1 March 2021

Greenslade’s disgraceful IRA apologia rests on cartoon history and wilful ignorance

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For many years, it was an open secret that the former Guardian journalist and Daily Mirror editor, Roy Greenslade, supported the IRA and its campaign of violence.

In 2012, the media columnist Stephen Glover criticised Gleenslade’s lack of candour, after he publicly attacked The Guardian’s Ireland correspondent, Henry McDonald, for suggesting republican paramilitaries were involved in a murder in Belfast. “When he next writes about Northern Ireland, Mr Greenslade should be open about his allegiances,” Glover recommended.

The Irish journalist and historian, Ruth Dudley Edwards, described Greenslade as a “Jekyll and Hyde” character. “The professor of journalism at City University since 2003 is the distinguished Dr Jekyll Greenslade, upholder of high journalistic standards,” she wrote, “Mr Hyde Greenslade – who writes about Ireland – is tunnel-visioned, partisan and angry and has been guilty of ethical lapses.”

Now, at least, Mr Greenslade can no longer be accused of hiding his affiliations. He has written a lengthy, self-absorbed essay for the British Journalism Review, explaining why he “cheered on the IRA from Fleet Street”. He was forced to keep his views secret because, “I needed a wage…I was on the verge of taking a mortgage”.

Greenslade constructs the case for supporting a brutal terrorist campaign from a cartoon version of Northern Ireland’s history, misty-eyed romanticism about republicanism and wilful ignorance of the true impact of violence.

He claims he was “in complete agreement with the right of the Irish people to engage in armed struggle,” ignoring the fact that the great majority of Irish people, north and south of the border and on both sides of the political divide, rejected the IRA’s tactics throughout the Troubles.

His assertion that republicans killed civilians “by accident” is as naïve as it is offensive. There were 650 people killed in such ‘accidents’ during the IRA’s campaign, many of them dying in explosions that were intended to cause indiscriminate carnage. According to Greenslade, though, the authorities were responsible for these deaths, rather than the bombers. The Provos he met in smoky Belfast pubs assured him that the security forces deliberately failed to act quickly when they phoned through bomb warnings.

He repeats the republican nostrum about ‘collusion’, implying that most violence was orchestrated by British counter-intelligence groups, mysteriously waging a war against themselves.

The idea that the army or police acted in league with loyalist paramilitaries routinely, or that many IRA crimes were provocations plotted by double-agents, makes no sense if you think about it even briefly. Consider how few IRA men were killed by loyalist groups or the scale of republicans’ culpability for the worst atrocities (they carried out 60% of murders during the Troubles).

Having salved his conscience with this nonsense, though, Greenslade was free to embrace the republican cause even more wholeheartedly. He admits that he stood surety for John Downey, who was subsequently found to be responsible for the Hyde Park bomb by a civil court, and praises his “dedication to peace”. Mark Tipper, whose brother Simon was killed in the attack, says, “Downey spent 37 years fighting to evade and escape justice, never disavowing violence; while Greenslade continues to prove himself a coward and a fraud.”

Greenslade’s support for the IRA may be an extreme case, but it is not unusual for left-wing journalists or politicians to become infatuated with terrorists and tyrants. His apologia provides a useful insight into that mindset, but it also raises questions about journalistic ethics. This is, after all, a former professor of journalism (though he has now resigned from his visiting post at City University), whose role at The Guardian was to hold other journalists to account.

Henry McDonald, the paper’s former Ireland correspondent, says that the media columnist undermined his work, “because I refused to be driven by a Sinn Fein agenda, like him”. McDonald adds: “He never once did the rudimentary, basic requirement of journalism. He failed to ring me up and ask for my reaction. Never once was I asked for a quote or to react to what he was writing.”

One of Greenslade’s complaints was that The Guardian did not cover one of Sinn Fein’s annual conferences and, in particular, a speech by a Presbyterian minister which described Martin McGuinness as one of the “true great leaders of modern times”. “I was meant to be there and indeed travelled up from Dublin for the event,” Henry explains, “but when I arrived at my parents’ house there was an ambulance outside working to save my mother’s life. She was taken to Belfast City Hospital and never left it.”

The journalist who attacked a colleague whose mother was dying for failing to cover panegyrics to an IRA leader now lectures journalists in the ethics of their trade. In fact, he feels aggrieved, because he was unable to share his enthusiasm for a murderous terror organisation openly during his career in journalism. In his view, it demonstrates how “a supposedly free press marginalises all ideas counter to the prevailing mainstream ideology”.

Perhaps the greater question is; how was it possible for Greenslade to carve out a successful career in British newspapers, while simultaneously promoting a hate-filled ideology that sought to murder and bomb the United Kingdom into withdrawing from Northern Ireland?

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Owen Polley is a writer, commentator, consultant, and the co-author 'An Agenda for Northern Ireland After Brexit'.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.