Co-opted media silence on new troubles in Northern Ireland

Rachel McGovern

International media and political attention turned to Northern Ireland last week when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a speech to the Northern Ireland Assembly urging them to continue working together. However, with a devolved government in place, Northern Ireland has slid off the agenda for most of our national press.

Once the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had decommissioned their weapons, the national and international media appeared to take the attitude that “the war is over”. The violence, however, did not disappear. Local news outlets in the province continued to report the various punishment beatings, intimidation and low level dissident activity.

Typically, if the media is not reporting and investigating this type of news, it is a clear failure on their part, as shown in the poor coverage of the genocide taking place in Darfur and the civil war in Sri Lanka.

National media appears to have self-censored it's reporting of the steady low-level growth of dissident activity in Northern Ireland. Newspapers and broadcasters have ignored the kind of violence that would draw attention if it occurred anywhere else in the British Isles.

The government, a historic alliance of Sinn Fein, the Irish republican party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), are eager to deny recusants of the Real IRA any form of validity. National media appear to have concurred with this.

It wasn't until March this year when two soldiers were gunned down and a PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) officer was killed that the national media once again focused its gaze on the Northern Ireland situation. Clinton's speech acknowledged the challenges that face the fledgling democratic institution.

She said: "The killings this March, of Police Constable Stephen Carroll and soldiers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar remind us that there are still those looking to seize any opportunity to undermine the process, and to destabilise this government. Now they are watching this assembly for signs of uncertainty or internal disagreement. They want to derail your confidence. And though they are small in number, their thuggish tactics and destructive ambitions threaten the security of every family in Northern Ireland. Moving ahead together with the process will leave them stranded on the wrong side of history."

There are an increasing number of new reports about dissident activity in Northern Ireland; a 600lb bomb deactivated, Real IRA recruitment drives and thwarted illegal arms deals in Eastern Europe. Downplaying the capability of dissidents to threaten Northern Ireland's successful journey to peace was helpful in the early years of the assembly. However, with destruction and murder re-emerging as an acceptable strategy for the extremists, the media must hold them to account for the damage they cause. And the Northern Ireland government must be reminded of its responsibility for the security of Northern Irish people.