Published: 17 October 2019

Twitter is a useful safety valve. I’ve been enjoying some reactions to a bizarre performance last night on Channel 4 News by a beefy chap in a balaclava – whose identity was protected by a weird voice-over, more Scottish than Irish. He claimed to speak for the New IRA, the few hundred supporting the most recent manifestation of those criminals of the violent-republican persuasion who fight for what they call Irish freedom. They do so by the traditional methods perfected by the Provisional IRA: murdering, mutilating, torturing, intimidating, administering community discipline by kneecapping and beating – all of which they blame on the Brits.

I mention the beefiness, because one response to Alex Thomson’s interview last night on Channel 4 News with this stoutish citizen claiming to speak for an “army…committed to armed struggle for political and social change in Ireland,” was a post by an ex-member of the SAS of a photo of a New IRA parade led by fat blokes in berets and sunglasses which he unkindly described as:

“Elite Active Service Unit of PIE IRA, have conducted many missions to thwart other people getting pies and pasties and sausage rolls from Greggs.”

This spawned happy tasteless tweets about the need of these “moobilisers” for a hunger strike.

The substance of the interviewee’s argument came from a familiar script: illegal partition and occupation, necessity in colonies for armed resistance, illegitimacy of the Good Friday Agreement (the theology is that it wasn’t ratified properly as the Irish voted in answer to “two separate questions depending on which statelet they lived in”), and MI5 having a HQ in Northern Ireland with “armed pro-British death squads operating under the flag of loyalism.”

So “the IRA will take no lectures on morality, or the futility of violence from those who remain morally in favour, if not tactically.”

The only departure from tradition was the absence of weasel words in the apology for their murder of journalist Lyra McKee in the Creggan area of Londonderry in April – an oops moment for them.

Thompson challenged him with the words of Lyra’s partner, Sara Canning, who described the IRA as “no better than paedophiles” who groomed young and vulnerable people in deprived areas. The response was that this was a “grotesque” comparison: “Young people have always been the backbone of the Republican struggle,” he said. “They were not sought out by the Republican movement. They seek it out.” (True, except that such kids respond to unremitting republican propaganda extolling “heroic” dead terrorists.)

Channel 4 News’ defence for “giving these terrorists precious air-time”? (as one tweet put it). Editor Ben De Pear cited the Northern Ireland Chief Constable who warned in August “of a return to paramilitary violence and recently said that any infrastructure on the border would refuel the conflict”. He claimed that Theresa May and Boris Johnson changed their Brexit positions after “high-level security briefings on the implications of any border infrastructure on the island of Ireland.”

It was therefore important to have this “hard-hitting” interview to hold “the group” to account and challenge “any justification for a return to violence.” (This is a red herring, since it’s been clear for years that the only people on the island of Ireland who want a border with infrastructure are the IRA, smugglers and possibly the EU.)

Cui bono? It was neatly summed up by Brendan Cafferty, a veteran Irish critic of various IRAs:

“No kudos to @Channel4News and their “interview” with a new IRA thug in a safe house. Those threats of killing and mayhem can be self-fulfilling with talks of hard and soft borders playing into their hands. They were at it long enough.”

The New IRA will be thrilled. And hardline loyalists fearing a sell-out will have been watching too, and wondering what they have to do to get the attention of Channel 4 News.

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