At the 2011 Assembly elections Sinn Fein ran three candidates in North Belfast, Gerry Kelly, Caral ni Chuilin and J J Magee. Kelly and Caral ni Chuilin, the two sitting Sinn Fein members, were the lead candidates and both were elected. Magee fell far short with just 3% of the vote and was not elected. Meanwhile the DUP topped the poll and was the largest party in North Belfast with 37.1% of the first preference votes and three seats.
Thereafter Magee disappeared from the news but he has emerged in the last few days as a Sinn Fein cameraman and propagandist. So what do we know about J J Magee. According to the description used when he ran as a candidate for Sinn Fein:
North Belfast businessman JJ Magee is a resident of Castle Ward where he has played a leading role as a Sinn Fein activist. He is a human rights campaigner involved [on] the boards of Relatives for Justice and the Ashton Centre. His work in North Belfast ranges from engagement with the Unionist community to support for the families of Republican prisoners. JJ has represented Sinn Fein and human rights organisations in Cuba and Palestine as well as throughout Ireland. He is dedicated and a hard worker with a lot of knowledge and experience in the area of conflict transformation.
Now back to the role of J J Magee on the Twelfth. According to media reports he was standing with a group of nationalists and republicans at Carrick Hill watching the parade as it made its way down Clifton Street and into Donegall Street. He was watching the parade and scrutinising it and at one point left the nationalist group and walked sperhaps 50 to 100 yards down towards the parade to get very close to one of the bands and film it playing. That short film clip was posted on a New Lodge website and has become the subject of much media coverage, including two full pages in today's Irish News.
The background to this episode is that there is a time when the Twelfth parade halts, to allow the County Grand Lodge officers at the front of the parade to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph at the City Hall. The ceremony normally takes about 10 to 15 minutes and during that time lodges and bands stop at the point they have reached and wait for the parade to resume.
During that delay two things happened. The first was that a female republican in the crowd at Carrick Hill shouted IRA slogans in the direction of the Orangemen who were standing at the bottom of Clifton Street and the top of Donegall Street.
Secondly and separately the Young Conway Volunteers Flute Band from the Shankill Road area were in Donegall Street, near St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. At the time, as the youtube footage shows, the doors of the chapel were closed and the gates in front of the building were closed.
Five factual errors in a short report but such is the standard of journalism in Ulster today.
The BBC also reported the incident and according to the BBC website: 'A loyalist band has been filmed stopping to play loyalist tunes outside a Catholic church in north Belfast'. Note the term 'loyalist tunes'. Meanwhile on Radio Ulster Wendy Austin said that the band played 'anti-Catholic songs'. Here again we see a repetition of some of the errors in the Belfast Telegraph.
The band played for fifteen minutes and of all the tunes that were played during that time only one has been criticised, named the old Beach Boys tune, Sloop John B, the words of which have been altered by some Scottish loyalists to refer to Irish immigration into Scotland after the 19th century Famine.
It can be argued that the band was naive or thoughless or unwise but this whole affair has been exploted by Sinn Fein in an opportunistic attempt to divert attention away from the sectarian behaviour of Irish nationalists at Carrick Hill and even more so from the extreme violence of republican hooligans and dissident republican gunmen at Ardoyne. The Sinn Fein propaganda machine went into action and an unquestioning media pumped out a garbled and erroneous version of events.
Finally the video clip by J J Magee was posted on the website www.thenewlodge.com. It is worth checking that out, as presumably journalists in the BBC and other media did. The clip is prefaced by the following introduction:
Orange Parade at the New Lodge area. We let them march on our roads, between 2 Catholic areas and this is how we are thanked.
Notice carefully the language used by the website hosting the video clip. Those who posted the clip describe Donegall Street as 'our road', and by 'our road' they mean a 'Roman Catholic road'. Is that not sectarian? Is that not controversial? Is that not the language of Irish republican apartheid? Surely Donegall Street is a largely commercial street, a shared street, which is part of Belfast city centre. It does not belong to Irish republicans, although they obviously think it does. They even describe Donegall Street as part of the 'New Lodge area'.
Yet the sectarian introduction to the video clip, which sets the context for the clip, was never mentioned in the media - another example of shoddy and superficial reporting by the Belfast Telegraph and other media.
Quite frankly the media simply took the Sinn Fein propaganda and swallowed it hook, line and sinker - no questions, no challenge, no investigation.
The entire parade will be reviewed by a number of bodies and for that reason I will hold my counsel on the matter but it does confirm two things about the media in Ulster:
2. the perspective of the media can be quite alarming - the issue has been about one band and one tune but one newspaper editor deemed the story of such a scale of importance as to devote his entire front page and another page inside to it. On that basis the dissident republican violence should have merited an entire issue of the newspaper but that was certainly not the case.