Tuesday 21 October 2014

Ireland is a cold house for courageous duty-driven whistleblowers

Published 02/03/2014 | 02:30

We learned a lot from Shattergate. We learned that many in the media will not speak truth to power. We learned Labour has no walking point.

Anything else? We learned that we don't much like whistleblowers. What? We don't like whistleblowers? In theory yes, in practice, no.

How do I know that? Because I'm a bit of a whistleblower myself. An ideological whistleblower. In fact I coined a name for it: acting with good authority.

Whistleblowers are duty-driven informers without a witness protection programme. They tell the world what's wrong with their country, company, tribe or party. They expose evils, repudiate moth-eaten myths, stomp on shibboleths.

That's what I did three times in the past 30 years. Each time I was excoriated by those who would rather I carried on regardless. There is no point pretending there was not a price to pay.

Until the mid-Seventies, I was a reasonably well-

regarded television producer. Well regarded, that is, by liberal-left "republican socialists". But I lost that regard over the next 30 years by rejecting republicanism, RTE political correctness and socialism.

Rejecting republicanism was not too bad. The Workers' Party published my revisionist polemic The Irish Industrial Revolution in 1977. But I still had to be careful not to sound too revisionist or praise Conor Cruise O'Brien.

Rejecting RTE's house culture brought more severe repercussions. After I published my whistleblowing pamphlet Television and Terrorism in 1987, I became persona non grata with the politically correct RTE elites who supported the Sinn Fein campaign to remove Section 31.

Real bitterness, however, only began when I rejected communism in my 1990 pamphlet, The Necessity of Social Democracy, and resigned from the Workers' Party. Google my name and you find nationalists and socialists competing in the smear stakes.

So I knew the Garda whistleblowers would be branded mad, bad and dangerous to know.

A subtle smear is to list their complaints out of context. That way they come across as serial complainers. But only because their complaints were deflected, dismissed or found baseless by garda inquiries into its own force.

We are a conformist country. We think those who are driven by a sense of duty to sacrifice promotion and peace of mind must have something wrong with them. But without these fanatic hearts we would sink into foul corruption.

***

By some serendipity I spent last week reading about an earlier group of brave men who were also driven by duty: the members of the RIC who refused to resign and stayed at their post to the death.

Diarmuid Kingston's Beleaguered is a history of the RIC in West Cork during the War of Independence. Among its poignant stories is the shooting of Sergeant Cornelius Crean, whose three-man foot patrol was ambushed at Upton Industrial School on 25 April, 1920.

Crean had 28 years service and was a backbone of the Bandon RIC. He had played rugby for Cork Constitution and at 48 he was still fighting fit. Not surprisingly since he was the brother of Tom Crean, the famously tough Antarctic explorer.

Clearly a hard heroism ran in the Crean family. Constable Power, the sole survivor of the ambush, told the inquest that Constable Patrick McGoldrick stopped to light his pipe and was suddenly shot dead.

Crean kept his head and shouted: "Run, Power, run for cover." Reaching the bend 100 yards away, more shots rang out. Crean shouted a second order, "Turn and attack!" Just then an IRA man fired repeated rounds and Crean fell with six bullet-holes in his chest.

Cornelius, like his brother Tom, seemed carved from stone. The local priest found him with "a flicker of life" but still facing the foe: "sitting in a channel with his back to the wall". He died soon after, having done his duty to the death.

Tom Crean, who had been at Shackleton's side in the epic 1909 journey to the South Pole, came back to Anascaul to open a pub. But he could never publicly mourn his dead brother lest he offend local republicans. As I said: a conformist society.

***

Dr Johnson says: "every man has a lurking wish to appear considerable in his native place". Douglas, my native village, is doing its best to make my wish come true. This weekend I am opening the first Lennox Robinson Literary Festival.

Robinson, the sickly son of a Church of Ireland clergyman, spent his youth in Douglas and West Cork. His extraordinary empathy with his Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen, and his ear for comic speech, can be enjoyed in classic plays like The Whiteheaded Boy and Drama at Inish.

Moira Lysaght, a highly literate public health nurse, wrote a wonderful eyewitness account comparing WB Yeats's self- conscious and carefully posed way of walking down Grafton Street with that of Lennox Robinson making his way along the Monkstown Road. It's worth quoting in full.

"One day, as I was travelling to Dun Laoghaire on a bus, it suddenly pulled up to allow a tall, bent, lank figure to cross the road. With bespectacled, peering, museful eyes; with narrow trouser-legs one or two inches above his ankles; his right hand holding aloft a long lead which had a tiny dog attached to the other end, he proceeded, languidly, raising each foot in a high-stepping fashion, utterly unaware the traffic was piling up on either side."

But Frank O'Connor wasn't taken in by Robinson's camp persona. In his memoir, My Father's Son, he recalls applying to Robinson, who was then chairman of the Carnegie Library, for the lowly post of librarian.

Robinson beat him down to 30 shillings a week, a sum that O'Connor secretly knew was not enough to live on. Looking back, he ruefully reflected: "I have met some tough bargainers in my life, but none quite so ruthless as Robinson."

Douglas learned well from Lennox. Hungry academics hoping for fees can forget it. As brother Joe remarks, "They'll be lucky to get out of Douglas without making a donation."

***

Last week I confused Sean O'Rourke with Cathal Mac Coille. Apologies to both. I have no excuse but I do have an explanation. My brain broke down from downloading too many RTE and Newstalk shows on Shattergate.

Last week, RTE current affairs finally got away from RTE News on Shattergate. We got sharp questions from Sean O'Rourke, Colm O Mongain, and Richard Crowley on radio, and from Aine Lawlor, Katie Hannon and Miriam O'Callaghan on television.

Note the number of women. It was the same story in the Irish Independent and Irish Times. Dearbhail McDonald and Miriam Lord kept on probing while many of their male colleagues were down with blue fever.

Harry McGee saved their faces. His forensic online

dissection of Shatter's Dail speech concluded: "There is no other way of saying it, but he resorted to a dazzling display of semantics to avoid conceding any ground." Especially to whistleblowers.

Sunday Independent

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