have been locked up in the first place”. It gets worse for Fintan O’Toole, unless of course he regards himself as not being bound by the convention amongst journalists of checking the facts for any claim he makes. In 2003, Willie Frazer applied for a weapon for his personal protection and was turned down because the police claimed that “reliable intelligence” indicated that he “associated with loyalist terrorist organisations”. Then there is the fact that some of the loyalist brethren from mid Ulster who had been in Dublin that morning hoping to show their love of "Ulster”, then chose to attack two Catholic pubs in Portadown on their safe return to the “UK” . Was Fintan O’Toole aware of this? Would he care? Indeed, has any journalist at all, let alone Fintan O’Toole, bothered to ask DUP MP Jeffery Donaldson about his relationship with Willie Frazer? Or about the DUP’s relationship with the LVF in mid Ulster? Has any journalist had the temerity to put these same questions to Michael Mac Dowell?
Fintan O’Toole is not only a heavyweight journalist but is often described as Ireland's ‘leading theatre critic’. I would agree wholeheartedly with this description given O'Toole's many revealing insights into the world of drama. In writing about drama, O’Toole seems to instinctively understand the link between private and communal passions and the public canvas on which these are played out. Yet O’Toole is abysmal at translating these insights into an understanding of events in real life, like the reaction to the Love Ulster provocation. It seems that for O’Toole, people only become flesh and blood when they are fictionalised and performing on a stage. In reality, the real drama in our country has been played out between a colonial oppressor and their ‘planted’ support base and the resistance of the natives (however flawed) and their supporters abroad. For O’Toole this is the unfaceable fact. That there are not, and never were, two equally valid faces to this coin, stamped in England’s ancient colonial livery, but simply the face of colonialism and its utterly opposing face of resistance.
In his theatre writings, O’Toole is painstaking in his use of language and demands the same discipline from the playwrights he deems worthy of review. Yet here is a small sample of his own use of language to describe those who opposed the Love Ulster parade:
‘Feral, tribal, rage, unleashed, visceral, sectarian, violent, loathing. Fascists.’
The word ‘fascist’ refers to a political philosophy which rejects democracy in favour of strong leadership by a supposedly enlightened clique of rulers, or ruler. In using the word ‘fascist’ so flippantly and carelessly, O’Toole not only stands his own care for words on its head but the whole of Irish history. But of course, Irish journalists are able to use these extremely emotive adjectives when describing republicans or their supporters, and yet those same journalists balk at using the same language to describe the colonial power and its support base. Which of the two is more deserving of the epithet “Fascist”? Those who resist the colonial power, or those who perpetrated that power in a one party state which only gave up basic rights to the Irish following riots and street agitation? Compare this with the Irish Time’s coverage of the recent rioting by black immigrants in France. Invariably, the rioters are described with words like oppressed, undervalued and discriminated against (quite rightly in this author’s opinion) even though there is evidence to show that an element of these rioting youths exploited the situation for their own ends and sometimes engaged in drunken rampages. Rebellion, it seems may happen anywhere and be described honestly, as long as it takes place outside of Ireland and does not denigrate our own colonial oppressors.
It is this culture of journalistic forelock tugging which has ensured that any journalist who has tried to raise the issue of collusion between the British state and elements of the “Love Ulster” constituency has been ignored, ostracised and sometimes even vilified for going against the smug and self satisfied post colonial gravy train. As far as I am aware, Ireland is the only country in the world which does not allow radio airplay for its revolutionary songs. Likewise, there are no anti colonial hands on the reins of power in the media and broadcasting. Quite the reverse; RTÉ’s policy has always been to censor republicans first and then ask meaningless questions later; a policy cheered on by its senior journalists. The Irish Times, meanwhile, is a byword for partitionism. In this scenario, the conscious wearing of a Celtic shirt and the singing of a rebel song has become one of the most radical acts available to any youth who wishes to celebrate the partial ridding of the colonial power from his, or her, country. Make no mistake, the youth of Ireland are proud of Ireland's history of rebellion and it is important that their energies are positively channelled into the long term struggle to decolonise the country rather than encouraging their alienation from the centres of power.
To conclude and with all due respect to Fintan O’Toole as a seasoned journalist and man of letters, his article written in the Irish Times on Tuesday, the 28th of February 2006 was the most atrocious excuse for journalism that I have seen in a long long time. Seoinín atá ann amach is amach.