Saturday 7 December 2019

Strong media always speak truth to power

Neither murder nor child abuse can be hid for long, the truth will win out despite threats to editors.

Meath East TD Regina Doherty outside Leinster House.
Meath East TD Regina Doherty outside Leinster House.

Colum Kenny

You can call him "Mick" if you wish Mr Adams, but you never knew him. My grandfather did. And he sometimes hid Michael Collins in a cellar below my grandfather's premises on Middle Abbey Street, right opposite Independent Newspapers.

They didn't joke about closing newspapers in those days. My grandfather helped Arthur Griffith to produce the Sinn Fein Yearbook. Printing presses used by Griffith were broken up a number of times by Crown forces. He persevered.

So too did the Freeman's Journal when, in 1922, gunmen who opposed its support for the Treaty for which "Mick" Collins had died and for which most Irish TDs voted, broke up its presses.

Maybe some people whom Gerry Adams knows would like to do the same again now to the Sunday Independent and its related group papers.

Some claim that it is wrong to regard what Gerry Adams said to his $500-a-plate dinner friends in New York as a "murder threat". Indeed, the use of that term by the Sunday Independent last week may be why all mention of the matter was dropped when 'It Says in the Papers' rolled round again one hour after it first aired it on RTE last Sunday.

It is sometimes said in journalism that when everyone attacks you for being biased then you know you are getting it right. There can be vanity in such an outlook. But having been condemned as a Provo sympathiser in RTE, I found it ironic later when accused of the opposite while writing for the Sunday Independent. My views had not changed.

The brilliant former editor of the Sunday Independent, the late Aengus Fanning, did not oppose peace in Northern Ireland during "the peace process". He opposed delusion and the too ready embrace of people whose attitudes to crime and democracy were ambivalent.

The job of journalism is not to be "helpful" to anyone or any "process', but to speak truth to power, be that political power or personal power.

So it was a relief to hear Gavin Jennings grill Gerry Adams on Morning Ireland on Monday. Adams did not like it. He wanted to talk about water, but he was pursued about child abuse. He expressed his displeasure.

But then, just two days later, he was back on the same programme to discuss what he wanted, water. Although again pressed by Jennings on that topic, it was an amount of Morning Ireland airtime that very few politicians command so frequently. Had he applied pressure and RTE buckled?

RTE and other media too often refer to 'Republicans' when they actually mean Sinn Fein or the IRA. It is a shame that certain factions have appropriated that proud word to themselves and made it sound dirty because of their dirty deeds.

Gerry Adams claims that his political opponents are cynically exploiting his party's discomfort over its attitude to some child abusers. But he or Mary Lou McDonald could have avoided discomfort by adopting a different attitude. Some Sinn Fein politicians who do good work on the ground must be very unhappy at that pair's handling of the scandal.

Fine Gael's Regina Doherty TD told the Dail last week that she was "too afraid" to name alleged IRA child abusers.

There may have been good reasons for not giving names but she would not have impressed WT Cosgrave, who made it clear in no uncertain terms what he thought of TDs who were reluctant to do their duty in the Dail in the 1920s. He is said to have sent the Special Branch after them to make them return to the Oireachtas.

Among my grandfather's papers are letters from Arthur Griffith and Padraig Pearse and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, all of whom he helped to produce Republican publications. When crown forces suppressed Griffith's journalism and broke up his printing presses, it did not silence the father of Sinn Fein (as Griffith was known).

And attacks on the Freeman's Journal in 1922 did not silence it either.

Also among my grandfather's files is the small emergency issue produced by that newspaper the morning after anti-Treaty gunmen, who had rejected the democratic wishes of the Irish people, broke up its presses.

The defiant editor declared in that special edition, "What the British Army, the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans failed to do, the patriots of the seceding section of the IRA have done. RATHER THAN THINK THEY HAVE DONE IT. But they have failed."

And he was right. That paper continued to appear, later being incorporated into the Irish Independent.

For truth will out. Murder cannot be hid long. Nor child abuse today. No matter how many editors are threatened or presses smashed.

Colum Kenny contributed 'An extraordinarily clever journalist: Arthur Griffith's editorships, 1899-1919', to 'Writing Against the Grain: Journalism and Periodicals in Twentieth-Century Ireland' (Ed. M O'Brien & F Larkin, Four Courts Press).

Sunday Independent

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