​I’ll be writing another time about my friend Maria Cahill’s brilliant and chilling best seller, Rough Beast: My Story and the Reality of Sinn Féin.

Published: 3 October 2023

The title comes from W B Yeats’s “The Second Coming”, a poem written at a time of European upheaval including the Russian revolution and the start of the Irish War of Independence. “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” it asks.

Many other decent people are gripped by fear at the prospect of having Sinn Fein in power north and south. From my perspective, aware as I am of how some of its members use lawfare ruthlessly to suppress criticism, I know it could be fatal for free speech, which I believe to be the foundation of democracy.

Hideously severe libel laws make both Irish jurisdictions very vulnerable. And few politicians seem to care. In Northern Ireland the UUP’s Mike Nesbitt and Jeff Dudgeon have been two of the shining exceptions.

In England, where I live, the law is much more friendly towards free speech, but ill-thought-out hate laws, increasing intolerance and intimidation by trans activists threaten it.

Until about 18 months ago, my default radio station was BBC Radio 4. From 1993, when I became a journalist, I came to life every morning with the Today programme (with occasional guilty excursions into Wake Up to Wogan which was far more fun, but rather less useful).

Yet I came to realise that BBC journalists tended to live a small bubble and dislike any opinions that would raise eye-brows at a north London dinner party. It was OK to be a left-wing Conservative or right-wing Labour, or any kind of Lib Dem, but that was about it. People like Nigel Farage were beyond the pale.

Attitudes were summed up by the utterly ridiculous mantra of presenters that the truth always lies in the middle.

“It damn well doesn’t”, I would find myself shouting at the radio, particularly after the lifting in 1994 of the broadcasting bans in both islands, when well-trained and shameless lying Sinn Féin spokesmen were unleashed on the airwaves.

Meeting people who justified the murder of political opponents and wanted to destroy the state, many Irish nationalists and the hard-left were excited by the whiff of cordite. In England, interviewers fell over backwards trying to demonstrate their impartiality.

I was no fan of Ian Paisley, but it was utterly unjust to describe the DUP and Sinn Féin as similarly extreme.

And when Sinn Féin fomented violence over Orange parades, I was seen as a lunatic for defending the law-abiding rank and file and suggesting that residents’ grievances were being orchestrated by the IRA army council.

In BBC land — where multiculturalism ruled — the loyal orders, being mostly white, Christian, patriotic and socially conservative, were obviously beyond the pale. Republicans, on the other hand, had an aura of romance and victimhood.

I found this hard to bear.

Once I declared I had voted for Brexit (after much soul-searching), I rapidly became persona non grata even with some friends. One of them, hearing the shocking truth from me at a party, snarled “I would rather spend the evening with a child molester” and stormed off.

Condescension and intolerance from interviewers were why — like hundreds of thousands of others — I abandoned broadcasters like the BBC and Sky for newcomers like Times and Talk Radio and even GB News, where it was acceptable for people with unfashionable opinions to question orthodoxy about such difficult issues as trans extremism and vaccine side-effects.

Today’s Nick Robinson describes deserters like me as “news avoiders”, which shows he doesn’t understand us. Adam Boulton, another bad loser whom I used to admire, has just shocked me to my core by his utter contempt for free speech. Seizing on the excuse of a crass remark of Laurence Fox’s, he pronounced: “I think there is a delicate and important broadcast ecology in this country. I think GB News is trying to bust that ecology, and frankly, what Ofcom should do is shut it down.”

I cannot get over such a distinguished broadcaster endorsing censorship. It’s a small step from silencing Lawrence Fox to banning Máiría Cahill for hurting Shinners’ feelings.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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