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Gay Byrne Claims Provisional IRA Were “Gangsters”. Sorry, That Should Read, Gay Byrne Claims Old IRA Were “Gangsters”

So, things are hotting up in the oul presidential to-an’-fro as that granddaddy of Irish media personalities, Gay “The Poppy” Byrne, wades in with his t’uppence worth of opinion (actually, being an employee of RTÉ he’s probably charging a hell of a lot more than a penny or two). According to a piece in the Belfast Telegraph, Uncle Byrne launched what it describes as an on-screen television “rant” against the candidacy of Martin McGuinness:

“Mr Byrne, who considered running for the presidency, said in an interview on TV3: “I’ve always been a hater of Sinn Fein and a hater of the Provisional IRA and everything they stood for — and they don’t like me either.

“I’ve interviewed Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams and they are so well disciplined and so well honed that no interviewer gets anywhere with them.

“You get nowhere with them because they lie.

“They lie all the time. They don’t mind lying and they’ve rehearsed their lies and they’ve been trained to lie, and that’s what they’re doing.”

Mr Byrne finished up the interview on the Midweek programme by saying that “like so many other Irish people”, he had lost interest in the presidential election.

He said that when he looks at Mr McGuinness, he does not think “statesman and politician”, but rather “former IRA man and former gunman”.

He went on: “Do the Irish people want this guy to be head of the armed forces and all those connotations?

“And under the Constitution there are many, many different things about which Sinn Fein, and he will wriggle, and weasel words as usual, because they’re very, very good at doing that.””

You go, Poppy! Of course Gay Byrne played prick-tease with the Irish political and media establishment for several days over the prospect of his own candidacy for the office of the President of Ireland, receiving worshippers and supplicants like any worth-while deity would, until eventually he grandly informed the nation of his indifference to the offer of high office. Good man, that’s the way to keep yourself in the spotlight.

Byrne, though officially retired from “entertainment”, frequently pops up in RTÉ television shows of dubious value (or indeed purpose) as well as enjoying regular gigs on Lyric FM. And if you’re now asking yourself what Lyric FM is, don’t worry so does 90% of the population (basically it’s a way for the boys and gals in Club RTÉ to give the “retired” dons of the organisation something to do at the weekends – and at our expense).

This is not the first time Poppy Byrne has offered opinions on all things Republican. He proudly boasts of hailing from a Dublin “army family”. That’s the British army, not the Irish one (Gay Byrne’s father, Edward Byrne, joined the British Army in 1912 – two years before WWI – and served in it for nearly a decade). Indeed, so loyal to his ancestors is Byrne that earlier this year on Newstalk Radio he bitterly complained about the lack of the upkeep on the memorial to the British military dead of WWI at Islandbridge in Dublin (which was rectified by the Irish government in the mid-1980s; that’s twenty-five years ago, Gay). He then went on to state that the “West Cork IRA during the war of Independence were gangsters”.

So, the men and women of the Irish Republican Army who forced the British to the negotiating table during the Irish Revolution, who made the British recognise the democratic and national rights of the Irish people, were “gangsters”? It would seem that Gay Byrne is not only opposed to Martin McGuinness or Sinn Féin. Some people are fighting a presidential election. But Gay Byrne and cohorts it seems are intent on refighting the War of Independence.

So to Irish author and commentator Jude Collins who had an, er, interesting encounter with Fintan “I Lead From The Back” O’Toole on BBC Radio Ulster:

“Since Martin McGuinness has announced his candidacy for the post of Irish President, I’ve lost count of the number of programmes and newspaper articles that have focused almost exclusively on his past in the IRA.

It happened again today. I was on BBC Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh’s The Stephen Nolan Show and that was where all the emphasis was placed – on McGuinness’s past. No, tell a lie – his distant past. The past twenty years and his work for peace? Perhaps mentioned but then hurried away from. Guest of honour for the day (pace Gregory Campbell) was Fintan O’Toole of The Irish Times. Sad to say Fintan made his excuses (“I’m not being allowed to talk!”) and left before the rest of us. But while he was with us, he spoke yet again with the moral authority only available to him and a small  number of media gurus: if made President, ex-IRA man Martin McGuinness could be arrested as a war criminal, so the south had better not elect him.

Considering that Fintan is said to have a very big brain, that was an amazingly loopy thing to say.  Former IRA Chief of Staff Sean MacBride was appointed Minister for External Affairs in 1948 and went on to be awarded – uniquely – the Nobel Prize for Peace and the Lenin Prize for Peace. Former IRA man General Sean MacEoin was made Minister for Justice in 1948, and was twice the Fine Gael candidate for Irish President. Sean T O’Kelly and Eamon de Valera both were imprisoned by the British (Dev was sentenced to death for his part in the 1916 Rising, although Fintan says it was all a misunderstanding and Dev didn’t fire a shot).  Between them – O’Kelly and Dev – they occupied the Presidential post for twenty-eight years. So it looks like that O’Toole horse has just crashed at the first hurdle.

Fintan’s other Big Thing is that McGuinness would be open to arrest for war crimes, because the Geneva Convention forbids actions where non-combatants are tortured or killed. Are you listening? Yes, you – I’m talking to you – Tony Blair, George Bush, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Michael Collins, Winston Churchill…The list is endless. Armed conflict is a horrible, filthy business and in it non-combatants invariably suffer and die. In Ireland, in Germany, in England, in the US, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya…again, it’s endless.  If Fintan and his partitionist mates were to list in detail the pain and suffering and death inflicted by, say, Harry Truman alone, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we’d be here until the crack of doom.  I don’t know if Martin McGuinness was guilty forty years ago of breaching the Geneva Convention, but I do know that, if war criminals are all to be rounded up, starting with those who slaughtered most people, by the time they get to  McGuinness he’ll have died of extreme old age.

In the end it’s simple. There are commentators and media people – a powerful nucleus – who see Martin McGuinness’s candidacy as a threat to partition. Keep those pesky damned northerners out of sight and out of mind.  To block McGuinness they’ll do and say anything, usually four times, to persuade people that the Sinn Féin man is uniquely unsuited. They don’t mind unionists working with him in the north, in fact they insist on it. But Merciful Hour, don’t ask us Catholics in the south to have him in our Áras.”

O’Toole’s habit of arranging for the storming of the metaphorical Bastille, and then “forgetting” to set his alarm clock, are well known so no surprise in any of this. While Martin McGuinness may cry foul at the activities of those he characterizes as “West Brits” a more accurate description is simple “Partionists” (or Free State NIMBYs).

This is no better illustrated than the reference by Alan Shatter, Fine Gael’s Justice Minister, to Martin McGuinness’ “exotic background”. Is that “exotic” as in “foreign, external, alien”? In other words a man born, raised and lived his whole life in Ireland, a citizen of this Republic, but who in Fine Gael’s view is not really Irish?

Talking of underhand politics, here is an epic whizz from those paragons of democratic virtue, Fine Gael, reported in the Irish Independent:

“Fine Gael last night denied trying to manipulate a presidential election poll, which the party’s candidate Gay Mitchell claims was doctored by Sinn Fein.

Mr Mitchell only came third in the text poll on RTE’s ‘Liveline’ with Joe Duffy, which was won by Martin McGuinness.

The Fine Gael MEP subsequently dismissed the results, claiming Sinn Fein manipulated the text poll.

But his own party sent out messages to members and supporters before and during the show calling on them to vote for Mr Mitchell.

Fine Gael sent a message out half an hour before the show, alerting supporters to the topic being the presidency. The next text told them about the poll and the final text informed supporters of how to vote in the poll.

The party often uses text messages to artificially generate public support. The party has contacted members telling them to send in “messages of support” when Taoiseach Enda Kenny or another senior party figures were doing a major interview.

Meanwhile, Mr McGuinness also topped a poll on a Cork radio station. The SF candidate took more than 60pc of the votes.”

Tut-tut, Fine Gorm. According to a well placed source that contacted me earlier this week, a certain political party are now attempting to co-ordinate their online activities with the aim of “swamping” online commenting venues and polls with anti-McGuinness views in order to whip up controversy hoping it will benefit their candidate. The idea apparently came through discussions with PR and electoral “experts” from the United States and was given some tentative use during the recent general election.

Among the prime targets are the comments’ sections of the Irish Times, Irish Independent, RTÉ and the Journal. All have been chosen because of the high value placed upon their readerships, and the method in which comments can be graded or transmitted via social networks. I understand that several “sockpuppet” accounts have been set up on Facebook, Twitter, Google Profiles, Open ID, etc. to push the campaign.

I suppose I should now talk about David Norris, the “independent” candidate. But since he seems to be the RTÉ and Sunday Independent candidate, why bother? Vote David Norris and get Eoghan Harris, Kevin Myers and Ruth Dudley-Edwards. An attractive proposition I’m sure you’ll agree.

Ah, life in the Daorstát Éireann.

4 comments on “Gay Byrne Claims Provisional IRA Were “Gangsters”. Sorry, That Should Read, Gay Byrne Claims Old IRA Were “Gangsters”

  1. to be fair, i think all those arguments against mcguinness are reasonably valid – in fact, it’s exactly what many northern protestants (and at least some northern catholics) think. personally, and with difficulty, i choose not to hold his distant past against him, but i understand why many might – it would be easy to see him as having been part of the problem rather than part of the solution. i think, though, that he’s doing a rather a good job at the minute, which is why to me, the worst thing about him becoming president is that we’d have to train someone new to have to put up with awful awful peter robinson. but whenever martin is so crap at dealing with pressure as to resort to calling people “west brits” when they challenge him – i mean, is he actually serious about getting people to vote for him?

    it also seems a bit of a jump to suggest that because gay feels that the west cork ira were gangsters, that therefore he disagrees with an independent ireland. is that really what you think? surely there’s some middle ground there?


  2. I agree with you to an extent. I personally have no problems with “hard questions” for Martin McGuinness about his past activities, political, military or otherwise. Perfectly fair and proper. He should be no different from any other candidate and face the same sort of rigours that Norris, Mitchell etc. have faced.

    The “West Brits” comment, though off-the-cuff, was wrong. Partitionist and discriminatory would be more accurate.

    My main issue is the hysterical vitriol and “hate-speech” with which this is being done. The anti-McGuinness campaign is near-universal across the media establishment. Its as if, collectively, the news media in Ireland have decided that they will destroy the candidacy of Martin McGuinness. It highlights yet again just how out of touch the mass media in this country is, and how utterly elitist it is. It is as much a part of the Golden Circle establishment as any politician or bureaucrat.

    The claims of John Waters in the Irish Times that those who support McGuinness or Sinn Féin are unemployed and unemployable, uneducated and ignorant, psychopathic or lunatic, are patronising, elitist bilge. But they also accurately reflect the views of the journalistic classes.

    As for Gay Byrne, this is not the only statement by him on the issue of the War of Independence or Irish nationalism in general, and taken as a whole, they show a less than favourable attitude. In fact they simply reflect his personal background, that of someone from an early 20th century Dublin working class community of soft British Unionist opinion and from which the British armed forces drew many of its recruits. It may seem utterly anachronistic in an early 21st century Ireland but his background clearly colour his personal beliefs.

    However your point is taken and I may edit that part of the article to better reflect the above.

    Thanks for the comment.


  3. lol, y’know i don’t think i’ve ever encountered anyone who even considered editing an article on the basis of a comment posted! i enjoy reading your posts and engaging with you!




  4. gerard o neill

    Gay Byrne boasts about his father’s role in the British Army (hope he’s not responsible for any war crimes) in his book but says nothing of his father in law, Tom Wadkins of Saggart who was OC of the South Dublin Bridgade of the IRA during the civil war..
    We also know that the Royal Bank in Blessington was robbed of 5,000 pound by the SDB IRA..This building is now known as the Downshire Hotel.
    We also know that Sir Gay married Kathleen Wadkins and they had their reception in the Downshire… [ASF: text removed for legal reasons]


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