Radio Terrified Éireann (RTÉ) has a believable reason for being intimidated by Sinn Féin. I’m beginning to feel sorry for the nervous censors in the back room of Ireland’s national broadcaster, under siege by the political party.
inn Féin has been taking legal action not only against media organs but also against political opponents for a decade. It fights a new type of warfare. She has used the Law Library as a weapon in her political operations. Sinn Féin must suddenly have a warm feeling about its recent visits to the Four Courts. God be with the days of the past when party colleagues in the IRA refused to recognize the courts.
Mary Lou McDonald isn’t the only one issuing libel letters. Your shock procedure against RTÉs Tomorrow Ireland April last year is followed by many precedents. Her frontbench colleague from Sinn Féin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, complained live line last year and is widely believed to have extorted a settlement of more than €150,000. RTÉs Saturday with Claire Byrne Show defended and lost a lawsuit brought by former IRA member Nicky Kehoe in 2018.
According to that Sunday timesMary Lou herself and Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty have settled a defamation lawsuit against the tester in 2014. Gerry Adams sued both the BBC and the sunday world before his retirement from leadership in 2018. Aengus Ó Snodaigh instituted proceedings against the sunday world in 2018. Mary Lou herself successfully sued Fianna Fáil TD Declan Breathnach personally in 2020, while Maurice Quinlivan received a substantial sum in libel damages from fellow Limerick resident Willie O’Dea in 2009. The full list is longer.
The Four Courts threat has proved to be an ATM for Sinn Féin. Not that any actions they have taken have necessarily been unfounded, but they have discovered a lucrative source of redress for unsubstantiated claims made about them. Because of their past, they attract more poison than other politicians.
The real problem isn’t the sizeable sums that Sinn Féin TDs have secured in compensation. For their enthusiasm for litigation has a far more fundamental consequence than enriching the aggrieved party. It brings the fear of God to some parts of the media. This will not have escaped the attention of Sinn Féin. You will enjoy it.
Micheál Martin described this trend as “chilling” last week. Asked in the Dáil by Wexford Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe about RTÉ’s censorship of my interview with RTÉ about my biography of Mary Lou, he responded enthusiastically, saying the decision “requires more transparency and explanation”. He openly speculated that RTÉ did not air the interview for fear of a lawsuit.
Unfortunately, he overdid the pudding by adding that Sinn Féin had been given access to aspects of the interview before it aired. Actually, RTÉ had meticulously prepared exactly that, but it wasn’t necessary because the national broadcaster just got scared. Instead, they decided to deny the interview any airtime.
The Taoiseach was right in all other respects. On Thursday, he decided to appear on Newstalk The Pat Kenny Show. After correcting his slight error as to whether Sinn Féin ultimately did gain access to parts of the interview – as intended – he reiterated his belief that RTÉ was “for fear of a lawsuit” and that the event “had a chilling effect on the Public ‘have debate and democracy’.
He insisted there was a larger picture. “It’s hard to isolate the Shane Ross case and say that there is no connection between that and the fact that RTÉ is being sued and that there is a defamation case against her.”
He further claimed that “Sinn Féin is pursuing a coordinated strategy to stop talking about their past,” a strategy that “has a chilling effect on media and broadcasters.”
Fine Gael’s Brendan Griffin, a member of the Oireachtas Media Committee, took up the baton. He wrote to the committee’s chair, Niamh Smyth of Fianna Fáil, requesting a meeting to ask Dee Forbes, RTÉ’s general manager, questions about the channel’s decision.
It was a bold move; Most politicians are reluctant to insult RTÉ if their oxygen masks are removed and they are off the air for a penalty time. A fiery private meeting ensued when Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster fiercely opposed Griffin’s suggestion that RTÉ be polled, while others opposed it.
I never thought I’d say it, but my old adversary from Tipperary, Mattie McGrath, stood firm, rock-solid, as he joined Griffin and Micheál Carrigy in resisting efforts to end any investigation with a ridiculous, so-called ” Scoping” exercise – a bottomless pit loved by tangerines burying uncomfortable problems.
In one corner, Sinn Féin and RTÉ were in a pact, while TDs demanding accountability were in the other. In the end, a formula was devised that invited the Broadcasting Association of Ireland and Virgin Media to join RTÉ – like fig leaves.
By now RTÉ had turned. After its official statement that it had decided not to air the interview for unspecified “editorial guidelines” reasons, someone at RTÉ decided to go down the route of an anonymous leak. That Irish times reported that RTÉ “sources” now said the interview was too “boring”.
Funny, especially since a member of the RTÉ team had told me the book was “a rollicking read”. It wasn’t boring. It was disinfected. A slot was reserved for this. It has been cancelled. Stunning items such as ‘In Praise of Autumn’, ‘The Denmark Royal Family Row’, ‘Smart Meters’ and even ‘New Beginnings’ were performed on the same day. A controversial interview about the only biography of Mary Lou, the hot favorite for Ireland’s next Taoiseach, couldn’t compete with such compelling subjects.
RTÉ had of course done everything to make the interview “boring”. It had insisted that numerous items – including extensive repairs to Mary Lou’s house, a gender change in the McDonald family and other topics in the book – should not be discussed. It was nothing but censorship.
It had warned that there would be several days between recording and airing before the book was heavily legalized. RTÉ openly told us that they had to offer parts of the interview to Sinn Féin in order to get their right to a reply once the interview was completed.
Boring as it is, RTÉ still hasn’t stopped giving me a transcript of my own interview.
Radio Terrified Éireann fears his own shadow.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/radio-terrified-eireann-afraid-to-say-boo-in-case-it-is-sued-42069487.html Radio scared Éireann is afraid to boo if it gets sued