News Eoghan Harris

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Eoghan Harris: My icy-cold swim with 'Oceans Seven' Redmond

Published 29/07/2012 | 05:00

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West Cork in rain and fog is still a delight. Like looking at weather through a wine glass filled with champagne. Now perhaps the Baltimore tourist police will let me go home to watch the London Olympics.

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But after last week's rain and relentless radio and television, I have a question. Why does Alex White get more airtime than any other politician? He's on RTE from dawn to dusk. In between he's on Browne.

Turn on the television and he's there. Nodding away judicially. Or judicially nodding away. Or just nodding. Even on radio I can see him nodding.

Less favoured politicians wonder why White is RTE's favourite filler. Applying the Sherlock Holmes principle of logical elimination, we are left with three reasons. He is a former RTE radio producer. He was a leading activist against Section 31.

Giving us wall-to-wall White is a reflexive reaction of RTE's radical chic canteen culture. And the third reason? He's a barrister.

* * * * *

Amazingly, Alex White did nor appear on John Bowman's Battle Station, which dealt with RTE and politics over the past 50 years. What a pity. Because White might have been able to shed some light on a strange event spawned by the struggle against Section 31.

In 1987, a resolution condemning the Enniskillen bombing was rejected at a trade union meeting of radio producers. I left the FWUI in protest. The motives of the radio producers who failed to pass the motion remain opaque.

Not that I blame John Bowman's Battle Station for passing over this peculiar affair. They had far too much to cover. But some of the more glaring gaps surely warrant another programme.

Three come to mind. The 7 Days programme on the Special Branch and the politics of the moneylending tribunal. The role of satirical shows such as Hall's Pictorial Weekly, produced by John Condon, and Niall Toibin's If the Cap Fits.

Finally, the Feach programme with Brendan O hEither and Proinsias Mac Aonghusa. This sometimes rivalled 7 Days in the ratings. Feach's approach to the Irish language was as revolutionary in its day as O Riada's renewal of Irish traditional music. A clip showing O hEither's incisive use of modern Irish would confirm that.

But it was good to hear Muiris Mac Conghail pay tribute to the memory of Gunnar Rugheimer, the pioneering Controller of Programmes, who was pushed out of RTE in his prime. A hero in the struggle against fascism in his native Norway, his contract wasn't renewed - it didn't help that he was a foreigner.

* * * * *

Last week, in spite of the rain, I swam every day in the icy waters of Lough Ine, near Skibbereen. By Wednesday I was ready to wimp out and wear a wet suit. But I manned up when Mary O'Brien of Skibbereen reminded me of the day I swam with the man who swam the Seven Channels.

Not many people know I swam with Steve Redmond. That possibly includes Steve Redmond. Three years ago, swimming on my own in Lough Ine, supervised by Mary O'Brien at the pier, Steve waded into the water near me -- and shouted at the cold shock.

When we remonstrated that he had just swum the English Channel, Steve said that Lough Ine was a lot colder. He then powered past me as if he had an outboard engine on his ankle. So I can also boast that when Steve Redmond wimped about the cold, I clamped my teeth until he was out of sight. Lockjaw helped.

* * * * *

Field's of Skibbereen has just won Checkout magazine's best supermarket award. John Field deserves it. Drop in any time of day and you will find him roaming the floor, stocking the shelves or packing bags himself at the checkout. This is the private sector at its best, profit as the engine of excellence.

Baking was one of three categories in which Field's came first. This did not surprise me. Denis McSweeney, a master baker, retired from Field's a few years ago. But he still keeps a loving eye on the lustre of the loaves.

Denis recently looked over some loaves and remarked to John Field: "I'd say they're going in a bit too hot." John promptly took him down to the bakery. A thermometer confirmed the mix was indeed three degrees warmer than normal.

Denis's aunt, the late Miss Browne, a legendary local teacher in Baltimore, whose pupils included Dermot Desmond, a shareholder in this newspaper, was also a fount of political folklore and memory. In old age she could still summon up Cork at the start of the last century.

And she clearly recalled the cry that went up from the shawlies before the Cork city brawls between John Redmond's 'Mollies' and William O'Brien's 'All for Irelands'. "Put a pin in your hair girl and folly the band." The "pin" here being a lethal six-inch hat-pin which could do fearful damage applied to a male Molly posterior.

* * * * *

The Phoenix has been professing concern about my alleged failure to follow up on what they claim was my commitment to resign if Denis O'Brien became boss of INM. Their case falls down on two counts. First, the BAI has just decided, however hilariously, that Denis O'Brien is not the effective owner of INM.

Second, while they quote a three-sentence paragraph I wrote last June, they leave out the last sentence, which refers to an attack on Anne Harris, the editor of this paper, by James Morrissey, who does PR for Denis O'Brien, if PR stands for poor result.

"In June Denis O'Brien will attempt to topple the O'Reilly regime in INM. If he succeeds, I will no longer be writing for the Sunday Independent. Because a recent article by O'Brien's PR man, James Morrissey, signals it will not be the same paper."

But the paper has not changed. The editor is still exercising her full functions. Furthermore -- and yes I am having a bit of fun here -- I am also off the hook because the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland claims that Denis O'Brien is not the boss.

Finally, I am a freelance journalist, a trade close to that of day labourer. Furthermore, I do not enjoy the incremental salaries or gold-plated pensions of Pat Rabbitte's public-sector fat cats. Like all writers working under a shadow, I chose my words carefully last June.

The line that says "if he succeeds I will no longer be working for the Sunday Independent" also implies my exit might be involuntary. But so far, so good. I am in no rush to join the unemployed ranks of the recession. Apart from anything else, even my enemies would miss me. Go on, you would.

* * * * *

The London Olympic opening ceremony was brilliant. But it should have stopped soon after the stunning sequence on the Industrial Revolution. As Dr Johnson added after praising Milton's Paradise Lost, "but no man had wished it longer".

Sunday Independent

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