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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

Gunsmoke - Henry McDonald’s True Colours, by Paul Larkin

A review of Henry McDonald’s book Gunsmoke and Mirrors (How Sinn Fein dressed up defeat as victory).
Henry McDonald is Ireland Correspondent for the Guardian newspaper.

All quotes from the book refer to the hardback version published by Gill and MacMillan, 2008. This review also contains quotes from McDonald's “autobiography” Colours (Ireland from bombs to boom) in the Mainstream Publishing paperback version of 2005. There is a short glossary at the end of this review which explains some of the acronyms used - Paul Larkin, Baile Átha Cliath/Dublin, Mí an Mhárta/March 2009.


Having worked as a journalist and film maker for BBC Northern Ireland’s investigative programme Spotlight in the late 1980s through to 1994, and having also written a book about collusion between the British intelligence services and loyalist paramilitaries, I have had occasion to read a good many books about the most recent round of the Irish Troubles. Even the poorest of these books has had some redeeming quality, some insight, which for me, as an informed reader, provided a new understanding of some aspect of the Troubles. I regret to say that Henry McDonald’s latest book has no such redeeming feature. It is not that McDonald is without talents as a writer, Colours, for example, McDonald’s account of his upbringing in the Markets area of Belfast in the 1970s and 80s, contains some well drawn and imaginative descriptions of the extreme tensions and emergent youth cultures which pertained at that time. However, the very fact that this reviewer had to consult Colours to establish McDonald's own political antecedents and beliefs reveals one of the major failings of Gunsmoke. The subjects McDonald declines to discuss in Gunsmoke are the very things which would have saved it from being nothing more than a slapdash and badly written exercise in Provo baiting.

It should be stressed that McDonald raises legitimate questions in this book. However, given his deliberately provocative approach, it is incumbent upon him to apply exacting standards when stating his case and setting out his evidence. Any reader who is happy to give due consideration to my critique of the book will, I believe, come to the conclusion that Gunsmoke falls far short of the standards expected of a Guardian journalist. Of course, there is a wider historical point here. McDonald states very clearly in this book that he regards himself as a combatant in the “battle” for Irish history (see below). This interesting phrase implies that he is involved with others in his ideological struggle and it is perhaps no accident that the views expressed here dovetail closely with a high profile group of writers and academics. A group who, to use Brendan O'Leary's description in his review of Richard English's book Irish Freedom, imagine themselves to be radical, but “swim with the present tide of imperial historiography”. (See Field Day Review 2007).

If we are indeed involved in a battle for the present day accounting of Irish history, it is important that the truth or otherwise of McDonald’s arguments is rigorously assessed. Sinn Féin and indeed the other major nationalist parties seem to have decided to ignore McDonald's historical crusade. This surprises me and, to my mind, points to a certain complacency on their parts. In the meantime, demoralisation with regards to the gains acquired by the peace process gathers pace and, whether this is intended or not, Gunsmoke offers the potential to accelerate that process.

Is Partition still in place?

In the Irish Times (Saturday, December 20th 2008), the respected unionist political scientist, Richard English, described the book as “brilliantly provocative” and linked his praise of the book with generous praise for the author himself –

“McDonald is a lucid, honest and courageous journalist, and this book reflects those qualities.”

See -

There have been other glowing reviews, but Richard English’s review unwittingly highlights one of the key problems in Gunsmoke, by way of a sub headline which proclaims Ireland’s two states as being “Still Apart”. The essence of McDonald's argument is that not much has changed following on from the Good Friday Agreement and that the 1970s peace process offered pretty much the same thing.

Now, by definition, after the GFA (and the Anglo Irish Agreement that preceded it), the Irish state and northern statelet are demonstrably not “still apart”. You do not need to be a student of history to see that, despite all the monster pro unionist rallies in Belfast throughout the 1980s, the creation of Ulster Resistance and an MI5 backed campaign of assassination to ensure that Dublin would never interfere in Northern Ireland’s ‘internal affairs’, Dublin, as it is termed, now has a direct say in the overarching trajectory of northern politics. In fact, I can offer personal physical proof that the two states are not ‘still apart’ because I, as an Irish citizen, walked into a polling booth in Dublin and voted to amend articles two and three of Bunreacht na hÉireann in the All Ireland plebiscite which took place so that the new All Ireland dispensation could be brought into being. The two states are now conjoined, which is the opposite of being “still apart”.

The form amongst journalists and writers who broadly share Henry McDonald’s constituency (more of that later) is to cry “Provo at work!” whenever they are faced with trenchant criticism, or facts which undermine their arguments. I am not, and never was, a Sinn Féin member. For the record, I believe that the days of any one party taking power in Ireland are numbered and I welcome the discussions within the broad left in Ireland as to new modes of struggle, cooperation and governance. However, back to the GFA, where we will ask former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to explain, in another way, the conjoining of the two parts of the island of Ireland. Perhaps not even the most rabid unionist would call Bertie Ahern a Provo, so let us listen to what he had to say in 1998 at Fianna Fáil’s annual Arbour Hill 1916 commemoration:

"In our reformulation of articles 2 and 3, and in the new British-Irish Agreement, it is the people north and South who are sovereign, and who share the territory of Ireland and its title deeds in all the diversity of their identities and traditions. That is the clear consequence of the British-Irish Agreement, and the repeal of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, the partition act, which with imperious arrogance and futility declared in Section 75 in the middle of the war of independence that 'The supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters, and things in Ireland and every part thereof'. That will now be consigned to history."

Can we be clear about this fundamental point in the GFA? The Good Friday Agreement, whilst safeguarding the rights of those people in Ireland who claim a British identity, asserts the right of the Irish people to self determination. In other words, we now live in an agreed, “shared” territory, with a view to complete unity at a future date. This is what the unionists have signed up to. Under the GFA, the unionists have no right to secede from this arrangement. Indeed, the conjoining of the two states and the All Ireland nature of the structure of the agreement was the very reason that the DUP, at the time of its signing in April 1998, refused to have anything to do with it. Richard English makes no mention of any of this in his review, probably because the Irish government and we inhabitants of the southern “Free State” are barely mentioned in McDonald’s book.

In contrast to what Bertie Ahern says above, here is Henry McDonald's analysis (on page 45) of the Irish peace process:

“The peace process was all about an internal settlement within the existing borders of Northern Ireland. It was the only formula that had any chance of working.”

This statement is incorrect. The position of all the nationalist parties on the island was that the retention of the status quo was not an option and the British agreed with this principle. Despite this, McDonald declines to even acknowledge in his book that a broad All Ireland nationalist constituency exists. Indeed, Henry McDonald’s Anglocentric sentiments are confirmed in Gunsmoke by his use of the term ‘mainland’ to describe Britain. This appears on page 15 where he uses the phrase ‘mainland British citizens’. This term is unambiguous, lucid if you like; but does it reflect sufficient balance and a correct understanding of the republican/nationalist position, or indeed of the status of Northern Ireland as a constituent part of the UK, not of Britain? It clearly does not. Those unionists who shout loudest about being British never like to discuss the fact that the make up of the UK was always Great Britain and Ireland and, after partition, Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That officially they were not British. The GFA has now copper fastened that principle of separation.

McDonald and Richard English, amongst others, point out that the central aim of the IRA’s campaign (that of achieving a united Ireland) has still not been reached, but to argue that nothing has changed is ridiculous. It is also the case that many loyalists have accepted, and indeed have publicly argued that the GFA (rather than being a rerun of the 1970s peace process for ‘slow learners’) is a back door to a united Ireland. They are right, but I think that they recognise and appreciate the fact that their British identity has been quite properly enshrined in the new arrangement.

Richard English highlights the SDLP’s early role in trying to create a peace process but this is a fatuous comparison, in the context of his review of Gunsmoke, because the SDLP’s 1973 ‘Sunningdale’ peace process was blown out of the water, not by the Provos, but by the British intelligence services who bombed Dublin and Monaghan and helped foment and sustain an anti peace process loyalist strike. Put another way, there is no historical basis for arguing that the unionist community in the North (along with significant sections of the Conservative Party and British defence forces) would have accepted Dublin involvement in the “affairs” of Northern Ireland in the 1970s. If that is the case, Sinn Féin's argument that it took thirty years of guerrilla warfare to change the partition paradigm seems to have legitimacy.

The other reason why English's reference to the SDLP is strange is because Henry McDonald does not argue that John Hume was right and the Provos wrong but that it was the Official Republican Movement which had the correct political analysis all along. Whilst a new generation of readers may not be aware of it, this has been McDonald's long term political and journalistic stance and he gave a very concise summary of his Gunsmoke position in the Guardian in January 2006 when writing a comparison between Hamas and Sinn Féin:

“Modern Sinn Féin started out as a party of no compromise, splitting from the Official Republican Movement because the latter moved to a historic compromise with unionism, and accepted the existence of partition and the reality of two states on the island of Ireland. Just over 30 years later, and with thousands dead, the Provisionals adopted more or less the same position as their old republican rivals. They had decommissioned the uncompromising parts of their ideology.”

See - No Irish model for Palestinians - Henry McDonald, Guardian Thursday 26 January 2006

It goes almost without saying that the above is the kind of historical acrobatics, of which McDonald's former comrades in the allegedly socialist states of the Soviet Bloc would have been proud. It is also interesting that the positive reviews of Gunsmoke, that I have read, barely mention the Official IRA, the Workers Party, or indeed McDonald’s own long term membership of the Official Republican Movement.

McDonald’s espousal of the ORM’s partitionist analysis highlights another crucial weakness in his argument. For the key shift that Sinn Féin has made is not, as McDonald argues, to accept partition, but to accept the right of the Irish government, to represent all the people of the island who claim to be Irish (though this would be improved with a right of northern representation down south). This is the logical conclusion to the seismic establishment of an Anglo Irish secretariat at Maryfield just outside Belfast in the mid 1980s, the import of which only the likes of the Reverend Ian Paisley and subsequently Billy Wright truly understood.

Of course, there is a reason why these issues are barely raised by Henry McDonald in Gunsmoke and that is that they completely destroy his thesis. Can anyone seriously sustain an objective doubt that it was the IRA’s campaign of violence which led to the statements made by successive secretaries of state for Northern Ireland (Sir Peter Brooke and Sir Patrick Mayhew) that the IRA could not be defeated militarily and that Britain had no selfish or strategic reasons for remaining in Ireland? Yet, these statements do not warrant a single mention in McDonald's book and that is simply not good enough.

Thus, IRA violence did move the British to look for a way out of the Irish impasse. I spent over two years visiting and speaking to Billy Wright in Portadown and, as I explain in my book (A Very British Jihad), he also argued the opposite of what McDonald argues. Wright’s clear conviction and that of his support base in the UVF and DUP was that the IRA had gotten what it wanted by violence, or the threat of violence. It was now up to loyalists, he argued, to make the Anglo Irish Agreement, this “Pan Nationalist Front”, unworkable. It is remarkable that the Billy Wright, anti peace process axis, has been so quickly forgotten, or perhaps conveniently ignored.


Poor and lazy analysis is not the only reason why McDonald’s book is so bad. Richard English describes Henry McDonald as “lucid, honest and courageous” and that may well be the case on a general level but the truth is that these attributes are not consistently displayed in Gunsmoke. Take “lucidity” for example. There are examples of lazy writing in every chapter. On pages 37 and 38 McDonald writes about the ferocity of the conflict between the IRA and its “foe” the British. At the top of page 38 he says:

“If the prisons their foe put thousands of volunteers into became universities of terror…etc”

No comments are needed with regards to the standard of syntax in the above quote.

On page 87 the word “even” is used twice in the same sentence. On page 96, the word “finally” appears twice in the same sentence. Then between pages 141/2 we have the phrase “really at all”. This is worth citing because it is so typical of the writing style as a whole:

“But were these modern day ‘random acts’ any different really at all from those of the self declared liberators who blew themselves up….etc”.

On page 153, the author has Gerry Adams calling on the British to become “persuaders “of" Irish unity, when every student of the English language and/or recent Irish history knows the correct word in this context is “for”.

With so many examples of sloppiness, of a lack of lucidity, McDonald does a disservice to his own arguments. I am at a loss to understand why reviewers like Richard English did not pick up on this. As a final example of ‘slop’, then; who is the small dark handsome man with his left arm draped around a smiling Bobby Sands in the picture section of Gunsmoke? It is actually none other than one of Britain's key spies in the IRA, Denis Donaldson. McDonald fails to highlight this fact and thus loses a graphic opportunity to jump on to one of the book’s favourite hobby horses, namely that the IRA was riddled with informers.

The requirement for lucidity also obliges the writer to pursue an argument to its conclusion. Indeed, one of the greatest pleasures for the discerning reader of any book is following a narrative thread to its ultimate denouement. Gunsmoke unfortunately provides no such aesthetic pleasure. This is, perhaps, not surprising in a book that contains a “Preface” before a “Prologue”, and a “Postscript” following an “Epilogue. In short, the book contains a succession of false starts, contradictions and non sequiturs, before juddering to a halt in a stuttering finale.

Take for example a promising passage on page 28. It refers to long-time ORM stalwart Seamus Lynch as an early 1970s “IRA veteran”. I thought this would prove interesting as, during my time in Belfast, the same Seamus Lynch always attempted to play down his IRA connections, Official or otherwise. We are given a lengthy quote from Lynch about the OIRA losing volunteers in the 1970s to the emergent Provisional IRA. And then Seamus Lynch just disappears. Suddenly, abruptly, we are in the midst of a discussion about collusion and by the end of the page we are landed in South Africa.

An even worse example of contradiction and counter contradiction in Gunsmoke is McDonald's examination of whether the PIRA had really been involved in a war with the British. McDonald ties both himself and the reader in knots trying to answer this question, spending the whole of the first chapter (Casualties of War - a full thirty pages) on the issue. Reasons of space and reader fatigue preclude regurgitating elements of the chapter here, but the best illustration of the quagmire in which the reader is left comes over a hundred pages later (page 178) when the author returns to the theme and asks:

“So what kind of conflict did Ireland endure in the years between 1969 and 1997? Could it in any way be categorised as a war?”

At this point, the reader really does want to scream because McDonald has forgotten that he has now asked this question twice, still fails to give his definitive answer, and also presumably forgets that three pages earlier (page 175) he said this:

“Paul Quinn was born into a South Armagh that was effectively at war.”


Richard English praises Henry McDonald's “honesty” in his Irish Times review but I must say that Gunsmoke shows that the author can sometimes be shown to have been economical with the truth. One of the book's main witnesses against Sinn Féin and the IRA is the former head of the IRA’s Southern Command, Sean O’Callaghan. O’Callaghan came out as a British spy in the 1980s. Yet McDonald makes no reference to the serious questions asked about elements of O'Callaghan's testimony. As recently as March 4, 2009, the BBC reported that the judge involved in hearing the civil action in the Omagh bomb case refused to hear O’Callaghan’s evidence, describing him as a “practised deceiver”. Unnamed former members of the disbanded RUC Special Branch are also quoted in the book without any reference to RUC SB's notorious role in colluding with loyalists to inflict terror on the “Irish”. It should be said that McDonald has never accepted the overwhelming evidence for collusion, a view he shares with Sunday Independent journalist Jim Cusack, who co-authored ‘UVF’ with McDonald. Our author reiterates this point in Gunsmoke (page 30):

“…if one examines coldly and objectively the casualties of war in the North of Ireland, the notion of a centrally directed, structured and state run policy of collusion does not stand up to scrutiny.”

It can only be presumed that McDonald believes that neither senior English police officer Sir John Stevens, nor the former police ombudsman for the North of Ireland, Nuala O’Loan, were “cold and objective” enough. Their investigations discovered endemic and structured collusion between the security forces and pro unionist murder gangs. The fact is that collusion was seen as “best practice” within the autonomous RUC Special Branch and yet the Guardian’s Ireland correspondent does not accept the clear evidence in this regard.

The opening pages of former RUC CID detective Johnston Brown’s memoir Into The Dark, might give the discerning journalist pause for thought. Brown was beaten to a pulp by colleagues for arresting an armed loyalist gang . So also might Brown’s detailed account of how Special Branch attempted, illegally, to sabotage the investigation into Pat Finucane’s killer, the British intelligence and RUC agent, Ken Barrett. As a journalist McDonald has not paid much attention to this phenomenon. This is no surprise, McDonald and Cusack’s book on the UVF contains no index entry for whistle blower Colin Wallace, a merely obligatory mention of Fred Holroyd and dismisses collusion allegations with regard to the 1973-74 Dublin Monaghan bombings. McDonald and Cusack publish the UVF statement claiming sole responsibility for these bombs, in full and without comment, but do not explain why the UVF was unable carry out such an operation ever again. The Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985 was, surely, the perfect catalyst for such “cross border” operations. Yet all the South got was current DUP leader Peter Robinson's leather clad invasion of the small border town of Clontibret, in which a policeman was beaten up, a garda car was trashed and unionist graffiti was daubed on walls.

It seems obvious, but not to Henry McDonald, that the extent of security force penetration of loyalist organisations should have made their violence impossible. In fact, this penetration is precisely what made it possible, in a deniable alliance which often simply abandoned dupes and agents to their fate. RUC informer and UFF quartermaster William Stobie, who supplied the guns in the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, was one such dupe who was thrown to the UFF wolves once he had outlived his usefulness.

The Finucane family is still seeking justice; Robert Hamill was beaten to death by loyalists while the RUC looked on; solicitor Rosemary Nelson was blown up by a loyalist gang that was also heavily infiltrated by the RUC. All this is but the tip of the collusion iceberg and yet the evidence is summarily dismissed by McDonald. Guardian readers may, perhaps, have to go elsewhere for information on these matters.


My last point regarding Gunsmoke is, perhaps, the most significant of all. Let us look at this word “courageous”, which Richard English uses to describe Henry McDonald. I beg to differ with English’s assessment. Leaving aside all the other omissions, which make Gunsmoke so lacking in journalistic rigour and cogent argument, the central lacuna is McDonald’s failure to make clear to the unassuming average reader that the book has been written by somebody who was a card carrying member of the Official Republican Movement. The blurb on the dust jacket of Gunsmoke simply states that McDonald was formerly the Irish correspondent of the Observer and is now Irish correspondent of the Guardian. It does not say that he is a former member of the Official IRA and was active in the ORM right throughout the 1980s. McDonald describes being sworn into the Official IRA's junior wing in his autobiography Colours on page 155, but makes no reference to this in Gunsmoke. Is this a sign of having the courage of your political convictions? It may be argued that if McDonald has referred to this elsewhere there is no need for him to repeat this information, but the fact is that this information is vital to McDonald’s arguments in Gunsmoke, a book which has received far more publicity and is much more glossily produced.

Were unassuming readers of Gunsmoke to be provided with this information regarding Henry McDonald’s history of political affiliations, they would then be able to draw much more informed conclusions about his arguments and the things he omits to say. Take, for example, the tired old story about the former Sinn Féin Dáil candidate in Dublin’s Cabra constituency , Nicky Kehoe and the allegation that the new SF candidate for the 2007 elections, Mary Lou McDonald (no relation I presume) was parachuted into the area against the wishes of local SF activists, including Kehoe. I happen to live in Cabra and take a keen interest in what’s going on in my area. This is what McDonald says about Nicky Kehoe on pages 173/4:

“By the end of 2007, Kehoe had resigned from the party, an indication that he and others around him in the area had become disillusioned and embittered by their leadership's decision to ditch one of the movement’s most loyal cadres for this relative newcomer.”

Most people in the Cabra area were aware that Nicky Kehoe was suffering from health problems and had informed the local party he was not standing again. This did not stop Kehoe from campaigning for Mary Lou McDonald. Such information and much like it is easy to check, but McDonald seems not to have bothered. Is this another example of the laziness, informed by bias, which permeates the book? Or is it a case of political antagonism being confused with the “clarity and truth” that McDonald calls for in his introduction to the book? The question must also be asked whether this reporting style serves to fuel dissident republican antagonism towards Sinn Féin? If so, this may well come back to haunt the author at some future date.

It appears that the author has allowed his political views to cast a red mist over this book, to the extent that it affects the rigour of his journalism. There is no attempt on McDonald’s part to explain to his readership what, in my view, are the very clear weaknesses in the Official Republican Movement’s position. This crucial fault applies both to Gunsmoke and Colours.

At this point, it is incumbent upon me to point out that I, along with reporter Shane Harrison, was the person who made BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme, which is widely credited with undermining the credibility of the Workers Party. The programme definitively proved the links between the WP and a still armed and dangerous Official IRA. That film was broadcast in June 1991. The film is not mentioned in Gunsmoke. For McDonald at least, it seems that that gun smoke only blows one way.

Seen in the light of McDonald’s sympathy for the openly pro Stalinist Official Republican Movement, what are we to make, for example of the constant references in Gunsmoke to Gerry Adams as having nurtured a “personality cult” (page 121) and being Sinn Féin’s “President of Forgetting” (page 137), who airbrushes inconvenient facts from the party’s history? On page 101, McDonald refers to hunger striker Bobby Sand's famous quote about letting “revenge be the laughter of our children”. McDonald then proceeds over the next two pages to make a mean spirited and hypocritical analogy between Gerry Adams and the former Stalinist Eastern European regimes and their perpetration of “political paedophilia”. This is how he rounds off this crude comparison on page 102:

“In the current battle for Irish history, our very own mini ‘President of Forgetting’, Gerry Adams and his loyal lieutenants have deployed the child as a weapon in their latest struggle to rewrite the truth about the last four decades.”

Not only is this the language of the lowest kind of tabloid hack, it smacks of blatant hypocrisy on the part of Henry McDonald. To this day, the Official Republican Movement (of which McDonald was a member) has fraternal links with North Korea, which is the home of the personality cult and historical air brushing par excellence. Furthermore, McDonald's frequent references to oppressive Stalinist regimes will astound any reader who is aware that the Workers Party was feted all over the former pro Soviet bloc and paid annual visits to East Germany and other parts of the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”. On page 165 of Colours, McDonald confirms that he was once a member of the Irish GDR Friendship Society. The GDR was the former state socialist bloc in what is now the eastern part of Germany, whose Stasi secret police spied on its own populace and provided refuge to OIRA counterfeiters and gunmen. The Workers Party also once brought Rumanian dictator Nikolai Ceausescu’s son to Belfast as an honoured guest.

Would it not be more “courageous”, therefore, to acknowledge facts like these and also admit that throughout the whole of the 1980s, every single political representative of the Workers Party not only denied that the Workers Party had any links to the Official IRA, they also denied any knowledge of its continued existence. Given that in Gunsmoke he describes Gerry Adams as the “President of Forgetting”, can McDonald explain how all of the representatives of the WP publicly forgot about the Official IRA for well over a decade?

I can only speculate that the collapse of the Workers Party is something that McDonald still regrets and that this provides the motivation for this intemperate tirade against Sinn Féin in general and Gerry Adams in particular. And if this is the case, his journalistic stance must be called into question. For, despite all his protests about the futility of armed struggle, the Workers Party’s armed wing, the Official IRA, has never decommissioned its very large arsenal of weapons. Right through the 1970s and 80s, the OIRA has robbed, murdered, maimed and “punished” those it regarded as its enemies. There is also evidence that the OIRA colluded with members of RUC Special Branch and loyalist paramilitaries because of their mutual hatred, not just of Sinn Féin but also of Catholicism. In other words, the ORM brought its opposition to the Catholic hierarchy's innate conservatism and hypocrisy to a point where it became indistinguishable from unionist bigotry.

In the 1990s, meanwhile, the fallout from my Spotlight film about the continued links between the OIRA and the Workers Party led to a fatal split within the party. Journalists attending the WP's Ard Fheis in 1992 were astonished to hear many delegates standing up to support the existence of an armed wing whose existence the WP had always denied. This whole period of trauma for the ORM is never mentioned in Gunsmoke, yet this is the story McDonald really should have been writing, precisely because he has the inside track and the ORM is such a closed organisation. Even Colours, McDonald’s autobiography, does not tell the ORM story because it barely mentions specific Official IRA actions after its mythical ceasefire in 1972 and lays the blame for the ultimate collapse of the Workers Party on the refusal of elements of the party to heed Eoghan Harris's calls to modernise (see pages 166/167 ). Gunsmoke follows this pattern of “forgetfulness” and never mentions the Spotlight investigation into the Workers Party.

Given the furore that followed the Spotlight programme in 1991, with both Prionsias de Rossa and Pat Rabbitte (then leading members of the Workers Party) stating that libel proceedings had been initiated against the BBC, this is an extraordinary omission on the part of Henry McDonald. For the record, there were never any legal proceedings arising from our Spotlight film.

Finally, I will ape the author of Gunsmoke and add a postscript to my epilogue.

What surprises me most about this book (though it shouldn’t) is the fact that Henry McDonald has obviously blithely assumed that nobody would bother to challenge him about the issues raised above. It is my experience that the large number of journalists who are, or have been, sympathetic to the Workers Party make an assumption that they will never be challenged by mainstream Irish journalism. Where, then, do they get the idea that Irish journalism is “infested” with Provos? The answer is of course that it is these self same Workers Party hacks (in their various stages of affection and disaffection) who propagate this myth of the influence of Provo journalists. The fact is that ORM inspired journalists still have a hugely disproportionate influence within the Irish media. The problem for Henry McDonald and his “side” in this new battle for Irish history is that the Irish people rejected their partitionist views many troubled moons ago. That popular rejection is the essential sticking point.

GFA – Good Friday Agreement
ORM – Official Republican Movement (this refers to the historical Official Republican movement and is not to be confused with the same moniker adopted by a small group of “Officials” in Belfast at present).
OIRA – Official IRA
PIRA - Provisional IRA
WP - Workers Party (Political wing of the OIRA)

Other links to Henry McDonald and/or Gunsmoke -
The Provos' big mistake - Gary Kent, New Statesman, Published 11 December 2008.
Sniping and snails and puppy dog tails, Eoghan Harris,, Sunday Independent, Sunday November 30 2008.
Gunsmoke and Mirrors - A Review, Your View, Harry's Place, December 10th 2008.


Well done. It's about time that egotistical "journalist" who, as you say, can be so "economical with the truth" was dissected and exposed by the facts.
by: chrissiemcauley (contact) - 01 Apr '09 - 15:43
thanks Chrissie - I've been waiting for so long for someone to finally lift the lid of McDonald's journalistic bonnet that I got fed up and decided to do it myself.

As a journalist, I am usually very reluctant to openly criticise another "journalist" but I feel that Guardian readers in Ireland are very badly served by a columnist who is so clearly biased and vindictive, not just against SF, but Irish nationalism as a whole.

beannacht Dé ort

by: Pol (contact) - 01 Apr '09 - 16:03
Thank you Pol,
A very intreresting, well written 'critique'.
The lack of 'journalistic integrity' among certain is both astounding and oftimes worrying.
As for a 'fear of the past', maybe the idea of a Ministry of Forgetting should be on political agendas?
by: Finn Anson (contact) - 02 Apr '09 - 08:44
Thanks comrade. I must say, I have had tremendously positive feedback and of course you are welcome to use it on the website.

tabhair aire

by: Pol (contact) - 16 Apr '09 - 09:53
g.r.m.a mo chara for this timely expose on McDonald's revisionist agenda. The old sticky 'entryist' tactic within the 4th estate always needs an occasional airing

The sticky or even 'superstick' version of Republican Socialism is mischieviously defeatist & designed to sabotage genuine advances within the republican socialist project.

Tragically ironic that these revisionist republicans while denouncing the national liberation project as 'sectarian' have no difficulties rubbing shoulders with some of the most vicious loyalist killers imaginable!

The sticks certainly enjoyed a very close clientist relationship with the security forces during the conflict & there has been no indication, apart from natural wastage, that this relationship ever terminated.

Great work cara ! Maith thu !
by: Iskra (contact) - 06 Apr '10 - 20:53


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Title: Gunsmoke - Henry McDonald’s True Colours, by Paul Larkin
Date posted: 31 Mar '09 - 10:00
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