Tuesday 15 October 2019

Government intervened after British tabloid's 'scurrilous' attack on town

Diarmuid Doyle

A GOVERNMENT department intervened when a British newspaper published what was described as "a scurrilous attack" on Castleblayney.

The article in the 'Daily Mirror' during the 1981 general election campaign portrayed inhabitants of the Co Monaghan town as daytime drinkers who wore flat caps and had dirt on their trousers.

It was loosely based on a visit by then Taoiseach Charles Haughey to the town

It so outraged the people of the town that they got the Department of Foreign Affairs to intervene on their behalf.

The article began with a description of the people of Castleblayney hanging around outside the town's pubs "with the smell of drink swirling around them".

Contrasting Mr Haughey's "fine tailored suit of blue serge" with the muddy boots and trousers favoured by the people of the town, it went on to describe Castleblayney as a place "where you could find the same number of guns and bullets buried for safety as potatoes".

"When you read of a British soldier fired at or killed around Bessbrook by the IRA, the debriefing would be in Castleblayney over a pint somewhere."

Mr Haughey was abused as a collaborator by some people in the town, the article said. "You're nothing but a donkey, Haughey," one man shouted.

The story prompted a complaint to the British Press Council, an outraged letter to the 'Mirror' from Castleblayney Urban District Council (UDC), complaints to the Department of Foreign Affairs and a letter from the department to the 'Mirror.'

Castleblayney UDC wrote to the 'Mirror' describing the article as "a scurrilous attack on our town" and a "stage-Irish concoction".

"The most damaging sections of the article, as far as the town is concerned, were the insensitive comments suggesting terrorist guns were hidden all over the area and that terrorists were regularly involved in debriefing sessions in the town's pubs.

"Such wild allegations paint a defamatory picture and also evoke the wrath of paramilitary factions upon a town which is law-abiding and in no way resembling the scene depicted by your writer, who obviously took complete leave of proper journalistic licence and disregarded good standards".

The 'Mirror' refused to apologise, sending back a letter which repeated many of the claims in the article. This prompted a letter of complaint from the UDC to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which then made representations to the newspaper via the Irish Embassy in London.

"The Embassy pointed out the irresponsible and provocative nature of such published material," the department wrote in a letter to the council.

It explained that although the 'Mirror' had replied, it was to say that it could not make any comment as the matter was before the British Press Council and therefore subjudice.

There is no record in the file in the National Archives as to whether such satisfaction was obtained.

Irish Independent

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