The RTE broadcaster had nobody in studio to challenge Tim Pat Coogan's waffle, writes John-Paul McCarthy
ROB Morrison and Steve Carson's editorial review of the Frontline presidential debate fiasco stated that it was "wrong that no direct, challenging question from an audience member was posed" to certain panellists.
Though careful to rule out "bias or partiality", their review did force managing director of RTE Kevin Bakhurst to admit that "the production was less rigorous than it should have been".
Now, the Morrison-Carson strictures about the lack of "direct, challenging" questions resonates.
Last March the former public relations officer for IRA hunger strikers, Richard O'Rawe, complained that the Pat Kenny radio show failed on two separate occasions to include him in panel discussions with Danny Morrison, even though O'Rawe's own book, Blanketmen, was being filleted on live radio.
Kenny failed the "direct, challenging question" test again last week by giving Tim Pat Coogan uninterrupted airtime to rework John Mitchel's Victorian argument that the Famine was a British-backed act of calculated genocide. Having chaired a riveting debate on the criminal ambitions of Dublin's dissident paramilitary groups arising out of RTE Love/Hate show that same week, Kenny just rolled over for Coogan.
Faced with Coogan's unintentionally hilarious argument that the Famine inculcated a "learned helplessness" syndrome, Pat had no one on hand to puncture this waffle.
Niall O Ciosain at NUIG and Cormac O Grada at UCD have done the most sophisticated work on the psychological legacy of the Famine using Irish language sources, and I reckon both would dismiss "learned helplessness" as the stuff of daytime television if asked to contribute.
O Ciosain, in particular, wrote a moving essay showing how those most directly affected by the catastrophe of the 1840s referred to their melancholy fate simply as "aimsir an dhroch-shaoil" – literally "the time of the bad-life".
Most reasonable people would read the largely anti-political, escapist tone of these Irish sources as mandating some element of analytical restraint when assessing the problem of legacy.
Not Coogan, though, who went on to work some of Charles Trevelyan's anti-Irish polemics fairly hard.
I doubt he would have been allowed to dismiss the assistant secretary to the Treasury as a mere "psychopath", though, if someone on Kenny's staff had Paul Bew flanking him in studio.
Bew's book, The Politics of Enmity, contains the most sophisticated and demanding analysis of the Famine in recent years, but judging from the bibliography at the back of Coogan's book, he couldn't even be bothered to read it because it is not cited.
But had Bew been in studio, he could have spoken about the wicked Trevelyan's letter to Fr Mathew of Cork in October 1846, where he said: "With you I regard the prospect of Ireland with profound melancholy; but I fear much less the judgement of God than from the aggravation of men owing to the ignorance, the selfish and evil passions of men!"
Sounds very much like the opening bar in a genocide, right?
Had anyone on Kenny's team read Bew, they might have asked Coogan to explain why the chief inspiration for his own thesis, John Mitchel, opposed Irish appeals for relief from the UK exchequer or why he defended the resident Irish landlords against the charge of complicity in genocide. Mitchel described how they came to "devote themselves to the task of saving their poor people alive".
What kind of a genocidal regime fails to co-opt local help?
Coogan referred derisively then to "the Whig thing".
This was short-hand for the Whig ministry's complex ideas about the nature of capitalist modernisation in semi-feudal societies.
This "Whig thing" forms the central pivot of Coogan's argument that the Famine breached the UN Convention on Genocide.
Here's a typical example of the Famine-era "Whig thing".
This was written by a landlord in Kerry who was giving instructions to his minions about running the demeaning public works for starving paupers in his locality:
"Take care to have the accounts most accurately kept. Go through the form of giving a ticket to every man employed, and give it previous to or on the day of his beginning to work. Be vigilant in matter of form as well as in substance".
Any idea who the author of this classic statement of the penny-pinching "Whig thing" was? Maybe Trevelyan or even John Russell, the Famine Queen's callous first lord of the treasury, who helped lever the Irish Catholics into the Commons in 1829?
No. This was written by Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator himself.
And if the "Whig thing" is per se genocidal, then Russell et al just got a new cellmate in the celestial Hague.