Written on: 25. 10. 2011 in the category: news

RTE’s McGuinness coverage has been abysmal

I have no particular feelings about most of the presidential candidates. Sean Gallagher is a Fianna Fail stealth-missile, and I would trust that once in the Park, he’d remain nice and stealthy.

Poor Gay Mitchell is not so much a missile as one of those poor birdmen who used to leap off the Eiffel Tower, convinced that the fragments of cloth attached to their arms would keep them aloft. He’s more likely to be a sad and crumpled heap than president. Michael D Higgins once said some inexcusable things about me, but that was a while ago, and was purely personal, and I’m sure once in the Aras he would be civil and presidential.

But it has been the candidacy of Martin McGuinness which has been the eye-opener. For my heart went out — and with a genuine empathy — to all those moderate unionists in the North who have had to put up with the bloodied hallucinations and the false-memory syndrome that are the staples of this man’s politics. He sounds like one of those demented preachers who used to gather at the corner of Abbey Street and O’Connell Street, speaking in tongues; but he is in fact deputy leader of the Northern Executive, and this is how he always talks.

Imagine being a nice Northern Prod called Jeremy or Rupert without any blood on your hands, and daily having to listen to his looney-tunes peregrinations through Irish history, in a mental bus journey that manages to avoid most of the 2,000 or so dead killed by republicans, and misses out entirely such IRA spectaculars as Birmingham, La Mon, Enniskillen, Jean McConville and the other Disappeared, or the fact that the IRA — “the defenders of the nationalist people” — killed many more Northern Catholics than did the British army.

But that’s the man for you; he was in the centre of a killing operation for a quarter of a century, and it would be unreasonable to expect him to remain sane through all that. What he did not do, he planned; what he did not plan, he authorised; what he did not authorise, he knew about. No wonder there’s a screw or two loose. The real wonder is that he doesn’t stick straws in his hair while he addresses his audiences in Ovimbu or Farsi. Or maybe he does.

It’s the dog that didn’t bark which is really fascinating. I don’t need to repeat the detailed analyses in last Sunday’s ‘Independent’ — by Eilis O’Hanlon, Eoghan Harris and John Paul McCarthy — of RTE’s quite abysmal coverage of the McGuinness campaign trail; Google it yourself. But it really has been shocking how he has been allowed to make uncontradicted falsehoods to RTE reporters. As, for example, the one in Cork quoted by Eilis, that the IRA ceasefire had been declared 17 years ago, in 1994. Funny thing that: so how precisely did John Jeffries and Inan Ul-haq manage to get blown up by an IRA bomb at Canary Wharf in 1996, so comprehensively that they could only be identified by their fingerprints? But at least they have left a vestigial memory: which is more than you can say of the innocent Irishman Brendan Woolhead, who suffered a broken skull and pelvis from a later IRA bomb in London, and who — because he died of an asthma attack some months later — is not officially a victim of the troubles.

And the Manchester bomb — that went off within the past 17 years. And Garda Jerry McCabe, shot 14 times with one of Gaddafi’s Kalashnik-ovs, was murdered in the same timespan. Not to speak of the IRA’s Northern Bank robbery of seven years ago. And as Eilis pointed out, the official end to operations only came five years ago — but with no mention of an end to the IRA or, most of all, the IRA army council. How come no one on RTE ever asked McGuinness about his current membership of that august body?

And as Eoghan Harris reported, RTE largely ignored Gaddafi’s enormous contribution to our troubles in its coverage of his death. But that contribution paralleled McGuinness’s rise to dominance of the Sinn Fein-IRA family. Gaddafi and McGuinness became voluntarily conjoined twins, a ghastly Burke and Hare whose combined efforts prolonged our Troubles by at least a decade. This cost not merely the lives of the directly-killed, but also those of the victims of loyalist paramilitaries, whose particularly foul and cowardly war was both reactive to, and coterminous with, the IRA’s.

RTE has a new director general, and he has made a good start. But with a few exceptions, notably Miriam O’Callaghan and Sean O’Rourke, RTE has had a truly deplorable presidential campaign, but curiously, in one regard only: its coverage of Martin McGuinness. Yes, Noel Curran is making a long-overdue start in cutting the obese salaries being paid to RTE personalities on the back of our involuntary licence fees. But there is a larger issue. The coverage of the election campaign is a salutary reminder why Section 31 came into force in the first place.