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Alliance Party MP and RTE's John Bowman expose Eoghan Harris distortion of Belfast flag vote and his role in Mary McAleese election

category national | rights, freedoms and repression | news report author Sunday January 20, 2013 22:49author by Tom Cooper Report this post to the editors

Two strikes against Eoghan Harris in this week’s Sunday Independent

Harris announced on 13 January that he, like the Sunday Independent paper edited by Anne (formerly Mrs) Harris, has been ‘silent’ on loyalist flag riots in the North of Ireland. The riots started out as an attack on the moderate unionist Alliance Party. Alliance brokered a compromise on Belfast City Council that permitted flying the Union Jack flag on 18 ‘designated’ days per year. The SDLP and Sinn Fein plan had been for either a shared no-flag space in the council or for parity of esteem by flying the Irish Tricolour with the Union Jack. Unionists don't do compromise.

The DUP and UUP, egged on by the unionist Newsletter, put out 40,000 leaflets attacking Alliance MP Naomi Long and her party generally. Long took DUP leader Peter Robinson’s seat at the last British general election. A sore point.
Sunday Independent 20 January 2013 - Eoghan Harris exposed - plus censored letter - click to read
Sunday Independent 20 January 2013 - Eoghan Harris exposed - plus censored letter - click to read

After the first riot on the night of the vote, Alliance Party offices and the homes of representatives were systematically attacked. See:

The riot on the night of the vote is captured here:

Leading to

How did the long ‘silent’ Eoghan Harris react eventually to these attacks on democracy and on democratic representatives? He grossly misreported and distorted Naomi Long's views on January 13. Her solicitors contacted the paper, leading to this abject apology on page 3, January 20:

Naomi Long: Apology
Last week in his column Eoghan Harris attributed to Naomi Long, the East Belfast Alliance MP, the words "just a meaningless bit of cloth", in relation to the Union flag and suggested on the strength of this that she had no feel for the Unionist tradition (Sunday Independent, 13 January 2013).

We accept that she did not state that the flag was "meaningless" or refer to it in derogatory or dismissive terms nor did she introduce this phrase.

In fact, what Ms Long actually said was: "I have family who fought in the Second World War. I know that they fought, not for a piece of material, but they fought for values... they fought for values and principles, they fought against fascism, they fought against violent interference with the democratic process, they fought for freedom of expression, difference of opinion. They didn't fight for a coloured piece of cloth."

That characterisation of Ms Long, based on a misreading of the discussion she was taking part in, was inaccurate and unfair, and for that we apologise and have agreed to meet her legal costs.

On the Sunday Independent web edition, the apology is buried in the ‘lifestyle/motoring’ section, followed (peculiarly) by the words, ‘Irish Independent’:

That is whammy number one for Ireland’s number one self-regarding right wing whiner.

Whammy number two comes care of a letter from RTE’s John Bowman:

In the midst of a continuing moan about Sean Gallagher losing the last presidential election (see, & Harris moaned on 13 January about how he was depicted in Bowman’s 2012 RTE history, ‘Window and Mirror’:
(References to Naomi Long in this column removed by Sunday Independent)

Harris worked in RTE until the late 1980s and spent a lot of his time time witch-hunting those opposed to broadcasting censorship. Harris was a Stalinist censor in the Workers Party then, a McCarthyite censor for the highest political or editorial bidder now. He was exposed publicly in November 1987 by the late Gerald Barry of RTE as secretly fomenting attacks on broadcasters who wanted to oppose censorship (See Barry column, Sunday Tribune 29 November 1987 – attached as a graphic).

After that Harris's credibility was shot and he was on his way out of RTE. He latched on to the 1990 Mary Robinson presidential campaign. He has whinged ever since about his claim of single handedly electing Robinson being (justifiably) ignored. Harris himself ignores the later hysterical Sunday Independent denunciations of President Robinson when she shook Gerry Adams’ hand in West Belfast in 1992. His attacks on RTE today and his right wing turn stem from his ignominious departure from the station in the late 1980s (that and the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall that cut the Workers Party off from East German funding:

As Bowman points out, Harris also tried to influence the subsequent successful 1997 Mary McAleese presidential election bid by running a stooge candidate against her. The stooge smelled a rat and exposed Harris during the election. It blew up in his face. You can read all about it here in Brenda Power’s excellent 1997 Magill article at:

Bowman’s letter points out that Harris as usual has the wrong end of the stick.

I have an angle in all of this because, while Bowman was given a right of reply, I was denied one about another Harris distortion of the record. Harris mentioned me in his 12 October 2012 column:

Harris had ignored me when I had a complaint upheld against an RTE One TV programme that Harris scripted and narrated last year:

RTE upholds complaint against Eoghan Harris programme on War of independence

I made my complaint to RTE after the Sunday Independent refused me an opportunity to respond to Harris’s self-promotion of the programme. See:

As I felt RTE’s admission fell short I took the complaint further to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BCI).

The BCI refused to examine the programme under objectivity, impartiality and fairness provisions in the Broadcasting Act. The BCI stated that the programme did not fit news and current affairs criteria. Harris wrote about this in the Sunday Independent as a vindication. He never reported that RTE had admitted serious errors in the programme in the first place, or that the BCI failed to judge the programme at all. I sent the following very short letter that the Sunday Independent refused to publish. It stated:

Dear Editor,

I fully agree with Eoghan Harris (October 14th) that people should read the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) determination on my complaint about a programme he made. It is available on the website. The complaint had already been partially upheld by RTE and I was pursuing with the BAI factual errors and bias RTE ignored. My correspondence with RTE is available on
However, I disagree with Eoghan Harris that the BAI made a full determination on remaining weaknesses in the programme, An Tost Fada ('The Long Silence', RTE One, April 16th 2012).

Extraordinarily, the BAI refused to asses the programme under Broadcasting Act rules on objectivity and impartiality. This is very peculiar since RTE itself stated that those were the criteria under which the programme should have been assessed. The BAI used instead vague internal BAI provisions about whether the programme gave 'offence'. On those self-limiting grounds the complaint against remaining weaknesses in the programme was not upheld.

That is hardly a vindication given that RTE has already agreed that the programme contained serious errors of fact that should have been checked before broadcast.

In my opinion the programme was a biased, incompetent, sectarian, view of an aspect of the War of Independence and its aftermath that claimed to be the opposite. There is nothing "nit-picking" about my view and nothing accurate about Eoghan Harris's typically irrelevant description of me as a founder of the Irish National Congress.
Tom Cooper

Maybe if like Bowman I had mixed sycophantic praise with criticism of the egocentric commentator, the Sindo might have published my letter.

It was not to be, but you can read the letter here on the internet.

The cartoon Harris complained of 13 January 2013 that exposed his disastrous 1997 Mary McAleese presidential election - click if not clear
The cartoon Harris complained of 13 January 2013 that exposed his disastrous 1997 Mary McAleese presidential election - click if not clear

Naomi Long MP Sunday Independent apology and letter from John Bowman - click to read
Naomi Long MP Sunday Independent apology and letter from John Bowman - click to read

The late Gerald Barry of RTE wrote this Sunday Tribune column on 29 November 1987 that exposed Harris RTE witch-hunt - click to read
The late Gerald Barry of RTE wrote this Sunday Tribune column on 29 November 1987 that exposed Harris RTE witch-hunt - click to read

Eoghan Harris - writes stories as straight as a corkscrew
Eoghan Harris - writes stories as straight as a corkscrew

Caption: DUP and UUP loyalist rioters begin rampage - see 'No Surrender' lady

Caption: 'Belfast Bigot' No Surrender lady becomes YouTube sensation

Caption: HItler hears about the flag coming down - 'Downfall' spoof -

author by Tom Cooperpublication date Sun Jan 20, 2013 23:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

No Mention of Harris embarrassment on page one

Sunday Independent 20 January 2013 - no Mention of embarrassing columnist Eoghan Harris
Sunday Independent 20 January 2013 - no Mention of embarrassing columnist Eoghan Harris

author by Tom Cooperpublication date Mon Jan 21, 2013 08:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Dear Professor Chris Morash - Chairperson, Compliance Committee, Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI),

I refer to the BAI’s letter of 5 October 2012 to me from Jean Crampton,
enclosing the BAI Compliance Committee’s determination, under your signature
as Chairperson, on my complaint, BAI number 70/12.

The refusal of the BAI Compliance Committee to consider my complaint about
the RTÉ programme An Tost Fada (RTÉ One, 16 April 2012) under Section 48
(1) (a) of the Broadcasting Act 2009 is, by any reasonable standard, perverse.

RTÉ agrees with me that this is the applicable section under which the
complaint should have been investigated. It is the standard under which such
complaints have been adjudicated on in the past.

My complaint noted RTÉ’s acceptance of errors in two key programme areas.
RTÉ agreed that the programme confused the IRA execution of two farmers for
informing, named Connell and Sweetman, in February 1921 during the War of
Independence, by broadcasting instead that they were killed for sectarian
reasons in April 1922. I pointed out that that the death of the two men was well
documented (indeed including by Eoghan Harris in his review of Jasper Wolfe of
Skibbereen in the Sunday Independent) and that the date of death was known
to the programme makers who obscured it in the broadcast.

RTÉ also broadcast that, as a result of sectarian persecution immediately after
the killing of the two farmers, the Church of Ireland Salter family (the subjects of
the programme) fled West Cork in April 1922. It was further broadcast that the
British government simultaneously gave them £1,700 emergency compensation.
RTÉ concede that this compensation figure broadcast was also wrong.

I demonstrated that the ancillary claims broadcast alongside that
assertion were wrong too. No emergency compensation was paid in 1922. Mr.
Salters did not leave in a hurry in April 1922. He sold his farm for £1,900 to a
local Auctioneer in June 1922 under instruction. Salters claimed in his (not
broadcast) comprehensive 1927 claim to the British government that this was
under IRA instruction due to his loyal and active support for the British Crown
during the War of Independence. In 1928 the British government offered
compensation to Mr. Salters as a loyalist for events that happened prior to April
1922. These claims were again easily checkable but RTÉ ignored those errors
also. That formed part of my compliant to the BCI. I was not concerned solely
with the actual amount of compensation (a false nitpicking impression
promoted by RTÉ and unfortunately amplified by you).


The attached PDF contains the rest of the letter and a previous one to the BAI, taking issue with a BAI proposal to refuse to consider my complaint under fairness, impartiality and objectivity provisions in the Broadcasting Act. This BAI decision let the Eoghan Harris programme off the hook.

See also:

RTE upholds complaint against Eoghan Harris programme on War of independence

Sectarian narrative about the Irish War of Independence

PDF Document Two letters to Broadcasting Authority of Ireland on refusal to consider complaint against Eoghan Harris programme 0.6 Mb

Related Link:
author by Jimmy Clarksonpublication date Sat Jan 26, 2013 11:39author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Guess who repeated the 'piece of cloth' gaffe in the Irish Times - see apology today 26 January 2013:

You can't tell from the apology since the Irish Times left the author's name out. It was none other than Eoghan Harris co-thinker and former associate of loyalist paramilitary organisations, David Adams:

Bringing loyalists in from the cold DAVID ADAMS Irish Times 17 January 2013

"Did Northern Ireland’s politicians sleepwalk their way to this point in the peace process? Sometimes you have to wonder. For instance, the MP for East Belfast, Naomi Long, reacted to unionist anger at the removal of the union flag from Belfast City Hall by questioning how anyone could get excited over “a piece of cloth”.

One would expect the deputy leader of the Alliance Party, of all people, to have some idea of the enormous potency of symbols. You don’t have to be from Northern Ireland, or live in a post-conflict society at all, to appreciate this. Remember the significance afforded to a certain piece of music being played at Croke Park in 2007?"

Why not tell us in your apology who wrote the offending words, Irish Times paper of record?
(Another question for the Irish Times, if David Adams can have a regular column, why not Gerry?)

Tom Cooper's correspondence with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland shows that some people and opinions are institutionally protected, even when they have demonstrably been found out. Harris would have gone to town in and with his paper if the bias and big mistakes in his flawed TV documentary were discovered in a programme with an opposite point of view.

The message to RTE broadcasters is, broadcast flawed and biased programmes with views that accord with those who run powerful newspapers. Do that and you will survive, kowtow to the rich and powerful. Be or become a cynic.

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