Monday 21 January 2019

Criticism unfair, McGuinness would have expected Miriam's questions - Ahern

Bertie Ahern: nobody in politics would be surprised. Photo: Frank McGrath
Bertie Ahern: nobody in politics would be surprised. Photo: Frank McGrath
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has told Sinn Féin that recent criticisms of broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan and other media outlets over the questioning of Martin McGuinness during the 2011 Presidential Election are unfair.

Mr Ahern said Mr McGuinness would have expected tough questions to be asked of him, considering his past associations with the IRA.

He said the line of questioning during the campaign was what he would have expected.

It comes after Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald attacked Ms O'Callaghan in a new book about Mr McGuinness.

Ms McDonald said the RTÉ star's line of questioning about his links to IRA killings was "utterly repulsive".

Speaking at the launch of a new book about Mr McGuinness, Mr Ahern said no politician should have been surprised by the questions asked by Ms O'Callaghan during the 2011 election debate.

Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Frank McGrath
Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Frank McGrath

"I think in the Presidential campaign, which is referenced in the book, you were never going to be able to run for President and not have to deal with the issues that had happened back over the years," Mr Ahern told the Irish Independent.

"That was probably hard on him, but he was able for that.

"To go through the Presidential campaign and either expect or think you were not going to have these issues raised was never going to happen. I think anybody in politics would know that."

Ms McDonald and her predecessor Gerry Adams are among those who are most critical of Ms O'Callaghan's questioning in the book 'Martin McGuinness: The Man I Knew'.

Miriam O'Callaghan. Photo: Collins
Miriam O'Callaghan. Photo: Collins

The book's author, Jude Collins, disagreed with Mr Ahern's analysis of the questions put to Mr McGuinness during the campaign. He claimed there were conflicting opinions on the matter on both sides of the Border.

"They kept talking all the time about his past," said Mr Collins.

"None of them spoke about the work he did in bringing the republican community out of conflict and into politics. It is what everyone had been telling them to do for decades and he did it with [Gerry] Adams. They really felt there was a concentration on that one bit.

"When I suggested the idea of doing a biography of him before he died the first thing he said to me was 'I would be open to any idea, the trouble with some people is all they want to talk about is the time in the IRA. Nothing else matters'."

During a debate in the run-up to the 2011 election, Ms O'Callaghan asked candidates about religious beliefs. She then turned to Mr McGuinness and asked him: "How do you square, Martin McGuinness, with your God, the fact that you were involved in the murder of so many people?"

RTÉ has since said the national broadcaster "covered Martin McGuinness's 2011 Presidential candidacy in a fair, objective and impartial manner".

However, Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh told the Irish Independent he had concerns about RTÉ's coverage of the election campaign and he agreed with his party leader.

"I think it is fair because there are certain key moments in Irish broadcasting history that stand out for Irish republicans.

"It is not meant to be a personal attack on Miriam O'Callaghan, it is the institution and the way that republicans felt they were treated, I think that is what Mary Lou was trying to hone in on."

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section