Thursday 27 June 2019

Mairia Cahill shows the Nelson Touch to Sinn Fein

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Last Tuesday was the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, the day Ben Bradlee died, and the day RTE News caught up fully with the Mairia Cahill story. Let me show you some links between these three events.

Mairia Cahill has the Nelson touch. "Never mind maneuvers,'' he told his captains, "always go at them.'' That's how the courageous Cahill has conducted her campaign to force the truth from Sinn Fen.

In passing, let me point out that Nelson is no remote historical figure. Nelson's Pillar was the pride of Dublin until blown up by republican vandals. The poet Liam O Muirthile says Irish was the main language on the gun-deck of HMS Victory at Trafalgar.

Cahill shares Nelsons's strategy of never lifting a siege. Grappling with the giant Sinn Fein ship, she sends herself the same signal Nelson flew at Trafalgar: "Engage the enemy more closely."

Ben Bradlee's death should have caused Irish print journalists to review their ragged coverage of the Cahill case. For three days after the Spotlight interview most of the political pundits - Fionnan Sheahan in the Irish Independent and Stephen Collins in the Irish Times were exceptions - downgraded her story.

This only changed after the comprehensive coverage of Cahill in last week's Sunday Independent. Reporters in other papers privately admitted it was a good story. But as Bradlee said during the dark days he stood alone on Watergate: "If this is such a good story, where in the hell are the rest of the newspapers?"

Well, where? Last weekend the Sunday Business Post did not cover the story at all. I had to search to find a small report in the Sunday Times. It took a full seven days before the print media got a grip.

But a cub reporter could see Cahill was a big story. So why the patchy reaction for the first three days? The first reason is that the peace process has polluted the normal ethical and editorial responses of the Irish Republic. People have been brainwashed into believing the Provos are entitled to electoral success in return for calling off their murder campaign.

Politicians who took part in the peace process are particularly confused. Liz O'Donnell recently criticised politicians who respond to Sinn Fein's electoral success with low blows questioning their democratic pedigree and paramilitary past.

But surely the closer Sinn Fein comes to State power, the more we should scrutinise its paramilitary past and its democratic credentials?

The second reason for the print media's anodyne response is the cosy relationship some belly-rubbing reporters enjoy at RTE. As soon as RTE plays down a story, these supine hacks follow suit. But RTE did not just play down the big Cahill story - it refused to accept it was a story at all.

RTE's response to Cahill's rape allegations was bizarre. So much so that Joanna Tuffy, Labour TD, called for a public inquiry. She wanted to know what the public wanted to know: why had RTE failed to interview Cahill in the three days after Spotlight. This was pointed up by the different reactions of Newstalk and RTE News.

The first reaction of any good reporter is to go to the source. That is what Newstalk's researcher Paddy McDonnell did. On the Thursday following the Tuesday Spotlight, Cahill did her first broadcast interview in the Irish Republic on Newstalk's Lunchtime with Jonathan Healy.

But if Newstalk's first instinct was to contact Mairia Cahill, RTE's first instinct was to contact Gerry Adams. That same Thursday, far from giving Cahill first hearing, the Republic's national broadcaster allowed Adams to attack her story on the News at One.

As proof that this was not a once-off error RTE's Six One TV news that Thursday almost buried her story. It was pushed far down into the second part of the news. Even more blatantly, her press conference was reported rather than revealed.

Now it's not just Hollywood writers who know that "telling" a story is inferior to "showing" a story. Every editor knows that personal testimony is more powerful than reported testimony. So there was every editorial reason for RTE to put Mairia Cahill on air, and no good reason not to do so.

Here's the hard choice. Either RTE could not see the importance of the Cahill story, or they were protecting the peace process as promulgated by Sinn Fein. I can think of no third rational reason.

Either way we need a public inquiry. If it's incompetence, the latest in a long line of editorial cock-up's by RTE news, we need a journalistic inquiry. If it's something else, we need a public inquiry.

Because if Danny Morrison were running RTE he would have tried to keep Cahill off the air for the first three days. After that he could hope the story would fade away. As it might have done only for Newstalk, Vincent Browne onTV3 and the Sunday Independent.

Frankly, I find it frightening that it took three days before Bryan Dobson was allowed to talk to Mairia Cahill. I say "allowed" because I believe that Dobson, like every other RTE presenter, was dying to talk to Cahill during these first three days.

Why did RTE reporters at all levels not raise their voices? Why did they not demand they be allowed to talk to Cahill as Jonathan Healy did on Newstalk? And if they did, and were diverted from doing so, what conclusion did they reach?

So far, RTE has been able to divide the three main parties. Politicians fear that hidden hands might wait for them in the long grass. The Cahill case shows the need for a public inquiry that is not trammelled by TDs' fear of retribution.

That's the least the leaders of the three parties might do for Cahill. Because she is solely responsible for last Thursday's improvement in their public image, following Leaders' Questions in Dail Eireann.

Enda Kenny, although clearly tired after too much travel, and working without a script, still took Gerry Adams apart.

He was backed by Micheal Martin who has sensitively supported Cahill without scoring cheap political points. Joan Burton did not show such a sure touch in scorching Sinn Fein, but Joanna Tuffy and Senator John Whelan filled the gap.

Mairia Cahill has done this State some service. She is loved and respected by most people in the Irish Republic.

They are enjoying the catharsis of watching a woman who was repeatedly raped, mentally tortured, traduced and pounded to psychological pulp by IRA thugs, get to her feet and flatten the cowardly Sinn Fein crew of cheerleaders, groupies and smellers of sulphur.

She has turned the words of Pearse at the grave of O Donovan Rossa, to a more perfect, more moral, more democratic use. "We will try it out with you, ye that have harried and held, ye that have bullied and bribed. Tyrants, hypocrites, liars."

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