Silent Voices

Concubhar Ó Liatháin, an Irish journalist and blogger, editor of the now closed Lá Nua newspaper, and presently a member of the board of management of TG4, has written an article for the Irish Independent strongly condemning the TV channel for broadcasting a series of programmes featuring former female members of the Irish Republican Army, titled Mná an IRA (“Women of the IRA”).

“Dr Rose Dugdale was arrested in 1974 for her part in the robbery of several old masters from Russborough House in Co Wicklow and the attempted bombing from the air of Strabane RUC station.

Decades later, she turned up on TG4 last week to retrospectively justify her actions. It certainly soured Nollaig na mBan for me, following what was a very successful Christmas season of programmes on TG4.

Mna an IRA is a new series on the Irish language station, which prides itself for its ‘suil eile’, and it will profile women who were involved in that illegal organisation over the next six weeks. If the first programme is any indication of what’s to come, it will be nauseating and heartbreaking for the victims of the IRA and their relatives.

As a board member of TG4, appointed in September 2010 following a public competition, I am generally proud of what is being achieved by the station. It has won several awards for its documentaries and other programmes and has recast the Irish language as an integral part of Irish culture that is attractive and useful. Mna an IRA is a stain on this record of achievement.

Right from the title sequence, where Dr Dugdale was described as a ‘saighdiuir/ soldier’ and a member of ‘Oglaigh na hEireann’, Mna an IRA struck the wrong chord with me. How could Dr Dugdale be described as a ‘soldier’ despite never having enlisted in a real army, bound by international laws and conventions regarding human rights, as opposed to an illegal paramilitary force?

How could a programme, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) and broadcast on TG4, be allowed to describe the Provisional IRA as ‘Oglaigh na hEireann’ when the only force on this island to legitimately use that name is our Defence Forces?”

Ó Liatháin, who is a long-standing critic of Sinn Féin, then goes on to condemn the programme for an alleged lack of balance and a failure to challenge Rosie Dugdale’s views and statements.

“Republicans have reviled the revisionists over the years for giving an alternative view of Irish history, which cast the IRA and Sinn Fein in a poor light. As evidenced here, revisionism isn’t a one-way street as it appears republicans can be as revisionist as any of those they reviled in order to paint their actions in the best possible light. That’s fair enough for An Phoblacht TV — but TG4, as a publicly funded TV station, needs to abide by higher standards lest its impressive record be tarnished by shoddy, one-sided productions such as Mna an IRA.”

Rather unfortunately Ó Liatháin links the programme to a coincidental attack on a PSNI paramilitary police officer in the North of Ireland:

“That the programme was broadcast on the same night as the dissidents attempted to blow up a member of the PSNI underlines the dangers of broadcasting programmes such as Mna an IRA without a rigorous examination of the content of the programme and their relevance in contemporary Ireland.

I have an abhorrence of those who attack TG4 and who would deny those who speak Irish such a vital resource as a modern television station, as if Irish speakers were second-class citizens.”

Concubhar Ó Liatháin may undoubtedly abhor those who treat Irish speakers as second class citizens but judging by the reaction to his article he has given them plenty of ammunition to do so in the future including a new name for TG4 that is now spreading amongst the extreme edges of the Anglophone media and online community in Ireland: “An Phoblacht TV”.

The matter is examined further in the Irish Times:

“MANAGEMENT AT TG4 has defended a series of programmes about women in the Republican movement, in response to criticism by a member of the station’s board.

Concubhar Ó Liatháin accused the programme makers of Mná an IRA of bias and described the first programme, on Dr Rose Dugdale, as “slipshod” and “one-sided”. The programme was broadcast last Thursday.

Mr Ó Liatháin, a former editor of the now defunct Lá Nua newspaper, said the programme “went against everything I know to be holy writ about making programmes as in there is another side to the story”.

He said no attempt was made to interview the victims of Dugdale’s actions and her views as an unrepentant Republican were not challenged.

However, TG4 deputy director general Pádhraic Ó Ciardha said the station was standing by both the Dr Rose Dugdale programme and the rest of the Mná an IRA programmes.

He confirmed they had received letters from Mr Ó Liatháin, and said these would be responded to.

He said the board was the proper forum for board members to bring up issues of importance.

“We don’t make any comment on internal discussions,” he said.

Mr Ó Liatháin said two of the four contributors to the programme, Séanna Breathnach, the former officer commanding of the IRA in the H-Blocks, and Ite Ní Chionnaith, a former member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political wing of the INLA, were supporters of the Republican cause and there was no attempt to provide balance from those who opposed the armed struggle.

The programme also featured contributions from former Limerick Labour Party councillor Frank Prendergast and academic and human rights lawyer Fionnuala Ní Aoláin who spoke about the effects of violence on those who perpetrate it.

Future programmes in the series will be about former Republican prisoners Josephine Hayden and Rosaleen Walsh; Pamela Kane, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail for a bank robbery in Enniscorthy; Sinn Féin MLA and junior minister in the Northern Assembley Martina Anderson; and Rosie McCorley, who was sentenced to 66 years for IRA activities but was later released under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.”

Ó Concubhar’s criticisms echo those found earlier in the Herald, albeit in a far more insidious manner:

“AS the centenary of 1916 approaches we can expect all manner of documentaries commemorating this apparently glorious event, although hopefully some brave programme-maker (which obviously excludes anyone from RTE) will allow, say, Kevin Myers the leeway to present the view that the Rising was a terrorist atrocity which only led to even more barbarity.

Unsung rhetoric aside though, TG4 really stirred up a raft of publicity yesterday with the brouhaha surrounding a new documentary series which began last night.

One might expect a programme called Mna an IRA to be a look back at times past, featuring interviews with old grannies recalling the days when they were Bridie, Warrior Princess of Cumann na mBan or Mary Kate, She-Wolf of the ‘Ra, but no, this focused on those who’d seen service in the IRA ‘in modern times’.

Coming soon to TG4 — ‘Victims of the IRA’. Don’t hold your breath.”

Concubhar Ó Liatháin has stated on several occasions his opposition to the Official Languages Act of 2003 (which enshrines to a limited degree a level of equality between Irish and English speaking citizens) and the Language Commissioner (who oversees the fair implementation of the Act and deals with complaints by citizens in relation to its contravention by state bodies). His view is that the legislation, as currently formatted, is largely irrelevant to the needs of Irish speakers. However there is no doubting his commitment to the Irish language, and the Irish speaking communities of the Gaeltachtaí in particular, and the breadth of his vision for TG4 in the coming decades is both impressive and welcome. However in airing this public criticism of TG4 in a notoriously anti-Irish newspaper Ó Liatháin has done the Irish language station or the cause of the Irish speaking communities of Ireland no favours. Such views should have been made internally on the board of management of TG4, and with whatever vigour Ó Liatháin felt necessary. If that failed to meet his satisfaction then a resort to a public statement on the issue would have been understandable.

As it is this alleged controversy will simply add more fuel to the campaign by the Anglophone zealots in our political and media establishments to close TG4, and while Concubhar Ó Liatháin cannot be accused of creating the controversy in the first place he has certainly not helped in dampening it down. All that said, in the interests of free speech and the value of opposing opinions, I hope Concubhar Ó Liatháin is not forced to resign his position from the TG4 board, as some are now calling for. Though I regard the position taken by him as censorious, and a reminder of the draconian days of Section 31 when a plurality of views in this nation on the conflict in the north-eastern part of the country became unacceptable, I believe that opinions like his, which undoubtedly many people share, should be heard. Free speech is just that. The freedom to speak as one would wish.

After all, these are the same principles which underlie the making of the Mná an IRA documentary series in the first place.

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