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Up in arms over RTE's Lemass tribute


ON June 30, RTE presented its soi-disant tribute to the late Sean Lemass. In her opening remarks, the narrator made the tendentious assertion that Lemass was "a gunman".

To sink that scandalous slur deeply into the viewers' consciousness, the sad death of a British soldier in a war was presented as evidence of his execution by Lemass.

Throughout the English-speaking world, "gunman" is the word used to define an armed criminal. "Execution" is the word frequently employed to define gangland murders. To use the late Taoiseach's name in such contexts, as indeed it was during the programme, is unconscionable and a gross abuse of artistic licence.

Lemass joined the National Movement as a teenager. From then, until he retired as Taoiseach, he considered himself to be on national service.

A period of that service was as a volunteer in Oglaigh na hEireann; the National Army controlled by and answerable to the Minister for Defence, the Cabinet and Dail Eireann.

As a counterpoint to the national broadcaster's insular and obviously comfortable ignorance of the (mostly young) men and women who established this State, I would like to allude to separate, unscheduled meetings (each of which, quite fortuitously, I was able to attend) I had in late 1961 with the late great statesmen, Prime Minister of India Pandit Nehru in Goa and Prime Minister Chou En Lai in Shanghai.

Each prime minister answered questions regarding this State, its status in the world and the liberation movement which brought it into existence.

Despite each having a different political and philosophical perspective, neither one had anything but the highest personal regard for, and appreciation of, Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera and their comrades of whom Lemass was one.

Mr Chou En Lai had tremendous regard for Frank Aiken and Mr Nehru referred more than once to 'The Big Fellow' and 'The Long Fellow'.

One cannot but wonder why RTE set the tone of its "tribute" to the late Taoiseach with its definition of him as an armed criminal. Quite extraordinary.

Ronald Phelan
Cabinteely, D18

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