When television was first made available, they said it would kill radio. Who’d want to just listen to people when they could listen and look at them? After all, that’s how real life works: we look at people when we’re speaking to them and we look at them when they’re replying.
Except that TV didn’t kill radio, maybe because radio forces you to listen to what’s being said rather than thinking about the size of a speaker’s nose or what terrible taste in hairstyles that woman has.
Which takes me to a discussion I heard a week ago on RTÉ Radio One: ‘Saturday with Cormac Ó nEadhra’. It nominally looked at possible political groupings to form a government, but also dealt with the shadowy circle of people who, it’s claimed, pull the strings of Sinn Féin politicians. There was Barry Cowen of Fianna Fail, Simon Hamilton of Fine Gael, Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats, David Cullinane of Sinn Féin and Dr Karen Devine from DCU.
The discussion started with who was talking to whom in efforts to form a government, and would they be successful. Then after about five minutes the discussion slithered into how Sinn Féin was ‘different’, and much was made of that statement from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris recently, saying he believed the IRA Army Council was controlling Sinn Féin. It went on and on, until eventually David Cullinane said wasn’t it odd, they had gathered to discuss possible coalition groupings to form a government, yet twenty minutes into the programme, they were still discussing what Drew Harris said.
The most interesting thing for me was that during the entire programme, the academic Dr Karen Devine got to speak just twice , briefly. Which was bad chairmanship by Cormac Ó hEadhra and a lost opportunity, because when she did speak Dr Devine cut to the heart of things.
For reasons of space, I’ll concentrate on only her second contribution.
In it she quoted Commissioner Drew Harris, who said he believed the 2015 report commissioned by the UK government, which made the claim that the IRA Army Council controlled republican politicians. Firstly she pointed out that Drew Harris himself, as a senior PSNI officer at the time, would have been involved in writing this report, so effectively he was saying he believed himself.
In addition, she added, the 2015 report said not that the IRA Army Council dictated Sinn Féin policy but that some IRA people believed this to be so. So Drew Harris was in effect saying that he believed a report he had written, and that that report was based on the word of some IRA people who said they believed that the IRA Army Council ran the show. It was, said Dr Devine, a belief about a belief about how Sinn Féin was controlled. Clearly a tenuous connection, but even more important, the 2015 report offered no evidence to support its beliefs/ claims.
Isn’t it amazing? It needed an academic to ask the question that was staring us all in the face: where’s your proof? Neither Drew Harris nor the IRA confidants offer any proof of their contentions. So the existence of this threatening puppet-master group is dependent solely on the belief of the Garda Commissioner, who formerly was a senior figure in the PSNI and had close links with British intelligence, specifically MI5.
I’ve had people who ask me “Are you refusing to take the word of the Garda Commissioner and the PSNI?” My reply is that I’ll happily take their word if they give me some evidence for their claims. To simply say “The Commissioner said it” is most definitely not enough. And to have people charged with a crime or crimes on the word of a senior garda officer should no be enough to put that person on trial – there must be or certainly should be evidence supporting the claim.
Internment was built on the same unsupported-by-evidence design and we saw how that worked out. The south should surely know better.