25 October 2007 Edition
RTÉ’s Hidden History programme appears to believe that objectivity is arrived at by giving a true picture of republican history one week and a false picture the next. So, if you tell the truth in one episode you must balance things by telling porkies the next time. The show lived up to its title and methodology this week by hiding the facts from viewers in a travesty of a programme which was originally entitled Atonement: ethnic cleansing in the Midlands.
The title indicates the mind-set of the programmers from the beginning, but when challenged about this prejudice by University of Ulster academic Pat Muldowney some months ago, producer Niamh Sammon denied that this was ever the working title of the programme. When Muldowney and others provided documentary evidence that this title was actually used by RTÉ in a seminar to discuss forthcoming programmes, Sammon stopped communicating with Muldowney.
Earlier, Muldowney had provided documentary evidence showing that the ‘victims’ in the programme, the Pearson brothers, had admitted their collaboration with what one of them described as “crown forces” and that the RIC had also confirmed that the two were shot because they had fired on two IRA men, wounding both, with one dying much later.
Given this little problem with historical fact and the likelihood that the entire programme would be undermined by such tedious evidence, the programmers wrote to Muldowney before the show, informing him that his interview would not be included in the programme. Instead we had Eoghan Harris, the ultimate self-loathing Uncle Tom, decrying the barbarism of the IRA and, in a particular distortion that owes more to Hollywood that church history, the Amish-like qualities of their victims.
Muldowney and other local historians had also provided a wealth of information showing that the Pearson family made a fortune out of their land dealings – after the alleged land grabbing by avaricious Catholic small farmers – but this, too, was ignored. Instead, the fashionable picture of small farmers’ ‘land hunger’ was portrayed while the people – Catholic and Protestant big farmers – who have historically grabbed most of the land and who invariably supported the status quo, British and Irish, are seen as the essence of moderation and civilisation.
THE TEMPTATION to sock it to government politicians is usually irresistible but it sometimes obscures the reality, as with Noel Dempsey’s problems with Aer Lingus.
It is hard to tell yet just who was responsible for burying for a six-week period the information that Aer Lingus was about to axe the Shannon to Heathrow route, but it seems clear that Dempsey was kept in the dark. It is worth remembering that the Establishment is not composed exclusively of elected politicians and that phrase “the permanent government” describes those faceless yet powerful bureaucrats who believe they are above the transitory politicians elected to govern.
It is not for nothing that the Department of Transport has for long been known as ‘the downtown office of Aer Lingus’ and that senior departmental officials believe they know what is best for the country and aviation policy. Did an Irish equivalent of Yes, Minister’s Sir Humphrey decide that he knew better than the minister and anticipate that advance knowledge of the Aer Lingus decision might allow for a political backlash to develop?
Many of the most important policy decisions in modern Irish history have been taken by civil servants rather than politicians, with the most dramatic example in the last few decades being that of the Department of Justice head man, Peter Berry, who decided that the arming of defenceless Northern nationalists in 1969/70 – a Government decision – ought to be sabotaged. A lot of blood was spilled, unnecessarily, because of the Government’s retreat from its policy at that time and there may never have been the ensuing 30 years of violence if the undemocratic meddling of the ‘permanent government’ (an alliance of the Department of Justice, the Special Branch and the Opposition) had been faced down by the elected government.
Less dramatically, Department of Finance officials often determine fiscal policy in a most conservative way, intimidating Cabinet members and any slightly left-leaning ministers who feel tempted to be ‘irresponsible’ with the nation’s finances (i.e. the people’s own money) by giving a little of it to the most deprived in society.
Our rulers include not just government politicians but judges, senior gardaí, multi-millionaires, media barons and senior civil servants. And they always know best, don’t you know?