ALMOST two weeks after spiking Kevin Myers's column suggesting the IRA was responsible for the £22m Northern Bank robbery, the Irish Times gingerly dipped its toe into the story last week with a report that there might possibly, after all, be a "nationalist" connection.
After carrying a front-page lead story on December 23 confidently saying that the IRA "denied" carrying out the biggest peace-time bank robbery in European history, the Old Lady of D'Olier Street decided a bit of a U-turn was called for.
As to be expected, there was absolutely nothing new in either of two stories that appeared on Tuesday and Wednesday which rehashed material that appeared in most other papers two weeks earlier. The first said that the PSNI investigation focus was in "nationalist west Belfast" and the second that there could be "major political repercussions" if the IRA did it.
The Fifth Column can only commiserate with the poor befuddled Irish Times readers who might be forgiven for thinking due to the lapse in time that the IT was possibly telling them about some other £22m robbery. There should be a banner over the Irish Times newsdesk declaring: "If it's news, it's news to us."
Sources inside the D'Olier Street offices, however, say that the appearance of the two robbery stories was prompted by last week's embarrassing revelation in the Sunday Independent that the (news)paper had spiked Myers's column on the day it ran the front page lead story about the Provos' "denial".
Although shocked by the decision to spike his column, Myers appears to have been mollified by Editor Geraldine 'Madame' Kennedy, who was apparently able to persuade the columnist that the decision to spike his column and run the IRA denial was a result of some (unlikely) kind of misunderstanding. Myers is expected to return to less contentious matters in his column from now on.
Meanwhile, the one term that IT hacks won't use in relation to the Northern Bank robbers is 'Provisionals' or 'Provisional'. The paper had used the term to describe the IRA for more than three decades until an angry letter from Gerry Adams last July demanding that the paper desist from using the term.
The online magazine, the Blanket , has carried out a survey on the Lexis Nexus database late last year and found that in the three months up to the letter the terms 'provisionals' or 'provisional' was frequently used - in about 16 per cent of IT articles referring to Sinn Fein or the IRA.
Following Adams's letter, the term virtually disappeared from the IT being used only once afterwards in an obit about Joe Cahill. As the Blanket pointed out, avoiding the use of the 'P' word would have proved rather difficult in trying to explain which branch of the IRA Cahill went to after the split from the old Official IRA.
If he had any wit, Adams should demand an apology from the IT for its temerity in suggesting any link between his boys and the Northern Bank job. He'd probably get it.