Fisking Graham Spiers

'Fisking' is an online term for deconstructing an article and showing the flaws of an argument in 'real time'. Graham Spiers' recent article for The Herald: “Celtic, a Roll of Honour, and point-scoring galore” is a perfect candidate. Graham Spiers' words are in italics, while my commentary is in normal font.

A pretty remarkable thing has happened in Scottish football in recent days - the Celtic fans have in effect just stormed the national charts with 'Roll of Honour', the Irish rebel song.The song, recorded by The Irish Brigade, laments the fate of the IRA hunger strikers who died in the Maze Prison in 1981, and cites all 10 of them as the verses unfold. It is a song which a more politically-active section of the Celtic support has chanted and, in this current scenario of national chart success, is aimed at cocking a snook at the confused - some say plainly botched - Offensive Behaviour At Football Act in Scotland.

Graham immediately gets his facts wrong. Seven were affiliated to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA or PIRA) and three with the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). It is beyond doubt that both groups collectively murdered thousands and are illegal in the UK and Ireland. Many of their victims were targeted solely for their nationality or religion. During 1981 alone – never mind before or since - the Provisional IRA and INLA murdered many people. Those the song 'laments' were part of these groups and must have approved of the killings and violence. The ten themselves had been found guilty of crimes including possession of firearms, grenades and explosives, manslaughter, punishment shootings, hijackings, attempted murder and murder. Keep these hard facts in mind.

Celtic fans and many more believe the act is a draconian hammer of free speech, and complain of police harassment in their home and on their way to matches. They have deliberately campaigned for 'Roll of Honour' to be given a Britain-wide airing in order to highlight their grievances.

Graham naively accepts that those who promote this song believe in free speech, even though the IRA and INLA silenced anyone they disagreed with by killing or intimidating them. Dr Stuart Waiton, Scotland's foremost free speech campaigner, was asked whether the five Celtic fan groups who call themselves 'Fans against Criminalisation' (FAC) are doing this for freedom of expression. He replied: “I know some who believe in free speech. I know more [in FAC] who do not. Indeed some Celtic fans have pushed for laws against Rangers singing their songs and are now being hoist by their own petard.” As a fellow Herald journalist said on twitter: “FAC want to sing songs about the IRA at football without being arrested.” Free speech is the cover for their end goal.

The campaign has been a success, and is yet another example of how football fans, if they can get their act together, can take on the establishment and have their voices heard.

Graham Spiers gave evidence to the Justice Committee when it was considering the 'Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill' and openly supported the very law he now says was 'the establishment'. The BBC report of that Justice Committee meeting was headlined: 'Pat Nevin and Graham Spiers back hate crime bill.' At that meeting he said free speech should not be 'unfettered' and that 'some thoughts should be criminalised.' But now he suggests it's a valid excuse for other people to rejoice in promoting songs about terrorists as long as they give it a context. All this at the very moment the 'Irish Question' is being answered by some through 'IRA' letter bombs to England and Republican arrests for alleged terrorism in Scotland.

But this is not the half of it. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this 'Roll of Honour' saga - notably from a few Rangers fans on social media who have been working extremely hard at dredging up their revulsion. We can very quickly cut to the chase here…what exactly is 'Roll of Honour'? There are two diametrically opposing views on this, and each claims to the gospel truth of the matter.

This is a usual trick from Graham. Instead of going after the ball, he goes for the man. He starts by caricaturing sensible disagreement as 'wailing and gnashing of teeth'. He then goes onto wrongly tell the reader that only a 'few' Rangers fans are appalled and that the 'revulsion' has to be worked at – implying it is not real. Remember, this article is pretending to be objective, but already those who don't support songs about the Provisional IRA and INLA are to be mocked, while those who support them do so with no comment.

Celtic supporters say the song is a lament, a ballad, commemorating the ultimate sacrifice made by Bobby Sands and the others in their struggles on behalf of Ireland. In this definition, Sands is a heroic martyr. Some angry Rangers fans see it very differently. Their narrative has no time for the "Irish martyr" stuff. This song, they claim, openly celebrates murderers, pure and simple. In this definition, Sands is a terrorist.

This is a very important section. Notice how he tries to show there might be two opposing views of equal worth. In Graham Spiers' own words he is saying Celtic supporters believe Provisional IRA and INLA members might be heroes, and so logically the thousands of murders might be justified. On the other side come the 'angry' Rangers fans who say the Provisional IRA and INLA were killers. The whole point of this, unless it has no inner logic, is that there might be two views which can be justified from a certain perspective. In other words, regardless of Graham Spiers' personal views, he thinks it might be possible that Celtic fans can be justified supporting the Provisional IRA and INLA, even if he personally disagrees. Also, when he talks about 'struggles on behalf of Ireland' he sanitises reality. It is the sort of self-mythologising nonsense the IRA itself would indulge in and does a disservice to the vast majority of people in both parts of Ireland who didn't want the IRA doing anything on their behalf.

I don't need to labour the point about Rangers, Celtic, and the Irish stuff. In both supports, historically, there has been a songbook overspill from The Troubles and the entire Irish Question. As embarrassing as it is to many, the IRA, the UVF and the rest of that bloody story has filled many an hour of chanting by Old Firm fans, though there is evidence in recent years that this has diminished. In this particular case of 'Roll of Honour' what we have seen is a classic case of confected anger, of faux outrage by a few Rangers fans which has been totally transparent. It is this very obvious charade which has caused Scottish newspaper editors, in the main, to totally ignore the story.

Wait! We have went from two equal viewpoints to instant judgement. And, quite incredibly, those who oppose terrorists are to be mocked, while those who support them receive no criticism. “But John” you might ask, “using Graham's logic you cannot call the members of PIRA and INLA terrorists since this is the very thing Spiers is questioning.” But he isn't!

On twitter I asked him the following:

John Gow: “You've written there is doubt whether Provisional IRA members are terrorists. What is your basis for this?”

Graham Spiers: “John, you think the IRA are terrorists. Ditto, me. But if you don't understand context and interpretation in this, I can't help you.”

John Gow: “In what context are you saying Provisional IRA & INLA members are not terrorists?”

Graham Spiers: “From the context of those who share a totally different narrative from you and me about 'the Irish question' and the IRA.”

Unbelievably, he confirms he agrees with those Rangers fans he ridicules. The IRA, he says, are a terrorist group and in his opinion, there is no justification for him personally. But then he goes on to confuse context with moral justification. There is always a context for killers, but that context in no way justifies what they do. The Brighton Bombing, Warrington Bombing, 9/11 or 7 July bombing in London all had a context for those who supported them, but no normal person can say it is justified – even from another perspective.

His logic on why Celtic supporters might support the Provisional IRA is simply the context that they support it and that's that. He says this like its a nuanced philosophical point but its the excuse all bigots give to justify themselves. Is racism okay because racists have always supported racism? Is religious bigotry fine because bigots have a 'totally different narrative'? Do loyalist terrorists have a point because killing old men in pubs is their answer to the 'Irish Question'? This argument is so bad it is as embarrassing as it is disturbing.

And how much of an insult to the vast majority of the people of Ireland can you give than to believe supporting the Provisional IRA is a possible answer for them to the 'Irish Question? When the Smethwick report was released it contained evidence of collusion between the Garda and Provisional IRA in murdering UK police officers - and there was nothing but disgust in Ireland. Anyone who saw the outraged reaction of the Irish people and politicians against Gerry Adam's attempts at giving context to the murders, would be in no doubt that only Sinn Fein will agree with Graham Spiers on 'context'.

Nonetheless, the question should still be asked: do we want or need this sort of stuff being chanted by Celtic and Rangers fans? Some Celtic supporters love 'Roll of Honour' and its respect for the IRA. Some Rangers fans love and sing 'Build My Gallows', a song on the very same subject, except its message is in reverse - it's about going off to fight the IRA. On and on this pantomime goes, of blow and counter-blow, revulsion and counter-revulsion, outrage and counter-outrage.

I agree, but this is a contradiction to the rest of the article. Am I wrong, or was a pro-IRA song not a blow for 'the establishment' earlier?

I've had a quick check of recent columns I've written on this business. I'm on record as saying the IRA stuff among some Celtic fans is "deplorable", "detestable" and "cack". Nothing in recent days has made me change my mind on that.

These are the very words Rangers fans, and others, are using, so why is he complaining about it? In the past Graham has dehumanised Rangers fans by calling them a 'subspecies', 'backward', and a 'white underclass', and now he is angry at them for agreeing with him! Furthermore, he has written that a Rangers fan who sings legal and non-sectarian British songs at football is a 'caveman'. Compare that to this article.

On the other hand, I'm perfectly aware that "the Irish question" has divided politicians, writers and thinkers for nigh-on 100 years. Narrative and interpretation are the very keys to this vexed story.

This from the man who says, “It doesn't sound very convincing these days to argue that, when Celtic fans chant about the IRA, they are in fact referring to an Irish liberation movement of nearly 100 years ago, rather than the terror group of recent times. This is a semantic we can do without.”

Yes, that is it. That is the point myself and the others being sneered at are making. We should do without the semantics of pretending terror groups have heroes or can be justified. Supporting a united Ireland and pursuing that goal through legal and democratic means is a valid and normal political choice - even if you disagree with it. It is not the same as supporting the Provisional IRA. Does Graham realise the difference?

Which is why I respect the right of certain Celtic supporters to severely disagree with my own view of some of their polemics.

Is he saying he respects the right of Celtic Supporters to support songs or glorify actions of the Provisional IRA and INLA? Why does he respect this, especially when he thinks they are terrorists?

And I'll take no lectures from anyone - Rangers fans or anyone else - who happily insist that interpretation is nothing, that the age-long dispute among writers and thinkers about Ireland is an artifice, and that terrorists are terrorists, end of.

He agrees that terrorists are terrorists – end of. So why is he angry at those he agrees with? And no-one is saying the interpretation of the Provisional IRA and INLA is 'nothing'. They are saying it is 'detestable' and deplorable'. Just like him!

The fact is, the truth of this political saga reaches way beyond football fans and their phony outrage and cyber point-scoring. Ironically, while 'Roll of Honour' has stormed the charts, the Green Brigade have made an unexpected reappearance at Celtic Park, to be lauded by Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager. This is also quite confusing - because not 10 weeks ago this bellowing group of Celtic fans were evicted by the club due to some of their antics. Celtic FC continue to struggle with their identity, their tradition. They want the Green Brigade - Lennon loves them - but not their Irish politics. The club loves their chanting, but not their Bobby Sands displays. There is no end to this. Football wants politics kept at arm's length, but football fans across Europe – not just in Glasgow - are having none of it.

Graham Spiers wrote three articles supporting the Green Brigade when Celtic supported their behaviour. He wrote one article condemning them when Celtic condemned them. When he says the return of the Green Brigade is 'confusing' he is telling the truth. We will have to wait to see what Celtic say for a fifth Spiers article.

Can I end by saying that there should be debate about free speech - we don't have a right not to be offended - but we should not make excuses for Republican or Loyalist terror groups and their sympathisers either. If anything, the whole point of free speech is to shine a light on inconsistent and harmful beliefs. Those who support the ideology behind 'Roll of Honour' want others to talk about bans and censorship. What they don't want is open dialogue because they know their views are indefensible.