Montrose blinded by its peace-process tinted glasses
RTE is so wedded to its feelgood narrative that it fails to ask the hard questions, writes John-Paul McCarthy
IF ANYONE was still struggling to understand why RTE has had such a poor presidential election cycle, two of its recent programmes helped to clarify the basis of Montrose’s analytical malaise.
The reason RTE proved such easy prey for Martin McGuinness before he walked into Miriam O’Callaghan’s haymaker on Prime Time is its unquestioning commitment to the “peace process” narrative.
Being so wedded to a conservative, feelgood understanding of the 1994-2007 period, RTE lacks the motivation to subject the titans of the peace process to strict scrutiny because deep down it feels that such scrutiny “undermines the peace process”. Something like this indulgent thinking could be savoured during Gerry Adams’s outing on Morning Ireland last Monday.
Breathlessly pontificating from Dublin Airport on the looming Eta ceasefire, Adams was allowed to deliver every single one of his well-polished peace process cliches without so much as a murmur from his RTE interlocutor. In a voice that was positively drowsy with euphemism, he treated Morning Ireland listeners to the usual catalogue of “false dawns” and “step changes”, before reminding listeners that conflict happens when groups feel they lack any “alternatives”.
Adams lectured the Spanish government on the need to “embrace” marginalised groups, observing rather cosmically that “peace is a twoway street” that must be based on “inclusive agendas”. Morning Ireland failed abysmally to warn its viewers in advance that they were listening to a sermon from someone who was very much parti pris.
Morning Ireland failed to ask Adams about any of the links that had developed over the years between PIRA/ Sinn Fein and Eta, as well as with the PLO, the Colombian Farc, the Puerto Rican FALN and Mancheteros and the Turkish DHKP-C. It failed to ask Adams to what extent Eta’s brutal tactic of assassinating public officials in the Basque country was inspired by Adams’ own oft-stated belief that PIRA was justified in murdering British diplomats, Irish senators and Unionist MPs.
Morning Ireland also failed to invite Adams to draw some conclusions from the fact that Eta’s political front enjoyed greater access to the Spanish media than that afforded Adams et al at comparable stages in their evolution. Did this not disprove the PIRA/SF mantra that our own Section 31 interdiction of terrorist broadcasts served merely to prolong their terrorist campaign by ‘isolating’ them? Access to public airwaves had little discernable effect in mitigating Eta’s brutal campaign.
If anything, the Spanish experience suggests that there was a lot of hard-won wisdom in Justice Robert H Jackson’s observation after the Nuremberg trials that since it is not forbidden to put down force or violence, it should not be forbidden to punish its teaching or advocacy. Morning Ireland failed to push Adams in any way about the link between Eta’s decision to finally opt for a ceasefire and the hard-nosed policies of Spanish prime ministers Aznar and Zapatero. Could Adams seriously believe that peace processes emerge from “dialogue” rather than a hardheaded appreciation on the part of would-be revolutionaries that they cannot achieve their aims without risking selfdestruction? Any half-decent interviewer would have asked him about the parallels between PIRA’s own tacit admission of intellectual, even moral defeat after 1994 and Eta's current analysis.
Taking his or her cue from Miriam O’Callaghan’s belated moral interrogation of McGuinness, a serious interviewer would have asked Adams something like this: “Do you have any words of advice for a failed revolutionary outfit like Eta as they prepare for final-status negotiations, especially considering the fact that you ended up getting none of your major demands from either the British or Irish governments and yet still sued for peace after 1994?
PIRA failed to retain Article 2 of the Irish Constitution, failed to get the UK to be a persuader for Irish unity, failed to get free standing cross-border bodies with independent executive powers, failed to block the resurrection of an internal Northern Ireland assembly and ‘He treated listeners to the usual catalogue of false dawns’ failed to break the will of a million Irish Protestants.
And yet you claim ownership of a process that cannot be squared with Bobby Sands’s sacrifice. Can you teach Eta how to turn such obvious doctrinal defeat into the type of political success you enjoy today?” But that kind of query requires a detached and clinical attitude towards the peace process that has eluded RTE since the beginning.
Aine Lawlor’s fairly fawning profile of the departing President McAleese also failed to ask any hard or interesting questions of the formidable woman being interrogated. Instead of asking McAleese whether, for example, she thought the Irish Government made any mistakes in its handling of the peace process or whether our economic collapse vindicated elements of her own conservative Catholic analysis of market capitalism, RTE offered a bizarre critique of the President’s work on trade missions. No one asked her about her mangled comparison between the Nazis and Ulster unionists.
The BBC, by contrast, managed to make a few former British foreign secretaries squirm last year during Michael Cockerell’s fine series on Whitehall. But RTE still seems happy to trade in euphoria and euphemism.
John-Paul McCarthy writes for Beo! magazine