Steo Wall, after appearing on "Sunday with Miriam"

Why RTE should answer for Steo Wall

There is a substantial difference between believing that something is true, and knowing that something is true. And so it was that when tweets started circulating, last weekend, claiming that the singer Steo Wall, who appeared on RTE’s Tommy Tiernan show last Saturday to perform his politically charged rap song “More Blacks More Dogs More Irish” was in fact a convicted killer, I was sceptical. There might be more than one Steo Wall, I thought. Besides, RTE would surely never platform a person with a long and – frankly – depraved criminal record, without at least mentioning the fact. In all honesty, I leaned towards the mistaken conclusion that the Irish internet was adding two and two, and arriving at the number five.

But, over the course of several days of painstaking work, my colleague Gary Kavanagh definitively proved that indeed, Steo Wall the left-wing folk singer is simply the new identity of Stephen Wall, the convicted killer, convicted robber, and now, RTE darling.

RTE darling is no exaggeration, either. Over the course of the past several years, Mr. Wall has not only appeared at any number of gigs with government agency logos on them somewhere on the poster – he has also appeared on the radio with Miriam O’Callaghan. His work has been featured on the Late Late Show. Now, he has been given a platform on the broadcaster’s flagship weekend chat show, to denounce, in effect, public protest over immigration and ask whether we as a country have forgotten our troubled past.

Well someone, certainly, has forgotten their troubled past.

When Gary contacted RTE, asking awkward questions, he was told that RTE does not comment on editorial decisions. Perhaps in this case, it should.

After all, RTE is not well known for its clemency. When its own broadcaster, Sean O’Rourke, was found to have committed the (social) crime of eating dinner during Covid 19, he was banished. When Kevin Myers was found to have written a clumsy sentence about UK broadcaster Vanessa Feltz, he was not only banished from RTE’s airwaves, never to return – he was also libeled on Morning Ireland. On a very personal note, when yours truly made the cardinal sin of accidentally conflating two separate terrorist sympathising groups on Prime Time, €20,000 was paid out within days, for no obvious or apparent reason, alongside a groveling apology.

The family of Mr. Wall’s late victim, one assumes, will be waiting for any groveling apology.

There will of course be those who argue that Mr. Wall’s story is, in a way, a positive: He served his time in prison. He has, by all accounts, abandoned his previous life of crime, and reformed himself into a musician. This is what the Justice system is supposed to do. He is a success story, in a way, for the state’s efforts to rehabilitate criminals. This is a fair argument. But it is not an argument for covering up, or erasing, his previous life.

Indeed, it is not a standard applied to others: Michael Lowry, for example, has not been permitted to move on from the Mahon Tribunal, and have his involvement in a twenty-year-old corruption scandal erased from popular memory. This is right and just – the public have a right to be aware of the records of those involved in public debate.

Indeed, it is not a standard RTE applies to anyone else: In the Presidential election of 2011, for example, the broadcaster committed many resources into investigating the involvement of one of the candidates in fundraising for Fianna Fáil, and then confronted him with that record, controversially, in the flagship political debate of the campaign. If RTE is a sceptic of your record, or agenda, then it will ferret through your past and report every detail of it. But if you’re a friendly, on-message folk singer with a conviction for taking a person’s life, you’ll be promoted, and your past will not be mentioned.

Nor am I arguing here that Mr. Wall’s past should preclude him from also having a future. If he makes good music, and people wish to buy tickets to hear him, then good luck to him. But RTE is not Stephen Wall – it has responsibilities and duties to its viewers, and to licence fee payers, as well as to its guests. Mr. Wall’s past has direct relevance to the very political messages articulated through his songs, and viewers have a right to relevant information about the people being promoted by the national broadcaster. Especially when those people are commenting on national events.

But we should not expect consistency from RTE. Mr. Wall, after all, could have a pristine, totally clear criminal record, and he would not have been on RTE if his song was entitled “immigration is too high”.

His record is not why he was invited on their show. He was invited on their show to promote the broadcaster’s preferred political narrative. And nothing else mattered.

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