Monday 24 October 2016

RTE gives SF a soft ride on Stormont row

Published 13/09/2015 | 02:30

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan

September is a calm and clement month in West Cork. Post-tourist peace prevails.

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Alas, in a digital age there is no dodging the din of the 24-hour current affairs cycle.

The biggest din comes from Vincent Browne. Particularly The People's Debate. About which I have mixed feelings.

On the plus side, Browne provides a voice for Rejected Ireland, rather than Respectable Ireland.

Rejected Ireland consists of the working poor not protected by Haddington Road agreements.

Respectable Ireland often resents the rough language of those who live from day to day without increments or pensions.

True, Respectable Ireland comes across calmer than participants living on the edge of their last euro.

But it's easy to be at ease when you are snuggled up in the public sector, a minority enjoying the protection of all parties in Dail Eireann.

But Rejected Ireland is without representation since Labour left it in the lurch to look after the public sector.

Sadly, many of these struggling citizens will vote Sinn Fein - which will also cosset the public sector.

Vincent Browne's shows are a safety valve for vulnerable people. Without them, the water charges protest might swell in size.

On the minus side, Browne's open-door policy often allows ideologues to intimidate the audience.

But there is a bonus for politicians who don't wilt. Like the MacCarthy Cup, the Browne show is a test of character for the politicians taking part.

Last week Minister of State Aodhan O Riordain and Joanna Tuffey TD, both of the Labour Party, showed bottle in battle.

O Riordain got a particularly rough time. But he bore up bravely. Look no further for a future leader of what's left of the Labour Party.

* * *

But why begin with the Browne show, rather than the Stormont show ?

Because I am tired of rolling a rock up the hill against RTE is why.

RTE's reporting of the Stormont crisis has been relentlessly soft on Sinn Fein. That is not Tommie Gorman's fault.

RTE's northern editor tells it how it is. But as soon as the story leaves his lips he can no longer control what happens back at base.

Last week, RTE radio presenters seemed to have a huge problem understanding why unionists don't want to work with Sinn Fein while the IRA is still active.

This implies that RTE presenters may also have a problem understanding why we in the Republic worry about Sinn Fein in power with the IRA still active.

Since most people on the island share the same problem, why do RTE interviews with Sinn Fein not reflect this majority concern?

Last week, BBC's Spotlight showed the IRA is still active. And shares some senior crossover links with Sinn Fein.

We got the same grim read from Shane Coleman's incisive interview with Seamus Mallon on Newstalk.

Mallon had no doubt the IRA was still around. He specifically cited the cruel murder of Paul Quinn.

Why can't RTE come to terms with Seamus Mallon's hard home truths - confirmed by Catholic communities living under the Provisional cosh?

Clearly the Provisional IRA has been stripped down to two units. First, an intelligence and security unit based in Belfast.

Second, a criminal unit based in south Armagh, free to give a cut of the profits to the political party of its choice.

Listening to RTE radio last week, however, you would never think that the IRA was the sole cause of the Stormont crisis.

Interviews repeatedly left the impression that the problem was caused by the Chief Constable talking too much. Or the UUP's unwillingness to turn a blind eye to armed criminals.

Bobby Storey came across as a kind of victim. His solicitor was given a prime slot to talk about suing for wrongful arrest.

That would be fine if that slot was balancing a sceptical examination of Storey's career. But there was no such scrutiny.

Clearly, RTE researchers don't read much. Let me refer them to Malachi O'Doherty's classic The Trouble with Guns.

In the prologue he recalls a 1995 meeting with Bobby Storey, whose then nickname was Brain Surgeon.

Storey was not happy with something Malachi had written. "I am not going to hit you, but I want to tell you that you are a slug," Storey said.

RTE Radio's culture of not confronting Sinn Fein has an historical hinterland.

Led by Alex White, radio producers were militant advocates of opening the airwaves to Sinn Fein.

But as I predicted, after Section 31 was abolished Sinn Fein ran rings around RTE reporters.

Today Alex White is the Minister for Communications. Labour is laid low by a Sinn Fein rampant on the airwaves. You reap what you sow.

Let me finish with a suggestion on how to get the Stormont show back on the road. Let both the British and Irish governments give all parties a solemn pledge to shut down the IRA.

Let them back that pledge by setting up a powerful joint policing body, based on CAB, tasked with closing down criminal terrorism.

That might, just might, convince the unionists to come back.

* * *

Back to Browne. Has he a sense of humour or is he master of the most grumpy deadpan style since the great WC Fields? Take this exchange last week between Vincent and Colette Browne, a regular columnist with the Irish Independent.

VB: "Trotsky, the famous Marxist leader of the Russian Revolution, em, was refused entry into Ireland in the 1930s because he was a Jew. And Eamon de Valera personally authorised that."

Colette (smiling): "The fact that he was Trotsky probably didn't help."

VB (without the hint of a smile): "No, no, it was because he was a Jew."

Colette gamely let it go. But I had much the same experience.

A few weeks ago, I told the Sunday Independent how hard it would be to replace Vincent Browne, praising him to high heaven.

"He is the last of the 1960s generation that believed journalism could make a difference. We shared these beliefs, and (briefly) a house with other political animals like ourselves, off Leeson Street for a few weeks in 1967, but we seldom spoke because we were on different drinking and women shifts.

"But even the few grunts gave us a mutual loathing and liking."

But in the Irish Independent Vincent rejected our relationship:

"I protest at the suggestion in last week's Sunday Independent... that at any stage in my career I had an association with Eoghan Harris. I never had any relations with that man."

Now I know how Monica Lewinsky felt.

Clearly I must shelve my plans for a movie biopic of Browne and Harris, with a steamy screenplay written by George Hook, whose working title was Browneback Mountain.

* * *

Last week, worried about an active cyst in my jaw, I went back to the warm bosom of Bantry General Hospital.

Mr Emile Abou Ghaly, a surgeon with star status in West Cork, whipped it out so smoothly that the sticking plaster was the only proof he'd been there.

Some Shinners will sneer that what Mr Abou Ghaly called a sebaceous gland was actually where I stored all my anti-Sinn Fein spleen.

But not all the bile was decommissioned.

Sunday Independent

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