Monday, March 21, 2005

McCartneys fail in their anti-republican efforts

It looks like the McCartney sisters have failed in their efforts to destroy the Irish republican movement:

HERE’s the national consensus, post St Patrick’s week: the McCartney sisters’ visit to the US has changed everything. Kept Adams out of the White House, ruined Sinn Féin credibility, dried up the money from Irish-American wannabes and fellow-travellers.

Here's the reality, post St Patrick's week: None of the above. Sinn Féin is still sitting pretty in the USA, its fundraising pipelines as full as ever, and Gerry Adams still has his visa.

Exclusion from the White House did keep Adams off the front page of American newspapers. The more interesting result was that NOBODY from Ireland was on the front page of those newspapers on St Patrick's Day, even though those papers were awash in full page ads inviting readers to celebrate the day that was in it.

One of the ads had a handsome green man beaming away, over the slogan "Happy St Patrick's Day from the world's most prescribed ED treatment*."

If, like me, you drew a blank on what ED signified, you could find the asterisk attached to an explanation lower down (no joke intended): ED means erectile dysfunction. The product being pushed was Viagra, with the rhetorical question "Who needs luck?" The implication seemed to be that you didn't need the luck of the Irish to develop the wherewithal to have sex on St Patrick's night. You just needed a prescription. Like the beaming man pictured. The green man. Green for Go.

The Viagra ad required that those of us outside the ED circle do an awful lot of work in order to understand it. Sadly, the same process operated when American media encountered the McCartney story. The conferences to select the following day's stories were easy to imagine:

"Photocall at the White House. Another photocall with Ted Kennedy. Irish women. Peace campaigners? No. Who, then? Sisters and partner of a guy who got murdered? When did he get murdered? Oh, that many weeks ago. Murdered by IRA guys? Right, so they're Protestants? No? They're traditional Sinn Féin voters? Sinn Féin is the acceptable face of the IRA, right? So was this guy a traitor? No, he was just in a pub? Y'know sumpn' guys, this don't grab me. Too complicated. WAY too complicated. Run it small, inside, someplace. OK?"

The visit of the McCartney sisters to the White House, accordingly, while it garnered enormous coverage back home, absolutely failed to reach the American public. For two reasons. First of all, because St Patrick's Day in the US has morphed (no doubt some wag would say 'murphied') into St Patti's day.

Cross a national saint with a female country and western singer and what you get is not an opportunity for a consciousness-raising tutorial. What you get is an excuse to wear green top hats with buckles on the front and say "Top of the mornin'" to inoffensive strangers. (The gear Americans wear to show solidarity with the Irish is gruesomely evocative of Punch cartoons from the mid-nineteenth century, where all the natives of the Emerald Isle were portrayed as bandy-legged drunken Neanderthals. It's a miserable thought that a bunch of racist pen-and-ink sketchers managed to create such an abiding visual summary of a nation.)

The second reason for the failure of the McCartney sisters' visit to have the effect wishful thinking assumes it to have had is that, at the moment in the US, court television has taken over from news and current affairs TV.

People who used to watch all-day news stations like CNN and FOX News are glued to Court TV, where they can watch murder trials live, or, in the Michael Jackson trial, because the judge has banned cameras, watch reenactments by actors of the best bits of each day's judicial process.

This drift to Court TV may be temporary, driven by recent high profile cases, notably that of actor Robert Blake, acquitted of wife-killing last week. Or it may be the inevitable and permanent conclusion of the process by which tabloid TV news destroys itself. Tabloid TV demands blood and guts: "If it bleeds, it leads."

It sees pictures as more important than words. It avoids anything that can't be personalised around one victim, one villain, one guardian angel. It prefers the local to the foreign, the simple to the subtle, the emotional to the conceptual.

Following these rules has dragged even the big networks into broadcasting drivel in their news bulletins in a demented and ultimately unproductive effort to keep their viewer numbers high. They failed to stop CNN and FOX News, the all-day news stations, eating into their market. Now, the cannibalism continues, with the all-day news stations losing ground to Court TV, which, in the past few months, made a household name out of one Scott Peterson, eventually convicted of murdering his heavily pregnant wife. Peterson's sentencing happened during St Patrick's week.

Cameras in the courtroom showed the murderer's parents behaving disgracefully and being ejected from the court. The cameras were also there when Peterson received the death penalty.

A GROUP of unknown women from Ireland talking about their unknown brother and linking the political wing of the IRA to criminality were never going to compete with Court TV's coverage of Peterson. Even if they had, it's doubtful that the McCartney sisters could have dammed the sentimental stream of money donated to republicanism.

Just how deeply rooted is that pattern of donation is shown in an account by writer Brian McDonald of his Irish American family where father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all New York cops. About his great-grandfather, he wrote that "it was his wife's strong Irish will that drew him to her. He supported Julia when she began to collect nickels and dimes, kept in a coffee can in the cabinet over the stove, for Irish Freedom, an organisation that funded the Irish struggles against the English, and he never tired of Julia telling the story of her father being jailed by the English for harbouring Fenian rebels."

That coffee can, dating back to 1910, is replicated in the homes of millions of Irish Americans, and one confusing story of a murder in a pub was never going to shift it.

The reality is that people and particularly media people who admired Sinn Féin to the degree that it was beginning to resemble themselves, are now getting a great kick out of condemning it and are convincing themselves that their condemnation matters. It doesn't.

What actually matters to Sinn Féin's onward march is that people who admired Sinn Féin because it smelled of sulphur and gave the finger to everything the Establishment stood for, admire it even more with every condemning column inch.

A texter to a radio programme during the recent Meath by-election underlined this vividly when he told the listeners that "If Michael McDowell told me NOT to jump off a cliff, I'd go and jump off a cliff straight away."

Media approbation of the McCartney sisters should not distract us from the reality demonstrated by a substantial chunk of Meath voters and by continuing US donations to the cause: you can never move people by using reason from a position to which reason has not brought them.

As you can see the writer, Terry Prone, is no friend of Sinn Fein or the Provisional IRA but is forced to admit that the efforts of the McCartney sisters to destroy Irish-American support for the fight for Irish freedom has largely been a failure.


At 6:29 PM, Anonymous Steve Bowbrick said...

All that history is very interesting but I haven't seen a shred of evidence that the McCartney's intention was to 'destroy Irish-American support for Republicanism'. Were they not simply looking for some pressure on the IRA to give up their brother's killers? Put yourself in their position. Isn't that what you'd do if your brother had been killed by a bunch of cowards in a pub who'd then used their power in the community to hide from justice?

At 12:20 AM, Anonymous Ed Sweeney said...

Didn't know much about this situation before St. Patrick's day and a visit to help out my aging American-Irish Catholic mother (as she puts it) set up her annual party in Cleveland. All things Irish tend to convene and this year found me rediscovering the ancient tides amidst some startling convergences with the reports and a chance meeting of the man himself.
Yes, I actually met Gerry Adams at my Dad's house!
He took a two and a half hour nap upstairs after some tea and cordial conversation.
I have to say this: I've always been reluctant to identify with what it means in our culture to be an "Irish American". My father throughout his eighty years has been staunch in his solidarity with the cause; he was and is a coffee can republican. I, on the other hand distrusted the embrace. At the tender age of 12 had even had the balls to call him on his avid romanticism asking if these were the same folks "blowing up schoolbuses in the North of Ireland". Out of the mouths of babes...
So you can imagine my conflicts after being invited to meet the man. I went and keeping my mouth shut this time witnessed that this guy was simply a friend of my father that wanted to pay his respects for political help in Cleveland and maybe "steal" a kip. His entourage filled us in on the climate and circumstances not reported, no mention of the heist or the laundering but the murder was touched on. As was the fact that Sinn Fein was gaining ground politically even in the South and that all competing parties want to blunt their growing clout nationwide. They were convinced that with-in three weeks it would once again be "sexy" to support Sinn Fein.
He reappeared, drank some more tea, we took some cheesy photo's, and he went on his rested way. Into a historic transition for his party. his band, his country. Meeting him convinced me he is capable of finding a way through this into an achievable peace. Kennedy was grossly "ill-advised" but Adams did not seem at all vexed. He'll find respite and friendship elsewhere. If only our Nation had this kind of leadership.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Diarmid said...

Were they not simply looking for some pressure on the IRA to give up their brother's killers?

The IRA already gave the sisters the names of the men involved in the murder. They even offered to execute the men if the sisters wanted it. Other than invent a time machine and travel back in time to prevent the murder there was nothing more that the Provisional IRA could do.


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