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News Eoghan Harris

Saturday 20 September 2014

A consensus media is like one hand clapping

Published 07/09/2014 | 02:30

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Illustration by Jim Cogan

Last Saturday week, a sunny morning, I set out in flying form to drive from Skibbereen to Tralee. Alas, I made the mistake of tuning into the Marian Finucane show where Danny Morrison was rubbishing Richard O'Rawe's critical account of Gerry Adams and Morrison's role in the H-Block hunger strikes, which led to the deaths of ten prisoners.

Aine Lawlor, one of my favourite presenters, standing in for Finucane, has no radical-chic agendas. But presenters depend on production teams to keep them up to speed. But I doubt Lawlor was told this was the third time Danny Morrison had criticised O'Rawe's account on RTE radio without challenge.

Lawlor's interview would have been more incisive had she been supplied with a copy of O'Rawe's plea for a right of reply, published in the Sunday Independent of January 2012, "Why Won't Pat Kenny Let me Debate Danny Morrison?" But of course the Sunday Independent is largely read in Montrose for the same reason a priest once told me he read Marx: to find out what is wrong with it.

As prisoners' PRO O'Rawe was effectively second in command during the H-Blocks of Long Kesh in 1981. In his book, Blanketmen: An Untold History of the H-Block Hunger Strike (2005), he revealed the British government had made an offer to end the hunger strike on 5 July 1981, before the death of the fifth hunger striker, Joe McDonnell. And he accused Adams and Morrison of pressurising the prisoners to turn down the offer that could have saved five lives. Last Saturday was the third time that Morrison was allowed criticise O'Rawe's account on an RTE radio programme without giving him right of reply. On 15 August 2011 and on 6 January 2013, the Pat Kenny programme gave O'Rawe's critics a platform. To his surprise, he was not asked to take part, although, as he pointed out himself, this would have made good radio.

To add insult to injury, O'Rawe's chief critic, Danny Morrison, appeared on the January 2013 show and was given free rein to rubbish his book. Another participant on the programme, the art advisor and journalist Eamon Maille, did not challenge Morrison's account of the affair.

* * * * *

Eamon Maille also turned up on last Sunday's Marian Finucane media show. Clearly having devoured our paper he was at high doh on the Sunday Independent's critical position on the Hume-Adams talks. Apart from Diarmaid Ferriter, the rest of the panel let him rip.

Seamus Martin, now on the BAI, stayed silent. As a former journalist, he might have reminded Maille that that this is a democracy with a free press and not even John Hume should be spared scrutiny. Charlie Bird, another former journalist, should have done the same.

But Martin stayed silent and Bird was supportive as Mallie railed at the Sunday Independent and praised Morrison whom he called "the greatest spindoctor of them all". The panel also stayed po-voiced when Maille went into a cringe-inducing story about an encounter with Hume.

Maille recalled meeting a "crestfallen" Hume in Wellington Park Hotel in Belfast shortly before the IRA ceasefire was announced when the latter was "isolated, battered and bruised". According to Maille, Hume asked him "What do you think, Eamonn?"

Again according to Maille he humbly said to himself "God asking me? A mere mortal, what I thought?" So what sage advice did he give John? "I simply said, 'do you know what I'd do, John? I'd keep the faith'."

After that, he was away again on another riff against the Sunday Independent. Later, when I listened back, I found the Sunday Independent was also under attack on Anton Savage's show on Today FM. Fergus Finlay challenged Jody Corcoran's story about Albert Reynolds. Finlay claimed that he had never described Reynolds as corrupt.

Two thoughts struck me. First, what on earth would they talk about on the Sunday shows without Sunday Independent's stories challenging the consensus? Second, why can't they connect such stories with our healthy circulation status ?

* * * * *

Recently, on a squally day, I learned a lot in an hour spent in a rib helmed by Pat Collins from a famous Baltimore lifeboat and fishing family. Pat remarked casually that the weather would prevent him from fishing that week. For the first time, it hit home to me how fragile the working life of fishermen, how much their weekly wage is at the mercy of wind, water and weather.

Pat also spoke highly of the work of the National Maritime College where his son Dermot is studying. Pat went on to praise Simon Coveney. I was glad to hear him do so. Coveney is a chip off the old block - his late father, Hugh,was an honest politician and a fine human being. Fine Gael should look no further for a leader when Kenny steps down.

Coveney went up further in my opinion by staying cool under pressure to pull out troops after the Golan incident. That was the correct call. Like most Irish people, I felt real pride on reading about the rescue of the Filipino soldiers.

The PDF, all ranks, are first-class soldiers and proud patriots. In any Irish barracks, soldiers stop what they are doing and stand to attention until the tricolour is fully raised or lowered. It is good to have such armed patriots around as long as those who call them the Free State army have not gone away.

Coveney also confirmed Jim Cusack's story that the IDF were involved. My own sources say the IDF provided our troops with crucial local intelligence and were ready to give them cover if it came to the crunch.

So why did our media not follow up that angle? Was it because it does not fit the dominant media discourse which is anti Israeli? Were they afraid the Israelis would claim credit for keeping a watching brief ?

But a friend in Tel Aviv tells me the Israeli media gave the Irish troops full and sole credit for the daring rescue. And he adds plaintively: "If only the Irish appreciated how loved they are in Israel - it is really quite tragic how one-sided this love is."

* * * * *

If you missed Close to Evil last Monday you can watch it on the RTE player. But it is a miracle it was made at all. Although the story clearly had popular and critical potential, the Irish Film Board failed to back it from the start.

Close to Evil finally saw air only because director Gerry Gregg, and his crew, including the legendary Shay Deasy, worked for free. Paul Dolan of Fas Tralee provided an apprentice and technical assistance, and Colm O'Callaghan of RTE was courageous enough to extract enough cash from his bare-bone budget to finish the film.

In spite of its tragic theme, I was struck by how many people stopped me to say that Tomi Reichental had taken them on a spiritual pilgrimage, and one that in some cathartic sense also turned out to be a redemptive love story.

Sunday Independent

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