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Dublin Opinion >>
EXPOSED: Censorship in the Sunday Independent
rights, freedoms and repression |
Sunday February 25, 2007 18:50 by Joan McAnthony
Sindo refuses right of reply to Manus O'Riordan
Eoghan Harris attacked Manus O’Riordan in his Sunday Independent column of February 11, after a February 4 letter from O’Rordan:
Memories of an Irish Waffen SS man, by Manus O'Riordan .
O’Riordan wrote after Harris attempted to link Irish republicanism with fascism in successive columns. O’Riordan pointed to a fascist he had come across, who was a member of a party Harris was in (SF the Workers Party, the one he was in longest). O’Riordan’s father, Communist Party General Secretary, Michael O’Riordan warned SFWP of the connection. The warning was ignored.
The letter obviously irritated Harris, since he took the unprecedented step of devoting another column (3rd time in four weeks) to the matter. Instead of answering the points raised by O’Riordan, Harrris instead attacked his critic from the security of his weekly perch.
With his usual ‘sinuendo’ Harris suggested that O’Riordan had “questions to answer” in relation to fascism. Harris used a letter Manus O’Riordan wrote to the Sunday Independent in January 2005 as evidence.
Judge O’Riordan’s letter for yourself :
Russell, knave or naive?, by Manus O’Riordan
Even Irish Republican, anti-fascist Spanish Civil War veteran, Frank Ryan, was dragged up on a charge of being soft on Adolf. The real crime in Harris’s eyes was opposing imperialism, especially of the British variety, and/or support for Irish neutrality during WWII.
Harris also took exception to O’Riordan’s criticism of Harris’s favourite revisionist historian, Peter Hart (whose main claim to fame, as Indymedia readers know well, is reportedly interviewing a veteran of the 1920 Kilmichael ambush one week after the last one died).
Sindo Right of Reply? No thanks
Not unnaturally, O’Riordan expected a right of reply to the tirade of abuse and character assassination aimed in his direction. He sent in a response. However, in an extraordinary admission, transmitted through the Letters Editor, the Editor of the Sunday Independent said the “subject… is not of huge interest to our readers”, and refused to publish. This response immediately begs the question: if Harris’s outpourings on the subject are of such little “interest” to Sindo readers, why did the Editor, Aengus Fanning, permit him to repeat them in three columns over four weeks.
Perhaps it is the case that Sindo rulers, rather than Sindo readers, do not like to see their reactionary court jester humbled by facts he plays fast and loose with on a weekly basis, especially when the facts undermine the paper’s obsessional neo-unionist agenda.
Every so often the mask slips, and the Sindo’s guise of liberal toleration is shown for what it is: the outpourings of turncoats, humourless comics, and various scribblers writing to order.
Those Harris columns (no censorship on Indymedia):
Sunday Independent February 11, 2007
Talking movies, and my Platonic love for a good scriptwriter, by Eoghan Harris
Sunday Independent January 21, 2007
We are past masters at Nazi denial, by Eoghan Harris
Sunday Independent January 14, 2007
A warm house for Nazis, but a closed door for Jewish children, by Eoghan Harris
O’Riordan’s reply – the response the Sindo sought to suppress
AN OPEN LETTER TO CORRECT THE RECORD by Manus O’Riordan
Eoghan Harris complains of the length of my letter concerning Sinn Féin the Workers' Party's SS veteran member Staff van Velthoven (February 4) and - by way of riposte - proceeds to devote an even greater number of column inches to a catalogue of charges against myself (February 11). I can, of course, have no more objection to being called to account for my political record than should Eoghan himself. But since a number of his allegations amount to serious misrepresentation, I would like to have the right of reply to set the record straight.
(1) Eoghan describes me as "a former 'two nations' revisionist turned nationalist". In actual fact, I remain a "two nations" Republican who aspires to all-Ireland unity based on democratic consent, with mutual respect and recognition of the rights of both communities. As such, I am in the tradition of that great Republican priest and one-time Vice-President of Sinn Féin, the secularist and anti- fascist Fr. Michael O'Flanagan.
(2) "O'Riordan has written to the Irish Times expressing admiration for Gerry Adams in terms which must have brought a blush to that bearded cheek" [Note: see this letter below]. Are readers, then, being invited to take me for what Eoghan might describe as a "sneaking regarder" of the Provo war? Eoghan Harris knows very well indeed that I remained unequivocally opposed to that war throughout. I have only ever written two letters to the press concerning Gerry Adams. The first, in 1994, was to demand a ceasefire in conformity with the democratic Republican principles espoused by Fr. O'Flanagan. I also believe, however, in giving praise and encouragement to longtime political opponents when they courageously cross the Rubicon. This I did in my 1999 letter when Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin accepted the deletion of the territorial claim in the Republic's Constitution, at the same time as the Workers' Party finally did so. In other press correspondence that same year I had also given credit to Tomás MacGiolla - and by implication to the SFWP leadership as a whole, inclusive of Cathal Goulding - for the 1972 decision to at last drew back in horror from the implications of the Official IRA bombing of Aldershot, that in one single night had killed far more civilians than the whole of Seán Russell's pre-World War bombing campaign.
(3) "In a more recent letter to this newspaper he has defended Seán Russell, the IRA leader with fascist leanings". [Note: see this letter above] Are readers now being asked to infer that "fascist leanings" are what I defended? Those who check out your issue of January 9th 2005 will find that I specifically stated: "By all means condemn Russell, as I have always done, for his actions in defiance of de Valera, specifically his 1939 bombing campaign in England, followed by his request for German aid to mount an IRA invasion of the North". I also concluded that "de Valera was left with no option but to act ruthlessly and with resolve against Russell and his IRA followers", among whom was Cathal Goulding. I did, however, point out that Lahousen, the chief prosecution witness at the opening of the Nuremburg war crimes trials, had vouched for Russell telling him: "I am not a Nazi. I'm not even pro-German". My comment on that was: "This, of course, was extremely naive. As regards his dealings with Nazi Germany, Russell is to be condemned more as a fool than a knave. But notwithstanding that condemnation, Seán Russell is still entitled to the integrity of his reputation".
(4) Eoghan Harris attributes to Mrs, Budge Clissmann a statement continuing to defend the Russell line of "republicans seeking help from Nazi Germany". It is clear from the preceding paragraph that I have always totally disagreed with any such perspective. What should not be forgotten, however, is that throughout the 1970s there had been complete agreement between SFWP itself and that same Russell perspective. The pamphlet entitled Irish Republicanism, issued by Official Sinn Féin's Education Department in order to distinguish itself from the Provos, explicitly lamented the outcome of the Second World War that saw the defeat of Nazi Germany. That Party unashamedly bemoaned the lost opportunity of achieving Irish unity, "if Britain had been defeated in the War".
It is, however, also important to give SFWP credit for when that Russell line was finally abandoned. The current President of the Workers' Party, Seán Garland, can justifiably take pride in the fact that in 1980 he brought to successful publication Seán Cronin's unsurpassed biography of Frank Ryan. Cronin quite clearly demonstrated that, in contrast with Russell's war plans to undermine de Valera, Frank Ryan had proved in both word and deed his steadfast support for de Valera's neutrality strategy to keep Ireland free from both war and fascism, a loyalty fully acknowledged by de Valera himself in his 1975 interview with the veteran anti-fascist journalist Michael McInerney.
My father Michael O'Riordan's 1979 book Connolly Column had also endorsed Ryan's support for de Valera's neutrality policy. Since I have no objection to Eoghan Harris arguing that "in fairness" I should subject myself "to the same severe scrutiny" I apply to others, I should point out that in reviewing each of these books in 1981 I had in fact denounced the arguments of both Cronin and my father in support of Dev's neutrality. Recognising that it was Stalin's Red Army that had defeated Hitler's Nazis at the cost of more than 20 million Soviet lives, I then felt that the USSR had every right to block Ireland's membership of the UN for a whole decade as a punishment for such neutrality. A Stalinist stance too far, I later concluded, eventually persuaded by the sturdy defences of de Valera's wartime neutrality voiced by that Jewish veteran of Ireland's War of Independence and twice Lord Mayor of Dublin, Bob Briscoe, by the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Dr. Isaac Cohen, and by the leader of the Free French in their fight against Nazi Germany, General Charles de Gaulle. Eoghan Harris should learn from the mistakes that I myself made in that regard a quarter of a century ago.
By checking out the website www.geocities.com/irelandscw readers can access both my more detailed assessment of Frank Ryan and the complete text of the commemorative address I gave at his graveside in October 2005, and from which Eoghan Harris quotes so selectively with accompanying spin. He objects to me giving the background of Ryan's earlier friendship with Helmut Clissmann and Jupp Hoven, who would use their later positions of influence in Germany's intelligence service in order to save his life. He neglects to point that this narrative was taken directly from Cronin's account. If Eoghan Harris has now developed some retrospective objection to its publication by SFWP he should say so directly, rather than use me as a proxy. He further objects to me paying tribute to the loving care shown by Budge Clissmann to Frank Ryan during his final years of illness and death, ignoring the fact that such tribute was also paid in Cronin's biography. In my father's book - a man acknowledged by Eoghan himself to have been "a brave fighter against fascism" - he had also felt honour bound in 1979 to record of Ryan's final years:"There the Clissmanns evidently showed much kindness to him". My father's steadfastness in political resolve did not result in him feeling compelled to otherwise diminish his recognition of humanity in all its complexity.
It was my father who had in fact proposed the October 2005 Frank Ryan commemoration as the last opportunity for surviving British and Irish veterans of the war against fascism in Spain to pay tribute to the Irish commander who had rallied the British Battalion so heroically at the battle of Jarama 70 years ago this month. It was to be his last public event, only a month before a stroke resulted in hospitalisation until his final illness. It was my father's own decision that this International Brigade commemoration should also be open to all who had stood loyally by Ryan under whatever set of circumstances, as it was his explicit decision to invite Budge Clissmann to the ceremony. My father, in turn, not only asked me to give the oration, he also vetted and approved its contents beforehand. For notwithstanding Eoghan Harris's spin, its anti-fascist politics were unequivocal. Eoghan's account omitted to record some other words of welcome that I had voiced: "We also have a Second World War veteran present, former Senator Jack Harte who, serving in the British army, fought against the Nazis in Greece. He subsequently became their prisoner-of-war, being transported from Greece to Italy, and then to Germany itself. He is here today in order to pay his respects to the memory of Frank Ryan."
Contrary to what those who have only read Eoghan Harris's riposte might think, I had cast no aspersions on Cathal Goulding's personal courage or integrity. Despite our sharp political differences, we continued to maintain friendly relations with each other on a personal level for close on 30 years.Our last conversation lasted several hours when Cathal approached me, after giving a moving oration at the 1993 funeral of Beatrice Behan, in order to express his sadness at the ending of my father's friendship with him. But fond rememberance is no excuse for dishing up bad history that fails to record an atrocious exercise in political judgment.
I was still a schoolboy in the mid 1960s when I made it my business to try and find out who did what during World War Two. My final 1966 conversation with the late Alan Heussaff, second-in-command of Celestin Laine's Bezen Perrot, was to hear him denounce his fellow Breton nationalist Yann Goulet as a softie who, having begun to take a dislike to the manner in which the War was unfolding, had pulled back from his previous support of Germany. This was unlike Heussaff himself ,who told me that he had continued fighting in support of Germany right up to the bitter end, as had his Flemish friend and soulmate Staf van Velthoven. That for me was an eye-opener. When, in subsequent years, Alan Heussaff began to move in Official Sinn Féin circles. I thought I should bring my previous conversation to the attention of another member of that Party's leadership. And so my other eye was also opened when that same "Marxist" - not party to this present controversy - responded: "They were right!".
There is little point in Eoghan Harris regurgitating the Churchillian complaint about "dreary steeples" when, under the heading of "We are past masters at Nazi denial", it is he who has made such a big issue of Official Ireland's award of the commission for the Custom House memorial to Yann Goulet, whille manifesting similar denial himself in respect of the far more serious political issue of Staf van Velthoven's prominent Official Sinn Féin role during the 1970s - as a member of its "Frank Ryan Cumann", God help us! Eoghan's description of him as "a former fascist turned socialist" is unadulterated whitewash, if it is not just tautology pure-and-simple. For it was as a national socialist that van Velthoven had roared at me in 1974. And anybody who actually reflects on the Ireland's Nazis documentary interview with him will have seen a van Velthoven continuing to exhibit nothing but pride in his Waffen SS past.
It has been necessary for me to address in detail the quite serious misrepresentations of my position as contained in this, the second-ever occasion on which Eoghan Harris has referred to me in his column. But it would be remiss of me to conclude without mentioning the first such reference in his column of May 21st last. Here there was no axe to grind nor any misrepresentation of political differences. On that occasion Eoghan extended to myself personally and to the rest of my family his condolences on the death of my father. Such condolences were in turn appreciated for the genuine spirit in which they had been offered.
Yours sincerely, Manus O'Riordan
The letter to the Irish Times that Harris objected to (see point 2 above):
The Irish Times July 08, 1999
Saving The Belfast Agreement
Sir, - July 1st saw the historic opening of the Scottish Parliament in the absence of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He had stayed behind in Belfast to engage with the Ulster Unionist response to the courage and heroism displayed by Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Gerry Kelly and other Sinn Fein leaders. As First Minister Trimble started out the day before the TV cameras, we all heard that response, a petulant abuse of both Prime Minister Blair and Taoiseach Ahern as "willing fools" for recognising the courage of the Sinn Fein President.
If the Prime Minister had attended the Edinburgh Parliament he would have borne witness to a Scottish nation confidently looking to the future, underpinned by both the statesmanlike address of its First Minister and the Parliament itself joining in the singing of Rabbie Burns's great anthem of democracy A Man's A Man for A' That. It fell to Prime Minister Blair to address instead the Ulster Unionist Members of the Northern Assembly - but to no avail. And perhaps it is just as well that their First Minister absented himself from that meeting since here too a line from Rabbie Burns might have been found all too appropriate to characterise that Belfast farce - "Wee sleekit cow'rin' tim'rous beastie."
I do not relish seeing the history of 25 years ago repeating itself as farce, since it is not alone even more tragic but is in fact far more dangerous than ever before. In 1974, I was among a handful of people who went out with buckets of paste to cover Dublin City with posters saying "Save Power-Sharing: Delete Articles 2 and 3".
But by copper-fastening that territorial claim in the wake of the Supreme Court judgment that it represented a constitutional imperative, the Cosgrave-Cruise O'Brien government ensured the collapse of the Sunningdale Agreement. Nonetheless Seamus Heaney's "hope and history" at last appeared to rhyme for me last year when the people of the Republic voted overwhelmingly to replace the territorial claim with the principle of consent, in the context of full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
If First Minister Trimble persists in sabotaging that Agreement he will indeed have earned a unique place in history - as the Ulster Unionist leader who actually refused to lead his people into the future and instead bequeathed to them the retention of Articles 2 and 3, with the full force of a constitutional imperative to govern what he will have demonstrably proven to be a failed political entity. - Yours, etc.,