A Sticky Situation

Workers' Party of Ireland

In the Irish Times Mick Heaney asks whether the takeover of RTÉ’s news and current affairs department in the 1970s and ‘80s by a conspiratorial group of Workers Party activists-cum-journalists has been overstated by the historians of the period.

“Irish media mythology paints the programme Today Tonight as the key front in an internal and vicious tussle for power at RTÉ by the Worker’s Party – but has the role of the so-called ‘Stickies’ been exaggerated?

In October 1980, a new show called Today Tonight , was aired on RTÉ One. The aim of the programme was to shake up the station’s current affairs coverage, deemed moribund for several years.

While Today Tonight covered the political dogfights, economic malaise and personal tragedies that dominated life in the Republic during the 1980s, the programme was, according to Irish media mythology, the key front in an internal, and often extraordinarily vicious, tussle for ideological mastery of RTÉ by members of the Workers’ Party or, to use the slang of the time, “the Stickies”.

Against the bloody backdrop of the Troubles, a secret branch of the party, the Ned Stapleton Cumann, was supposed to wield huge influence in Montrose, shaping editorial policy, ensuring compliance with Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act – which excluded Sinn Féin and the IRA from the airwaves – and sidelining those who disagreed with them. It remains one of the most contentious chapters in RTÉ’s history. These days, many of those involved feel that the legend has outgrown the reality.”

Is that so? In fact, if anything, most observers feel that the reality was every bit as bad, or worse, than the legend, and that Ireland’s public service broadcaster was effectively hijacked by the members of an anti-democratic communist conspiracy for over a decade. Moreover, many of those selfsame conspirators still hold positions of influence within the country’s media establishment (not to mention their one-time political allies). To borrow a phrase from elsewhere, they haven’t gone away you know.

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