|Cliff Townhouse - Sinn Féin's final pre-election press conference|
Establishment hacks reeling from Sinn Féin successWE CAN ONLY IMAGINE the scene at the Irish Independent’s headquarters on Saturday 24 May as news broke of a seismic shift in the political landscape in the 26 Counties.
It was evident that the anti-republican, privately-owned newspaper’s vicious and hysterical campaign aimed at destroying if not seriously damaging Sinn Féin’s electoral chances had crashed and burned the moment the first boxes were opened in count centres across Ireland and hundreds of thousands of ballots marked ‘Sinn Féin Number 1’ came tumbling out onto the tally desks.
Two days before polling day I sat among other journalists at the Cliff Townhouse in Dublin for Sinn Féin’s last press conference. As Gerry Adams took questions, an insipid hand was raised from the front corner of the room. Other reporters huffed and rolled their eyes to the sky as a quivering voice asked Gerry Adams whether he found it acceptable that a former IRA Volunteer involved in the assassination of Lord Mountbatten was canvassing on behalf of Matt Carthy.
“Who are you with?” asked Gerry Adams.
“The Irish Independent,” came the faltering reply.
“Surprise, surprise,” smiled Mary Lou McDonald.
Noting that both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had elected members who had served in the IRA during the Tan War, Adams told the novice:
“Just because you have a past doesn’t mean you can’t have a future,” adding to laughter from more seasoned reporters: “And that goes for Irish Independent journalists.”
It was a pitiable display where a junior reporter had been sent out under orders from his editor-in-chief to get yet another cheap soundbite with which to attack his paper’s Sinn Féin nemesis.
Perhaps it’s the declining influence of major newspapers in Ireland or the growth in the use of online media by political parties (something which Sinn Féin is leading the field in) but what is clear is that the Irish Independent is becoming increasingly irrelevant to many ordinary Irish people deciding who to cast their vote for on election day.
Just as in 1916 when the Irish Independent reacted with fury at the audacity of the Irish people to dare hit out at the established order by calling for the execution of the leaders of the Easter Rising, the 2014 election saw the Sunday Independent lash out at the ‘working-class strongholds’ of Sinn Féin for daring to vote for a party that challenges the cosy consensus of the Golden Circles and elites of Irish society.
In a fit of hysterical whingeing that would have been embarrassing to even the most ardent of its Blueshirt fans, the distressed Sindo lashed out at its friends in Government, decrying their failure to tackle the rise of Sinn Féin:
“So far, all parties have left the heavy lifting on exposing Sinn Féin to the INM group.”
The self-pitying moaning continued from the paper:
“But we cannot continue to roll a rock up a hill alone while being subjected to the sneers of a Coalition which confines itself to cheap jibes at Sinn Féin instead of subjecting it to sustained close scrutiny as we have done for the past 30 years.”
And finally, junking any pretence at being impartial, the Sindo told us:
“In that regard, RTÉ needs a reality check.”
This is the same RTÉ which, just hours earlier, had asked Gerry Adams, following his party’s best election since 1918, whether he would consider his position as party leader.
Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrews, who topped the poll in Pembroke South Dock in Dublin, tweeted that RTÉ’s line of questioning was the equivalent of asking Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti whether he would resign as manager just days after winning the Champions League.
The laughable post-election analysis continued in the PTSD-afflicted Sindo. One headline informed us: “Sinn Féin’s romp has failed to materialise.” Disregarding any facts (such as Sinn Féin quadrupling its seats in the EU, receiving more votes than any other party in the North, and more than doubling its seat total in the 26 Counties), the paper went into overdrive in an attempt to portray the republican success as a failure. Facts went out the window as the Sindo claimed “Sinn Féin has not had an MEP since deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald” was elected in 2004. Martina Anderson and Bairbre de Brún, who have represented Sinn Féin in the EU Parliament for the past ten years, would no doubt be incredibly surprised to learn that.
As more and more people embrace Sinn Féin as a real political alternative, the Irish Independent’s vain attempt to stem the rising electoral tide serves only to further alienate itself from the vast majority of people who want fair and balanced reporting.
- This article first appeared in the June 2014 Elections Special edition of An Phoblacht