Thursday, 3 September 2009


"In a political environment where a Sinn Fein leader is standing shoulder to shoulder with the chief constable, denouncing republicans as traitors and vowing to support whatever is required to defeat them, is it such a surprise that an off message journalist should find herself in court facing a possible prison sentence of five years. "- JM Thorne, Socialist Democracy

A very British journalist wrote in the London Times recently. “Easily the most eerie aspect of the last couple of days for me has been the sound on my car radio of Martin McGuiness, allegedly once a senior IRA commander, sounding just like a Northern Ireland Secretary of State from the Eighties.”

Whatever else McGuinness says about "making progress towards republican aims” and " unstoppable political dynamism towards a united Ireland ",  it is surely undeniable that, at the present moment in time, he is the deputy first minister of a jurisdiction which has the British monarch as its head of state. Under these circumstances, a republican who is not a dissident isn’t really a republican at all."
The outburst against “dissident journalists” is very disturbing given the ongoing threats to all journalists in the north from loyalist/ PSNI sources presently.

The Sunday World newspaper has never had sympathy for the republican cause . One of the paper’s journalists, Martin O'Hagan, who was working on a number of potentially damaging stories about police collusion with the LVF was murdered. Despite McGuinness with all the chuckles in high places, the personnel who colluded in the murder of O’Hagan are still on active service for her majesty's service.

Its over 20 years since the assassination of lawyer Pat Finucane by loyalist paramilitaries colluding with the British police. The PSNI has just appointed another one of them as their "Head Boy". McGuinness’s recent remarks are reminiscent of British minister Douglas Hogg's remarks just before Finucane’s murder, about some lawyers in northern Ireland being "unduly sympathetic" to the IRA.

Journalists should take the deputy first minister’s words as a fatwa and cover for BBC type censorship. Now as a British government minister he is seemingly attempting to brow beat the media into compliance with censorship with another fatwa. The consequences for genuine independent journalists are very worrying, particularly if they are genuine non-monarchists.

God only knows what fatwa Mullah McGuinness will give next before he is knighted like Lord Gerard Fitt. Lord Londonderry perhaps, before he is then carted off to retirement . In fact the McGuinness fatwa is straight out of BBC opinion makers speak, for the recycled monarchist propaganda of the likes of Eoghan Harris, Kevin Myers or Conor Cruise OBrien

The PSNI wanted to interrogate Breen in camera sessions with a judge from which the journalist and her legal team would be excluded. The following Socialist Democracy article by JM Thorne explains it rather well.

PSNI attempts to censor journalist
JM Thorn

17 May 2009

The attempts of the PSNI to force the journalist Suzanne Breen to hand over material relating to a number of articles she authored on the activity of republican groups highlights the degree to which state censorship in still force in the north. The articles in question contained interviews with a spokesperson for the Real IRA claiming responsibility for an attack on a British Army base in Antrim and the killing of former Sinn Fein official and state agent Dennis Donaldson. Soon after their publication PSNI detectives came to Suzanne’s home demanding that she hand over computer, disks, notes, phone, and any material relating to the stories. She was told that if she didn’t comply within three days they would seek a court order under the Terrorism Act. A case against her was launched by Chief Constable Hugh Orde after she refused to comply.

Of course there was no possibility that Suzanne, adhering to the duty of a journalist to protect their sources and fearing for her life if coerced into the role of a collector of evidence, would comply with the police demand. She expected to get the opportunity to challenge the police case when it reached court last week. But in a kafkaesque procedure her defence team were prevented from making such a challenge. This is because the Belfast Recorder Tom Burgess agreed to a police request to hold a closed session. The evidence allegedly indicating that information held by Suzanne was relevant to the investigation into the killing of the two British soldiers in Antrim was presented in private to the judge by an unidentified police officer. This was justified on the basis that if the facts relayed were made public it could interfere with the investigation. The judge said he was minded to grant the court order, but gave Suzanne Breen an opportunity to put a case why he should not.

The affect of this decision is to put severe restrictions on Suzanne’s defence team. As she said herself, it "tied her hands behind her back". How could her defence adequatley respond to a case which hasn’t been dicloased? Depsite these limitations Suzanne and her team plan to challenge the police case on two basic principles. Firstly, the protection of sources and the journalist's right to confidentiality; and secondly, on the risk to her life if she was comply with the police’s demands. She quite rightly pointed out that the case could have implications for the entire profession of journalism as it could interfere with the reporter's ability to protect any type of source in any story. "This case potentially could close down journalism," she said.

With this comment Suzanne Breen goes to the heart of what theses legal proceedings are all about. They are not about investigating the killings, much less about producing evidence for a potential court case. What appeared in the articles or the supporting notes is unlikely to constitute evidence or add to the information that the police already possess. Indeed, Suzanne has made the point the she has written a number of articles over the years containing interviews with paramilitaries - such as the one with UDA members who boasted of murdering a Catholic man – which drew no such attention from the police. The purpose of the current case is to censor and intimidate. It comes at a time when there is a great of sensitivity and concern over the stability of the settlement and the growth of republican groups. Suzanne Breen is coming under pressure because she is one of the few journalists who take a more sceptical view of the peace process, particularly the role of Sinn Fein, and write articles that quote republican sources. In the repressive atmosphere following the killings of security force personnel such independent journalism cannot be tolerated.

Indeed, in the attempt to browbeat the media, it is Sinn Fein that has led the charge. It was Martin McGuinness who co-singed a letter with the DUP First Minister complaining to the proprietor of the Belfast Telegraph about the paper’s “negative” coverage of the Executive. In a more threatening tone McGuinness has lambasted what he called ‘dissident journalists’, accusing them of giving succor to the Real IRA. In a political environment where a Sinn Fein leader is standing shoulder to shoulder with the chief constable, denouncing republicans as traitors and vowing to support whatever is required to defeat them, is it such a surprise that an off message journalist should find herself in court facing a possible prison sentence of five years.

After the recent legal proceedings Suzanne Breen said it was quite disgraceful what was happening “when there is meant to be a new dispensation." But the fact is what is happening to her is just one manifestation of the repression that is part and parcel of the new dispensation. So alongside the harassment of journalists, there is 28-day detention and moves to re-introduce super grass trials – all of which are backed up by a politicised security apparatus and judicial system. But there is hope that in the Suzanne Breen case at least such repression isn’t insurmountable. The case of Ed Maloney, her predecessor as the Sunday Tribune’s northern editor, who faced similar legal action over articles he wrote on the role of state agents in the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, shows that a determined campaign that garners widespread support can succeed.

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