Mandela, Conor Brady and the wonders of the internet



The internet is a miraculous invention, but for newspapers it poses many problems, the primary one being how they are going to survive.  Sales figures for newspapers everywhere are falling as people use the internet to follow events. Personally, after a life-time of buying  at least one daily newspaper, I now do all my newspaper reading online.

Which brings us to another aspect of the internet: its democratization of comment. In the old days, if you disagreed with something you read in a newspaper, you could write into the editor and s/he might or might not decide to publish your letter. That’s still the case. But if you go to the online version of the newspaper, you’ll see something much more powerful at work.

There’s an interesting example of same in today’s Irish Times. It’s an article by Conor Brady, former editor of that newspaper, and in it he describes what he calls “an embarrassing incident” during Nelson Mandela’s visit to Dublin in 1990. Mandela was asked if the IRA should be admitted to talks without first ending its violent campaign. Brady says Mandela “fumbled for an answer”. “ ‘The issue here’ he said eventually ‘is that people are slaughtering one another, when they could sit down and address the problems in a peaceful manner’.”  Mandela added that the British negotiated over Rhodesia without insisting that the Patriotic Front forces first lay down their arms.

Brady rejects this comparison, going on to point up the differences between Rhodesia and the situation in the north. He  quotes among others the British Labour Party leader of the time, Neil Kinnock, who declared the IRA were “gangsters” and would have no concessions.  Brady concludes that ‘He [Mandela] almost succeeded in walking the tight-rope; it was the unfortunate comparison with Rhodesia that tripped him up”.

So far, so usual: a columnist in a southern newspaper writes an article that’s critical of  northern republicans. Where it gets interesting is that there are fifteen Comments following the article, the great majority sharply differing from Brady’s take on the Mandela incident: “The murderous enterprise that is an empire is a very poor starting position from which to impose preconditions for negotiations”; “Seems like a perfectly logical position to take. Don’t set preconditions and start talking. You don’t need any precedents to come to this conclusion”; “The IRA were anti-apartheid and anti-sectarian. This galls people like Brady and the neocons of FF/FG/Lab who would prefer to view the north in sectarian terms”; “Frankly it’s an indication of the way we still have to go in this country when we read the editor of the IT parroting the Thatcherite line and accepting it as some kind of Gospel. Pathetic”.

There’s more of a similar nature – and some different –  but I’ll put the link at the end of this and you can judge for yourself.  The important point is that when a columnist like Conor Brady joins his voice to the many who are critical of northern republicanism, the people of the south might be forgiven for seeing this critical take as the intelligent norm and feel the need to adopt a similar attitude themselves. With the wonders of the internet, those who think otherwise have an opportunity to present their take on the issue alongside that of the journalist. Anyone who had read Conor Brady’s article and stopped there might well have come away with one view of the Mandela incident. Having read the comments which follow the article,  that view is likely to be considerably modified.

What is true for newspaper columnists is true also, of course, for bloggers. As one commenter said concerning my own blogs, the comments following a blog are usually more interesting than the blog itself.

As I say, this opportunity for a range of views on an issue modifies the power of the journalist as the sole interpreter of events. This is particularly important, given the uniform line taken on things northern by the mainstream southern media. I find myself baffled by just one thing: given that Comments can so effectively and immediately challenge an article that might otherwise be received as accepted wisdom, why do newspapers allow readers this marvellous opportunity?

Here’s the link:



4 Responses to Mandela, Conor Brady and the wonders of the internet

  1. Joe Dwyer December 28, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

    You say “the comments following a blog are usually more interesting than the blog itself” – after such a fantastic blog, I’m sure I won’t be able to oblige that one – but I’ll say my piece anyway because I’ve been pondering it for a few weeks…
    Personally, I look forward to the day when someone can adequately explain to be the distinct difference between Nelson Mandela and Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness … because so far no-one has been able to sufficiently do so. Rather than remedy my obvious confusion – the typical response is an outright rejection of the very notion! I can only think that I must be missing something fairly obvious! Anyone willing to satisfy my query feel free to comment
    Anyhow, once again Jude you’ve done an excellent job of rebutting the “Southern” perception of the “Northern” conflict. Just wish we heard from more commentators like yourself and keep up the good work.

  2. Eddie Finnegan December 28, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

    Thanks Jude. You’re on the ball as usual. As further comment I’ll include my letter to the Irish Times as it’s most unlikely to appear on Monday:

    “Of War and Peace
    Sir –
    What is it about recently deceased nonagenarians that gets your columnists and obituary editor in such a tizzy (28 December)? The combined obituaries of three Irish champions of social justice, mental healing, history teaching and spiritual endeavour do not quite equal the half-page prominence given to the inventor of the AK47-AK74. Even the photos of Fr Seán Farraher CSSp (91), Dr Conn McCluskey (98) and Dr Robert MacCarthy (99) take up less than one-quarter the space granted to Sgt Mikhail Kalashnikov (94), “father of world’s most popular assault rifle” – one in 90 million of which shares the column inches with the world’s great benefactor.
    Meanwhile, on the facing page, your predecessor Conor Brady sets about de-canonising your recently sainted Madiba (95). His feet of clay? Nelson (72), unlike Dublin’s Thatcherites and Kinnockites, was still consistently “invalid and maladroit” enough to view the big picture, irrespective of whether those AK47s were in the hands of MK, ZANU/ZAPU-PF or Provisional IRA, or indeed whether UDI had been declared in 1912, 1920, 1948 or 1965. God grant the Irish Times some of Mandela’s consistency. Lord grant Mr Brady his own early epiphany.

    Yours, etc
    E.F. “

  3. michael December 28, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    hey jude its a sustained and covert attack on sinn fein by the television and print media in the 26 counties to check the rise of republicanism no political party i know of has been subjected to such an onslaught