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rights, freedoms and repression |
Friday June 02, 2006 00:15 by Jude Collins - Daily Ireland 1 June 2006
I spy with my little eye... story is not quite right
If you’re looking at a report in the media, one of the first questions the experts say you should ask is “Who produced this report?” Depending on the answer to that question, your understanding of the report can change dramatically.
For example, I came on a report about Sammy Wilson recently. It consisted of four pages, and inside the four pages I found ten photographs of Sammy: two on the first page, two on the second, two on the third, and four photographs on the last. Since it had the word ‘Westminster’ in its title and an image of the British House of Commons, I assumed the report had been produced by some source within Westminster – an all-party committee, perhaps - and I was mightily impressed. Ten photographs inside four pages! The East Antrim MP must have really made his House of Commons colleagues sit up to get that sort of attention.
Story in June 1 2006 Daily Ireland
Then I looked again and realised that the source of the report was not some third party, but Sammy himself. From being a glowing tribute, the ten photographs began to look more like the work of a man in love with his own face.
When I read that Sammy had spoken in more than 50 debates and signed 200 Early Day motions and asked nearly 200 parliamentary questions, the fact that HE was telling me all these things made them look more than a bit self-serving. I even began to wonder if Sammy's questions had been smart or stupid, his Early Day motions dazzling or dumb, his debate contributions insightful or inane. Unfortunately Sammy didn't give me that information in his report.
He did tell me that he's the education spokesman for his party, which got an even bigger and more worrying thought going. As education spokesman, shouldn't Sammy be setting a good example to the rest of us, particularly young people, in the presentation of the reports he produces?
Or maybe he had a reason for heading his report ‘westminster brief’ rather than following the accepted convention for document titles and calling it ‘Westminster Brief’. I’ll bet Sammy knows about hyphens, so when he talks about ‘post primary education’ instead of ‘post-primary education’, it's almost certainly a tongue-in-cheek deliberate mistake. And when he does an Adrian Mole and writes: ‘I spend at least 2 or 3 days a week in the House of Commons’ he knows that grown-ups would use ‘I spend at least two or three days a week in the House of Commons’.
A former teacher, Sammy is sad to see the 11+ go, since he sees “the case for academic selection as the most fair and appropriate admission criteria” . He's so sad, in fact, he seems to have forgotten that ‘criteria' is a plural noun, which makes talk about academic selection being the ‘the most fair and appropriate admission criteria' a bit like writing ‘My clothes is all spread around the garden and I is buck naked’.
Sometimes, of course, reports are written for politicians, but not this one: there's Sammy's own signature at the end of it, just after the words ‘Yours sincerely'. Actually, Sammy has written ‘Yours Sincerely', another classic Adrian Mole gaffe, although I'm sure that's deliberate as well. He's such a laugh, Sammy.
Anyway, you can see that when you read a report like this one, spattered with photographs and riddled with punctuation and grammatical mistakes, it's important to know who produced it: in this case S Wilson, DUP MP and MLA, former teacher.
Sammy’s old Assembly jousting partner, Martin McGuinness, was also involved with a report this week, except the Sinn Féin MP didn't write the report – he had it written about him. Since the report contained the interesting claim that Mr McGuinness was once a British spy, it's useful again to ask the question “Who produced this report?"
Well, the story was originally carried by The Sunday World, edited by Jim McDowell. You remember Jim – used to do a man-of-the-people comment piece on Talk Back, where he'd make affectionate references to ‘Ulster' and ‘this great wee country of ours' when talking about the six counties. Or maybe you caught him on his BBC TV series Straight Talking – or was it Straight Up?– hard to remember. The series involved Jim conducting interviews with important people from this part of Ireland. The most memorable was with Ronnie Flanagan, at the time Chief Constable of the RUC.
It was a half-hour interview and I remember feeling oddly disappointed that Jim hadn't got round to asking Ronnie one or two fairly obvious questions, like the question of RUC collusion in the deaths of innocent Catholics such as Pat Finucane, or the force's oddly contrasting response down the years to civil rights marches and Orange Order marches.
On the night, Jim had so many questions to ask Ronnie about his favourite recipe and how good a rugby player he had been, and the two of them were so busy chuckling over shared rugger memories, there wasn't time for the Pat Finucane and parades questions... Where was I? Oh yes. The source for the Martin-McGuinness-was-a-British-spy story was the Sunday World newspaper.
Of course Jim's paper only carried the report. The report itself was produced by a man called Martin Ingram. That's not his real name, because if you're a former Force Research Unit agent handler like Mr Ingram, it's better to use a pseudonym, in case some of the relatives of people the FRU were involved in killing might want to come to your house and do bad things to you. ‘Martin Ingram' says he has a transcript of a conversation between an M16 officer and someone called J118, which he claims is Martin McGuinness.
In the transcript, he says, they talk about discrediting the IRA by promoting a human bomb strategy, where people would be forced to carry a bomb to a security force base and then be blown up along with members of the RUC/UDR/British army. Mr Ingram says he got this transcript involving J118 (who he says is Martin McGuinness) from a former Special Branch officer.
So let's see – that's the Sunday World, the FRU, M16 and Special Branch. Put together and stirred around, that's your source for this report claiming that Martin McGuinness was a British spy.
Would the fact that all of these parties are stoutly pro-British and seethingly anti-republican have any effect on how you view this report? Does the fact that the DUP has been rushing people to microphones to stress the stunning importance of this report – does that fact affect how you see it or how much credence you give it?
Personally, it's all too much for my little head. I'm going to resolve the matter once and for all by writing to the MP for East Antrim. He'll give me an unbiased answer, won't he?
Are Martin McGuinness a Britesh spy?
Daily Ireland June 1 2006