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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

As another RTÉ personality stands for Fine Gael - we discover that George Lee was on Leave of Absence

RTÉ – The political wing of the Blueshirt state.

The real scandal about the George Lee affair has very little to do with the man himself, nor does it really affect Fine Gael, though neither party comes out unscathed from this political and journalistic débâcle. The Phoenix magazine has shown that Lee and Fine Gael had been loving up to each other for some time. No, the biggest cause for concern is that RTÉ, as the state broadcaster, has once again displayed its complete lack of independence and journalistic integrity.

Last month, I posted an article on the Cic Saor site lampooning the fact that the then Fine Gael politician George Lee had been a guest along with senior RTÉ journalist Charlie Bird on Miriam O’Callaghan’s Sunday morning radio show.

The basic premise of Miriam O'Callaghan's programme is given by the producers as being thus:

“Miriam O'Callaghan talks to two individuals who have a strong and deep-seated connection, whether through family, business or otherwise.”

So what we had was a cosy chat between one of the nation’s most experienced news journalists and a politician whom he would most likely be required to interview with penetrating questions at some point down the political road. This scenario will, of course, never happen now that George Lee has resigned from Fine Gael

Similarly, Miriam O’Callaghan, in her role as a Prime Time presenter, would have been expected to be equally severe with George Lee the politician. However the broadcasting of the Miriam, George and Charlie programme left us in no doubt that RTÉ regarded George Lee as part of the family and his politics with it. Or to put it in the words of the programme makers themselves they “have a strong and deep seated connection.” How then would the state broadcaster have beeen seen to be neutral with regards to George Lee in his role as a politician?

This whole farce has now been compounded by George Lee’s return to RTÉ where he expects to take up his post as a reporter on economics and political economy. Thus, the Irish public is given the message that Fine Gael is no mere political party but an entity that is beyond the usual rigours of journalism, part of the fabric of society.

Fine Gael is just like RTÉ and the Garda Síochána (also a bastion of Fine Gael) one of the pillars of the Southern “Free State”. This situation pertains regardless of which party holds the reins of political power – usually not Fine Gael.

Just to reinforce that message, RTÉ sports commentator Barry O’Neill has just been selected as the Fine Gael candidate for Donegal South West. This happened at a Fine Gael selection convention held in Glenties on Sunday the 15th of February. See

Barry O’Neill’s personal profile on the RTÉ website (where he is affectionately called “Baz”) see -
mentions not only his undoubted sporting acumen but also the fact that he organises a Rory Gallagher music festival and then also casually mentions that he is a local councillor in Ballyshannon – Lets all vote for Baz!

To put all this in a directly political context. Imagine RTÉ’s reaction if, in an extremely unlikely scenario, Ryan Tubridy were to announce his intention to take leave of absence and stand for Sinn Féin.

The consistently excellent work of Phoenix magazine notwithstanding, as far as I am aware, not one journalist has questioned the impropriety of RTÉ journalists standing as candidates for Fine Gael. The focus of journalistic enquiry at the time of Lee’’s departure from RTÉ was the timing of that departure. That is, had George Lee been reporting on economic issues when he was actually preparing to stand as a Fine Gael TD. No major investigation has been directed at RTÉ itself.

My surprise at this is multiplied by the revelation that George Lee had not actually resigned from RTÉ but had simply taken a year’s leave of absence. Yes that’s right, all the headlines about George Lee having resigned from RTÉ were balderdash. He had simply gone to his employers and said - look I’m thinking of moving over to the political wing of the organisation (Fine Gael) for a while; so can I get a year’s unpaid leave?

The comparison between journalistic practice at the BBC and RTÉ is extremely pertinent here. The BBC, for all its faults of hubris and classicist grandeur, has a very clear code of journalistic ethics and unlike RTÉ does not regard itself as the guardian of a political and state agenda. The BBC simply asks its journalists to be journalists. No BBC journalist is allowed to remain an employee of that organisation whilst being politically active and that same journalist would not be allowed to re-enter the BBC as a staff member whilst still having a political profile.

Miriam Ó’Callaghan did us all a favour by revealing RTÉ’s political slip with her Sunday Morning show. Charlie Bird is a former Official Sinn Féin activist and his side kick George Lee is a blueshirt Fine Gaeler. This has been the overt political makeup of the news and current affairs department in RTÉ from the late 1960s onwards.

It is true that Bird and Lee have done some excellent financial corruption stories in the last few years but it is a matter of historical record that the political strands that these two journalists have represented were proactive in arguing for censorship and were part of a culture that turned its back on stories like the Maguire Seven, the Guildford Four, the 1980s Hunger Strikes and the widespread collusion between agents of the British state and pro British murder gangs.

In my book A Very British Jihad, I predict that the two main broadcasting organisations in Ireland will eventually merge. When that happens, it is imperative that the BBC’s journalistic values become the touchstone of all that new organisations journalistic endeavours. RTÉ has shown that, in terms of the Hippocratic oath of broadcasting philosophy, it has nothing to bring to the table.

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Title: As another RTÉ personality stands for Fine Gael - we discover that George Lee was on Leave of Absence
Date posted: 18 Feb '10 - 16:25
Filed under: General
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