Raidió Teilifís Éireann – RTÉ

The Torture Files

Photo taken by civil rights activists of an Irish civilian tortured by the British military interrogators in the Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s

Photo taken by civil rights activists of an Irish civilian tortured by the British military interrogators in the Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s

So the News and Current Affairs Department of RTÉ, our self-proclaimed “national broadcaster” (no sniggering, please), has suddenly become aware that there were two sides to the conflict that raged in the north-eastern part of our island-nation during the 1970s, ‘80s and 1990s. Yes, the war wasn’t solely caused by Irish Republicans (actually it truly began with British soldiers-turned-terrorists back in 1966) and the British Armed Forces participated in it too (y’know, the same ones we used to shoot at during the War of Independence when they patrolled the streets of Dublin and Cork – and Belfast and Derry). RTÉ’s much-hyped documentary broadcast last night revealed the levels of government-authorised torture inflicted by Britain on Irish citizens living in the fifth of our country retained under the British Occupation following the 1916-21 revolution (y’know, the one that was staged and fought on the streets of Dublin and Cork – and Belfast and Derry). The programme was titled “The Torture Files” and the horrifying stories contained within were presented as if something startlingly new and unbeknown to the people of Ireland (except, y’know, the fifth of our population forced to live under the British Occupation despite having supported the same historic struggle fought on the streets of Dublin and Cork – and Belfast and Derry).

Of course the revelations were anything but new or unbeknown. If fact they were widely reported for decades though you might have missed all that if you had relied on RTÉ for such information any time between 1968 and 1998 (or even 2014!). God be with the days when the apparatchiks of the Workers Party controlled the news and current affairs output at Montrose, when state censorship was second to ideological censorship enforced with an iron fist by a closed coterie of journalists and editors. They all thought the same, they all talked the same. Though of course that is not too hard when most of them were screwing each other too (one way or another). Ah, wine and coke parties in Dublin 4; look at us with our beards, our manifestos, our white lines and our ABBA albums too. Fun, fun, fun in the know-nothing sun (of the empire upon which it never sets… ahem).

Here at An Sionnach Fionn, gadfly of the establishment, such items of historical enquiry have been a regular feature for the last three years. Again and again accusations have been levelled, proof has been offered, yet the critics cry: oh no, that cannot be true, it would simply be too dreadful a vista to contemplate…

Yet it was and is true. All of it.

So here are some select highlights from the campaign for truth waged by one lonely blog against the closed face of Irish media denial:

From Ireland To Iraq – The Same Army, The Same Abusers

Former British Agent Admits Irish Citizens Were Waterboarded

The Murder Machine – The British War In Ireland

Dirty Secrets Of A Dirty War

Pat Finucane – A Victim Of Britain’s State-Sponsored Terrorism In Ireland

Death Squad Britain – The Past That Won’t Stay Hidden

Ulster Resistance – Unapologetic British Terrorism In Ireland

The Truth About Ireland’s British Troubles

Death Squad Britain

Death Squad Killers In The Land Down Under

No Investigation Into A 1971 British War Crime In Ireland

Only A General Amnesty Will Yield The Truth

About these ads

Cultus Obscuram – Mr Rossi, Signor Rossi

Mr Rossi, Signor Rossi

Mr Rossi, Signor Rossi

Sometimes looking back at Ireland in the 1970s and ‘80s I wonder if the entire nation was quite right in the head. It was a truly surreal time. Forget the war in the north-east against the British, the twin scourges of poverty and emigration, the political scandals and omnipresent corruption, the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church, the emergence of illegal drugs and drug-related crime, the bus strikes and bin strikes and all sorts of strikes. As a child many of those passed me by (well, almost…). What truly made our island nation the whacked-out member of the European family was RTÉ’s programming for children. There was nothing quite like it before and certainly nothing quite like it since. While kids of the 1990s and 2000s were fed a steady diet of mainstream, wall-to-wall Anglo-American fare in the days of yore children were treated to a more eclectic mix culled from the arcana of world television (a fact not entirely unrelated to RTÉ’s minuscule acquisitions’ budget). All sorts of psychedelically insane shows were injected into our young and impressionable minds. I heard more Russian and Czech in my childhood than I did in my adulthood (the last ten years aside!). Oh yes we had our own home-grown versions of the post-hippy madness: Wanderly Wagon, Fortycoats & Co and Bosco (I hated Bosco). However nothing competed with those tripped-out cartoons from behind the not-so-opaque Iron Curtain or the obscure corners of US television.

From the latter came the jittery-coloured Mr. Rossi, an Americanised version of the original Senior Rossi produced in Italy by Bruno Bozzetto. Beginning in 1960 there were several short films, three feature length movies and an eleven-part TV series all of which seemed to have been broadcast on RTÉ at one time or another. I can honestly tell you very little about them except how odd they seemed even back then. Like ‘60s odd. I’m not sure I enjoyed them. I’m not sure how much I watched them. However I do remember the theme tune which has stayed with me like some form of subliminal brainwashing. It’s in there and I can’t get it out. So here, for your delight (or puzzlement), is the Signor Rossi original theme “Viva La Felicità” with a rather funked-up 2002 remix known as “Signor Rossi vs. De-Phazz – Viva La Felicita (Phazz-a-delic Radio Remix)“.

Is it bad that I have the latter as my ringtone?

Culture Wars In Ireland And Britain

The coverage of issues relating to Irish-speaking citizens and communities in Ireland by the Anglophone media

The coverage of issues relating to Irish-speaking citizens and communities in Ireland by the Anglophone media

Hot on the heels of my post discussing the urgent need for the reform of public service broadcasting in Ireland comes news of a veritable revolt by journalists within RTÉ’s normally quiescent ranks as reported by the Irish Times:

“Almost 50 staff members in RTÉ have written to Director General, Mr. Noel Curran, to express their concern at the “lack of coverage” of Irish language issues in English-language news and current affairs programmes on RTÉ.

The correspondence specifically mentions the manner in which RTÉ News covered the resignation of Seán Ó Cuirreáin as Language Commissioner last December. Ó Cuirreáin, who announced he was stepping down from his role due to a failure to provide adequate services for Irish language speakers, became the first ombudsman since the foundation of the State to resign in protest against government policy.

On the day of his announcement before an Oireachtas committee, RTÉ’s main news bulletins on television covered the resignation with thirty seconds of pictures, accompanied by a voice over from the newsreader.

A spokesperson for RTÉ said the contents of the letter were still being considered by Mr. Curran but pointed to the Director General’s comments on the recent findings of an RTÉ working group on the Irish language which acknowledged the need to improve RTÉ’s services in Irish and set out several policy recommendations with regard to Irish-language broadcasting.”

Given the opaque internal workings of RTÉ (“the Donnybrook Kremlin”) this very public expression of unhappiness by its journalistic staff is surprising to say the least. So we have a choice before us. Either RTÉ becomes an entirely Irish language public service broadcaster leaving English language broadcasting to the private sector (as I argue here, negating the need for a separate TG4) or its assets and funding is split between it and TG4 into two new broadcasting entities. One operating entirely through the medium of English and one entirely through the medium of Irish (which of course is essentially what we have already). The present half-way house is no longer sustainable or justifiable. A rising population of Irish-speaking citizens have every right to demand the same services from the state as their English-speaker peers.

Or perhaps people here agree with the views expressed by the British tabloid TV presenter Noel Edmonds who recently attacked the BBC for providing programming to Scottish-speaking communities in Scotland and Welsh-speaking communities in Wales? From WalesOnline:

“Veteran broadcaster Noel Edmonds has criticised the BBC for spending too much money on the Welsh language.

In an interview, Edmonds said the BBC was “sleepwalking to destruction”, as he explained his hope to buy the corporation along with a consortium of wealthy investors.

He declined to disclose how the schedules might look if he got his way – but pointed to the sums presently spent on the World Service and Welsh-language programming.

“There are 50,000 people speaking Gaelic. Welsh language has been declining over 10 years and the BBC spends £48m on that.”

Edmonds argued only an injection of outside influence could make the broadcaster “relevant to the internet age” and admitted that he did not presently pay for it via the licence fee.”

Perhaps Noel Edmonds is unaware that the Scottish- and Welsh-speaking citizens of Britain also pay their taxes and TV licence fee and are therefore entitled to the same publicly-funded services as their English-speaking compatriots? Or perhaps he is simply of the view that the English language and culture is superior to the several others that share the island of Britain and should therefore take precedence over the rest? Unfortunately there are too many on this island nation who share Edmonds’ view in our own perennial “culture war”.

[ASF: With thanks to Sorley Domhnall and several others for the links]

Irish TV And Cinema? Some Hope

TG4 - Súil Eile

TG4 – Súil Eile

I was going through my collection of Blu-ray and DVD movies and box-sets over the weekend, not to mention several hundred hours of digital content on my main HTPC, and it suddenly struck me that less than 1% of the total was actually Irish-made. I have a huge catalogue of films and TV shows from (in descending order) the United States, Britain, Japan, China, Canada, Korea, Australia, France, Denmark, Germany and Russia but the number of productions from Ireland is infinitesimal. Six documentaries or drama-docs from TG4 (including “1916 Seachtar na Casca” and “Bóthar na Saoirse”), two comedy-dramas from TG4 (“Rásaí na Gaillimhe 1” and “2”, plus “An Crisis”) and one comedy from RTÉ (the early 2000s’ “Paths to Freedom”). And that is pretty much it. Out of some three thousand hours of cinematic and television entertainment less than twenty hours are actually Irish-made productions for Irish audiences.

In part this is attributable to the availability of domestic productions for the home entertainment market in Ireland which is astonishingly low. Only a handful of the more popular shows are released on DVD and the vast majority of those are from RTÉ which gobbles up most of the licence fee to feed itself. Unsurprisingly they are usually at the lower end of the market, reflecting the culture of Irish television in general. TG4 releases hardly any of its far superior and more Irish-orientated shows on DVD no doubt due to costs. Though why it has not entered the digital market via downloads or streaming on the lines of Amazon or Netflicks is beyond me. It simply makes no sense – but then very little about public service broadcasting in Ireland does.

All of which leads me to the observation most commonly made by Continental visitors to our island nation: in terms of language and cultural references the Irish are indistinguishable from the Americans or British. In fact they seem little more than the mongrel off-spring of both. Given that Irish television and cinema has historically provided almost no output to balance that of the United States and Britain this is hardly surprising. If I were French, German or Spanish one would expect French, German or Spanish entertainment productions to dominate my home library. Even if one were to accept arguments about economies of scale there seems little doubt that the same would hold true if I were Danish, Swedish or Finnish, nations not dissimilar in size to Ireland.

The facts are this: public service broadcasting in Ireland as embodied by RTÉ has failed and failed miserably. It is simply a bad Irish joke. This is widely acknowledged throughout the country where, ironically, most people now recognise that the best TV output stems from TG4, the Irish language TV channel. Even militant hardcore Anglophones critics have agreed that it outperforms every one of its rivals, public or private, and is about the nearest Ireland has to an “Irish BBC”. Yet it receives less than 5% of the television licence fee and a nominal government grant (95% of the TV licence goes to RTÉ which is begrudgingly obligated to produces a handful of shows for TG4).

Funnily enough it seems that I am not the only one who was thinking along these lines. From the Irish Times newspaper:

“Could Irish language movies and songs ever compete in the global entertainment market? Some 70 per cent of Hollywood’s box office revenue now comes from dubbed and subtitled versions of its movies sold in international markets, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. In pop music, Psy’s Gangnam Style represents the first wave of non-English international mega-hits that will sweep in as the commercial pop culture of countries such as Korea, India, China, Russia and Brazil continues to develop.

Currently, most Irish language films and pop songs are not making a major domestic, let alone international impact. So how about establishing a €2 million annual competition to select and film the best Irish language movie script, and to record the best Irish language pop song?

Imagine the film got €1.8 million, with the remaining €200,000 spent on recording and making a video for the song, and on the administration of the competition.

The competition could be open to international screenwriters and song-writers, with the proviso that all production money be spent in Ireland – meaning an annual investment of at least €1.8 million into the Irish media industry.

The Irish Film Board (IFB) used to maintain that it was unrealistic to try competing in Irish against major Hollywood films, but in an increasingly globalised world, things are changing. Ned Dowd, a Hollywood producer responsible for films such as The Wonder Boys and Last of the Mohicans , points to the success of his film Apocalypto , directed by Mel Gibson, which despite being in Mayan earned $121 million dollars (admittedly on a budget of $40 million). Gibson’s earlier film The Passion of the Christ was in Aramaic and earned $611 million. “It’s all about story, universal themes,” Dowd has said. “The language is secondary.”

This whole notion is speculative and aspirational, but if it were to succeed even partially it could prove a key element in keeping the language vibrant for the next generation. Young people are now accustomed to cartoons and soap operas in Irish, but films and pop music are almost exclusively in English. Demand for Irish songs exists, witnessed by the viral success of the Coláiste Lurgan cover versions that emerge each summer.

It seems there’s also an appetite from abroad to help the language. Seven years after broadcasting the No Béarla TV programme, in which I travelled around the country speaking only Irish, I am still regularly approached by Irish-American cultural groups and impassioned individuals, keen to know how they can help the language.

…the benefits of targeted funding can be seen in the Danish media market. “In Denmark the public service broadcaster puts €1 million a year into feature-film production on top of the Danish Film Institute’s €60 million – and that’s a country the size of Ireland.””

The doling out of severely limited funds between RTÉ, TG4, Bord Scannán na hÉireann (the Irish Film Board) and the idiosyncratic Sound and Vision Fund (controlled by that quango par excellence, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) is beyond a scandal. Whether the monies are raised through the licence fee or general taxation millions upon millions of euros are being wasted on projects that are almost guaranteed to have little commercial or popular impact. Most simply appear and disappear without the general public being even aware of their existence. Millions more is going on duplicated staffing and administration expenses. Offices filled with paper-shufflers and seat-warmers. It is this scatter-gun approach to Irish television and film production that has made our nation a cultural vacuum.

If we intend to be serious about our language and our culture, if we intend to be serious about establishing a viable TV and cinema production industry for our domestic market, then it is time to close down the vanity projects and political patronage system of yesteryear. A start should be made by leaving English language broadcasting in Ireland to the private market with all the necessary (and presently missing!) statutory safeguards on quality, standards and ownership in place. Let TV3 and 3e, or the new “ITV Ireland” promised by UTV, provide English language television services along with the dozens of American, British and Canadian channels already available to Irish viewers via cable and satellite. RTÉ should become an entirely Irish language public service broadcaster (and restricted to Irish language advertising in order to level the playing field with its private rivals who survive on English language advertising and sponsorship). After all what is public service television and radio supposed to do but provide what private enterprise will not? TG4 should be rolled back into RTÉ which should be restricted to two TV and three radio channels, as well as internet services. Bord Scannán na hÉireann should be replaced by a cinema production arm of RTÉ, the equivalent of BBC Films or Film4 in Britain, with an obligation to produce a minimum of four Irish language cinematic release a year. Legislation should be introduced to facilitate the showing of these movies in cinemas across Ireland upon release, similar to regulations in force elsewhere in Europe. RTÉ should also take up the old role of Gael Linn, producing and fostering Irish language music for cultural or commercial purposes.

As for the TV licence fee or its replacement, scrap both and instead implement direct government funding via an independent oversight body appointed by the Oireachtas. Given the size of Ireland’s national economy, comparing overseas’ public service broadcasters and the country’s needs a new RTÉ budget of 400 million euros per annum is more than adequate (with 45 million earmarked for Scannáin RTÉ). And if you are wondering where that money is going to come from how much do you think the government already spends on direct funding for RTÉ, TG4, Bord Scannán na hÉireann and the Sound and Vision Fund under the BAI, not to mention the millions that goes to the likes of Gael Linn Records and other Irish language organisations? Believe me there is a mass of money dispersed throughout a dozen state-funded organisations and quangos that could be easily pooled to contribute towards the core budget of a new RTÉ.

More bang for your buck, the elimination of waste and duplication, removing corruption and patronage, introducing public oversight and accountability, levelling the playing field between public and private broadcasters, servicing Ireland’s indigenous language and culture and presenting it to the world, establishing a thriving domestic television and movie industry, employing tens of thousands of Irish people in Irish jobs, generating tax revenue through targeted government investment…? Ok, admittedly all of this is far too sensible. Which is why it will never happen.

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, What You Weren’t Told

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, killed in the 1989 ambush at Baile an Chláir by an Active Service Unit of the South Armagh Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. His suspected links to British terrorist factions in the north-east of Ireland have gone unreported by both the Irish and British news media

In all of the discussions emanating from the controversy around last year’s Smithwick report it is strange that no one in the media in Ireland or elsewhere has examined in any detail the professional histories of Superintendent Bob Buchanan and Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, the two senior officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) killed in the ambush at Baile an Chláir by an Active Service Unit of the South Armagh Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (the wounded Breen almost certainly being shot dead while attempting to surrender). Both men had served as British paramilitary police officers in the north-east of the country since their twenties and Harry Breen in particular had a colourful career. A small part of that history has been the focus of several newspaper reports (and indeed Judge Smithwick himself) with tenuous claims that Breen was specifically targeted by the Republican Army because he was photographed in 1987 with weapons captured from the ambush site at Loch gCál, an engagement that saw eight Volunteers of the East Tyrone Brigade of the IRA and one civilian killed by British Special Forces (at least three of the wounded men were killed while surrendering or shortly thereafter). Most cogent observers have dismissed the “revenge” allegation as a motive for the ambush yet it continues to be stated as an established fact by some tabloid media pundits.

However before 1987 and his subsequent death in 1989 Breen was rather better known for the allegations circulating in security and political circles north and south linking him to the so-called “Glenanne Gang”. This was a British terrorist grouping composed of serving or former members of the British army and paramilitary police and attached to the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). These suspicions accounted for the supposed “coolness” that existed between Breen and representatives of An Garda Síochana in contrast to the warmer relationship enjoyed by Bob Buchanan. In fact Harry Breen was specifically named in a 1999 witness statement by Sergeant John Weir, an RUC officer who served with the elite Special Patrol Group (SPG) while at the same time being an active terrorist with the Glenanne Gang. The testimony was made to the Irish government’s tribunal under Justice Henry Barron re-investigating the 1974 British terrorist attacks on Dublin and Monaghan where the sequential detonation of four car-bombs killed thirty-three men, women and children as well as wounding three hundred others. The terror strikes were carried out by members of the Glenanne Gang under the direction of British Military Intelligence and senior British officials at a time of strained relations between the governments in Ireland and Britain.

The parts relating to Chief Superintendent Harry Breen are highlighted below.

“3rd January 1999

1. I am a former member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) which I joined in 1970 and served until 1980. After initial training in Enniskillen Training Depot, I began my police career in Strandtown RUC Station in East Belfast.

2. I left the RUC in 1980 following my conviction for the murder of William Strathearn at Ahoghill, Co. Antrim, which occurred in April 1977. I will deal with this incident later in this statement.

3. I recall that in 1970 or 1971, while I was serving as a young constable, aged 20, in Strandtown there was an arms amnesty in which members of the public handed in substantial quantities of guns and ammunition of different types. Many of these guns were then given out by RUC officers to local members of a Loyalist paramilitary organization, the Ulster Defence Association, with the knowledge of the senior officers in my station. On one occasion I was ordered by Inspector Don Milligan to remove a number of rifles which had been handed in under the amnesty, and place them in the boot of his car. I do not know where he took them but it was common knowledge among my colleagues that such weapons were being given to Loyalists whom my colleagues supported.

10. Sometime after my transfer to Belfast, I received a visit from two of my former colleagues in Armagh SPG, Gary Armstrong and Ian Mitchell. They told me that ACC Rodgers had spoken to their unit once more and that they had expressed their view to him that a drastic change of policy was necessary to combat the IRA more effectively in South Armagh. They told me that they had decided for themselves, as a result of the discussions stimulated by his visits, that the time had come to take direct action against not merely known Republicans or IRA activists but against the Catholic population in general. I agreed with them that the only way to stop the IRA murder campaign was to attack the Catholic community itself, so that it would put pressure on the IRA to call off its campaign. After I had indicated my interest in their plans, Armstrong and Mitchell informed me that they had already begun to implement them. They had started their campaign by carrying out a bomb and gun attack near Keady village, in June 1976, at the Rock Bar which is located within yards of the border with the Irish Republic.

20. I was friendly at that time with RUC Constable Billy McBride and I visited his home on one occasion at a time when Chief Inspector Harry Breen was present. We discussed McBride’s connection to a group of Loyalists in Co. Down called Down Orange Welfare, which was headed by a retired Army officer, Lt. Col. Edward Brush. McBride told us he was a member of this group, which was almost entirely composed of members or ex-members of the security forces. He produced a .38 revolver from a drawer in his living room and after I had examined it he replaced it in the drawer. He then went into another room and brought out two homemade sub-machine guns, copies of the Sterling machine-gun. He explained that Down Orange Welfare was manufacturing Sterling sub-machine guns and that the two he had shown me were the prototypes and were of imperfect design. McBride added that the group were in the process of making an M1 carbine, an American rifle, and that the only remaining problem to be tackled was the ejector mechanism for spent bullets. He anticipated that this would not present any insuperable difficulty. In Chief Inspector Breen’s presence he then offered me the two sub-machine guns because he knew about my connections to Loyalist paramilitaries. I accepted them and took them to Mitchell’s farmhouse.

21. Constable McBride was a gunsmith and, following this initial meeting with him, guns changed hands on several occasions. On one occasion, after McBride had told me that he had received four new sub-machine guns from Down Orange Welfare, I contacted Armstrong who soon arrived with McClure at Newry RUC station. 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 for 100 pounds each. I then gave the 400 pounds to McBride so that the money could be used for the manufacture of further weapons. In summary, Down Orange Welfare was using RUC officers in Newry RUC station – McBride, Breen, myself – and another RUC officer, Sergeant Monty Alexander from Forkhill RUC station – to supply weapons to the UVF in Portadown. I later learned that these weapons were being manufactured by Samuel McCoubrey in Spa, Co. Down.

25. I was on duty in Newry RUC station when I received a phone call from RUC Constable William McCaughey asking me to meet him in Armagh. We met in a pub in Armagh and he discussed with me a reported shooting incident in Ahoghill in which a police officer was, as I recall, shot in the leg. McCaughey raised the issue of the need for a retaliation but nothing specific was planned at that stage. McCaughey then asked me if I would accompany him to meet Robin Jackson in Lurgan and I agreed. We travelled to Lurgan in my car and we met Jackson at his home. When we arrived, I soon realised that the proposed retaliation was at a more advanced level than McCaughey had indicated or than I had appreciated. It quickly became obvious to me that the proposed attack had already been discussed in detail and I was taken aback to discover that Jackson and McCaughey proposed to carry out the operation on that particular night. I listened when McCaughey told Jackson that the gun to be used in the attack had never been used in any shooting before, that he had taken it from Lurgan RUC station and that it was in his home. I heard McCaughey and Jackson agree how they would proceed with Jackson saying he would go and collect his helper on the lorry R.J. Kerr while McCaughey would take me with him to his house, where he would collect the gun, before going on to rendezvous with Jackson and Kerr at the roundabout in Moira, Co. Antrim. I did not know at that stage the identity of the proposed target in Ahoghill nor did I know for certain whether Jackson and McCaughey merely intended to frighten a particular person or to kill him. I found I was participating in an operation that I had not discussed fully and whose consequences I did not properly appreciate. The entire discussion at Jackson’s home lasted a few minutes. However, I wish to make it clear that I took part in this operation voluntarily and that I went along with the arrangements made by McCaughey and Jackson.

26. After McCaughey had collected the gun from his home in Lurgan I drove him in my own car to the roundabout at Moira where Jackson and his helper were already waiting in a lorry. Jackson drove the lorry and we followed him towards Ahoghill, stopping behind him when he parked approximately one mile before reaching the village. I now recall, on the basis of my conversation with McCaughey in the car, that McCaughey, like me, did not fully appreciate that Jackson was going to commit a murder. And even after Jackson and Kerr had got into my car outside Ahoghill village, McCaughey seemed still to think that Jackson was merely going to frighten the chosen person rather than kill him. I believed, wrongly as it was soon to turn out, that Jackson and Kerr were merely going to fire into the house to frighten the occupants and it was evident to me that McCaughey also held the same opinion. After giving Jackson the gun, McCaughey told him just to fire through the upstairs windows so as to make sure the occupants got the message. My main concern, at that late stage, was that my car number plates would be easily identified but when I shared this concern with McCaugheyhe assured me there was nothing to worry about and that he was certain that there were no security forces in the area. McCaughey and I waited in the car not far from the target house and we both heard the shooting. After Jackson and Kerr had returned and got into my car, Jackson said that he had shot the man twice and we then left the village calmly. I drove my car back to the lorry, where Jackson and Kerr got out so they could go on to their ultimate destination to deliver a load of chickens. I drove McCaughey to his father’s house in Ahoghill and McCaughey told his father, in my presence, that Jackson had shot somebody dead in the town. He gave his father the gun for safe keeping. Next morning I learned from the news on the radio that the victim had been William Strathearn.

27. After leaving McCaughey’s father’s house I drove McCaughey back to Armagh and dropped him off at the RUC station. I then proceeded to Bessbrook RUC station where I had living quarters even though I was still stationed in Newry. I went to work early on the morning after the killing and carried on with my normal work. However, over the following week I told three colleagues about what had happened. These were Chief Inspector Breen, Constable Bob Hamilton and RUC Special Branch Constable Ian Begley. All of these three men already knew about collusion between Loyalist paramilitaries and RUC officers including McBride, Sergeant Monty Alexander and myself. Chief Inspector Breen also knew about similar illegal activities by McCaughey and Armstrong. Ian Begley, for example, had previously told me that he thought McBride had been involved with Jackson in the murder of a Catholic close, I believe, to Mayobridge in South Down in the early 1970s.

28. I think it is important to make it clear that this collusion between Loyalist paramilitaries such as Robin Jackson and my RUC colleagues and me was taking place with the full knowledge of my superiors. I recall that after I had told Chief Inspector Breen about my involvement in the Strathearn murder, that he told me to forget about it. I also recall later witnessing a conversation between Chief Inspector Breen and Inspector Harvey who was in charge of Newry CID when both men discussed with approval McCaughey and Armstrong’s continuing activity in Loyalist terrorism with Robin Jackson. And I recall another occasion, in the toilets at the Pitbar near Bessbrook when RUC Special Branch Constable David Miller indicated to me that he knew I had been involved in the Strathearn murder and suggested he would not object if I was to kill an identified IRA man in Newry. For these and other reasons I did not think there was the slightest possibility that I would ever be arrested or charged with my role in the Strathearn murder.

29. Some months after the Strathearn murder I was called to a meeting with the head of RUC Special Branch in Newry, Chief Inspector Brian Fitzsimmons. He confirmed what I had already been told by Chief Inspector Breen that I was to be transferred to Newtownhamilton RUC station. During this meeting Mr. Fitzsimmons let me know that he was aware that I had been involved in Loyalist terrorist activity for some time but it was clear he was not bothered by this. He told me that he knew all about my paramilitary past activities with James Mitchell and that my local connections to Loyalist paramilitaries were part of the reason why I was being placed in charge of Newtownhamilton RUC station. I understood the message of my meeting with Chief inspector Fitzsimmons to be that I had the green light to carry on with my activities. I now know that Chief Inspector Fitzsimmons rose to the rank of Assistant Chief constable and that he was killed in the Chinook helicopter crash in Scotland in 1994.

John Oliver Weir

Signed 3rd February 1999”

While some have challenged Weir’s testimony his detailed statements have yet to be refuted and both Justice Barron and investigatory officers from the Garda Síochána accepted him as a highly knowledgeable and credible witness. In addition other accounts claim that Harry Breen’s membership of the extremist Down Orange Welfare while serving as a police officer in the 1970s was widely known in the region since the organisation enjoyed a privileged status under the leadership of Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Brush CB OBE, a former senior officer of the British Army and member of the ruling Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Likewise his relationship with Robin “the Jackal” Jackson in the 1980s, a notorious former British soldier-turned-terrorist with close links to the RUC’s Special Patrol Group and British Military Intelligence, was believed to be common knowledge in so-called “Loyalist” terror circles and to several journalists. So why, in all the investigations and reporting around the killing of officers Breen and Buchannan, were the serious allegations of Harry Breen’s involvement with British death squads not brought to public attention? Why, by all accounts, did the national news media in Ireland and Britain simply gloss over these crucial background facts to Breen’s career and untimely death? These are the questions asked by the Irish journalist and author Paul Larkin of RTÉ and its news and current affairs department and the reaction is revealing of the political intent that shaped the reporting of the Smithwick Tribunal (while blithely ignoring the findings of the earlier Barron Tribunal).

The people of Ireland need to know the truth about the dreadful nature of the conflict in the north-east of our island nation – but evidently our journalistic “betters” believe we should only know part of the truth.

TG4 Scoops It Rivals

Scúp - TG4

Scúp – TG4

Three quick posts on TG4, the real public service broadcaster in Ireland, all from IFTN (the Irish Film & Television Network). Colin Bateman is a well-known Irish novelist and dramatist behind such media hits as Divorcing Jack (the book and movie) and the long-running BBC television crime drama Murphy’s Law. He now has a new eight-part drama on TG4, Scúp, his first work produced in the Irish language which has stirred up a considerable media and on-line buzz. I missed the first episode due to work commitments (don’t ask!) but so far the reviewers are impressed. You can watch the opening episode here.

Promo below

In related news another TG4 drama series, An Bronntanas, is in pre-production and is scheduled to start shooting soon. What makes it stand out from the TG4 drama crowd is the starring role of American actor John Finn, who is probably better known as the lead character Lieutenant John Stillman in the hit US police procedural series Cold Case. Finn is a fluent Irish speaker having learned the language in the United States and appeared in a 2005 on-air-promo of the Cold Case series for TG4 that became an early online viral hit.

Finally a reminder that Ireland’s best television channel manages to produce an unrivalled range of domestic programming on a budget of just €32 million (roughly 20% of RTÉ’s annual budget).

Trash TV Versus Irish TV

TG4 – Súil Eile

Last week I reported on the risible claim by some journo over at the Oirish Independent newspaper that staff with the Irish language radio station Raidió na Gaeltachta were on the same exorbitant salaries as the rest of RTÉ’s employees (RnaG is part of the RTÉ corporation – to its misfortune). The article also claimed that RTÉ’s Irish language news and current affairs output which is supplied to RnaG and TG4, as well as broadcast on RTÉ Nuacht, was to be “amalgamated”. Since TG4 is an entirely separate public broadcaster from RTÉ I was able to point out just what complete and utter nonsense that claim was. And hey! Guess what? From today’s Indo, under the “…and in other news” section:

“Meanwhile, a RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta spokesperson has clarified that staff at the Irish language station are not paid the same as their RTE counterparts, as was reported last week, and are actually paid less. They are on a grade and pay structure unique to any other division in RTE.

It is now understood that a triangular consolidation of Irish language assets, as was reported with respect to the proposed overall RTE reforms, is not to take place. This consolidation would have seen an amalgamation of Radio na Gaeltachta, TG4, and the Nuacht news service.

However, TG4 and RTE are in fact two separate bodies under the 2009 Broadcasting Act, and such an amalgamation would require a change to the act. There is, however, a process under way to amalgamate the RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta news service and the RTE Nuacht news service, as part of an urgent process at RTE to maximise efficiencies and to reduce costs. RTE Nuacht provides Irish-language television news for RTE and TG4.”

As I stated on An Sionnach Fionn more than once, unify TG4 and RnaG as a single public service broadcaster, and turn RTÉ over entirely to English language programming. It’s 99% of the way there already so why keep flogging a dead horse? Let it go the same way as private rivals TV3 and 3e with wall-to-wall Anglo-American trash: quiz shows, reality shows, soft-porn and infomercials. At least with a new Teilifís Raidió na Gaeilge or TRnaG corporation controlling revamped television and radio broadcasters TG4 and RnaG (and hopefully a new, nationally-orientated RG4) we might have something that intelligent adults can engage with, instead of the casual infantilisation of the general public that comes from our current English language broadcasters.

TG4 And RnaG – Time For A Single Irish Public Broadcasting Service

RTÉ vs. TG4

The Oirish Independent newspaper carries a report announcing “major reforms at RTÉ”, especially in relation to its, er, Irish language output (no sniggering!):

“A consolidation of the Irish language assets of RTE, with an amalgamation of Radio na Gaeltachta, TG4 and the Nuacht news service, is planned as part of the national broadcaster’s cost-cutting drive.

There is also the anomaly of the senior editors and producers in Radio na Gaeltachta and TG4 being paid at the same levels as their much busier counterparts in RTE TV in Dublin, an equality explained by the public-sector origins of RTE, which meant treating all its subsidiary sections or departments in the same way, and with the same pay levels.

But the feeling now is that this outdated structuring must be changed.”

TG4 originally began life as part of the RTÉ corporation (back when the Irish-language station was called TnaG) but it was made a separate public service broadcaster quite some time ago. However RTÉ stills provide a percentage of its programming, including its news service, an anomaly that should have been ended when the television station became statutorily independent. While it may seem sensible in the short term that the disparate news and current affairs teams for TG4, Raidió na Gaeltachta (RnaG) and RTÉ’s own Nuacht service are rolled into one there is a far more ambitious plan that should be implemented.

Several months ago I suggested that Irish language broadcasting in Ireland would be far better served if RnaG was split off from RTÉ and placed under the control of TG4, as its radio arm. As I said then:

“In the area of public service radio broadcasting in Irish TG4 is surely the logical organisation to turn to. Raidió na Gaeltachta (RnaG), for reasons which mystify most people, remains under the control of RTÉ. As an Irish language radio station its treatment in the RTÉ structure is simply abysmal. Underfunded, under-resourced, poorly ran and structured, it is the (deliberately) forgotten arm of the network.

RnaG must be liberated from the dead hand of Montrose and this can only come through an amalgamation with TG4. A single Irish language television and radio network, with a unified corporate structure and image, would provide the greatest value for money and service to viewers and listeners. What we have now is a mess, a national broadcaster that broadcasts almost exclusively in English controlling an Irish speaking radio station, when an Irish speaking TV station could do the job, and probably double the return in terms of investment and resources. The uniting of TG4 with RnaG would create a mutually supportive, symbiotic organisation with a cross-fertilization of audiences and programming.

It is time we faced up to the facts of where we really are in terms of Ireland’s media organisations. RTÉ is Ireland’s national English language public service broadcaster on television and radio. TG4, with RnaG, must become Ireland’s national Irish language public service broadcaster on television and radio. This is the only way forward that makes sound financial, organisational and broadcasting sense.”

I would also argue, in the interests of media plurality if nothing else, that a separate TG4-RnaG should have its own news and current affairs department, quiet separate from RTÉ’s, with a strong presence in the capital.

As for the rest of the newspaper report, the idea that TG4 or RnaG staff are on the same wages (and benefits) as the English broadcasters and staff in anglophone RTÉ is beyond risible.

A United Ireland – Digitally At Least

Well, better late than never I suppose. From the Hollywood Reporter (ooh-la-la!):

“TV viewers in Northern Ireland will be able to watch digital channels TG4 and RTÉ One and Two from the Republic of Ireland on digital terrestrial TV platform Freeview following Northern Ireland’s transition from analogue to digital TV, the U.K. government said Tuesday.

RTÉ, the Republic of Ireland’s national broadcaster, and Irish language broadcaster TG4 have joined forces to form a not-for-profit venture, which will be responsible for the installation of the new infrastructure.

Delivery of these channels will be supplemented by coverage from Saorview, Ireland’s equivalent of the U.K.’s Freeview service.”

Some more on this:

“[British]Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said:

“I’m delighted that the digital future for TG4, RTÉ One and RTÉ Two in Northern Ireland is now strengthened and secure. Today’s announcement is good news for viewers and continues our delivery on commitments set out in the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement.”

Speaking in Dublin, Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, said:

“This announcement means that from Analogue Switch-off on 24 October, over 90% of viewers in Northern Ireland will be able to receive TG4 and the two primary RTÉ channels in digital on the Freeview service or by way of the overspill from the Saorview service.  It is a hugely positive result in terms of practical cooperation resulting from the Good Friday Agreement.”

To ensure the new Freeview service covers as much of the population as possible, the new service will use the modern MPEG4 and DVB-T2 standards which can be received on Freeview HD equipment. Many of the TV sets, set top boxes and digital recorders currently on sale in the UK already meet these requirements, and more information will be made available to the public by Digital UK and broadcasters well in advance of the launch of the service.

Digital switchover completes in Northern Ireland on 24th October 2012. It is intended that the new multiplex will be launched at the same time.  Switchover co-ordination body Digital UK and the Digital Switchover Help Scheme will lead on public communications on the availability of these new services. Both the UK and Irish Governments are committed to providing all possible support to meet the challenging timetable.”

No mention of British television channels being made available in this part of the country as part of this new arrangement, a commitment which is part of the original 1998 Belfast Agreement. But then perhaps the British know which way the wind is blowing. Who needs such arrangements in a Reunited Ireland?

Census 2011 And An Inconvenient Truth – Irish-Speaking Citizens On The Rise

The latest, much publicised release of data by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) from the 2011 Census of Ireland provides a very mixed picture of the situation for the Irish-speaking population of the country, especially in relation to other linguistic groups. Whereas Irish speakers have traditionally faced an overwhelming (and frequently hostile) English-speaking majority now they also have to contend with significant non-English linguistic minorities too. The headline chosen by RTÉ indicates exactly how this new information will be presented by the anglophone opponents of Irish in the future:

“Irish is third most used language in the country – 2011 Census

Nearly 82,600 people speak Irish every day outside of school according to the first definitive results of the 2011 Census, making it the third most used language in the country.”

A somewhat disingenuous claim when in fact 1,777,437 million people stated that they spoke Irish in the Census. In contrast only 119,526 stated that they spoke Polish (and that represents a maximum number). There is a difference of 1,657,911 million people between those two figures. Not that you would know it from our supposedly unbiased public service broadcaster or much of the rest of the anglophone news media.

Even if one drills down into the underlying figures it still doesn’t make Polish the third most spoken language in the state. 187,827 people are recorded as being daily/weekly Irish speakers. That is a difference with Polish speakers of 68,301. Yet that figure does not take into account the number of people who have indicated in the Census that they speak the language on a less than weekly basis – that’s an incredible 613,236 people. If even a quarter of that group had a moderate degree of fluency that represents another 153,309 people. Which makes a total of 341,136 Irish speakers. These figures represent the true status of the second most spoken language in Ireland after English.

But why spoil the Angloban propaganda with some inconvenient truth?

While the percentage of Irish speakers in Ireland as a whole has fallen to 41.4% due to the rising level of immigration by foreign nationals coupled with the emigration of Irish nationals in real terms it has actually risen by 7.1% (up from 1.66 million in 2006 to the present 1.77 million). A remarkable upward curve that has been observable since the 1990s.

A very marked trend is the percentage of women who speak Irish compared to the percentage of men, with 44.9% of women speaking our native language compared to a significantly smaller 37.9% of men. What is that old maxim? Mothers are the saviours of a language or culture? There could be some truth in that yet.

Breaking Down The Census

For 2011 some 1.8% (or 77,185) of those people resident in the state recorded themselves as speaking Irish on a daily basis (outside of the education system). However that is an unexpected rise of 5032. Another 2.6% (or 110,642) stated that they spoke the language weekly, a significant increase of 7781 speakers. Taken together that provides an aggregate percentage of 4.4% of the population of Ireland speaking Irish on a regular basis (187,827 people). To that figure must be added the 613,236 who claim that they speak Irish on a less than weekly rate, referred to above. However this particular number is contested by some from within the anglophone community (though it should be noted that the widespread expectation that this figure would be lower in 2011 than 2006 has been confounded by a surprise increase of 27,139). All that one can say is that if even a quarter of that number had a limited degree of fluency, taken with acknowledged fluent speakers, it would represent well over a quarter of a million full or partial Irish speakers in the state. These numbers, taken with the group who say they never speak Irish though having the ability to do so, makes up the 41.4% of the population as a whole that identified themselves as Irish speaking in the Ireland of 2011.

That of course means that 58.6% of the population claims no ability to speak Irish at all. That demographic is made up of monolingual English speakers and non-Irish speaking immigrant communities of Polish, Francophone-African, Lithuanian, Russian and other extraction (in total the Census recorded 544,357 non-nationals resident in the country in 2011 of which 89,561 stated that they had little or no ability to speak English let alone Irish).


With the addition of the 2011 census results it is now clear that the upward growth in Irish speakers observable since the late 1990s is no mere statistical blip but the result of ongoing language restoration and recovery. From the historic low of the mid to late 20th century the numbers have gradually stabilised and are now in a period of expansion. There can be little doubt that significant changes in the standing of the Irish language, principally through equality legislation like the Official Languages Act of 2003 and the role of the Language Commissioner, have played a definitive part in this. With the perception that Irish speakers are no longer second class citizens with second class rights, not least by speakers themselves, there is now seen to be a real value in remaining or becoming a fluent speaker of the national language. Those who do so are no longer regarded by themselves or others as being at a disadvantage, either socially, educationally, legally or economically.

Ireland – A Western Province Of The British Isles

In the Irish Times a Danish woman living in Ireland pens a passionate letter on behalf of the Irish language and the Irish-speaking communities of Ireland. As she so rightly asks: are we to be an Irish Ireland or an English Ireland?

“Last week I was watching Bernard Dunne’s ‘Brod Club’ — where he launched his ‘Speak Irish’ campaign — with interest and not a few giggles. Brilliant idea, may it live long and prosper!

Thus it was dispiriting to hear Kevin Myers on the same show discarding the Irish language as “a redundancy” in the modern world, and that Mr Dunne was, in his opinion, flogging a dead capall.

Being Danish born and bred I have very little Irish, but I’m a member of another linguistic minority, about six million worldwide, a fact that forces our kind to learn foreign languages.

So far I have — with a varying degree of success — spoken, written or read Swedish; Norwegian; Middle and Modern English; Old, Middle and Modern German and French; Provencal; Dutch; Italian; Latin; and classic Greek; none of which did me any harm but opened me up to other cultures.

Danish, however, will always remain my first language and a part of my identity, even though I live and intend to stay in Ireland.

That is why it puzzles me, as a linguistically challenged foreigner, that the Irish language is not widely used, but hidden away like some sort of embarrassment, something to be almost ashamed of. It’s the very thing that makes you uniquely Irish and not just some western province of the British Isles.

Iceland — a place rarely in the news unless its banks or volcanoes blow up — has a small Icelandic-speaking population, most of whom also speak other languages.

Does that make Icelandic — the closest living descendant of the Old Norse of the Vikings — redundant?

Some may find the Irish language on the brink of extinction and say goodbye and good riddance, a linguistic equivalent of the white rhino or the snow leopard.

But a lot of people work hard to save the snow leopard in the wild, not just relegating it to a curiosity in a cage in a zoo, because a world without the snow leopard is a smaller world.

It’s the same with the Irish language…

The only way to keep any language alive and well is by speaking it, which doesn’t even cost you anything.

The day the last Irish speaker is shut up, the living tradition of one of the oldest languages in Western Europe will be lost forever (and the English, by the way, will have won).”

In a similar vein, Irish Times journalist Pól Ó Muirí challenges the insidious lie spread by the militant minority of Anglophones in Ireland that Irish speakers are somehow stubborn, anti-pluralists because they continue to speak their own language: and not the English language (is that a definition of pluralism? Only speaking in English?).

“As one letter writer to The Irish Times wrote last week, Irish speakers often also speak another language (in addition to English) and have a great interest in languages in general.

In my experience, Irish speakers are usually very open-minded when it comes to learning (and respecting) other languages. Many of the Irish speakers I know also speak French, German, Italian and quite a few know Welsh and Scots Gaelic – languages which offer other views of what it means to be British.”

Perhaps that’s the problem. The only view of being British the Angloban extreme in Ireland want is one that forces the people of Ireland to speak English. In order to become…?

Try Again 2012!

Talking of the Irish language online there is certainly a lot of speculation at the moment about the new website “Try Again 2012” and the associated high-profile advertising campaign around the country (not to mention on social networks like YouTube and at Twitter under the hashtag #tryagain). The Herald seems to have got to the truth behind the rumours:

“I’M actually bi, says The Voice’s Brian Kennedy. Brendan Courtney “lost it at 16″ and and it made Paul McGrath feel “inadequate”.

But what on earth are they talking about?

A suggestive new campaign has tongues wagging in the city but the “bi” claims by singer Brian Kennedy are a lot more innocent than they might first appear.

A host of big-name celebrities have put their names behind a new campaign to get people dusting off their Irish – and speaking the language again.

It’s being spearheaded by former champion boxer Bernard Dunne. Other well-known participants include Lucy Kennedy, Ben Dunne, Baz Ashmawy, and Jennifer Maguire speaking about their own experiences of the subject matter.”

The new television-related campaign will be unveiled on RTÉ’s Saturday Night Show on February 25th.

RTÉ Should Be TG4 – And Here’s Why

Lecturer and author Niamh Hourigan discusses TG4, the Irish language television channel, in the Irish Times with some interesting, if debatable, points:

“Although fully independent of RTÉ since 2007, the national broadcaster continues to play a significant role in TG4 through the provision of news and other programming. When my book Escaping the Global Village , which dealt with the campaign to establish the broadcaster was published in 2003, it was already clear it had become a force for innovation on the Irish media landscape. The service had transformed the image of Irish television and introduced new programme formats and work practices which were quickly copied by other broadcasters.

A critical point was reached in 1999 when the station changed its name from TnaG to TG4, positioning itself as the fourth major television service in Ireland. The schedule was also revamped, with more primetime slots devoted to English-language programming, and with less popular Irish language programmes being positioned around these sure-fire audience winners. Sixteen years on from its initial launch, it was inevitable the pace of innovation would slow as the service moved to maturity. Yet the resoundingly positive public response to the TG4 general election debate between the three party leaders last February illustrated how firmly the station has established itself as a player.”

Most of this is true and Hourigan later examines the station’s positive impact on children’s’ programming in Ireland (despite facing tough competition from English language rivals, principally of course the cheap British and American imports broadcast on RTÉ). However her claim that it would be difficult for TG4 to compete in the area of current affairs programming with RTÉ’s Primtime or TV3’s Vincent Brown Tonight is less convincing. What difficulties exist in this area are largely due to budgetary restraints more than anything else and it is arguable that a Dublin-based news studio for TG4 would have a positive impact on its overall news and current affairs output. Dublin is the nation’s capital and the de facto centre for most national politics (and most news stories); the lack of a Dublin-based centre for TG4 is a severe handicap to its growth and development. Another liability is its reliance on RTÉ for its news programming. Contracting out to RTÉ has detracted from the station’s independence and the plurality of views in the national media and this can only be rectified by the network establishing a completely separate news and current affairs division.

Niamh Hourigan then tackles the thorny, and frequently misunderstood, issue of bilingualism.

“Fulfilling its public service remit to broadcast programmes in the Irish language will always be a hugely complex task for TG4 because attitudes to the language are so complex.

The tensions were very evident during the recent controversy about the exclusive broadcasting of a Leinster-Munster Pro 12 League rugby game on TG4. Former Irish rugby international Neil Francis was publicly critical, saying: “I have no idea what commentators or the analysts are saying, and I have no idea whether they are any good or not – and I suspect 99.5 per cent of the people who had to watch the match on the channel didn’t either.”

The key source of the tension here was the exclusive rights of TG4 to the game. Here in another form was compulsion – Irish citizens being forced to grapple with the Irish language – and it was clear a considerable proportion of them didn’t like it.”

This is a highly tendentious and somewhat partisan argument (and it is by no means clear that the proportion who objected was “considerable” – vocal maybe, and with ready access to the English language media establishment in the country but by no means a majority). TG4 is an Irish language television network in Ireland, the same way that TV3 is an English language network in Ireland (and in this case, a British owned one to boot). Indeed, with the creation of TG4 we have seen RTÉ, Ireland’s national public service broadcaster, all but abandon Irish language programming on its TV channels. Yet no arguments are made that the 42% of the population that identify themselves as fluent or partial Irish speakers should be catered for on these TV stations through bilingual programming. Are RTÉ and TV3 suddenly going to be “forced” to provide 42% of their output in Irish? Hardly.

Yet it is seen as quiet acceptable that an Irish language channel – the only Irish language channel – should be pressurised into accommodating English speaking viewers – who are already catered for with three English language TV channels (not to mention dozens of international English language broadcasters freely available on a wide range of platforms). This is yet another argument for positive discrimination in favour of English speakers when negative discrimination against Irish speakers is widespread and institutionalised throughout the state.

TG4 is an Irish speaking TV station for an Irish speaking audience, the exact same way that RTÉ and TV3 are English speaking TV stations for an English speaking audience. To argue that it must also become (as it has to some extent) a bilingual channel, when no such restrictions are placed on those channels which broadcast exclusively in English, is simply unfair and unbalanced. Or worse.

If anything TG4, nearly two decades on, should be moving away from bilingualism and the broadcasting of English language programming. It should be concentrating on producing indigenous programming (which its rivals have largely abandoned except for a steady diet of cheap, trash television) and the use of subtitling and dubbing for non-Irish language shows and movies. It should make standard the use of dual language audio channels (as is common in many bilingual nations) and expand its online presence. The separation from RTÉ should be completed by ending the supply of programming from the “national” broadcaster and instead the production of all domestic programming should be in-house or from the independent sector (a very positive and productive source as it is. In fact, as has been frequently stated, there would be no viable independent television production in Ireland without TG4!).

Though it is regarded as sacrosanct by many, the present headquarters of TG4 in Baile na hAbhann, in the west of Ireland should be reviewed. At the very least a studio complex, even a relatively modest one, should be created in Dublin and the news and current affairs department must be located there. In the area of public service radio broadcasting in Irish TG4 is surely the logical organisation to turn to. Raidió na Gaeltachta (RnaG), for reasons which mystify most people, remains under the control of RTÉ. As an Irish language radio station its treatment in the RTÉ structure is simply abysmal. Underfunded, undersourced, poorly ran and structured, it is the (deliberately) forgotten arm of the network.

RnaG must be liberated from the dead hand of Montrose and this can only come through an amalgamation with TG4. A single Irish language television and radio network, with a unified corporate structure and image, would provide the greatest value for money and service to viewers and listeners. What we have now is a mess, a national broadcaster that broadcasts almost exclusively in English controlling an Irish speaking radio station, when an Irish speaking TV station could do the job, and probably double the return in terms of investment and resources. The uniting of TG4 with RnaG would create a mutually supportive, symbiotic organisation with a cross-fertilization of audiences and programming.

It is time we faced up to the facts of where we really are in terms of Ireland’s media organisations. RTÉ is Ireland’s national English language public service broadcaster on television and radio. TG4, with RnaG, must become Ireland’s national Irish language public service broadcaster on television and radio. This is the only way forward that makes sound financial, organisational and broadcasting sense.

Of course, if we were really sensible, and really concerned about more bang for our tax-paying buck, we would leave English language broadcasting in Ireland entirely to the private sector (with suitable regulations to ensure Irish ownership of the media and guaranteed levels of quality and news, documentary and drama output). Pubic service broadcasting would then be entirely through the Irish language and RTÉ would be a monolingual Irish broadcaster. The freeing up of advertising revenue in English would create a secure income stream for the independent English language broadcasters who would no longer have to appeal to the lowest common denominator in terms of TV output in order to ensure their survival (an especially sensible move as broadcasters outside of Ireland have now come to dominate our domestic market through services on cable, satellite and the internet). Such a move might well spell a renaissance for English language broadcasting, on TV and radio, in Ireland.

Likewise, for Irish language broadcasting the full weight, depth of experience and resources of RTÉ would transform its fortunes. With two television channels (RTÉ 1 and 2) and three radio channels (Radio 1, 2FM and RnaG) the scope for growth and development would be enormous (the current, entirely wasteful provision of half-hearted digital TV and radio channels could be dropped). The revenue lost by broadcasting in Irish alone, including restrictions on carrying only Irish language advertising, would be partially replaced by rolling the budget and assets of TG4 back into the RTÉ structure.

Other reforms could include the dropping of the ineffective and increasingly irrelevant TV licence fee (for which An Post charges an astonishing 20 million euros a year to administer yet which fails to collect millions of euros each year from people or businesses that refuse to pay or otherwise dodge payment). Like some other nations, in the age of multiplatform devices, where a licence for a “television set” is simply an anachronism, direct state funding, overseen by a fully independent body, is the only sensible way forward. A budget of 400 million euros a year would provide an entirely adequate public service broadcasting network for Ireland. And all through the medium of the Irish language.

That is the logical, cost-effective way forward. So don’t expect it to happen. Ever.

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.