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13 September 2007 Edition

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Fifth Column

Man Utd legend versus the IRA

Paddy Crerand, the tough-tackling, tough- talking, Manchester United legend from Glasgow’s Gorbals who was the rock in the midfield that allowed the genius of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best to flourish and capture the imaginations of the world in the 1960s and 1970s, met his match when he came up against the IRA in Derry.
Paddy, whose parents were from Donegal, was a good friend of the SDLP’s John Hume.
In 1975, while he was assistant manager at Old Trafford and rumoured to be a possible successor to Jock Stein at Celtic, he thought he could tackle the IRA about the rent and rates strikes against internment without trial.
The SDLP had originally supported the mass protest but then backed out (with SDLP minister Austin Currie later enforcing unionist laws to recover the withheld money from families’ benefits).
Republicans wouldn’t talk to Hume & Co, so Paddy Crerand, who had a hotel in Donegal and was a staunch member of the Labour Party in Britain, thought he could be an intermediary.
According to his autobiography, published this week, the famous Red Devil went to a safe house in the Bogside and met ten republicans, including the equally legendary Martin McGuinness, to argue his case. Crerand came up against a solid republican defence. The boys stood firm. “I told them they were all fucking mad.”
The title of Paddy Crerand’s book is Never Turn the Other Cheek.

Crerand on the dot

Although he claims that he told the republican side that “they needed to become political”, Paddy Crerand does have a socialist take on the conflict, nevertheless.
“The Protestant people in Northern Ireland were used and abused by the British. How could you have working-class people living in poverty voting Tory? You looked at two working-class people shooting each other and you asked how was that possible. It was divide and conquer, the British trait from the year dot.”
Biggles of the BBC
The BBC is very fond of exposing policy makers who have conflicts of interest but what about opinion formers with conflicts of interest – like the BBC’s head of radio current affairs in Belfast?
In his day job, Mike Cairns is involved in agenda-setting current affairs programmes such as Good Morning Ulster and The Politics Show. But, in his spare time, mild mannered Mike puts on a flying uniform and becomes ‘Wing Commander Michael Cairns, Royal Air Force’.
The London-based satirical and investigative magazine, Private Eye, points out that, while BBC programmes are challenged by presenting a balanced view of Iraq, its head of radio current affairs in the Six Counties flew over to the Gulf to work as a spin doctor for the British war machine during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for which he won a medal.
In September 2004, Mike Cairns’s loyal service saw him promoted to be O/C of the RAF’s specialist media management unit, 7644 (Volunteer Reserve) Public Relations Squadron. His colleagues at the BBC refer to him as ‘Biggles’, after the ripping yarns hero of English schoolboys in the days of empire.
The current issue of Private Eye reports:
“So pleased is the RAF at having a top BBC editor that it flies him over from Belfast every month to teach military personnel how to deal with hacks in the field – including his BBC colleagues. He has also made training videos for the RAF, using BBC footage.”
The BBC’s in-house guidelines are quite clear about the “considerable dangers of a conflict of interest”, particularly for people working in news and current affairs and training others the BBC might be asking questions of.
“It is very unlikely,” the Beeb says, “that it will be acceptable for producers or editorial people in these areas to undertake any outside coaching on how to appear on air.”
In Mike Cairns’s case, though, the BBC says it sees no conflict of interest in one of its top editors prepping propagandists for the war.

McCririck goes off the rails

Charity doesn’t begin at home for John McCririck, the bloated, right-wing TV racing pundit, especially when it comes to helping the poor people of Darfur.
McCririck was invited as a TV celebrity to the opening in London’s Leicester Square of the World Series of Poker Europe and a charity tournament, ‘Ante Up For Africa’, for the anti-genocide campaign in Sudan.
Always flamboyant (except when he’s wobbling about the Celebrity Big Brother house in his grey Y-fronts), McCririck turned purple when he sat down at the table and realised that the celebrities were expected to stump up the £500 buy-in out of their own pocket – it was for charity, after all. But His Immenseness was having none of it. The old misogynist wasn’t giving any of his large wad to charity and, unless the organisers paid for him, he was walking out on the victims of genocide in Sudan. And he did.

A flea in our ears

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, who split from Sinn Féin almost 20 years ago, gave a lecture in Donegal on Saturday night as part of the festival commemorating the 400th anniversary of ‘The Flight of the Earls’, when the Gaelic rulers of Ireland, Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell, had to flee the English conquerors on 14 September 1607.
But Ruairí Ó Brádaigh says even using the age-old term ‘Flight of the Earls’ is “pandering to English propaganda”. ‘Flight,’ Ruairí argues, means “to run away from danger”. Er, isn’t that what they did? Nothing wrong in that. After all, weren’t the advancing English hordes incredibly dangerous?
Ruairí is having none of it though.
He insists that, as they intended to return from the Continent with an army to smash the English, a more apt title would be ‘The Strategic Regrouping of the Earls’.
Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

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