IT all started so well. Michelle O’Neill, in a very thoughtful and revealing interview with the ever-excellent Mark Carruthers, revealed some disturbing truths about how she was treated at school when she became pregnant at 16.

NOTHING NEW: Michelle O’Neill has always believed that there was no alternative to  armed struggle in the past – but suddenly that’s a shocking revelation

NOTHING NEW: Michelle O’Neill has always believed that there was no alternative to armed struggle in the past – but suddenly that’s a shocking revelation

Next day a raft of sympathetic stories appeared, praising her for her honesty and her resilience in overcoming obstacles put in her way by the Catholic education system. It provided a brief glimmer of hope that we may be approaching a time when the Irish media no longer view everything related to Sinn Féin and republicanism as being about the ’Ra. That glimmer was quickly extinguished.

In another part of the interview, Michelle was asked by Mark about her family’s connections to the IRA. Had there been any alternative to the taking up of arms at the start of the Troubles? Michelle said she thought there hadn’t been. That’s a view that’s shared by virtually no unionists – and it’s a view that’s not shared by a goodly number of nationalists. But it’s an absolutely mainstream republican position and, given that the IRA departed the stage decades ago, it’s an interrogation of past attitudes rather than present convictions. Which means that the Sinn Féin woman’s thoughts belong in a history book and not a news report. And, crucially, it’s a view that Michelle O’Neill has held since she came into politics over 20 years ago.

But if the ‘Ra was to be shoehorned into a new story, it was necessary to pretend that the First Minister designate had either said something new, something threatening, or both. And so the second wave of stories from the Red Lines interview began. Victims were hurt and appalled by Michelle O’Neill’s comments. There had indeed been an alternative to violence. The Sinn Féin leader in the north had created a crisis in politics.

The victims bit is the easy bit. Were he so inclined, Squinter could exploit a victim for a story every day of the week for the very simple reason that victims are uniquely exploitable because of their vulnerability. Next time the new Secretary of State opens his mouth about anything, Squinter could get on the phone and get a victim of British violence to blast, slam, lambast and condemn him. Next time Gerry Kelly opens his mouth about anything Squinter could get a victim of the IRA to blast, slam, lambast and condemn him. It’s the journalistic equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel, because many people who feel angry and impotent and ignored will grab at any chance to articulate their distress.

The other alternative bit was where the SDLP came in. There had been an alternative path, said party leader Colum Eastwood, and John Hume and the SDLP had taken it. Which is true. But it’s also true that another co-founder of the party, Paddy Devlin, stood in the middle of the Falls in 1969 and pleaded for guns to be sent up from the south, presumably because he didn’t see any alternative. Yes, he later turned his back on the young people who picked up the guns he asked for, but his story illustrates the vapidity of the proposition that choices and allegiances were either binary or simple.

As for the crisis in politics that Ian Paisley Jnr warned of, the only big crisis in politics that people can see at the moment is the cost of living emergency and the arse-clenchingly frightening predictions for further rises in the cost of fuel in the autumn and winter. And how better to distract from the fact that the DUP are refusing to get back to work to find ways of alleviating the financial burden on the most hard-pressed than pointing over there and shouting, ‘Look, the ’Ra!’

There’s not a single journalist who wrote any of these stories who couldn’t have told you what Michelle O’Neill’s answer to Mark Carruthers’ question would have been before it was asked. There’s not a single member of the SDLP who isn’t aware that Sinn Féin members believe the armed struggle to have been a contemporary necessity. And there’s not a single unionist politician who can say that the interview changed a single thing.

– What are you annoyed about again?

– She said the IRA had no choice.

– She’s probably said that a million times before.

– But it’s different now.

– In what way?

– She’s First Minister designate now.

– So what should she have said when asked the question? – She should have said she thinks they did have a choice.

– She should have lied, in other words?

– What’s the matter with that?

And the reporting begged the question, is – not was, is – there an alternative to the DUP regularly consulting the still-active and still-murderous loyalist paramilitaries before making key political decisions? Is there an alternative to senior DUP members standing underneath banner tributes to Soldier F in Derry? And if we must go back a bit, was there an alternative to the DUP forming an illegal army which imported industrial amounts of weapons to be used against Catholics?  And is there an alternative to nobody asking the DUP where those weapons went?

Assembly headphones strike a chord

IN the failed attempt to elect a new Speaker in the Assembly last week, South Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney exercised his right to deliver his speech entirely in the native tongue. Belfast Telegraph NI Editor Sam McBride was, ah, struck by what transpired.

He tweeted: “Sinn Féin’s Declan Kearney made his speech entirely in Irish – something for which there is now simultaneous translation through headsets, at SF’s request. Strikingly, many SF MLAs – among them Michelle O’Neill – reached for headsets to understand what their colleague was saying.” 

Let’s see now. Squinter doesn’t spend as much time in Stormont as Sam does, but he knows that a great deal of Sinn Féin MLAs don’t speak fluent Irish. In fact, he’d go so far as to say a majority of them would struggle to get beyond the old cúpla focal.  Matter of fact, there are very few people who Squinter knows in the inky trade who aren’t aware that Irish is by no means the lingua franca of the Chucks. It’s a surprising gap in Sam’s otherwise pretty comprehensive knowledge, it has to be said.

Had Squinter been in the chamber, he would have found it striking had significant numbers of Sinn Féin MLAs not picked up their headsets. What next, you gotta wonder? • Strikingly, not many TUV members attended the Pride parade?

• Strikingly, John Taylor’s said something really, really stupid on Twitter?

• Strikingly, Nolan’s phones are going boogaloo but he’s still got the same three callers.   (That’s enough, Ed. Three strikes and you’re out.)

Sam’s tweet was gleefully fallen upon by Her Britannic Majesty’s online army, who for some odd reason continue to find it hilarious that on an island where some five per cent of the population speaks Irish as their first language, Sinn Féin has members who aren’t fluent. Which means that they believe that the Shinners are weaponising the Irish language but sending their infantry in with no bullets. 

Bit strange, if you ask Squinter.

East Belfast not welcome in East Belfast

‘RESIDENTS complain as pitches sacrificed to GAA’. So ran a headline in last Friday’s News Letter in a story about a row erupting over the possibility of a pitch for East Belfast GAC in Victoria Park.

The story raised its head earlier in the week when taxi dispatcher, doorman, journalist, consultant and paralegal football mascot Jamie Bryson tweeted that there were “significant rumours” that East Belfast was to get a pitch in, ah, East Belfast. Quite what that has to do with a bloke from Donaghadee isn’t quite clear, but the wee man’s passion and anger were undeniable. “This is an outrageous proposal & entirely unwelcome. The vast majority of the local community do not want the GAA imposed within unionist areas.”

Squinter can’t remember My Cousin Binny getting elected to speak for East Belfast. Come to think of it, Squinter can’t remember him getting elected to speak on behalf of his neighbours in North Down, although it occurs that he put himself forward once and  had the same success as he’s since enjoyed in his new legal career. And “significant rumours”? What are those exactly? Kind of reminds Squinter of that time Jamie’s pal Moore Holmes referred to a modest turn-out at an anti-Protocol parade as “valuable numbers”. Maybe it’s a version of Ulster-Scots for wannabe politicians.

Anyway, back to this News Letter sacrifice thing. Squinter’s heard the GAA referred to as many things in a paper that’s increasingly seen as the daily transcripts of Jim Allister’s fever dreams. But presenting the organisation as some kind of malign and powerful volcano-god to which the trembling and terrified residents of East Belfast are forced to pay land and loyalty would surely have won gold if the Commonwealth Games had had a race to the bottom.