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'The Fourth Man' or 'Who Else Was in the Queue in Kew?'
national | arts and media | feature Monday May 10, 2004 21:55 by Captain Blue - The Captains without the Kings captainwhite at eircom dot net
Revisionist 'General' Targeted by 'The Captains without the Kings'
Yet another midnight communique from Captain White and his merry mob has arrived to once again add some sparkle to the dreary unpaid lives of pale tired post-Mayday frenzy IMC hacks. The plot thickens . . . this time we leave you in the capable hands of Captain Blue.
"On October 2 1969 the then British Ambassador to Dublin, AW Gilchrist wrote to AKK 'Kevin' White in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The letter quoted the then Proprietor of the Irish Times, Major Thomas B. McDowell, as referring to Douglas Gageby, the Editor, as a “renegade or white nigger”. This was a reference to Gageby’s coverage of “northern questions”. The letter quoted Major McDowell, a member of the Judge Advocates Department of the British Army, as asking 10 Downing Street for guidance in cancelling out the editor’s views and in eliminating “unauthorised” news items further down the chain of journalistic command. The British authorities released the letter under the ‘30 Year Rule’ in late 1999.
As he promised when he signed off the last time (Thursday, Apr 29 2004, 1:38pm) , Captain White has mobilised the intelligence corps in order to discover who suppressed publication of the “renegade.. white nigger” letter in January 2000. While the intelligence corps of most armies tries to plug information leaks, ours unplugs them. The Captain tasked me (Blue) and my team with doing whatever was necessary to get to the bottom of this matter. I wish to report that the chaps have come up trumps and have unearthed the person responsible for sitting on the British Ambassador’s October 2 1969 letter."
Captain Blue Continues his Tale Here >>
FANNING THE FLAMES
Irish journalists assembled in the Public Records Office in Kew on December 22-23 1999 to view newly released government documents that were embargoed until January 2000. They assemble at that time every year. 1999 promised a bumper crop of information, as events in 1969 had changed the course of Irish and British history.
One of this group came upon the “white nigger” letter and decided to suppress what would have been the news story of the new Century. He did not show it to the journalists present. He reportedly thought they might “go off half-cock and publish it”. He thought they might consider it newsworthy so he did not show it to them. He apparently did not divulge the contents to The Irish Independent, the newspaper he wrote for in January 2000 on the documents he had surveyed.
Was he completely devoid of an ordinary news sense or so fully possessed of one in that he knew the impact the letter would have when splashed across newspapers. Maybe he did not relish the prospect.
Did he breach the code of ethics of journalism in suppressing the document? He may have contravened the basic tenets of another profession he professes to be a member of.
This person is in favour of the informed consent that the governed must give in order to assent to being governed. It is just that he does not want to the governed to have the information, even when the state says he is permitted to reveal it. He took it upon himself to deny the public access to material released under the 30-year rule. In other words, a prominent academic researcher and journalist took it upon himself to apply his own secrecy rule. He decided that as far as journalism was concerned this document was ‘history’.
Why did he do this?
If asked he will probably say he did not think it “merited publication”. The point is he did not give anyone else the opportunity to decide whether it should be published or not.
The information indicated a close relationship between the owner of the Irish Times, Ireland’s newspaper of record, and British intelligence services. This information would have caused many to be suspicious of what lay behind the liberal veneer of the Irish Times. The Major was depicted as a willing accomplice in a propaganda war. One thing is clear from other documents released that year. 10 Downing Street stated that the Major McDowell’s role and his acceptance to Whitehall due to his continuing role in the British Army made the use of his services an item of intelligence rather than one of diplomacy
Perhaps our Irish censor thought the information too “incendiary” for a gullible public easily persuaded by those he opposed, Irish republicans. Perhaps he did not want to hand them historical ammunition. He was the gatekeeper and he shut the gate on the information.
After contributing copious amounts of learned copy to the Irish Independent about the contents of the PRO files in Kew, the individual continued to keep the public in ignorance of the contents of the letter in question. The question has to be asked, what else has he come across over the years that does not “merit publication”. It might simplify the task of historical research if we were given the opportunity to consult the material that this individual has cast aside during his researches.
Academic life is governed by the dispassionate weighing up of evidence and debate over documents. The documents have to be there to be debated. Researchers are obliged to reveal relevant sources so that they can be evaluated. Suppression of relevant information is regarded as a very serious issue, second only to making it up. If the individual looked at the document and decided for his own peculiarly eccentric purposes that it was not worthy of public view, he might have a defence, not a persuasive or a convincing one, but a defence nonetheless.
By accepted journalistic and historical research criteria a document in which an official of a foreign government determines in concert with the proprietor the means whereby an Irish newspaper and its editor is to be subverted is one that should be brought to public attention.
Luckily, another researcher, Jack Lane of the Aubane Historical Society, came across the document in January 2003 and promptly sent it to Geraldine Kennedy, Editor of the Irish Times, on January 10th of that year. He pointedly asked her who ran the Irish Times. She replied on the 15th that the paper was set up as a trust in 1974 and refused to confirm the veracity of the document.
Here the matter appeared to rest, after the Irish Times refused to publish the document, investigate the allegations it contained or enquire into why the document was not published in January 2000.
In retrospect this was a mistake. It fuelled the suspicion that the Irish Times had something to hide. The Times certainly wished to downplay the significance of the material discovered and appeared to operate a strategy of censorship through silence.
On January 26th 2003, the Sunday Independent published a story on the “white nigger” aspects of the document. The Irish times responded publicly for the first time one day later on January 27th with an anonymous piece by “Irish Time Reporter” and headlined “Major McDowell rejects UK envoy’s allegations”. This one reactive story did not properly delve into the allegations or bring into being a process of enquiry into why the document had been suppressed.
In retrospect this was yet another mistake. In appearing to kill off the story in this way the Irish Times was stoking up suspicion that it had something to hide. In addition, the implicit Irish Times suggestion that a British official was lying to his colleagues in Whitehall about the utterances and opinions of Major MacDowell, an apparently significant intelligence asset, was barely credible.
The following Sunday the Sunday Independent returned to this aspect of the story. The allegation that a diplomat “sent abroad to lie for his country” would lie at home to his close colleagues was addressed. The author effectively derided and demolished this suggestion and quoted liberally from related documents released at the same time, documents with which he showed a distinct familiarity. There was curiously little enquiry into how this one significant document had gone missing.
Aside from that, it was a work worthy of the talents of the Professor of Modern Irish History in UCD, Professor Ronan Fanning, who had clearly done his homework.
Professor Fanning failed to state another thing. He was in Kew in 1999 with the journalists in question.
Ronan Fanning saw the document in Kew.
He refused to use it himself, share it with fellow researchers, journalists, and the public or, it appears, his employers, the Irish Independent. It is believed however, that he has shown it to friends over the years, those he thought might find it “amusing”. He has reportedly shown it to one Irish Times columnist who has also seen fit not to go public on it or to mention it to his employers.
Fanning had the opportunity to reveal that it was he who had the document all the time, but he chose to stay silent.
JOIN THE KEW
A clue to his involvement lay in a sentence at the end of the article in the Sunday Independent on January 26th. It said “The Sunday Independent has learned that a copy was sent to Gageby, now aged 84, some months ago.”
Since Jack Lane had the letter for barely one month, the sender was most likely a person who was in Kew in 1999, who had seen and suppressed the document and who had associations with Independent newspapers.
Fanning was in Kew, he wrote on the PRO files for the Irish Independent and he now contributes to the Sunday Independent. His authoritative and magisterial denunciation of the Irish Times on February 2nd 2003, in combination with the statement the previous week is what set off the trail of evidence leading to Fanning’s door.
THE FOURTH MAN
Once it became established that the journalists present in Kew, Rachel Donnelly, Aidan Hennigan and Bernard Purcell, who worked cooperatively and who shared information, had not seen the letter and could not have reported on it, it became necessary to find out who else was there. The letter was impossible to miss by anyone with eyes in their head.
Fanning had the eyes, which he used to keep the rest of us blind to sight of the letter.
Nevertheless it is still curious that no one else saw the letter in that file on the day. Professor Fanning must have been working assiduously with the contents the whole time he was there, to the exclusion of the possibility of other journalists seeing the letter in that file. It has to be asserted that Professor Fanning would not have dreamed of preventing them from gaining sight of it. Such a thought is unthinkable in this unbelievable saga.
To think however, the matter might have rested with the Sunday Independent article of February 2 2003 had it not been for another journalist and professor (of journalism this time), Roy Greenslade, Media commentator with the Guardian in London. He became interested in the story after the letter appeared on the Internet in early April 2004. He wrote about 300 words on it and did an interview for Newstalk 106.
Since then Roy Greenslade has been criticised by the Irish Times for apparently suggesting on Newstalk that the Irish Times had suppressed the document. If he did so, this was a reasonable supposition. The Irish Times certainly suppressed the document in January 2003 and suppressed discussion of its contents. The suggestion that a journalist and history professor contracted by a rival of the Irish Times suppressed knowledge of the document originally is one that occurred to no one.
That is until now.
To date, the Irish Times continues to have difficulty accepting responsibility for its role in the prolongation of this affair. Major McDowell continues as Life President of the Irish Times and Douglas Gageby is unwell. Gageby was unwell when Professor Fanning sent him the document. It is to be hoped that this act of generosity did not make Gageby feel worse.
What are the lessons of this sordid affair: publish and be damned, don’t publish, get found out, and be damned anyway.
TAKE HIS CUE FROM KEW
Over to Professor Fanning – it will be interesting to see him stutter his way out of this one. He may take his cue from his recent paper ‘“Playing it Cool": the response of the British and Irish governments to the crisis in Northern Ireland, 1968-9’.
History students in UCD and his colleagues may be surprised by his actions. We can be sure that he will attempt a cogent explanation that will, undoubtedly, be sophisticated.
Those who were in editorial positions in the Irish Times in 2000 may now read with some amusement critical coverage in the Sunday Independent of the halting and embarrassed Irish Times reaction to this affair.
Ronan Fanning is the Sunday Independent’s house academic – a man who cannot break a major story about another newspaper when it is right in front of his nose, but who keeps it for his own private amusement and that of his rarefied circle of friends. In addition, when the Sunday Independent wrote on January 26th 2003 that the letter had been sent to Gageby some months previously, it means that someone in the Sunday Independent knew or guessed the full story and chose to say silent. Curious behaviour,
Are there any loose ends? There is one curious story doing the rounds that a leading figure in the Irish Times, not a journalist, may have gone back to Kew to “check out” the file in 2000, but came back and said there was nothing else of major significance concerning the Irish Times there.
Another loose end is a proper discussion of what exactly the Major and his MI5 friends resolved to do and indeed what did they do in the years after 1969? Historical research is required. Don’t call Professor Fanning.