Monthly Archives: January 2017

Did Gerry Adams’ US Ally, Peter King Help Trump Frame His ‘Muslim’ Ban?

Down through the years, both before and after the peace process began, the Provos in the US could always rely on one man to speak out for their cause. That man was Peter King, whose support for the 1981 hunger strike propelled him, via the Grand Marshall-ship of the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York, into Congress.

When the peace process began the then US President, Bill Clinton looked around for anyone in Washington who knew anything about Gerry Adams and his people and he settled on Peter King, the only Congressman who had actually met Adams, to be his unofficial adviser and pipeline to the Sinn Fein leadership.

Peter King meets Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison in Belfast in 1984

Peter King meets Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison in Belfast in 1984

Aside from a brief hiatus, when the IRA’s robbery of the Northern Bank and murder of Robert McCartney caused a break in the relationship, Peter King has always been a reliable friend in Washington to the Sinn Fein leader and his party.

Now, according to one of Donald Trump’s closest advisers, Peter King is sharing his affection with no less than President Donald Trump and recently agreed to be a member of a special commission which helped draw up the controversial travel ban on Muslim countries issued by the Trump White House. The ban was put into effect over the weekend leading to noisy protests at numerous airports and legal challenges which seem sure to end up at the Supreme Court.

Actually the task was to draw up a ban on Muslims and frame it so that it had a chance of surviving a legal challenge on grounds of unconstitutionality. Trump has made it clear that he would give preferential treatment to Christians in Muslim countries. Singling out religious groups in this way, either for punishment or favour, would probably be ruled illegal in the US.

This is what Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor and now Trump confidante, told a Fox News programme over the weekend:

When he first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban’. He called me up, he said put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally. I put a commission together with Judge Mukasey, Congressman McCaul, Pete King, a whole group of very expert lawyers on this and what we did was focussed on, instead of religion, danger, the areas of the world that create danger for us which is a factual basis.

Since Giuliani gave this interview, Peter King has denied he was a member of this commission and claimed that Giuliani has confused other Trump meetings he attended with the discussion on the Muslim ban. Nonetheless King said he ‘fully supports’ the Trump order.

If Peter King did not attend the Trump commission meetings that drew up the ban it is not because he does not share the President’s aversion towards Muslims. When chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee back in 2010 he held a number of hearings to investigate domestic radicalisation of US Muslims.

Maintaining that ’80 to 85 per cent’ of US mosques were controlled by jihadists, King had this to say about American Muslims:

When a war begins, we’re all Americans. But in this case, this is not the situation. And whether it’s pressure, whether it’s cultural tradition, whatever, the fact is the Muslim community does not cooperate anywhere near to the extent that it should. The irony is that we’re living in two different worlds.

Below is a recording of Giuliani’s Fox TV interview, which happened on Sunday. Giuliani’s remarks on Peter King start at 02:55 minutes. Underneath that is a profile of Peter King that I wrote for a New York newspaper back in 2005.

The question now for Sinn Fein, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other Irish politicians is whether they swallow their public distaste at Trump’s ban and attend the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington or boycott it in protest. And will Gerry Adams publicly condemn King for his support of a ban which has tens of thousands up in arms around the world?

Are We Being Played By Sinn Fein Once Again?

Call me conspiratorial if you wish but I have learned the hard way over many years that when it comes to Sinn Fein, under its current leader, it is best to first assume a conspiracy, or at least a much more complicated accounting, and then look for evidence of a more innocent and straightforward explanation.

So it was in that frame of mind that I switched on my iPad last night, logged onto The Irish Times website and discovered the article below. It is a statement by SF’s heiress apparent, Mary Lou McDonald that the party should drop its longstanding policy of only taking power in government as the majority party.

Now she says, in pursuit of power, Sinn Fein should be content to take seats around the cabinet table as the junior coalition partner.

This is no more than a recognition of reality since Sinn Fein has no chance in the foreseeable future of overtaking either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael and putting together a government as the dominant party.

But it is a major departure – what The Times calls ‘a significant shift’ – from what was initially presented to their membership as a principled stance on the issue of taking power, i.e. only in circumstances where SF called the shots.

It was instrumental in persuading a lot of the Provo grassroots to accept the idea of seeking power in what is still, for many republicans, a partitionist institution.

One thing to bear in mind is that Ms McDonald would never make such a suggestion without Gerry knowing all about it; indeed the modus operandi here is very reminiscent of the leader’s well-worn kite-flying tactic of yore, i.e. using lesser figures to test the water and leaving them to take the blame if the idea bombed.

So assuming. as we must, that Mary Lou is really speaking for Gerry, it looks as if the pledge is going to be jettisoned (just as the industrial wage policy also faces the dustbin) at a very interesting time.

Martin McGuinness’ serious illness must have served as an unwelcome reminder to Gerry Adams of his own mortality, and that time is running out if he really wants to secure his place in Irish history, viz. by leading a ‘republican’ party that has bums on seats around the cabinet table on both sides of the Border.

Better a seat as a minority member of a cabinet than no seat at all.

Then look at the wider context of Mary Lou’s statement, especially its timing.

It comes at a moment when the Northern arrangements appear to be in some disarray and an air of crisis perfuses. Martin McGuinness has been replaced by Michelle O’Neill, the power-sharing arrangements have effectively been suspended pending a new election and negotiations afterwards, and, more importantly, the SF grassroots are up in arms at the DUP, apparently enraged by that party’s skullduggery over the pellet fire scandal and eager to deal them a blow at the polls.

Anger and confusion reign. What a perfect moment for Mary Lou to announce a major shift in policy and principle.

Naomi Klein has written one of the great books of this age about modern capitalism, in my view. It is called ‘The Shock Doctrine’ and it suggests that governments and corporations use natural and man-made crises to push through, almost unnoticed, policy changes that otherwise would or could be resisted.

Klein posits that it is mostly economic change, neoliberal economic change in particular, that is notably the major beneficiary of this phenomenon.

But there is no reason why the same theory cannot be applied to politics.

Otherwise, you would have to believe the implied message in the second article from The Irish Times that I reproduce below. It is written by Brian Rowan and is a second-hand account of an allegedly turbulent meeting held at the Felons’ Club, in West Belfast, the IRA’s unofficial drinking den, at which Gerry Adams was, allegedly, hauled over the coals by the Provo grassroots over the RHI shenanigans at Stormont and at which the loudest cheer came when there was a call to bring the power-sharing institutions down.

As Rowan put it: ‘Adams has not only heard what people are saying. He has heard what he was being told to do.’ So, serious stuff.

Amongst those allegedly leading the mob that was giving Adams such a hard time was, according to the article, one Bobby Storey, the IRA’s former (?) chief of intelligence.

‘Big Bobby’, as he is better known in Provo circles, is famous for two things. One is his great skill as an intelligence boss. The other is his spaniel-like devotion to, and admiration for Gerry Adams.

Is it really credible that Bobby Storey of all people would lead, much less take part in the charge against the man he has worshiped and followed unquestioningly for decades?

Below are the two articles referenced above. The first deals with Mary Lou McDonald’s proposed volte-face on Sinn Fein’s government policy; the second is Brian Rowan’s piece on the Felons’ Club meeting. Enjoy:

The Irish Times
January 26, 2017 Thursday

McDonald open to SF being junior coalition partner;

Declaration by deputy leader marks significant shift in party’s position

BYLINE: Fiach Kelly

SECTION: FRONT PAGE; Pg. 1

LENGTH: 326 words

Sinn Féin’s Mary LouMcDonald has raised the prospect that Sinn Féin could take part in the next coalition government as the junior partner, saying she wants the party to be in power.

The move by the Dublin Central TD is significant, since it marks a shift from the previous Sinn Féin position that it would only take office if it was the dominant party.

However, the deputy leader, widely tipped to succeed Gerry Adams as party president, said Sinn Féin must have a “conversation” before the next election about taking up the secondary role.

Speaking on The Irish TimesInside Politics podcast, Ms McDonald also said anyone entering government must be pragmatic about difficult decisions that must be made.

Difficult decisions

Sinn Féin’s problem with the difficult decisions taken by successive governments in the Republic, she said, is that the “tough decision is always the decision that hurts the little guy”.

“Why can’t we make some tough decisions that reach up into the upper echelons of society?” She defended Sinn Féin’s past declarations that it would enter power only as the major force in a coalition.

“People are understandably anxious when they look at the experience of other political parties that have gone into coalition and have either, in the minds of some, ‘sold out’ or left their politics outside the cabinet meeting room or have just not measured up or not performed,” she said.

“We are not in the business of doing any of those things.”

Asked if she would consider entering power as a junior partner, she said: “You are right. That is a conversation that we need to be having between now and the next election.

“I want us to be in government, I believe we will be in government in the South. We won’t be in government for the sake of it. It won’t be personal careerism or for the cheap thrill of headlines or the history-making moments of it.

“We can only go into government when we are confident that we are in a position to deliver.”

 

Sinn Féin meeting that brought political crisis to a head

In Belfast’s Felons Club they cheered a call to ‘bring the [Stormont] institutions down’

Mon, Jan 23, 2017, 15:43

Brian Rowan

felons

Felons Club in Belfast: after a meeting in the club in early January “Sinn Féin pressed a political nuclear button that has thrown Northern Ireland into uncertainty”.

Inside the Felons Club in west Belfast the mood was immediately obvious. On a Saturday afternoon in early January several hundred republicans packed an upstairs room to hear Gerry Adams, first in a public speech and then in a private briefing, after the media had been asked to leave.

A developing political crisis in Northern Ireland was about to be brought to a head. Within 48 hours, Martin McGuinness had resigned as deputy First Minister also forcing then First Minister Arlene Foster out of office.

Sinn Féin pressed a political nuclear button that has thrown Northern Ireland into uncertainty.

Almost 20 years after Good Friday 1998, the threads of that historic agreement – one that was held up internationally as the way to confirm and consolidate peace – have loosened and are coming undone.

Republicans are now questioning the worth of the Stormont institutions and a decade-long relationship with the DUP at the head of the Northern Ireland Executive.

This was the mood inside the Felons Club that Saturday in January. Within hours, news filtered out that when that republican gathering moved into private session, the loudest cheer was in response to a call to “bring the institutions down now”.

In other words, collapse Stormont. “People have reached the end of their tether,” a senior republican said that evening. “The anger in our community is palpable.”

Old ghosts of unionist rule

The question being asked, he said, is: “Why are you up there [in Stormont]?”

For now, the Sinn Féin leadership has no answer to that question and, after the McGuinness resignation, the message being delivered to the republican grassroots is that there will be “no return to the status quo”.

The audience at the Felons Club included many of Sinn Féin’s elected representatives in the North – including party chair Declan Kearney, MEP Martina Anderson, Stormont MLAs Gerry Kelly, Raymond McCartney and Michelle Gildernew and, on stage with Adams, new party leader at Stormont, Michelle O’Neill.

Adams has not only heard what people are saying. He has heard what he was being told to do.

For over two decades, a key consideration for the republican leadership has been the cohesion of its movement and party and community.

During that period, Adams and McGuinness have relied on a small group of senior republicans to be their eyes and ears, to take the pulse and to know the mood.

Among that small group are a number of Belfast republicans, who were significant figures in the IRA leadership and who have been part of the transition into peace and into politics. Bobby Storey, Seán Murray and Martin Lynch were all inside the Felons Club.

“They are not just reflecting it, they are the mood,” another republican told me. He means that key group, working closely with Adams and McGuinness and other senior republican figures such as Ted Howell, have come to that point of questioning the credibility and viability of the Stormont political project.

When such senior figures speak, they cannot be ignored. The talk now is of the need for “qualitative change” if the political institutions are to be restored.
Republicans have been reminded of the old ghosts of unionist rule. They accuse the DUP of not embracing, indeed of ignoring, the principles and rules of partnership and power-sharing – the foundation stones on which the Good Friday Agreement was built.

There are big issues on which they have made no progress – a process to address the vexed questions of the past, the shelved plan for a Maze/Long Kesh peace centre and an Irish Language Act.

‘Uncharted waters’

So there is a mood, seen and heard in the Felons Club, that has to be managed; managed at a time of transition in the republican leadership, which is having to be accelerated because of McGuinness’s illness.

Health Minister Michelle O’Neill, who has taken on a more prominent role in recent times and who was on stage with Adams in the Felons Club, now steps into that position of leading the Sinn Féin Assembly group.

For many in the Northern Ireland communities, McGuinness will only ever be seen in an IRA frame, his name linked to the bombs and bullets and death and destruction of a decades-long conflict, but his story reads from war to peace.

There have also been remarkable moments of reconciliation. His meetings with Queen Elizabeth and his participation in a debate with PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton in west Belfast in 2015.

Within the republican community, there was recent anger and criticism of McGuinness’s presence in London at the unveiling of Irish artist Colin Davidson’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth.

“They [republicans] saw it again as him reaching out, stretching, and nothing coming back,” said a source with knowledge of events, meaning nothing coming back from the unionist political leadership.

This criticism is part of that wider mood and questioning. Now, after almost a decade in government, there has been a very public breakdown in the relationship between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Leaving another Sinn Féin event at the Felons Club last week, the influential Belfast republican Bobby Storey shouted across the road towards journalists: “Let’s go.”

It was a reference to the election – scheduled for March 2nd. But, let’s go where? This is the unanswered question.

A new agreement to achieve the certainty of partnership in government and to settle impossible issues such as legacy will take time.

If there is no Northern Ireland Executive, what fills the gap? Some unionists are predicting a long period of direct rule; the pressing of a rewind button until some way forward can be found.

That new agreement to achieve the implementation of old agreements could mean a very long negotiation before the Northern Ireland Executive is rebuilt.

Beyond the election, politics will enter what a senior republican called “uncharted waters”.

There is also concern that dissident republicans will attempt to step into the space, fears underscored when a police officer was wounded in a gun attack in north Belfast on Sunday evening.

Brian Rowan is the author of Unfinished Peace

Does Melania Hate Donald?

Make up your own mind: http://jezebel.com/melania-hates-donald-a-theory-1791428158

A Lip-Reading Of The Trump Inauguration……

Mallie And McGuinness

Interesting piece here which I hadn’t noticed. Thanks to BNF for bringing it to my attention: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/martin-mcguinness-and-i-two-lives-two-different-paths-1.2946534

Trump’s War On The Media Was Started By Obama

Joan McKiernan takes a close look at Obama’s relations with the US media and concludes that Donald Trump is just following in his footsteps:

During the last few weeks of the Barack Obama White House, the President bid a tearful farewell at meetings with his supporters and others he worked with during his eight years in office. One encounter was with the White House press corps, a final press conference that Obama held two days before the Trump inauguration.

Trump’s campaign for Obama’s job was, in comparison, filled with hatred for the media, whose members he routinely referred to as “purveyors of fake news” and who he has now threatened to move out of the White House entirely.

In sharp contrast, Obama and the media mostly showered each other with praise. With the freeze of a Trump presidency already palpable on the horizon, America’s media was filled with nostalgia for the Obama days.

Listening to what the media and Obama had to say each to other in their farewells, I was struck, even astonished at how friendly and positive they were about each other.

Obama and the media loved each other, even though Obama

Obama and the media loved each other, even though Obama’s relationship with the press was in reality distant and mistrustful

This vision of a mutually supportive relationship was just the opposite of what I have been teaching in a college course on the American presidency. Academic researchers and journalists who follow the president have found anything but an open relationship between America’s most powerful politician and the people who are supposed to report him.

Susan Milligan, a freelance journalist who has covered the White House for the New York Daily News and The Boston Globe, concluded in a study published in The Columbia Journalism Review  that during the Obama years, the “relationship between the president and the press is more distant than it has been in a half century.”

In many ways, Obama has set a precedent that will enable Donald Trump to simply ignore the press. The Obama precedent and Trump’s actions so far raise serious questions about the ability of the media to play its critical role in a democratic society.

Presidents want to manage the news in order to present their policies in a favorable and unchallenged light. Obama turned out to be a master of that art.
Writing in Politico, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen argue that Obama was a master at limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House. He accomplished this by using technology and social media, organizing the White House’s own presentation of the news, West Wing Week, and limiting regular media access to the president.

Martha Joynt Kumar, a political scientist who studies presidential communications, has provided evidence showing that other presidents, such as Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton were much more open with the press than Obama ever was.

While Trump has been criticized for not holding a press conference since last July, Obama avoided press conferences throughout his administration. Data collected by the American Presidency Project records a total of 164 conferences or an annual average of 20.5 such events during his administration, fewer than the three previous presidents.

media

And during his encounters with the media, Obama limited the number of questions from reporters by using up the available time with very long answers.
He also held far fewer short Q and A’s than previous presidents, 94 compared to G W Bush’s 307 and Clinton’s 493. These press opportunities are important for the White House press corps to be able to understand the president’s thinking and his policies and plans in order to evaluate and explain them to the public.

Instead, Obama favored sit down one-to-one interviews with a few selected journalists. Speaking to a single journalist flattered the reporter making it harder for the interviewer to give Obama a tough time. As well, he was able to dominate these interviews with his fluent extensive answers, resulting in little information available for analysis.

The need for independent informed journalism is critical in serving as a counterbalance to executive power, which is increasingly concentrated in the person of the president. We have seen recent examples of the failure of the press to develop an independent analysis, such as in the lead up to the Iraq war of 2003.

Susan Milligan points to research carried out by New York Times reporters, Peter Baker and his colleague, national security writer Eric Schmitt, who wrote an incisive story in 2014 on how the administration underestimated the threat from the Islamic State.

However, Baker and Schmitt did not have access in the White House; they had to go to other areas of government in order to get information for their analysis.
The increasing failure of the media to provide serious news coverage is not just the fault of any particular president. The profession and individual journalists have serious problems that affect their ability to do their job. With increased media competition, there are limited resources for the important work of investigative reporting. Many have accused the White House press corps of just acting as uncritical stenographers for government agencies.

Trump's first press conference as President was characterised by his refusal to take a question from CNN's Jim Acosta (left)

Trump’s first press conference as President was characterised by his refusal to take a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta (left)

The advent of social media has also had a major impact on the way journalists do their work. Rather than asking probing questions and seeking news, they are too often more interested in promoting themselves and their organizations.
Seeking the spotlight, they all ask the same questions, frustrating government briefers, and other journalists. They are more interested in competing with each other. We saw that in Trump’s first press conference. When he attacked the CNN reporter, Jim Acosta, no one objected; no one stepped up to ask the question Acosta had put to Trump.

One of the main jobs of the media is to hold the government accountable on behalf of the public. A weakened press corps that is too often providing entertainment rather than news is now faced with a president who is extremely hostile to the press, blaming the media for whatever problems he thinks he has and pandering to an electoral base that is even more ferociously antagonistic to the media.

On his second day in office, he told a meeting at the CIA, “I have a running war with the media, they are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”
This promoter of fake news in his twitter postings has accused the media of being “purveyors of fake news.” Will the media probe? Will they reveal Trump’s lies? Or will they maintain the cowardly route to make sure they get to attend the next press briefing and get their faces and names on TV and social media?

In Praise Of A British Spy-Master

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am no great fan of British spooks, either of the RUC/PSNI variety or the British Army/MI5 sort. Nor do I have much time for their Provo/Loyalist counterparts.

Whether British or Irish, government or subversive, the scheming, dirty-dealing and secrecy that often characterises their work in the dark shadows of conflicts is the antithesis of the work that journalists do, or at least say they do/try to do. We want to know what is really going on; they will do their utmost to prevent us finding out. Or, worse, they will try to exploit, mislead and use us.

So dear reader, you will be surprised to read a few lines here in praise of Robert Hannigan who today announced his resignation as the head of GCHQ, the British government’s electronic and cyber spying agency. Apparently his wife is ill and both his parents are aged and in need of care and so he has given up his job to take on the burden of ensuring their well-being.

I wish him and his family well in the coming weeks and months.

Robert Hannigan, outgoing chief of GCHQ

Robert Hannigan, outgoing chief of GCHQ

While I would be delighted to be given the opportunity to rummage around GCHQ’s offices and computer files, let me be clear about one thing: I abhor the work that GCHQ does. This is not because I do not believe there are circumstances where such electronic spying is necessary, because there are.

No, it is because with such sweeping and largely unaccountable power comes the very real possibility of abuse and the subversion of democracy. Edward Snowden has courageously made this case and exposed the leaders of GCHQ’s American equivalent, the NSA, as liars and scoundrels.

But even the most dubious of organisations can be led by men of principle and integrity and I know from experience that Robert Hannigan was one.

Back before he worked at Downing Street and then for GCHQ, Hannigan was in charge of media relations at the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast. I encountered him first when I moved to New York in 2001 and for a year or so continued to write about the North from the US for The Sunday Tribune.

We never actually met face-to-face in those days but spoke regularly on the phone. In 2001 the peace process was still making its weary and seemingly endless journey to the St Andrews’ deal. The Assembly was shaky, a stable, working Executive more an aspiration than a reality, and there were more crises in the pipeline, amongst them bank robberies, spy-rings and IRA killings.

The arrangement was fragile to say the least.

It was at this point that myself and the Tribune were sued for libel over a story that I had filed from New York, the only time in my journalistic career that I was pursued in such a way.

The legal case eventually made it to court in Belfast and I turned up to give evidence. The Tribune was in its post-Vincent Browne phase at the time and but for that I am sure that my advice to fight the case would have been taken.

But the Independent group had a vice-like grip on the paper by this stage and the Indo had a policy of never fighting libel cases, no matter the damage done to the institution or its employees, or the strength of the case it could present.

So, I arrived to find no-one from the Tribune office in court. The responsible executive at the paper had suddenly discovered an urgent medical appointment in Dublin and I was left alone to face what came next.

Except I wasn’t quite alone. Robert Hannigan had turned up to tell me that he was ready to give evidence on behalf of the Tribune, to back up my story and to reveal to the court that he had been its source. (Needless to say, I was not going to reveal this myself)

He needn’t have done that, and if he had not turned up that day, I would not have complained. But he did.

That was a brave and principled thing to do, for which I have always been grateful. A decent man, doing an honorable thing.

And  I will admit, it even persuaded me to look at GCHQ with a slightly kinder eye during the two-and-a-bit years he headed the agency, knowing it was led by such a person.