On the 2nd October 1969, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Ireland, wrote to W.K.K White at the British Foreign Office where it was stamped “Received i n Registry” on the 9th October of that year.
It read –
Your letter of September 24th – Major McDowell and No. 10 Downing Street.
2. I had McDowell to lunch today. It is all about something he mentioned to me before, but now he is hotter under the collar about it.
3.McDowell is one of the five (Protestant) owners of the Irish Times, and he and his colleagues are increasingly concerned about the line the paper is taking under its present
Protestant, Belfast-born Editor, Gageby, whom he described as a very fine journalist, an excellent man, but on Northern questions a renegade, or white nigger. And apart from Gageby’s editorial influence, there is difficulty further down, whereby sometimes unauthorised items appear and authorised items left out.
4. So far (except for last item) nothing new. But McDowell went on to say that he now felt that a certain degree of guidance, in respect of which lines are helpful and which unhelpful might be acceptable to himself and one or two friends of his friends on the Board; this is what he had in mind in telephoning No. 10.
5. Oddly enough I had McDowell in mind in certain conversations I had in London a fortnight ago. His present approach requires careful handling and I shall discuss it in London next week. I am writing this letter merely in case you wish to brief No.10 and assure them that we will do what we can to exploit this opening. I am destroying this correspondence.”
The Foreign Office didn’t destroy their copy of the correspondence and released it to the Public Record Office in Kew thirty years later. It is customary for serious British and allegedly serious Irish newspapers to examine such papers and comment on them when released.
But the letter didn’t see the light of day until December 2002 when Jack Lane of the Aubane Historical Society, who was researching in Kew, came across it. He furnished
photocopies to Ireland’s “National” newspapers but none of them apparently recognised them as newsworthy. The then editor of The Irish Times, Geraldine Kennedy, who had made her name as an investigative journalist, questioned its authenticity.
By that time her paper was governed by THE IRISH TIMES TRUST, a secretive, oathbound body which had been set up by Harold Wilson’s notoriously crooked “fixer” Lord Arnold Goodman, as a result of Major MacDowell’s approach to Downing Street and Sir Andrew Gilchrist’s handling of it. The paper is still governed by the TRUST in the interest of its sponsors.
Sir Andrew Gilchrist had form in the manipulation of media. He was Ambassador to Indonesia in 1965.
The story of the Irish Times – “THE IRISH TIMES: PAST AND PRESENT” written by John Martin, published by the Belfast Historical and Educational Society 2008 is a record of that journal from its founding in 1859.
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