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RTE upholds complaint against Eoghan Harris programme on War of independence

category national | rights and freedoms | news report author Monday June 25, 2012 09:58author by Tom Cooper Report this post to the editors

RTE blames 87 year old Church of Ireland clergyman for the mistakes - shields Harris and Gerry Gregg from responsibility

RTE has upheld a complaint against Eoghan Harris and Gerry Gregg's short television documentary An Tost Fada ('The Long Silence') on two counts (Sunday Times, 24 June 2012 - see article below and letters back and forth to RTE).

The complaint, RTE’s response and reply to RTE are attached here as separate PDF files - right-click and save them to read.

At least one programme mistake resulted from suppression of information.

Other very serious errors in the programme were not addressed by RTE. I have asked RTE to address them and to make a balancing programme. I have also asked RTE to bring back its abandoned policy of using a historical adviser on such programmes.

Complaint, RTE response and Tom Cooper reply attached as PDFs below
Complaint, RTE response and Tom Cooper reply attached as PDFs below

Had RTE been advised by a half-competent historian the series of mistakes and sweeping allegations broadcast by Eoghan Harris and Gerry Gregg would have been stopped in their tracks.

RTE blamed the subject of the programme, 87 Church of Ireland clergyman, Rev George Salters, for the mistakes, not the production team.

That is a cowardly response.

RTE based the programme on Rev Salter’s “memory” of events in 1922 that happened before he was born in 1925. There was no attempt to independently verify the frailties of these recollections. This was incompetent journalism, not least since the evidence is in a compensation file in the British Public Records Office.

A historian would have known this. Harris and Gregg know it too (unless they are simply incompetent). Because they were not subject to editorial controls, they ignored the compensation file. RTE did not ask for proof of the claims Harris and Gregg broadcast.

The programme was a sectarian attempt to accuse the IRA of sectarianism during the War of Independence and afterwards. Rev Salters was used by Gerry Gregg and Eoghan Harris to promote Harris’s long running Sunday Independent crusade against Irish republicanism, that covers up or ignores British and Ulster Unionist sectarian crimes.

Harris and Gregg celebrated attacks on RTE over the RTE Prime Time Mission to Prey fiasco. They whipped up hysteria against public service broadcasting and promoted the private sector. They run their own private film company, Praxis Films, that made An Tost Fada. They received public money to make a flawed sectarian documentary. They are hoist by their own petard. They called for heads to roll in RTE. Will theirs?

Let us, instead, try to be objective. What is all the fuss about?

On 26-9 April 1922, before the Civil War started in June, thirteen civilians, all Protestants, were shot dead in Dunmanway, Clonakilty and around Ballineen-Enniskeane in West Cork.

What was the motivation for these killings? Who carried them out?

When they happened they were thought to be a response to the ongoing pogrom against Catholics in the new state of Northern Ireland that started in July 1920 (the pogrom Harris habitually ignores). For that reason the killings were denounced immediately by pro and anti treaty forces. Leaders of the Anti-treaty IRA, who were in Dublin at Army unity meetings, returned immediately and put armed guards on those thought vulnerable. Former IRA leader Sean Buckley received many West Cork Protestant votes as a Fianna Fail TD in the 1930s, because of his roll in1922. Tom Barry, who was anti-sectarian to his fingertips, was also heavily involved in organising this protection. Nothing like the killings happened before or since. A Protestant Convention met in Dublin two weeks later on 11 May and condemned unionist sectarianism in Northern Ireland. It also stated that apart from the April killings, the Protestant minority in southern Ireland had not suffered persecution or discrimination during the recent conflict.

In his The IRA and its Enemies (1998) the late historian Peter Hart ignored what southern Protestants said and argued instead that the April 1922 killings were the culmination of a long campaign of attacks on Protestants. However, in his history of southern unionism, Crisis and Decline, published the same year (1998), the TCD historian R.B. McDowell (himself a southern unionist), noted that "several" of the victims were "well known loyalists".

Were the victims active loyalists thought to be still acting in concert with British interests? Were the killings, though carried out by a maverick IRA group, a product of intelligence information about most of the victims? In order to make intelligent assessments we have to factor in all of the evidence, not simply the bits that suit our argument (the Harris-Hart method).

In addition to ignoring the 11 May Protestant Convention, Hart distorted an important British Army intelligence assessment.

Hart quoted it as stating that southern Protestants in general did not give information against the IRA because, except by chance, they did not have any. Hart was then able to state with confidence that the April killings were sectarian. However, he left out the very next sentence, which stated that the area where the killings took place was 'an exception' in which there was extensive loyalist informing. Hart clearly distorted the source in order to cover up evidence that the killings may have had a military-political and not a sectarian motivation. Eoghan Harris bases his sectarian crusade on the discredited research of Peter Hart.

Any honest understanding of what happened has to factor in the part of the story Hart left out, that R.B. McDowell, an objective historian who was a unionist, acknowledged. Eoghan Harris has never been interested in such balance and neither is the paper he writes for, the Sunday Independent.

When the killings took place it caused fear among local Protestants and panic among active of formerly active loyalists, many of whom left Ireland temporarily. Rev George Salters’ father William left, but returned to Ireland soon after the civil war in 1924. William later claimed that the IRA told him to sell his farm to a local auctioneer, Henry Smith, for which he received £1,900 (the Tost Fada programme got all of this hopelessly wrong).

Those who had been informing sensibly did not advertise their activity and those who did the shooting kept quiet about it also. That silence has been grist to the mill for journalist conspiracy theorists like Eoghan Harris and Kevin Myers. They operate according to the maxim, what you don’t know, make up.

Evidence that active loyalism in support of the British war effort, not Protestantism, was a cause of the shootings, is in compensation applications to the British government’s Irish Grants Committee. These were organised through the Southern Irish Loyalist Relief Association. Loyalists claimed monetary compensation based on their active support for Britain during the War of Independence. One of those who claimed was Rev George Salter’s Father, William.

William Salter's file contradicts the information broadcast in An Tost Fada. The programme stated, wrongly, that William Salter was given compensation of £1,700 in 1922 by the British government because of sectarian persecution. In fact William Salter was given £1,200 in 1928 because he claimed persecution as a loyalist supporter of the British Crown. The programme could have accessed the compensation file easily, but ignored it.

Jasper Wolfe, former Crown Solicitor for Cork, stated in William Salter’s compensation file that William Salter was persecuted for his loyalism not his religious outlook. Wolfe always dismissed the notion that there was active sectarianism directed at Protestants in Cork. Wolfe was targeted during the April killings. Eoghan harris read Wolfe's biography. He reviewed it in the Sunday Independent (see compliant). Harris ignored what it said on his programme.

Why are Harris and Gregg afraid of displaying the evidence? It is because they are propagandists, not journalists?

The complaint and response attached shows that RTE, through Harris and Gregg, failed to check information and also suppressed the truth. RTE have so far admitted less than the very minimum.

Harris will in future commentary, as he has in the past, make wild allegations. Some will be about me and my supposedly 'suspicious' motivation.

My motivation is to stand up for the people, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and of no religious persuasion, who fought the sectarian British Empire in Ireland against tremendous odds during the War of independence. Particularly, I want to stand up for Erskine Childers, Robert Barton, Ernest Blythe, Alice stopford Green, Sam Maguire, Dorothy stopford, and others, who would not have risked their lives as members of the Protestant community for the Republic if the Dáil and IRA they defended was shooting Protestants. I also want to stand up for the thousands of southern Protestants who rejected the type of regurgitated Ulster Unionist propaganda put out today by Eoghan Harris.

There is much room for legitimate and honest debate on this subject, none for suppression of relevant facts and exploitation of frail 'memories'.

Read the complaint, RTE’s response and my reply. Then make up your own mind.

    RTE admits to IRA documentary errors
    Justine McCarthy and Harry Leech, Sunday Times 24 June 2012

    RTE has undertaken to remove two factual errors from a television documentary it broadcast last April. An Tost Fada (The Long Silence) was a personal account by Canon George Salter, 87, a retired Church of Ireland minister, of his family's flight from their west Cork farm after 13 Protestants were massacred in April 1922.

    Tom Cooper, the chairman of the Irish National Congress, which espouses a united Ireland by peaceful means, had accused the station of deliberately conflating two sets of events.

    RTE admits it got the date wrong in its reference to the IRA shooting of Matthew Connell and William Sweetman, two friends of the Salter family. Contrary to the programme's assertion that the men died in April 1922, the month of the massacre, in fact they were shot in February 1921, during the war of independence.

    In a letter to Cooper, Kevin Cummins, an RTE producer, said Salter had mistakenly linked the timing of the killings of Connell and Sweetman with the Bandon Valley Massacre 14 months later. "This mistake should have been identified and corrected during the production process, and RTE will ensure it is corrected in any future broadcast of the programme," Cummins said. "However, the conflation of the killings does not affect the central point that Canon Salter was making; that his father and his family left the area because they were in fear of their lives."

    Eoghan Harris, the documentary's scriptwriter and narrator, rejected Cooper's allegations. "There are no factual errors in it," Harris said. "He [Cooper] has made a long complaint, with a lot of allegations, and he has been answered. It will all come out in the wash when RTE decides what it is going to do about it."

    RTE said it "regrets" that the programme may have erred in stating that Salter's father, William, received £1,700 compensation from the British government.

    Cummins has also undertaken to remove this reference from any future broadcast if the sum is incorrect.

    Cooper is not satisfied with RTE's response and has called on RTE to broadcast "a balancing programme" and to reinstitute its previous practise of appointing a historical adviser to such documentaries.

Sunday Times - photo dated '1915' with unproven claim that those in it left Ireland because “a sense of fear and a series of threats forced them to leave”. This is wrong because some pictured emigrated before WWI. Photo possibly taken 1905. Typical.
Sunday Times - photo dated '1915' with unproven claim that those in it left Ireland because “a sense of fear and a series of threats forced them to leave”. This is wrong because some pictured emigrated before WWI. Photo possibly taken 1905. Typical.

PDF Document Tom Cooper An Tost Fada complaint - right click and save PDF 0.05 Mb
PDF Document RTE reply to An Tost Fada complaint - right click and save PDF 0.04 Mb
PDF Document Tom Cooper reply to RTE - request for review - An Tost Fada complaint - right click and save PDF 0.12 Mb

 #   Title   Author   Date 
   Also dicussed on P.IE     Bandon    Mon Jun 25, 2012 14:08 
   " fuss "     wolfhound    Mon Jun 25, 2012 21:24 
   neo-colonial crawling disguised as journalism and history     Diarmuid Breatnach    Mon Jun 25, 2012 22:19 
   informer     wolfhound    Tue Jun 26, 2012 00:47 
   Ireland's Big Lie era - Is it Over?     Chris    Tue Jun 26, 2012 20:56 
   @wolfhound     pekingese    Wed Jun 27, 2012 05:57 
   500 attended lectures on Eoghan Harris's favorite historian, Peter Hart (who made stuff up)     Cork Republic    Wed Jun 27, 2012 09:25 
   Church of Ireland cleric attacked by Eoghan Harris..... for disagreeing     Luther Martin    Fri Jul 06, 2012 10:05 


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