Eoghan Harris (Yes, Virginia, the one that I took £1000 from) is in the Letters section of the Irish Times this morning. He’s a bit upset by Prof Diarmuid Ferriter who, in his review of former President Mary McAleese’s memoir, mentions “journalist Eoghan Harris whom she rightly describes as ‘gratuitously vitriolic’ in his criticism of her.”
Eoghan says Ferriter should have been more balanced and not used that word ‘rightly’. He then goes on to defend his use, during the presidential race in which Mrs McAleese was a candidate, of “a tribal time bomb” to describe McAleese. This was not vitriolic, Eoghan explains. It was just “robust reaction” to Mrs McAleese’s comment in 1997, made to “a reliable official of the Department of Foreign Affairs” that she was “very pleased with Sinn Féin’s performance in the general election.” For good measure, Eoghan also remembers Mrs McAleese’s remark that some unionists were comparable to Nazis , and that her apology for so doing came when the damage was done.
Well. Where do you start with a problem like Eoghan? Let’s start with that “tribal time bomb” remark. Anyone capable of tying their own shoelaces would have seen that Eoghan was intent on linking Mary McAleese with violent republicanism – something totally without foundation in the real world. But Eoghan didn’t mind rolling in that hand-grenade description, hoping that the public mind would see her as another dangerous, potentially violent Northerner and give their votes to someone else.
Then there’s the Nazi comparison. As the Nazis pointed the finger at the Jews as a major source of Germany’s woes and taught their children accordingly, Mary McAleese was right to point out that some unionists pass on their sectarianism to their children. What gave them encouragement in this was that some unionist politicians over the decades urged their supporters not to have one (a Catholic) about the place. And who could forget John Taylor’s famous reminder to voters that, when they found themselves in the presence of three Catholics, they should remember that one of the three was probably an IRA supporter?
Back in 1995, Queen’s University celebrated its 150th anniversary. At the time Mary McAleese was pro-Vice Chancellor of Queen’s, and the BBC made a documentary about it. I was involved in the project and watched with open-mouthed admiration as Mary McAleese charmed the pants off every single BBC person connected with the programme, including myself. In the course of a brief off-camera discussion with her, I asked about her days living and working in Dublin and how she’d enjoyed it. She was loud in her praise of that marvellous city, but one thing left an unpleasant taste: her year of working with the news section of RTÉ as a reporter. She said that if she or anyone else in the newsroom ever voiced the mildest of sympathies for northern nationalists, they were promptly labelled Provo-lovers and their lives made difficult to the point of impossible. After a year, she quit RTÉ.
Guess who was (allegedly) the leading voice in RTÉ when it came to identifying Provo-lovers? Take a bow, Eoghan.