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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

The Guardian's Ireland Correspondent - Henry McDonald and censorship

Paul Larkin is a former BBC and RTÉ journalist and film maker. Larkin won the Liam Hourican European Journalist of the Year award in 1997. Larkin’s book on collusion between elements of the British security services and loyalist death squads (A Very British Jihad - Beyond The Pale, Belfast 2004) is widely acknowledged to be a ground breaking work with regards to the anti Irish and anti Catholic prejudice that lies at the heart of the state collusion story. In 2008, Larkin won the Best Director International Documentary award at the New York Independent Film Festival for his film Imeacht na nIarlaí - The Flight of the Earls, which was in Irish (Gaeilge), English and Spanish and starred Stephen Rea as Aodh Mór Ó Neill - Hugh O'Neill.

References to Henry McDonald’s book Colours, refer to the 2005 paperback version and references to his follow up book Gunsmoke and Mirrors to the 2008 hardback version. The word Sticky is a reference to Workers Party members in Ireland.

Henry McDonald’s House of Glass

Presumably at the behest of his editorial superiors, the Guardian's Ireland correspondent Henry McDonald followed up his smoke and mirrors “exclusive” (Guardian online 14th September - with an apologia for doing the story in the first place. The first article revealed a desire amongst anti peace process elements to wage war against bankers in England. The second article made things worse.  

On reading the original article, where McDonald breathlessly tells us that his encounter with the Real IRA was like a scene from Coppola’s Godfather, I immediately made a complaint to the Guardian. My complaint had nothing to do with wishing to censor dissident republicans (something I would be completely opposed to) and everything to do with the needless melodrama and poor journalism displayed in McDonald's article. As Guardian correspondent for Ireland, it is incumbent upon McDonald to reflect the reality of what is going on in our country. Part of the reality of life in Ireland is that republican dissidents are desperate to talk to anyone who will listen to them. How then can McDonald’s story be an "exclusive"? Further, does the Guardian believe that any Irish person would raise even a follicle in an eyebrow at the suggestion that our dissidents aspire to kill British bankers?

In my complaint, I state that McDonald’s article represents a lowering of the Guardian's high standards but, with his apologia the following day, McDonald has gone on to bring the Guardian into the realm of gross hypocrisy.

McDonald’s explicatory follow up piece, the day after his Real IRA “spectacular” focuses on Margaret Thatcher's 1988 Broadcasting Ban, which sought to cut off what she called the IRA’s “oxygen of publicity”. This can be read here  -

In insisting that it is important that the media talks to armed groups in Ireland (a position I support and I have the bruises to prove it) McDonald warns us about the dangers of censorship – “it is alarming that there is so much self-censorship out there”, he cries.

The problem for Henry McDonald is that the Irish political party, of which he was a long term member, wholeheartedly supported Thatcher's British Broadcasting Ban. Not only that, in Southern Ireland, members of his party (Official Sinn Féin/Republican Clubs and finally the Workers Party), who were always extremely prominent in the Irish media, actively campaigned for censorship of Provisional Sinn Féin and the IRA as it was then constituted.

The Southern Irish equivalent of Thatcher's gagging device, called Section 31, was the Jewel in the Crown of an anti Provo alliance involving the Workers Party, Fine Gael and (shamefully) elements of the Labour Party. Section 31 was even more stringent than the ban on Gerry Adams et al in the North of Ireland and Britain. In fact, journalists in the south (some of them now household names and very often under the influence of the Workers Party) were so eager to apply censorship that the courts had to tell them to stop self censoring themselves. There is a great irony here given McDonald's admonishments regarding self censorship in his Real IRA apologia in the Guardian.

McDonald himself describes being sworn into the Stalinist Official IRA's junior wing (fierce opponents of the Provisional IRA) in 1976. This description comes on page 155 of his book Colours.  “I was finally enlisting in a secret People’s Army that was no longer meant to exist", he says.

In 1989, and in the middle of the worst period of anti Provo censorship, McDonald is to be found expressing his delight at the Workers Party’s electoral successes that year and attending a celebration at their HQ in Dublin  (see Colours page 166). This is no flash in the pan political fixation with a party that supports the type of censorship that he is now warning us against. To be fair, Henry McDonald has at least been consistent, because even today he still argues the Workers Party position in his books. It is perhaps for this reason that in his last two books (Colours and Gunsmoke and Mirrors), McDonald says absolutely nothing about the iniquities of anti Provisional censorship, yet in this Wednesday’s Guardian the right to give a voice to the Real IRA has become a central issue.

To be clear, I do not deny McDonald’s  right  to hold his clearly long standing political position. He swore an oath of allegiance to a particular political (and paramilitary) view and has never so much as hinted that he regretted that decision. However, given his Workers Party antecedents and the fact that he still firmly expounds the “Sticky” position in his books, he should desist from the type of astounding hypocrisy he shows in his “oxygen of publicity” article. Or at least, he should explain to us why he is performing these journalistic and political somersaults.

Nor, finally, is McDonald's hypocrisy simply confined to his sudden aversion to censorship. In Wednesday’s Real IRA apologia, McDonald waxes lyrical about the “amazing gains” made by the Irish peace process. And he goes on - "So much has been achieved as a result of years of painstaking work and dialogue. The end result has been the once-unthinkable sight of Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists sharing power together.”

Henry McDonald's latest book Gunsmoke and Mirrors is an unrelenting assault (his word) on Provisional Sinn Féin and its approach to the peace process; so much so that the dust cover of the book does not speak of the “amazing gains” achieved by Sinn Fein and the DUP but rather says – “How Sinn Féin dressed up defeat as victory".

Will the real Henry McDonald please stand up and report Ireland properly and consistently?

@  Paul Larkin
Baile Átha Cliath

Mí Meán Fomhair 2010

1 comment:

Paul is that Spotlight programme "Sticking to their guns" available to view or buy anywhere do you know?
by: Gerry (contact) - 06 Jan '11 - 14:25


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Title: The Guardian's Ireland Correspondent - Henry McDonald and censorship
Date posted: 23 Sep '10 - 13:28
Filed under: General
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