Saturday 18 November 2017

I wanted to highlight dangers of drug use

Joe Jackson explains why he decided to go public on Gerry Ryan's drug use despite RTE 'closing ranks' over death

'Good job on this ... perhaps a couple of kids will reap the rewards of truth and stay away from the 'white death' this week."

That comment, left on my Facebook page on Monday morning by Damien McCarron, is the single greatest response I got to my article on Gerry Ryan in this newspaper last Sunday.

Why? Because the 'truth' the guy is referring to is my having revealed -- two days after the inquest -- that I'd known for 16 years Gerry Ryan was using the drug.

Though morally torn and loath to add to the pain already being felt by Gerry's girlfriend, Melanie Verwoerd -- particularly given that she found his body -- his wife, Morah, their children, and friends, I wanted to highlight, yet again, the dangers of drugs abuse.

In the immediate aftermath of publishing the article I read that "RTE closes ranks on star's years of sustained drug use". Then I read: "RTE management and the station's top stars closed ranks this weekend and refused to make any public comment on the revelations that cocaine was behind the death of Gerry Ryan."

Separately it was reported that "friends of Ryan made undertaking not to talk about RTE DJ's drug death". This called forth two responses from me, as someone who never claimed to be Gerry's friend, and wasn't. Firstly, I thought if such an undertaking had been made it was commendable. But only if the decision was taken out of respect to his memory, which, nonetheless, made me feel like shit. But then I remembered how so many so-called 'friends' of Katy French had failed to turn up at her final birthday party -- to which I was invited but couldn't go -- because she had recently gone public on her use of cocaine and they didn't want to be publicly linked to the drug, or to one of its users. Even though many, themselves, were also using cocaine.

I hoped the same didn't apply to Gerry's friends and it wasn't self-preservation rather that preservation of his memory that mattered most to them. Then, I placed on Facebook, this message: "Adrian Moynes, former DG of RTE radio once told me I was "part of the family in RTE" and I joked, "Yeah, it's bastard child!" That's what I feel like this morning. RTE closes ranks about Gerry's drug use and I go public on that subject in the Sunday Independent. No one told me to shut up, not sure I would have!"

I sent an email to Ana Leddy, head of RTE Radio 1, in which I said that if the organisation had closed ranks "no one told me" and I added, "if they had I wouldn't have run with that story, or maybe I would have but ran the idea by the powers-that-be" in RTE. This was followed by a similar message to Clare Duignan, managing director of radio in RTE, in which I said, "I hope I haven't offended anyone with the article" -- a fruitless hope, I now suspect.

By noon the next day, neither had replied. But I did receive a message from Caitriona Perry, editor of the News At One, asking me if I'd do an interview with Sean O'Rourke, "following on from the great piece I'd written". Then Samantha Libreri asked me if she could interview me for the 6.01 news that night on RTE TV. Both, incidentally, also assured me, after I enquired, that no "diktat of silence" had been imposed by management and "most certainly not on the newsroom".

So, I was filmed for the news, speaking mostly about cocaine in general but also Gerry's use of the drug. Then I was interviewed by Sean O'Rourke and even though Caitriona Perry later assured me my "brave and fair commentary" hadn't gotten her or Sean "in trouble", which was a fear I expressed, this really may have been when the shit hit the fan, as they say, out there in RTE.

At first, O'Rourke and I merely rehashed what I'd written in my article but then he asked if I thought Gerry's drug dealer "out there" should be tracked down and I replied: "Some newspaper reports say one of his colleagues in RTE got him drugs, so there may be people around this building who know. And I think anyone who has any information or (can say) if they could have helped Gerry or did try, and he didn't accept help, should go public, if only to help one person not die from coke."

Even so, this is a comment I don't regret making, whatever the consequences, for me, personally. It's too easy -- and this I say with all due respect to O'Rourke who can't have pleased the 'suits' and 'skirts' by subsequently asking me if I thought RTE "corporately" should take responsibility in relation to Gerry's death -- for RTE to focus on the "dealer" out there and not look at the "devil" within.

Let's not forget that in 2007, Prime Time, in its two-part investigation of the use of cocaine in Ireland, publicly acknowledged that it had found traces of the drug in the toilets of its own organisation. Furthermore, I recall an official memo being sent out reminding its broadcasters that to go on air, eh, under the influence of drugs or alcohol was a breach of contract, which would suggest that, as was reported yesterday, RTE just might, as it should, introduce random drug-testing.

But back to last Monday, Sean and me. Then he asked if I'd ever felt I could "help Gerry in this sense" and I said this was a question "other people in RTE, who were closer to the guy than I was, should ask themselves". However, then, when I went on to say "I think the likes of Ryan Tubridy--" Sean cut across that sentence, meaning I never got to mention the other two names I was going to use, Dave Fanning and Joe Duffy, which I'd chosen for no particular reason, and making it seem like I was singling out Ryan Tubridy to tell us whatever he knows about Gerry's coke habit, which was something I'd later regret. Sean ended our interview by asking that tricky question about RTE's corporate responsibilities in all this.

"Well there's a lot of rumours he was under great pressure and I worked in Radio 1 at the same time and I've been under minor pressure from similar sources," I said, in reply, not so cleverly, I guess. "So, I think if there was anyone who was responsible for putting what's claimed to be great pressure on Gerry, they should come out and say, 'this is what happened, this is how intense it was, or wasn't'."

Then yesterday in The Irish Times, Mick Heany claimed that "the more Jackson rationalised his decision" (to explain on the News at One why I'd gone public on Gerry's drug use) "the more self-serving his explanations sounded". Maybe he was listening to a different show.

Either way, one big name in RTE, who I won't name, said this to me after that broadcast: "You're right to say what you did. If it was Daniel O'Donnell or Larry Mullen or Dickie Rock who died from cocaine, RTE would be all over the story. I wonder will Joe Duffy, after what you did say, open up his phone lines to all the people who want to talk about the one subject the whole country seems to be talking about today?"

Later the same day I saw that my contribution to that 6.01 TV news report was cut, completely. This, Samantha Libreri told me was "not a directive" but more a consequence of the fact that "the medical stuff was the emphasis". Even so, hearing that, I said: "I still feel RTE should look at its role in all this, not just at the subject of cocaine, though this is no reflection on you." She replied: "I'll bring that up with the editors."

The next morning I learned that Ryan Tubridy had, in fact, spoken out -- on his radio show, hours before I suggested he do so -- making it clear he knew nothing of Gerry's cocaine habit. But more than that, in response to what he saw as the media onslaught over the weekend, he had urged all his listeners to "let Gerry, quite simply, rest in peace". Reports of this, together with my radio interview gave the impression to the casual reader that I was callously ignoring Tubridy's plea.

So, I sent an email to his radio show, explaining to all concerned what had happened, and said, sincerely: "Also, wish Ryan well, as always". Then, I sent similar messages to Ann-Marie Power and another to Clare Duignan. In that last one I said: "Any inference anyone took from what I said on the News at One or in The Sunday Independent, should be run by me, if anyone cares to, for clarification." And I added, "as far as I am concerned, I'm finished with the subject now. I write a small article and it turns into a monster! But I would hope I don't as has been suggested, suffer repercussions in RTE as a result of all this".

I have received no reply to any of the emails mentioned in this article. Specifically, for the record, two to Clare Duignan, one to Ana Leddy, one to Ryan Tubridy and one to Ann-Marie Power.

All of which, yet again, I will say, must surely be making Gerry Ryan laugh his ass off and maybe even say to me, from that radio station in the sky, as a kind of Christmas greeting: "Serves you right Jackson, you little bollix, for ratting on me!"

Sunday Independent

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