Magazine article The Spectator

There Is a Republican Cell at the Guardian. and No Threats from Its Editor Will Stop Me Saying So

Magazine article The Spectator

There Is a Republican Cell at the Guardian. and No Threats from Its Editor Will Stop Me Saying So

Article excerpt

In a recent interview in the London Evening Standard, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, said he found the government's desire to repress dissent 'repulsive'. Few would disagree with that. But unfortunately Mr Rusbridger's championing of debate and free speech does not extend to the affairs of his own newspaper. In this respect he looks rather worse than the Downing Street heavies whom he berates.

Three weeks ago I wrote an article alleging that there was an Irish Republican cell in the Guardian. This was a serious charge, and it was to be expected that Mr Rusbridger would attempt to answer it. However, he did not seek to do so by writing a letter to this magazine, as he was urged to. Instead he wrote an eight-page missive to its editor, Boris Johnson, which he asked that I should not see, demanding an apology. When this was declined Mr Rusbridger said he would write a letter for publication if at the end of it Mr Johnson indicated his agreement with its contents. After being told this was not on, Mr Rusbridger ran a leader in the Guardian making all sorts of wild and libellous claims about Mr Johnson and myself.

Mr Johnson sent a letter to the Guardian which Mr Rusbridger, defying every convention in the book, refused to publish on the grounds that it would give wider circulation to my opinions. His gossip columnist, Matthew Norman, then wrote two items, seemingly unconnected with my article, intended to damage me. You may wonder what sort of creature this Norman is that he should offer his clanking wit to fight his editor's fights. But the important point is that Mr Rusbridger would not engage in open debate. His approach was to creep up and administer a sharp jab between the ribs.

If Mr Rusbridger will not fight his own corner openly I must do it for him. His letter to Mr Johnson was personal, but the apology he wanted was not, and I will try to summarise it, Readers may recall that my original column was partly about Ronan Bennett, an energetic Republican propagandist whose partner is Georgina Henry, deputy editor of the Guardian. Mr Rusbridger was upset by my suggestion that RTE, the Irish television channel, had withdrawn support for Mr Bennett's pro-IRA film about the Easter Uprising currently being filmed in Ireland. Almost half the apology he demanded concerned this point. Mr Rusbridger is strictly correct: RTE has not pulled out, but the truth is possibly more illuminating. Senior executives at RTT_ did initially turn down the film; later, money was put in, but changes in Mr Bennett's script were asked for.

Why Mr Rusbridger should be so worked up by a supposed slur against Mr Bennett, who is not on the Guardian's payroll, though a contributor over the years, is a bit mystifying. More easily explicable is his defence of his deputy, Georgina Henry. I said that she has written leaders on Northern Ireland. Mr Rusbridger denies this, and I am happy to take his word. But why should he be so exercised by an apparently minor point? Is it because she is a Republican sympathiser and Mr Rusbridger does not want her associated in the public mind even with the Guardian's often pro-Sinn Fein leaders? As deputy editor her views must always carry weight, and she edits the paper in Mr Rusbridger's absence for six weeks of the year. It scarcely matters that her fingers never make contact with the keyboard.

We could go on. I gather that my esteemed colleague Roy Greenslade (a rather junior member of the Guardian's Republican cell) has never fished with Pat Doherty, vice-president of Sinn Fein and for many years a member of the IRA army council, for the simple reason that he does not fish. …

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