Issue 4-2022 small

24 April 2008 Edition

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Media View

SPEAKING ill of the dead is not a favoured Irish pastime but it’s impossible to speak well of those opportunist media pundits who treated the death of former President Patrick Hillery as an excuse to rewrite history as well as to write murdered Northern nationalists out of history.
Beginning on the night of 14 August 1969, Belfast nationalists bore the brunt of a state-backed sectarian pogrom in which at least eight people were killed, including nine-year-old Patrick Rooney, shot dead by the RUC as he lay in his bed in the Divis Flats. Many hundreds of nationalists were burned out of their homes. It was the defining response of the Northern state and unionism to the Civil Rights movement and it compelled the reconstruction of the IRA.
Even the professional Dublin media apologists for the British Army and a Northern state over many years would agree that August 1969 was a starting point of sorts for the ensuing decades-long conflict. But the same venal ‘professionals’ have continually tried to conform the murderous events of that period in the North into a political morality tale of Southern politicians struggling against subversion. Instead of the historic reality of a Dublin government abandoning Catholics to an armed colonial state in full, murderous flight, there has been created a fantastic myth about the beleaguered Southern state being saved from mayhem and destruction.
An Irish Times editorial praised Hillery for his support for Jack Lynch in the period following 1969 and the Arms Trial (i.e. for abandoning Catholics who were actually murdered in or burned out of their own homes). The use of verbose rhetoric about “democratic institutions” and “separation of powers” is a necessary editorial device to camouflage what actually amounted to being accomplices to multiple murder against Irish citizens.
Fine Gael grandee Professor Ronan Fanning, writing in the Sunday Independent, was disarmingly honest in describing the priorities of the Southern establishment at a time when Catholics faced wholesale slaughter. He described the aristocratic values of Hillery when, on a painting holiday in the west, his artistic household refused to disturb the great man by informing him of the Northern crisis and the frantic messages to return for an emergency cabinet meeting. Fanning regaled readers with with an hilarious anecdote of how Hillery laughed about the historic significance of a painting he had created that very day. And Fanning also quoted Hillery as likening the atmosphere of that emergency cabinet meeting to a “ballad session”. One supposes that they were laughing along with Hillery and Fanning on the Falls that weekend and ever since.
Most revealing of all was Fanning’s explanation of Hillery’s rush to London that weekend to meet the British Foreign Secretary, Michael Stewart, and his United Nations appeal for intervention. Fanning explained the London trip as an effort to “outflank the IRA” and the UN exercise as a “lightning rod to soak up republican rage within Fianna Fáil”. (That’s Fanning’s description of Hillery’s behaviour, not this writer’s.) What a clever man. What a statesman.
And of the dead and injured Northern victims, of the families burnt out? Not a solitary word from any of these commentators who are so intent on justifying one of the most disgraceful acts of negligence carried out by any Irish political class of collaborators in our history. If there was any betrayal of constitutional republicanism, this was the ultimate such act.

THE retrospective justification for abandoning Northern nationalists to loyalist pogroms might be expected from the newspapers mentioned above. But the really shameful aspect was the capitulation to this media campaign of the incoming Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader, Brian Cowen.
Cowen belongs to that wing of Fianna Fáil which claims to have taken back the party from the Jack Lynch wing which had abandoned even so-called constitutional republicanism. Cowen’s great mentor, Albert Reynolds, stood by Charles Haughey who had – and this must be admitted – at least tried to equip Northern nationalists with the means to defend their families and their homes from loyalist murderers.
Cowen would claim to be a champion of constitutional republicanism and he has never been associated with the Lynch wing of the party, that group which bred the Progressive Democrats and shed even the appearance of republicanism. But in the most disingenuous phraseology, even by cynical Fianna Fáil standards, Cowen praised Hillery for his “support for the embattled nationalist community” in 1969 and went on to also proclaim the huge debt the party owed him for “standing four square” behind the leadership of Jack Lynch.
Cowen’s speech may go down in the media as one of those moments when he reached ‘political maturity in putting the past behind him’, etc, etc. But republicans have seen this play before. It is that act in which a former lionheart, having conquered the loyalty of the party faithful and that of the people, reveals a fatal weakness and caves in to those forces previously arraigned against him in order to earn their approval.
Why is Fianna Fáil always gripped by fear of the media?

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