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LETTER: ‘Fishy on facts and high on hyperbole'

June 17th, 2017 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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SIR – Gerry Gregg’s defence of his and Eoghan Harris’s flawed documentary An Tost Fada is fishy on facts, high on hyperbole (Southern Star, June 3rd, 2017). He forgot to mention that RTÉ accepted two of my complaints about the programme, which alleged IRA sectarianism against Protestants during and after the War of Independence. 

Gerry Gregg is wrong about the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, to which I took the remainder of my concerns. The BAI did not ‘reject’ my complaint. It determined that the programme ‘did not have to comply with … statutory requirements for fairness, objectivity and impartiality,’ 

RTÉ agreed that this conclusion misread broadcasting legislation. Getting off on a dubious technicality is not vindication.

Gregg stated that the programme consisted of ‘personal testimony’ about events in 1922. That was three years before the subject of the programme, Canon George Salter, was born. 

Messrs Gregg and Harris should have checked family-lore against evidence. They did not bother. The programme reported that two Protestant victims of the IRA were killed some 15 months after the fact, eight months after the War of Independence concluded.  

Amazingly, this was accompanied by a camera shot of a gravestone that conveniently omitted the date of death inscribed on it. Why this startling ineptitude? 

 It suited the programme’s polemic about the IRA shooting Protestants for sectarian reasons. 

RTÉ understated matters when it admitted ‘this mistake should have been identified and corrected during the production process.’ Gregg’s attempt to blame this mistake on Canon Salter demonstrates a mean and unprofessional inability to take responsibility for errors. The documentary makers did not do their job.

During and after the War of Independence, southern Protestant opinion was divided. Most were revolted by Crown Force methods. A minority actively supported British reprisals and torture. 

The IRA targeted these latter when republican lives and liberty were put in jeopardy. The same happened with Roman Catholic informers and spies. There is no solid evidence of religion-based targeting. 

Republicans acted generally in the non-sectarian traditions of the movement founded by Wolfe Tone. That is why some Protestants joined it. Others said they feared Crown Forces more so than ‘Sinn Féiners’.

The Black & Tans and Auxiliaries, which had been opposed to independence forces, were precursors of the Nazi Freicorps, as Conor Cruise O’Brien noted in 1965. Also opposing the all-Ireland Dáil forces were London newspapers like the Morning Post, which blamed Irish resistance on Bolshevik, Jewish, agitators. 

Such reactionary anti-Semitic ideas nurtured the formation later of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. That is a real ‘European context,’ not Mr Gregg’s pathetic attempt to link Ireland’s liberation war against a sectarian and racist empire with Nazi atrocities. Jews in Ireland at the time supported Sinn Féin and the IRA. Were they anti-Protestant too? 

When not giving out about Jews and other ‘aliens’ during the 1920s, the Morning Post, plus die-hard English Tories, shed copious tears for southern Irish loyalists. They were successful in agitating for ‘compensation,’ causing thousands of said loyalists to make retrospective and often lucrative claims. Compensation file testimony reads like a very damp squib, as far as accusations of IRA sectarianism are concerned.

Gregg and Harris did not bother to consult Canon Salter’s father’s testimony, which corrected other mistakes in their programme. In it, former Crown Prosecutor Jasper Wolfe stated that persecution was due to loyalty, not religion. A critic of the Gregg-Harris film afterwards gave the file contents to Canon Salter.

RTÉ stated in 2012 that it will ‘ensure that (An Tost Fada mistakes are) corrected in any future broadcast’. So, Mr Gregg and Mr Harris: have you corrected them? Are West Cork History Festival goers to get unvarnished or varnished fiction dressed up as fact?

Yours sincerely, 

Tom Cooper,

Templeogue,

Dublin 6W.

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