Press Poisoners in Ireland
Forward, 30 August, 1913.
From the collection: Ireland Upon the Dissecting Table, Cork Workers’ Club 1975.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
We have in Belfast a Home Rule journal, the Irish News, a careful study of whose columns would be an enlightenment to those Socialist comrades in Great Britain who imagine in their innocence that an enthusiasm for Labour is the inevitable accompaniment of the advocacy of a measure of political freedom for Ireland.
They would find that that journal is one of the most deadly enemies of the Labour movement that this country possesses, and that it never lets slip any opportunity to wound that movement even whilst softly purring its sympathy for Labour on all possible occasions. In all Ireland there is no journal more ready to proclaim from the housetops its readiness, and the readiness of the party whose mouthpiece it is, to do something for the working class, and in all Ireland there is no journal more ready with the poniard to stab to the heart every person on party that dares to organise the workers to do anything for themselves.
In this treacherous attitude it is more up-to-date, more thoroughly modern than its rivals in the Tory press. The latter are clumsy and antiquated in their methods, as befits the exponents of an antiquated doctrine, they still clumsily adhere to obsolete methods of attack.
Let me explain. If you wish to point out the attitude of the Orange Tory press towards the aspirations of Labour, you have just to turn to their editorials, and there you will find their hostility openly and undisguisedly expressed to all that Labour holds dear. Having read the editorials, you know immediately where you are, and how fan to discount the manner in which the paper chronicles the news of the day.
But if you turn to the editorials in the Home Rule Organ, you get no such infallible index to the editorial mind.
On the contrary, you find always a sloppy sentiment sloppily expressed in favour of Labour in the editorials, but all through the news columns, and in all its headings and sub-headings, you notice that always undue prominence is given to every item that tells against Labour, the views of its most unimportant enemies are heralded forth with the utmost prolixity, and the views of its most eminent partisans are slurred over and made to read as unintelligibly as possible. If you compare the telegraphic news printed in the Irish News with the telegraphic news printed in the Daily News or Daily Record, you will find that all three Organs, having the same service and the same material to select from, the Irish News has carefully rejected everything that tells for the organised Labour movement, and has carefully suppressed every item the mere chronicling of which might convey to its readers an idea of the justice, power, or growth of the working class in any part of the world.
It has brought to bear against the Labour movement the most refined and insidious arts of character assassination.
It never moves against Labour by direct attack. It suppresses here, exaggerates there, distorts this bit of news, omits this qualifying sentence from some speech, drops casually a favourable paragraph from the report of some strike or Labour meeting, and is ever alert to seize every opportunity to spread the slime of poisonous suggestion over the most apparently innocuous report of the activities of Labour.
As I have said, it is up-to-date. The more astute of the capitalist politicians have bong since discovered that the effectual hoodwinking of the working class must not be done by impassioned or long-winded editorials, that in fact the working class voters do not devour editorials as their daily food, but that this hoodwinking and hocussing, to them so necessary, can best be done by a clever manipulation of the news items, by an unscrupulous use of their power to suppress truth and suggest falsehood when apparently only retailing the daily happenings.
You can attack an editor and impale him for false doctrine or slanderous statement in his editorial, but you cannot attack him when your only complaint is that his choice of what he shall on shall not report is different to what you think the circumstances warrant.
And this line of poisonous suggestion is just the line in which the natural instincts of the editor of the Irish News enables him to excel above his Orange contemporaries. Their line is that of naked, unashamed reaction stirring up the blackest passions in the lowest depths of human nature – the line of the obscurantist and the bigot. His line is that of the treacherous feline who purrs, and purrs, and purrs, and scratches with poisonous claws when the purr is most seductive. The following from the Irish News of 18 August is a choice sample:
Our Glasgow correspondent writes:–
“The Labour Party announce their intention of trying to increase their strength in the Glasgow Town Council at the November elections at the expense, they state, of a few reactionaries when they retire. Amongst the members of the Labour Party who retire are Councillors P.G. Stewart, A.M. Welsh, Lyon, and Bailie Alston. Councillor Lyon just now represents the Townhead Wand. In this Ward, Councillor Stewart was returned by a majority of about 40 votes through Irish support. He is a Labour Party man. Shortly afterwards Mr. Stephen J. Henry, a well-known Glasgow Catholic, sought election for the same Ward. The now Councillor Lyon opposed him and was returned.
“Certain Labour leaders in Townhead Ward professed anxiety to see Mr. Henry returned, but the real facts were that they were working against him. The Labour leaders in Municipal Glasgow in a few weeks will be anxious to get Irish Votes, and will pander to the vanity of some men by asking them to speak on their platforms selecting those men who are supposed to have influence with the Irish electors. At present there is not an Irish Nationalist in the Glasgow Town Council, and it is for the Nationalist electors to see to it that an end is put to Municipal tricksters trying to use them for their own ends, and adopting tactics of a character that hitherto has kept Irish Nationalists out of the Council. In November no candidate whose politics are of the Tory order will oppose certain Labour candidates. When the electors discover the reason there will be a rude awakening for some of the Labour Politicians.”
The methods of the Irish News are the methods of a good many of the Irish Home Rule papers; as they have to cater for a class of members whose instincts are all rebellious and revolutionary, and who are therefore drawn towards the Labour movement, it is necessary that the anti-Labour bias of the newspaper proprietors and professional politicians be hidden as carefully as possible, and the anti-Labour campaign conducted as discreetly as it can.
Moreover, the Irish News stands as the journalistic exponent of the principles of the party of which Joseph Devlin, MP is the representative in Parliament for West Belfast. And Joe’s seat in Parliament is doomed if he alienates even fifty per cent of the Labour votes. That is to say that if we take the Labour men who are Labour men before anything else, before being Nationalists or Unionists, the loss of fifty per cent of such votes means the boss of West Belfast to the Home Rulers, and giving over of the Parliamentary representation of Belfast completely to the Unionists.
The reader will thus see readily how the anti-Labour slime of the editor of the Irish News, despite the care with which it is spread, has yet aroused such feelings in West Belfast as to make the editor of that paper the most dangerous ally that the Home Rule party ever had in that division – more dangerous to Joe Devlin than a hundred Orange orators.
Other factors are contributing also that make the seat in question more and more insecure.
Quite recently an attempt was made in Dublin and the South of Ireland to organise a rival railway union to that of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. It was intended presumably to break up the forces of organised Labour on the Irish railways; its inaugural meeting was attended by a number of well-known Dublin politicians, and heralded with a great flourish of trumpets in the capitalist press.
The promoters of this scab organisation were the leading officials of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, of which Mr. Joseph Devlin, MP, is the president. It failed miserably, nevertheless.
For the past few weeks the tram men in Dublin have been preparing for a struggle for better conditions. They have the general sympathy of the Dublin public, as it is well known that they are about the lowest paid and worst treated of any tram employees in these countries. The company is, by the way, owned by the editor and proprietor of the Independent, Mr. William Martin Murphy. As soon as these men began to organise, and the possibility of a struggle began to loom large upon the horizon, an effort was made to disrupt them by the organisation of “a tram men’s union of which the directors approved”.
This disruptive effort was in the care of, and organised by the leading officials of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, of which Mr. Joseph Devlin, MP, is president.
Mark, it was only after these poor slaves of the tram line had become rebellious that an effort was made to get them into a union other than that which had educated them into a knowledge of their power.
Mr. Joseph Devlin is a very busy man, and he may not know anything of these attacks upon Labour by his journalistic ally and his A.O.H. henchmen, but there are a whole lot of voters in West Belfast fully alive to them all. And their opinion is that somebody had better call off their dogs.
In the North of Ireland, as in Great Britain, the rank and file of the A.O.H. are generally honest, hardworking Irishmen, Labour in all their sympathies. I wonder what they will say when they find out, as they will some day, that their organisation is being prostituted in the interests of Capital, that it is being made a scab-recruiting agency.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians (Board of Erin) was founded as a weapon against clerical dictation in politics; it has become a weapon of political clerics against all Catholics who refuse to take their politics from the conventional orthodox source.
Mr. Joseph Devlin, MP, used it for Nationalist purposes, it now seeks to use, if not already using him, for quite other purposes. As soon as Home Rule is passed into activity, and the inevitable reconstituting of parties takes place, should ‘Wee Joe’ elect to follow the democratic path, I should not be surprised to see the A.O.H. break him and brush him contemptuously aside, thus proving again that it is one thing to create a weapon, it is another thing to keep it in your hands, and still another thing to avoid being bruised by it when the weapon passes into the hands of others.
In other words, that the economic forces at war in society are stronger in the long run than the schemes of the most astute wire-pullers.
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Last updated on 19.8.2007