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Concubhar O Liathain: One-sided IRA documentary is a stain on TG4's good record

Dr Rose Dugdale was arrested in 1974 for her part in the robbery of several old masters from Russborough House in Co Wicklow and the attempted bombing from the air of Strabane RUC station.

The robbery of the Beit art collection involved the assault of the owners by Dr Dugdale and her accomplices.

Decades later, she turned up on TG4 last week to retrospectively justify her actions. It certainly soured Nollaig na mBan for me, following what was a very successful Christmas season of programmes on TG4.

Mna an IRA is a new series on the Irish language station, which prides itself for its 'suil eile', and it will profile women who were involved in that illegal organisation over the next six weeks. If the first programme is any indication of what's to come, it will be nauseating and heartbreaking for the victims of the IRA and their relatives.

As a board member of TG4, appointed in September 2010 following a public competition, I am generally proud of what is being achieved by the station. It has won several awards for its documentaries and other programmes and has recast the Irish language as an integral part of Irish culture that is attractive and useful. Mna an IRA is a stain on this record of achievement.

I was especially proud last year about programmes such as the pre-General Election Leaders' Debate, a historic first for TG4 and for the Irish language and a feature for which I had advocated when I appeared before a Joint Oireachtas Committee during the Summer of 2010 during my appointment process. It was incredible, in my view, that such a debate hadn't occurred previously, but now it is an indispensable part of the election schedule.

Right from the title sequence, where Dr Dugdale was described as a 'saighdiuir/ soldier' and a member of 'Oglaigh na hEireann', Mna an IRA struck the wrong chord with me. How could Dr Dugdale be described as a 'soldier' despite never having enlisted in a real army, bound by international laws and conventions regarding human rights, as opposed to an illegal paramilitary force?

How could a programme, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) and broadcast on TG4, be allowed to describe the Provisional IRA as 'Oglaigh na hEireann' when the only force on this island to legitimately use that name is our Defence Forces?

There is a style of profile documentary in which the interviewer remains silent and the person being profiled is allowed to tell his/her story without any questions from the interviewer being heard.

This is entirely the wrong approach to take in a film involving the likes of Dr Dugdale. If there must be a documentary on this subject, surely the producer should involve an interviewer who can challenge the presumptions of the person being profiled that everything he or she did was right and justifiable.

If that isn't possible, at the very least the programme should include commentators who can give some sense of balance and context. In the instance of Mna an IRA, the commentators didn't include any person who gave a challenging viewpoint.

Republicans have reviled the revisionists over the years for giving an alternative view of Irish history, which cast the IRA and Sinn Fein in a poor light. As evidenced here, revisionism isn't a one-way street as it appears republicans can be as revisionist as any of those they reviled in order to paint their actions in the best possible light. That's fair enough for An Phoblacht TV -- but TG4, as a publicly funded TV station, needs to abide by higher standards lest its impressive record be tarnished by shoddy, one-sided productions such as Mna an IRA.


It amazes me that the series was funded by the BAI. No doubt there is a story to be told about the role of women in the IRA and other such illegal organisations -- but the story needs to be told in full, including the testimony of the victims of these women. Would the BAI fund a series, 'Fir an IRA', without stipulating that the programmes be fair to all parties, including the victims?

That the programme was broadcast on the same night as the dissidents attempted to blow up a member of the PSNI underlines the dangers of broadcasting programmes such as Mna an IRA without a rigorous examination of the content of the programme and their relevance in contemporary Ireland.

I have written a letter to the director general of TG4, Pol O Gallchoir, and the chairman of the board, Peter Quinn, asking for the remaining programmes to be examined for balance and historical context. If they are as one-sided and revisionist as the first installment of Mna an IRA, they should be shelved immediately until they can be rebalanced.

I have an abhorrence of those who attack TG4 and who would deny those who speak Irish such a vital resource as a modern television station, as if Irish speakers were second-class citizens.

But I abhor even more those who would use TG4 and the Irish language to peddle half-truths and propaganda in support of a failed ideology and to justify, retrospectively, their violence.

Concubhar O Liathain was appointed to the board of TG4 following a public competition in 2010. He is writing here in a personal capacity

Sunday Independent