Alt Amháin - Single Article


airgead  glas  oráiste  corcra  buí  liath

Please email your comments to:

All fair comments, criticisms and praise will be posted!

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

Smithwick – RTÉ nails its political colours to the mast - the now discredited RUC are the good guys and the IRA is the “enemy”

A depressingly necessary preamble -

What I say below does not for a moment mean that I am insensitive to the pain of a family who has lost a loved one; be that police officers as in this case, or families of Irish republicans, or of pro British loyalists. It also goes without saying that the families of uninvolved civilians probably bear the worst pain of all from events provoked by the "Troubles". Only the out of touch - fossilised in Dublin 4 - Irish media makes a distinction – as we shall see, viewing the lives of RUC men as more deserving of investigation and commemoration than the thousands of victims of a sectarian state underpinned by successive British governments.

Miriam O'Callaghan - senior Prime Time presenter

During RTÉ’s coverage of Ireland’s 2011 presidential election Prime Time presenter Miriam O’Callaghan asked Martin McGuinness the following question:
“How do you square, Martin McGuinness, with your God the fact that you were involved in the murder of so many people?”

My view is that this question is fair enough, but with the following important proviso: – a forthright and clearly provocative question like this can only be seen to be fair if RTÉ adopts the same tough approach to all the leading players in the Troubles, not least the RUC - a disbanded and discredited force. Only a year ago, Sir Desmond de Silva confirmed in his report that British agents employed or working on behalf of the RUC, British Army and MI5 played “key roles” and actively “furthered and facilitated” the murder of Pat Finucane and others.

Unfortunately, Prime Time’s report into the conclusions of the Smithwick report contained no such balance or impartiality. The two senior RUC officers whose deaths at the hands of the IRA was the subject of Smithwick’s inquiry were basically portrayed as heroes – police officers, pure and simple, who were bravely standing up to a terrorist threat. This, in my view, is cowboy comic reporting, not least when most of the focus was on Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, who is described as “Harry” for most of Prime Time's report. The fact of the matter is that Chief Superintendent Breen was a key operative in the Dirty War that was being played out in this country between 1968 and 1994.

Senior RUC officer Harry Breen - gave and expected
no quarter in Ireland's Dirty War

When I did my BBC training I was quite rightly told never to use personal first names when describing a person who featured in a film or report that I was preparing for broadcast, or more accurately in my role as a producer/director when checking the script of a reporter or presenter for a film. The reason to avoid personal names is obvious.

Imagine, for example, if RTÉ news were to begin a TV interview with Taoiseach Enda Kenny by saying “Enda – could you tell us a bit more about this bank bailout”. Or say in a report on the release from prison of seasoned criminal John Gilligan a crime correspondent was to say – “John walked out of prison at 11 o’clock this morning. You can see and hear my point. This is basic journalism but not something that the Prime Time team seems to be aware of – at least not where the RUC is concerned. For, as I note above, in this woeful report on the Smithwick Tribunal, RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen is simply called “Harry” and the IRA is called “the enemy”. Moreover, the clear position of this Prime Time report, ignoring an avalanche of evidence to the contrary, is to present the RUC as a professional police force under threat from the barbarian at the gate – its us against “the enemy” you understand. Prime Time gives the distinct impression of not being aware that the RUC was disbanded by the British because of its unacceptable bias and outrages like the murder of Pat Finucane.

Prime Time's message - the IRA is the enemy - just in case we didn't get it.

Leaving aside the shoddy technical standard of the film report (with poor sound and the reporter's words repeated and disjointed on several occasions), I have never in all my time making films for the BBC, RTÉ and TG4, seen such an emotive, partisan and argumentum ad hominem (appealing to emotions not reason) piece of journalism as this Prime Time report on the Smithwick Tribunal. Who in heaven’s name chose the title “Colluding with the enemy”? A title which, right from the start of the report, abandons all pretence of objectivity in terms of Troubles reporting. It is not the job of any public service broadcaster to pronounce either the British, the RUC or the IRA as the "enemy". This would be unheard of in the BBC. We also have a breathless Miriam O’Callaghan describing the Smithwick report as “devastating”, with a “damning conclusion”. It was no such thing. Judge Smithwick’s very thorough and sober report could find no hard evidence of collusion on the part of a single named garda officer and chose instead to draw a general inference that there was collusion between an unidentified garda mole and the IRA.

The completely innocent and mixed religion Miami Showband before
they were assassinated at a joint RUC/UVF/British Army "checkpoint"

Far more “devastating (in terms of collusion) are the HET (Historical Enquiries Team) reports into murders involving state agents and the RUC like that of the Miami Showband, as well of scores of (mainly) Catholic civilians in mid Ulster’s "Murder Triangle", all of which, as far as I'm aware, have been completely ignored by Prime Time since my own 1995 film about the Dublin and Monaghan bombs

Let's meet the “Harry” that was not shown or investigated in this Prime Time report:

Armstrong had a conversation with Chief Inspector Breen, whom he knew well, and the three of us went to McBride's house where we collected the guns. These sub-machine guns were transported to Mitchell's farmhouse where I later test fired them in a hayshed. They worked perfectly. Mitchell subsequently sold these weapons to Jackie Whitten, a UVF paramilitary leader in Portadown ...

This is the never challenged or denied statement of John Weir an ex RUC soldier (I use the word deliberately) who worked closely with Harry Breen. Both Weir and Breen according to a number of reliable sources worked with leading figures in the UVF. In fact it was none other than Harry Breen who, along with other senior RUC officers, helped to get notorious UVF hitman Robin Jackson offside when a gun he had used in the Miami Showband murders was traced back to the cross border killing of John Francis Green.

Prime Time cannot be unaware of Harry Breen’s profile. Indeed the Smithwick report informs us that RTÉ’s “Harry” attended a top level dinner with the then secretary of state Tom King who was demanding tougher action against the IRA in South Armagh. It was also Tom King who gave the green light for Brian Nelson to be activated within the UFF so as to inflect terror on the Irish republican community.

I am not arguing that RTÉ should have spent a long time in its coverage of the Smithwick report examining Harry Breen’s background, but to fail to even mention the strong indications that this senior police officer had links to the UVF and other assassins and acts of collusion is, in my view, a dereliction of RTÉ’s duty to report the Troubles fairly. As it was, the whole report could have been made by the PR department of the old RUC.

What we got instead was a soft focus interview with “Harry’s” staff officer Alan Mains with, again, not a mention of Harry Breen’s Dirty War career. I must say that Mains came across as a credible witness and therefore an even better person to ask about John Weir’s allegations that his superior officer Harry Breen was linked to the UVF. Moreover, as a senior CID officer in Newry, Alan Mains would be expected to have a special insight into the credibility of a key Smithwick witness Peter Keeley. In a Belfast court two weeks ago, Keeley was described by a judge as disingenuous and the Smithwick report itself carries damning statements from witnesses as to Keeley's credibility.

As if that weren’t enough, we then had the sight of Miriam O’Callaghan interviewing DUP MP for East Derry, Gregory Campbell, with Miriam forgetting to ask him why Counsel for Eoin Corrigan describes his DUP colleague, and fellow MP, Jeffrey Donaldson as having acted at best “irresponsibly” and at worst "disgracefully" in using parliamentary privilege to name garda Eoin Corrigan as the IRA mole in Dundalk garda station. This would seem to be a fair assertion given that the judge could find no evidence for Garda Corrigan being the IRA mole. Did anyone in Prime Time actually read the whole report before going to air?

Toby Harnden's evidence was dismissed by the Smithwick report.

But this lack of analysis on the question of the Dirty War is simply part of a wider problem in Prime Time’s report on Smthwick’s findings. For what is not raised in the Prime Time report is the fact that the evidence of the four main witnesses who initiated the report is summarily dismissed by the judge himself, except in one important regard the evidence of one of these witnesses. These "faulty" witnesses being English journalist Toby Harnden author of Bandit Country, British/Irish journalist Kevin Myers and two lowly FRU spooks Peter Keeley (aka Kevin Fulton) and Ian Hurst (aka Martin Ingram). The effect of the now formally rejected testimony of all four of these witnesses (where naming a garda officer is concerned) had been to point the finger at Garda Eoin Corrigan and two other named garda officers based at Dundalk Garda station.

Judge Smithwick is scathing about Toby Harnden’s decision to break his agreement with the Tribunal and refuse to appear for cross examination. Little weight is given to Kevin Myers’ evidence and Smithwick is excoriating about the calibre and credibility of Ian Hurst even going so far as to baldly state that Ian Hurst was lying. Keeley meanwhile is identified as the primary, and now largely discredited, source for Jeffrey Donaldson’s statement to the House of Commons when naming garda Corrigan. However, Judge Smithwick, surprisingly, chooses to believe Peter Keeley's account of his relationship with IRA figures in Newry and it is partly on this basis, I believe, that there was general evidence of collusion,

The judge also notes that the evidence of RUC officer Alan Mains, amongst others, also casts serious doubt on the allegations made by Toby Harnden with regard to garda Corrigan. In fact, in the report Alan Mains tells the judge that he will waive his right to anonymity as an alleged source of Toby Harnden’s central allegation so as to prove that he was right and Harnden wrong. Judge Smithwick notes in his report that Harnden had previously been interviewed by Prime Time about the Breen and Buchanan killings but had refused to appear at the tribunal to face cross examination from the likes of Alan Mains and the counsel for garda Eoin Corrigan. This is a fascinating and revealing section of the report. Why was Mains not asked about this and why was the report’s demolition of Harnden not referred to at all?

Again, Prime Time cannot say it was not aware of these credibility problems with regard to the main witnesses because I myself wrote to RTÉ’s current affairs editors in December 2012 explaining in some detail why Smithwick would have problems with the testimony of the people who had helped to initiate the inquiry. I got an initial response from RTÉ and after that silence.

Thus there is a question mark over the very grounds for initiating the Smithwick Tribunal in the first place – judge Smithwick acknowledges on page 212 that the now discredited evidence in Toby Harnden’s book Bandit Country planted the acorn for his report. So why was there no voice querying the very basis of the Smithwick report given that other aspects of the Weston Park agreement have not been fulfilled? Over 10 million Euro before legal fees to establish that there was “probably” an IRA mole at Dundalk garda station in the middle of a Dirty War in which Harry Breen was a prime target. Are the people of Ireland shocked and devastated in the way that RTÉ suggests? To put it bluntly, the dogs in the street know that very few members of An Garda Síochána were IRA supporters and an IRA mole within the guards was a rarity. In other words, Smithwick’s conclusions are nothing more than a damp squib.

RTÉ's headquarters in Dublin 4 - still in Section 31 censorship mode

The historical context for this Prime Time travesty is that for decades RTÉ has simply airbrushed victims of now officially acknowledged RUC/UVF terror out of the state broadcaster’s narrative, thereby not only abandoning its own Hippocratic oath to report the whole and unabridged truth to its audience, but also causing the families who have suffered that terror yet more anguish at being thus silenced. To my knowledge, since my 1995 “Friendly Forces” film made with reporter Brendan O’Brien about British sate involvement in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the “national broadcaster” has not carried out one single major investigation into collusion between British state forces and pro British death squads. That’s moving towards twenty years. A fact that strengthens the perception that, for RTÉ, victims of British state collusion are less worthy of comment and investigation than RUC officers. Irish republicans and their supporters, meanwhile, are dismissed as the “enemy” – not even the Queen of England says that any more.

Dearie me. What is going on at RTÉ? A broadcaster sadly out of touch with its own people where our colonial legacy is concerned.

@Paul Larkin
Gaoth Dobhair
Mí na Nollag 2013
No comments yet:


Comments must be approved before being published.

Meta Information:

Title: Smithwick – RTÉ nails its political colours to the mast - the now discredited RUC are the good guys and the IRA is the “enemy”
Date posted: 15 Dec '13 - 19:20
Filed under: General
Next entry:  » The real importance of Smithwick Tribunal is its outing of one News Int's key informants in Ireland
Previous entry:  « The day I met one of Denmark's greatest ever chroniclers - Klaus Rifbjerg

Baile - Home