Thursday 20 October 2016

Eoghan Harris: Brendan Balfe digs up a fellow national treasure, a man ahead of his time


Published 24/06/2012 | 05:00

Politicians can't resist a bandwagon, but at least Alex White TD cannot be accused of being a Johnny-come-lately to the story of RTE's apology, after 23 years, for its appalling treatment of the late Joe Murray, the head of agricultural programmes, whose reputation was shredded by RTE to save the face of the Goodman Group. In today's Irish Times, Alex White fulsomely praises RTE for the apology.

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Pity that White, as Murray's trade union representative at the time, didn't get Murray a better result. Back in 1968 when I was an RTE union activist, we went on strike to protect reporters who were wronged. By 1987, however, the unions seemed only interested in Section 31.

Alex White congratulates RTE for "honourably and properly" apologising. But if the trade unions had shown a bit of steel at the time, Joe Murray might not have had to wait for a posthumous vindication. He died last year, still under a shadow.

I remember Joe Murray with gratitude and admiration. Gratitude, because he took me into agriculture programmes when other heads were afraid of my reputation as a radical. Admiration, because Joe's motto in argument was that of John Wesley: "Come brothers let us reason together." Reputation restored, may he rest in peace.


RealPlayer is for retired pundits. I like to listen live. But the hard drive in my head nearly crashes as I switch between the two media shows that matter: Michael O'Regan on Newstalk and Marian Finucane on RTE.

O'Regan reads out my Roy Keane piece. Rightly reckoning that no Corkmen will agree, he asks a third Corkman, Professor Gary Murphy of DCU, to adjudicate between myself and Keane.

But Gary is from Evergreen Road. No southsider is going to give a northsider like Keane the time of day. Gary buries him and Professor John Crown signs the cert.


The only good thing about the Italian game is Bill O'Herlihy's panel. Pity we can't franchise Dunphy, Brady and Giles. Dunphy's refusal to dumb down his use of the word "metaphysical" to describe the mysterious ingredient in a match deserves special praise.

The trio were proved right about Trapattoni. Defence in depth only works against mediocre teams. Trapattoni's 'Maginot Line' was easily penetrated by the highly mobile armour of Italy and Spain.

We need to create young cadres and give them time to develop ball skills. We need a coach who believes his team can play the beautiful game beautifully. We need Keane without the anger.


Shane Coleman, on Newstalk's Breakfast Show, sensibly and bravely says we should now get behind England. Sensibly, because we know most of the England players and can pronounce their names. Bravely, because the ABE brigade are secretly afraid their historic rage acts like a bolt in their belly and, if they moved on, their angry asses might fall off.

Meantime, I marvel at the Poles. Only 73 years ago, SS troops were stringing up the heroic remnants of the 50,000 Poles who perished fighting to free Warsaw. If the Poles can move on, how can our own morons continue to argue that we are the Most Oppressed People Ever?


Train to Cork. Why are railway stations still haunted by the grim ghosts of CIE? Why so many sullen male station staff in need of a shave? Why not more women?

But the trains are clean and fast and you can read the papers in peace. I ponder Charlie Flanagan's fine idea: he's bringing in Professor Ian Robertson of TCD to talk to politicians about power, its uses and abuses.

Naturally, the political correspondents are terrified of anything that is not banal and belly-rubbing. So they mock it. But, of course, the abuse of power is far from funny.

Power starts off in two separate packs: political power or money power. But it seldom stays separate. Those with political power are tempted to use it to become wealthy. Those with wealth are tempted to use it to purchase power and pull the strings of state.

In modern times, the nexus of power and wealth is the mass media. Television and newspapers are a magnet for the powerful who want to be wealthy and the wealthy who want to be powerful. Media is where they mix and merge and manipulate.

Putin abuses his political power to manipulate the media. Berlusconi abused the media to perpetuate his political power. And it can happen anywhere. All a democracy has to do is look away.


A witness at the Smithwick Tribunal claims that 25 per cent of the IRA were informers. Makes sense. It was the same story during the War of Independence.

That is why it is hard to take seriously the critics of historian Peter Hart. They imply that Protestants shot in the Bandon Valley were spies. But what would an ordinary Protestant farmer know about the inner workings of the IRA?

Gerard Murphy, the author of The Year of Disappearances, has now published a detailed refutation of Hart's critics on Murphy's website. It is intriguingly titled: "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde -- John Regan, Peter Hart and the Bandon Valley Massacre."

Murphy writes without special pleading. He simply sets out to prove that the Protestants who were shot in the Bandon Valley were not "spies". Apart from anything else this is a vital act of atonement, not only to the innocent victims, but to their many living relatives.

Murphy sums up: "The past should be interpreted in its own terms. People should be innocent until proven guilty, not the other way round." His website is:


Mary Lou McDonald, on Morning Ireland, coolly steals the line I wrote for David Trimble about Northern Ireland being "a cold house for Catholics". She speaks of a mysterious state called "The New Republic" and says it "must not be a cold house for anyone".

RTE reporters failed to ask her a few awkward questions. Is her New Republic really the old Provisional Republic? Is a 32-county Ireland still on the immediate agenda? And if unity is to be achieved peacefully, why not admit the armed struggle was wrong?

Indeed, most of the media need to retrain reporting staff to reject manipulation by the Sinn Fein drama group. Today's production, To Shake or Not to Shake, was merely another mawkish melodrama to publicise Sinn Fein.

The real question is whether the Queen should shake McGuinness's hand. His own hand is not lily-white. No wonder the Queen wears gloves.


Angela Merkel can now go back to work. But pluralist couch potatoes are torn. Who to support if the semi-final is England v Germany?

It comes down to the company you keep. And I belong to the AABE brigade: Against Anybody But England. To steel myself, I shall listen to today's edition of Brendan Balfe's brilliant new series, The Irish Eye, on RTE radio.

Balfe profiles Eamonn Andrews, the first broadcaster to move easily between multiple identities: Irish, British and Mid-Atlantic. Looking back, we can see Andrews was ahead of his time. A national treasure. Like Brendan Balfe.

Sunday Independent

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