Whenever a new newspaper launches in any part of the world, a little voice inside one’s head cheers. Naturally that voice is all the louder when the paper is in one’s own country. So I rejoiced when I heard that a new daily title is under consideration in Northern Ireland. My enthusiasm was somewhat tempered, I confess, when I discovered that it has the backing of Sinn Fein, but it was not entirely extinguished. It is surely better for Sinn Fein to be in the business of publishing newspapers than firing bullets, and the planned title is a further piece of evidence that, whatever difficulties Northern Ireland may face, armed struggle is a thing of the past.
But, as so often in Northern Ireland, things are not quite what they seem. The group which intends to publish the new daily is seeking £3 million from the Northern Ireland Office. Not only that. The company in question, the Andersonstown Newspaper Group, has already received substantial government grants. Its publisher is Mairtin O’Muilleoir, a former Sinn Fein councillor in Belfast. The group publishes the pro-Sinn Fein Andersonstown News, the North Belfast News and the South Belfast News. By far the biggest payment it has received from government for these newspapers in the period 1999–2004 is £347,375. The Andersonstown Newspaper Group also has management responsibility for the publication of the Irish-language newspaper L