HACKS, BENIGHTED PRESSMEN AND VALIANT FOR TRUTH by Donal Kennedy


In my younger days I was an ardent admirer of Conor Cruise O’Brien and still admire his writings in the days when he sued the Daily (or Sunday?) Telegraph for Libel. I remember when THE IRISH
TIMES (which I then admired) celebrated his return to the Irish Labour Party with the sort of coverage which a more religious organ would give to the Second Coming of Our Divine Saviour to Earth.

I still have that copy of the paper over 50 years later. Conor had been a party member in the 1930s but had joined the (Irish) Public Service, which precluded partisan politics for about thirty years.

The then Political Editor of the IRISH TIMES, Michael McInerney. a veteran of the 1922 Four Courts Garrison had persuaded Conor to rejoin the Party, in the heady days when Brendan Corish promised that the 1970s would be Labour’s decade in Ireland.

Michael McInerney had briefly edited THE IRISH DEMOCRAT’s predecessor in the 1930s and when Desmond Greaves visited him in THE IRISH TIMES in Dublin and sat himself down informed Desmond that he was sitting in the very chair that the Cruiser had occupied when he was talked into rejoining the Labour Party. When Desmond (Editor of THE IRISH DEMOCRAT 1948-1988) told me that I couldn’t help thinking of Nikita Khruschev, who showed visitors in the Kremlin the chair the feared NKVD chief Lavrenti Beria had sat in before being taken out and shot by those who had shared his table.

I was, literally, a fellow- traveller with Conor Cruise O’Brien in my short-trousered youth and sat about a foot from him on the Hill of Howth Tram. I didn’t know who he was and I strongly suspect he didn’t know who I was. He always had his nose stuck in a book, or other papers and I don’ recall hearing him speak. Like a lot of others on the tram I was on my way to the Christian Brothers. I’m told that the Cruiser wrote some nonsense about the Christian Brothers and that Roy Foster, who has written reams of nonsense, has quoted the Cruiser on the same subject.

Anyhow one February evening in 1982 I recognised the Cruiser, then Editor in Chief of THE OBSERVER amongst other distinguished Pressmen who had conferred the title EDITOR OF THEYEAR on Harold Evans, Editor of THE TIMES.

That very morning a Press Council adjudication upholding complaints independently lodged by myself in London and  a Mr McDermott in Paris.

Nine months earlier the Ireland Correspondent of THE TIMES, Christopher Thomas, in his front page coverage of the funeral of Bobby Sands, MP who had died on Hunger Strike asserted falsely that the IRA had killed 2,000 Protestants in the previous 12 years, and THE TIMES had refused to retract the falsehood when requested. I, and I suppose Mr Fizgerald had to endure attempts by the Press Council to give up in despair as it fought a rearguard action to defend the indefensible conduct of THE TIMES.

When their adjudication (which was couched in weasel words) was issued it was under an injunction that it not be published until the morning of a day whose later hours would see Harold Evans being congratulated by the Editors on his being elected Editor of The Year.

That morning I had turned on BBC Radio 4 for the News and was thrilled that it led with a reference to the Press Council. But it was not to do with the falsehood which had earned THE TIMES its censure.

One of the tabloids, some seven months after her marriage had published a picture of a young woman on a beach wearing a Bikini. It was neither unsightly, indecent, nor scandalous, but it wasPrincess Diana. A row ensued in which the Press Council extracted an apology from the paper’s Editor within 48 hours.

Within weeks of the Press Council condemnation of  untruth in THE TIMES, three London Newspapers in a co-ordinated attack on the leader of the Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone, published exactly the same falsehood and even underlined it for their simpler readers. A Mr Conlan in Birmingham complained to the Press Council which took another nine months to uphold his complaint regarding THE DAILY EXPRESS and THE DAILY STAR. I complained to the Press Council about THE DAILY MAIL, and that paper published about three lines buried deep in the paper, to the Press Council’s satisfaction, but not to mine. The lie had gone out over the name of Sir Humphrey Atkins, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

At the time of the funeral of Bobby Sands  in May 1981 some 2,000 fatalities had resulted from the troubles in the previous 12 years. The killers included Protestant Loyalists sometimes against the Royal Ulster Constabulary, sometimes in collusion with them and other Crown Forces, IRA and other Nationalists, those killed included people of various religions and none. It has been a British Government policy for at least a century to  falsely depict Irish Nationalism or Republicanism as motivated by anti-Protestantism, It didn’t matter if Nationalists chose a Protestant like Parnell as their leader, or Douglas Hyde or Erskine Childers (Jnr) as their President. Nationally minded men and women were smeared a bigots.

When Albert Reynolds as Taoiseach, in pursuit of peace, sought a US Visa for Gerry Adams, holder of an Irish Passport, former TIMES Editor  SIMON JENKINS rushed into the Breach to keep the war alive. He briefed White House staff, claiming, falsely, that since 1969 the IRA had killed 3,000 Britons.  President Clinton  ignored him, over-ruled the Anglophile State Department. Gerry Adams got his Visa and the Peace Process prospered. But Jenkins, who later was Knighted together with Harold Evans, was dumb enough to boast about his briefing in the columns of THE TIMES.

Anybody who ever spoke with popularly elected  Irish Republican Councillors, MPs or TDS can be smeared for so doing. Jeremy Corbyn has never been, in my opinion, a Prime Minister in waiting.

And he is not a warmonger nor a supporter of armed struggle, even by the most oppressed. He is not an anti-Semite but he has been smeared as one by some pretty dirty operators. And of course as an advocate of Irish “terrorism”. Only last year in a put-down in THE TIMES, Dominic Kennedy linked him with Arab terror, and with the IRA, who had killed some 1.800 persons since 1969.

That figure is 200 less than alleged by THE TIMES in 1981. It is 1,200 less than alleged by Sir Simon Jenkins nearly 25 years ago.

The figure of 1,800 appears to be right and most of those killed by the IRA appear to have involved Crown Forces or their collaborators. Some 1,200 persons were killed by the Crown Forces .

Killing human beings is a dirty business. Some  people get Knighthoods for it and lying about it. I don’t know what joker gave Conor Crruise  O’Brien the accolade “VALIANT FOR TRUTH”

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