This is a little late I know, but it’s been hard work tracking down Ireland’s second most eccentric political journal (after the Hibernian), the Irish Political Review, that scurrilous organ produced by what used to be known as the British and Irish Communist Organisation. Although the September issue isn’t half bad – Mark Langhammer’s speech on Labour organisation in the North is well worth a look – I’m more interested in August’s issue, which has no less than twelve separate articles attacking the Irish Times. Even given that the Times is a long-established IPR bugbear, and that it is annoying in its own right, this seems somewhat excessive.
The IPR case is that the Times is an anti-national element in the literal sense of being an agency of a foreign state – that is, Britain – within the Irish body politic. Like a lot of BICO/IPR arguments, it’s based on a fair amount of historical fact, plus a great big whack of post facto rationalisation, and the squeezing of seemingly disparate events into an internally coherent framework – much better than the Judeo-Masonic conspiracies the Hibernian goes in for, but still veering towards the paranoid. The IPR case against our paper of record goes something like this:
a) The Irish Times was the historic paper of southern unionism, and never broke from its Protestant-colonial heritage.
b) Following on from that, the Times did not partake in the democratic republican consensus that obtained in the 26 counties following the de Valera ascendancy in the 1930s, and has remained hostile to Fianna Fáil (and, by implication, the Irish electorate that stubbornly keeps the buggers in power).
c) Upon the eruption in the North in 1969, the Times took a strongly pro-British and pro-unionist line, and has continued to do so. This is in keeping with its being essentially an anti-national paper.
d) In the current context, Madam Editrix Geraldine Kennedy has arrogated to herself the role of opposition, on the grounds that the official opposition in Leinster House has shown itself unequal to the task of removing Bertie from power. Therefore the Times, using the shambolic and probably unconstitutional Tribunal system as its weapon, has determined to unseat the elected government of the State by any means necessary.
There is other stuff involved, such as a preoccupation with Douglas Gageby’s correspondence, and a retroactive defence of the late Seán Doherty’s bugging activities during the Year of GUBU, but I think I have the essentials. And it’s not a view that I’m entirely unsympathetic to. But I do think the thread of history is a little more tangled than that, and there are much more illuminating things to be said.
The most interesting point is how the Times went from being the organ of southern unionism to the singular entity it is today. This is by no means an unbroken progression of anti-national journalism. Cast your mind back to the late 1930s, and the array of daily papers then extant in the South. The Indo had transformed itself in the early 1920s from a Redmondite paper to an unofficial mouthpiece for Cumann na nGaedheal and, therefore, the Saorstát equivalent of Pravda. (Remember that Cumann na nGaedheal was not just the ruling party, but effectively was the Saorstát.) It was at least as hostile to the new FF dispensation as the Times. Down in Cork, the Examiner had likewise been Redmondite, but had accommodated itself to the fact that there were few Redmondites and even fewer unionists in Munster. And of course you had the newly formed Irish Press as Dev’s voice on earth.
The Times in this period was facing a similar conundrum to the Examiner, in that the unionist community in Dublin was in long-term decline both demographically and sociologically. What Bertie Smyllie realised was that, while the Ascendancy still had enough critical mass to sustain a paper, for the sake of the Times’ long-term future he had better expand its appeal. The August IPR actually recognises this, but then dismisses it as of no importance, the new arriviste readership simply assimilated the Ascendancy worldview. I don’t think this will do. It may have applied in a limited way to the new layer of businessmen who accompanied their growing prosperity with an affected interest in golf and rugger, but much less so to the hordes of rustics now ensconced in the Civil Service. Then you must recall that the Times was, faute de mieux, the paper of choice of our national intelligentsia, such as it was, who had little affinity with the Saorstát mercantilism of the Indo or the völkisch populism of the Press. Cruiskeen Lawn did not appear in the Times by accident.
Now it is true that the Times never lost touch with its core readership of Church of Ireland vicars and Trinity dons, but to explain the paper’s record over recent decades you need something more. That something more is the emergence of the neo-democratic D4 caste, about which the IPR’s recent collaborator Des Fennell has written so well. D4 is worthy of an in-depth study in itself, but I’ll remark that, while it is natural that the bien-pensants should find their most congenial home at the Times, the vast majority of them were not Protestant, many if not most were not from the traditional bourgeoisie and, with a few exceptions that will immediately leap to mind, they did not simply ape Ascendancy culture. More to the point is that, in the atmosphere of the late 60s and early 70s, the tendency that would coalesce as D4 consciously contrasted a thrusting and modern Britain with a backward and insular Ireland. Thus, Britain became normative and Irish deviations from Britishness were to be interpreted as symptoms of backwardness.
This is a colonial mindset to be sure, but it isn’t an Ascendancy one. It actually bears a considerable resemblance to that of certain social layers in the former Eastern Bloc, what Slobodan Antonić calls the “missionary intelligentsia” – and that’s something I’ll return to in the near future. But my point is this – yes, a considerable part of the Irish punditocracy is anti-national not even in the republican sense, but in the more modest sense of being in an antagonistic relationship to most of the Irish nation, or even the concept of Irishness. Yes, they tend to believe that they, the enlightened people, should be running the Irish state, rather than the Fianna Fáil cowboys who illegitimately occupy government. And yes, Britain has sought for many years to influence 26-county politics and has had no shortage of useful idiots. But, even allowing all that, to effectively put the Irish Times on a par with the coup-mongering media in Venezuela – well, we aren’t Venezuela, and it seems to me to be stretching the point just a little.