independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Irish Times' Major McDowell called his editor a 'white nigger'

THE longest-serving editor of the Irish Times, Douglas Gageby, was labelled a "white nigger" by the company Chairman Major Thomas McDowell, because of the newspaper's coverage of the North at the outset of the conflict in 1969.

The description was used by the Major, in a conversation with the-then British Ambassador in Dublin, Andrew Gilchrist, at a time when the Irish Times chairman was offering himself as a British-Irish go-between.

It was repeated in a letter from Gilchrist to WKK (Kelvin) White, attached to the Western European Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, dated October 2, 1969.

The contacts were being made in the wake of the sending of British troops to the Bogside, the murder of Samuel Devanney, batoned to death by the RUC and just weeks before the Provisional/Official IRA split.

Gilchrist's letter, which followed a lunch with McDowell on October 2, 1969, began by saying that the Major's concern over the Irish Times editorial line had been mentioned at previous meetings but "now he is hotter under the collar about it".

The Ambassador wrote: "McDowall [sic] is one of the five [Protestant] owners of the Irish Times, and he and his associates are increasingly concerned about the line the paper is taking under its present [Protestant, Belfast-born] Editor, Gageby, whom he described as a very fine journalist, an excellent man, but on Northern questions a renegade or white nigger.

"And apart from Gageby's editorial influence, there is difficulty lower down, whereby sometimes unauthorised items appear and authorised items are left out."

But McDowell went on to say he now felt that a certain degree of "guidance", in respect of which lines were helpful and which unhelpful, might be acceptable to himself and one or two of his friends on the Irish Times board; "this was what he had had in mind in telephoning to No 10," Gilchrist wrote.

"Oddly enough I had McDowell in mind in certain conversations I had in London a fortnight ago. His present approach requires rather careful handling and I shall discuss it in London next week. I am writing this letter merely in case you wish to brief No 10 and to assure them that we will do what we can to exploit this opening."

Gilchrist ended the letter by saying he would be destroying the correspondence, which, however, was retained at the Foreign Office.

The letter was released in January 2000 under the 30-year provision.

The Sunday Independent has learned that a copy was sent to Gageby, now aged 84, some months ago.

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