Interlude with the BritishBC by Joe McVeigh

I

 Sometime in 1988, I was asked by BBC Religious Affairs producer,
Bert Tosh to take part in a BBC TV series to discuss violence and more specifically the Catholic Church’s attitude to violence. I agreed to
take part on condition that the interview would be in the form of a
conversation rather than a confrontation. I felt that if it was going to be confrontational then we would not be able to analyse the different kinds of violence and the root causes of violence in our country. The producer assured me that it would be a conversation rather than a
confrontation. He told me that the interviewer would be Professor
Anthony Clare from Trinity College Dublin. I was glad to hear that
because, from what I knew of him, he seemed like a reasonable and
courteous man who liked to discuss issues. I agreed to the interview and the date was set. 

I drove to Belfast from Irvinestown where I was based to the British broadcasting studios in Ormeau Avenue. It was about 7.00pm and
dark. I was welcomed by Bert Tosh. He immediately informed me
that he had to get another interviewer since Anthony Clare was
unable to do the interview. He had asked a man by the name of Andy O’Mahony from RTE who used to read the News. I was a little
perplexed but I got ready for the interview which was being
recorded to be broadcast in a few weeks time. It was to be one of four interviews with different people from different backgrounds-one of whom was to be Ulster unionist Ken Maginnis.

I was introduced to Mr O’Mahony whom I had never met before.  I
found him cold and unfriendly. I did not remember ever having
annoyed him. Anyway the interview began with the usual
introduction and then the serious questions. “You have been a vocal priest condemning the British and RUC. You never seem to have
much to say about the IRA.” I said that the Catholic Church was
constantly condemning the IRA. I said that I felt the British violence was the primary violence in our situation and it needed to be
confronted first and foremost. Almost immediately he shot back “But you did not condemn the Enniskillen bomb in November 1987”. I
replied that I had read out the Bishops’ statement condemning the
Enniskillen bomb. The Catholic bishops led by Cardinal Tomás Ó
Fiaich had condemned the bomb in Enniskillen in the strongest possible terms. O ‘Mahony came back: “But you personally did not
condemn the bomb”. I said that I did not think that a statement from me was necessary when my Bishop and all the bishops had made
known their abhorrence and that I had read their statement at all
Masses in the parish. I personally abhorred the bombing in Enniskillen as I abhorred all acts of violence from wherever they came. He
grunted a bit and said something to the effect that that was hardly
good enough for a Catholic priest.

I said that if the interview was going to continue in this confrontational manner I was not going to proceed. I said I had agreed to do the interview on condition that it would be a conversation about the causes and consequences of violence in our country. I felt this was a serious subject that needed to be analysed and that routine one–sided condemnations were not helping to resolve the issue. 

The producer intervened to ask me to start again from the beginning. We started again. After a few preliminary remarks O’Mahony once
again asked me why I had not condemned the Enniskillen bomb. I
gave the same answer as before, that I read the public condemnation by the Bishops. And again he said that I was not answering the
question. I went on to say that I was concerned to see the end of all
violence in our society. I said that I did not want to see any more
Enniskillens and that until the root causes of violence were tackled
then violence was likely to continue. That was the lesson from South Africa and many other colonies. 

O’Mahony still was not satisfied. I immediately said I was not
continuing with the farcical interview. It looked to me that he wanted to make me out to be condoning the Enniskillen bomb. I walked out of the studio- much to the amazement of O’Mahony and Bert Tosh. I
was never invited back to the BritishBC again! 

At the time that I agreed to do the interview I felt it was important to use the opportunity to have a mature conversation about the
ongoing violence/war in our country. I had hoped at least to
contribute another view to the discussion. Unfortunately, that was
not going to be allowed by the BritishBC. I suppose I was naïve in
thinking that it was possible to have a mature discussion on the
British BC.  I was reminded of my experience in 1988, when I saw a
number of interviews recently with Sinn Fein representatives on the British BC. The interviewers Mark Carrothers and Donna Traynor
struck me as being  aggressive and bad-mannered. I seldom listen to Nolan but when I do he is often aggressive, especially towards Sinn
Fein representatives.  

The BritishBC has not changed much. I doubt if it ever will. …
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