Credit: Gript

So, about that RTÉ settlement….

It’s not especially pleasant to be in the news in general, but it’s more unpleasant than usual when you’re getting pummelled across the various newspapers for something that’s your own fault. So hands up, first of all: When I said on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme on March 2nd that “Éirígí” were “the people who murdered a journalist”, that was 100% wrong and incorrect. That’s why, as soon as I realised the mistake (when Gript’s own Gary Kavanagh called me and mentioned it as I was driving home), I stopped the car, pulled in by the side of the road, and tweeted an apology:

Éirígí did not murder a journalist. The people who killed Lyra McKee are a group called the New IRA, whose political wing is Saoradh. The youth wing of Saoradh is called “Éistigí ”. The muppet whose article you are reading went on RTÉ, and said “Éirígí” when he was thinking about “Éistigí “.

How did I get them mixed up? Well, because in many ways, the two groups are similar. Let’s talk about Eirigi, who have just secured – for various charities, according to their statement – a donation of €20,000 from RTÉ, because of the alleged defamation.

Éirígí have been involved in many criminal acts over the years. One was arrested on suspicion of terrorist activity. Another was arrested for carrying weapons.  Another one of their members physically attacked Mary Harney. They have repeatedly engaged in violence.

“Repeatedly engaging in pretty bad and extreme behaviour”, though, is not the same as “was involved in shooting a journalist”. That was my error, and that’s why RTÉ have chosen to pay out twenty grand.

Chosen, though, is a good word. And it’s worth asking why.

Political parties, it has to be said, generally cannot sue successfully for libel. Go on social media, any day of the week, and you’ll find people saying that Fine Gael are responsible for xxx number of deaths from homelessness, poor healthcare, the pandemic, or anything else you care to mention. Such statements are clearly defamatory, but a case based on them would not succeed.

What’s more, apologies and clarifications were immediately forthcoming in this instance, both from RTÉ, in the person of Miriam O’Callaghan, and from me personally. Very few people – only those most desiring to believe it, in fact – could believe that there was any intent to defame, either on my part, or on the part of RTÉ.

RTÉ’s general habit, it must be said, has not been to rush to settle matters of this nature. Last year, RTÉ apologised to Declan Ganley for a programme they broadcast in…. 2008. The subject matter of that case was that Prime Time had implied a connection between Mr. Ganley and a gangland murder in Albania. Self evidently, claiming that a businessman was connected to a murder is much more defamatory than suggesting that a fringe republican group with a string of weapons charges to their name was connected to a murder. In one case, RTÉ fought through the courts for a decade to avoid damages. In the other, they’ve paid out after a fortnight.

Nor is that the only such apparent inconsistency.  Father Kevin Reynolds needed six months to extract an apology from Prime Time, after being accused of rape. Kevin Myers required well in excess of a year to obtain an apology, after being accused of anti-Semitism. When RTÉ read out an entirely false tweet about Sean Gallagher, it took him years to get a settlement. For a fringe Republican group with a history of involvement in violent and undemocratic activity, Éirígí managed to get a payout in remarkably quick time.

What’s worth repeating, though, is the context of the comments I made on Prime Time. The point was this: I was invited on that programme to discuss and defend accusations that those who protest the lockdown are somehow synonymous with the “far right”. The basis of that theory, of course, is that if one fringe, far right figure attends a protest, then the whole thing is corrupted.

But that has never been the media standard before. Indeed, in 2019, a protest was organised in Dublin to support so-called “hate speech” laws. It was attended by, amongst others, Trócaire, The Union of Students in Ireland, the Irish Network against Racism, the Transgender Equality Network, SIPTU, and the National Women’s Council. It was also attended by Saoradh, the political wing of the New IRA who were responsible for the shooting of Lyra McKee. Members of all of those organisations, except for Saoradh, have been on RTÉ since. None of them have ever been called to account by the national broadcaster for standing alongside those who support murderers. But when ordinary people protest, the national broadcaster devotes an evening to investigating “far right” links.

Not one of these groups, by the way, taxpayer funded though they may be, and eager to pretend to “defend working people”, though they may be, have so much as lifted a finger to speak up for working people who, as a result of lockdown, can’t work. For groups that are supposed to stand with, and for, workers, they spend most of their time slurping from the taxpayer teat, and calling actual workers “far right”. That goes, in large part, for RTÉ, too.

That’s the point I was trying to make.

RTÉ’s decision to settle this matter with Éirígí is theirs alone. Neither this writer personally, or any employer or entity that works with me, was contacted in relation to this case. Live television is tricky – in this case, I made a genuine slip of the tongue, conflating two organisations that share a similar name, and a similar political philosophy. If you’re a licence fee payer who feels annoyed about this, and blames me for it, then you have my apologies. My apologies to Éirígí, too, for the mistake. But that mistake was in relation to one incident. Éirígí is a very bad organisation, with a very bad record, and it would be a shame if they were allowed to pretend otherwise on foot of this.

Note: An earlier version of this piece stated that Eirigí had “received €20,000 from RTE”. To be clear, Eirigí have not received a penny from RTE, since the settlement they reached directed the money to charity, rather than going to Eirigí itself. We’ve updated it to make this clear.

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