Sunday 8 December 2019

Bowman accepts Harris's role

Madam – Eoghan Harris (Sunday Independent, January 13, 2013), refers to the "extensive references" in my book, Window and Mirror: RTE Television, 1961-2011, to his role in the Mary Robinson presidential campaign. Specifically he wants me "to withdraw a page of snide commentary" which challenges his contribution to her campaign and which, he claims, does him "more damage than any anonymous online abuser has done to date".

What he fails to take into account is that page 174 in my book is not concerned with assessing his role in the Robinson campaign but is focused on his public admission that he had played any role at all, since this was in breach of his RTE contract. He had discussed his central role in the campaign in an interview with John Waters in the Irish Times of November 9, in the immediate aftermath of Robinson's victory.

A news clipping of this interview – and its potential damage to RTE's need to remain impartial – was what I was writing about: and specifically how his public acknowledgement of his role was debated by the RTE Authority at their meeting some three weeks after its publication. My comments were based on the authority's minutes of their meeting of November 30.

Since the extent of Harris's influence was disputed within the Robinson campaign team, I wrote that at no stage "in a lengthy article did it state that Robinson and her team had used Harris's advice, or had given him any official position". This detail was prompted by the fact that the Irish Times article was being used by the RTE Authority as evidence of Harris's breach of contract: clearly any public acceptance of an official campaign role could have compounded his difficulties; as could any acknowledgement by the Robinson camp of their indebtedness to Harris.

The scale of that indebtedness has now been handsomely expressed by Mary Robinson herself in her recent memoir, Everybody Matters. In my book I did write that the thrust of the Waters's article was that Harris's advice had been "original and useful in the strategic pitching of the Robinson campaign". And I reported that towards the end of the article, Waters asks: "What's in it for Harris?"; adding Harris's reply that he had not worked for six months to put Robinson in the Park "to do anything", but that he believed her presence in the Park was itself "a political statement of enormous importance".

The rest of my text is devoted to the response by the RTE Authority and management to the "very serious questions for RTE" which had been raised by Harris's admission of his involvement. The chairman said that "the greatest damage" Harris had done "was that he was boasting that he was a political activist in RTE for a number of years". The authority concluded by noting that Harris had now agreed a severance package and expressed its satisfaction that "the position had been resolved".

Eoghan Harris also complains that this page includes "two sneering cartoons" which mock his contribution to the Robinson campaign. The page does include one Ian Knox cartoon of the 1997 election in which Mary Robinson stands at the door of the Aras and comments to her successor, Mary McAleese: "It seems that strange Mr Harris contributed as much to your election success as he did to mine!" While I accept Eoghan Harris's honesty in finding this snide, he could equally read it as an acknowledgement that he played a significant role in securing the election of both women – albeit that his intention was to help Robinson and hinder McAleese.

But back to the 1990 election. The most authoritative testimony on his contribution to the Robinson campaign comes in the recent memoir by Mary Robinson herself.

She writes of being the beneficiary of Eoghan Harris's "stunning intellectual analysis." She comments that one would need to see him "in full flow to appreciate the experience: the breakneck pace, the wit, the revelatory insights that had us going, 'Ah, yes, of course.' There was genius in it."

Eoghan Harris can be assured that far from ignoring this testimony, I am more than happy to take any appropriate opportunity to quote Robinson's accolade to his important role in her victory.

John Bowman,

RTE, Dublin 4

Sunday Independent

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