Tag Archives: DUP

Guest post: Journalists recall coverage challenges during Northern Ireland Troubles

Daniel Carey is a PhD student at Dublin City University. His thesis examines the working lives of former journalists and editors in Ireland. I’ve had the pleasure of reading his work and hearing Dan present some of his research at Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland conferences. He is based at University College Dublin, where he works as research project officer for community engagement at CUPHAT. Find him on Twitter @danielmcarey. … Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are always welcome to offer guest contributionsMH

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On his first night working in Belfast in late 1969, Irish Times reporter Conor Brady met his colleague Henry Kelly, who wrote on the back of Brady’s hand: “S = P; F = C”. That important piece of shorthand stood for “Shankill [Road] equals Protestants, Falls [Road] equals Catholics”. Dublin-based reporters like Brady “hadn’t a clue” about the geographical specifics of Northern Ireland at that time, he acknowledged, and he laughed ruefully when reflecting on the “guidance” he received from Kelly.

Brady, who later became editor of the Irish Times, was one of  30 people I interviewed for my PhD thesis. Many of them covered the Northern Troubles, which proved a formative experience for generations of Irish journalists. Fifty years on from Bloody Sunday in Derry and Bloody Friday in Belfast, the success of Sinn Féin in the May 2022 Assembly elections brought Northern Ireland back into the international headlines. But the days when Belfast hotels such as the Europa were regularly filled with correspondents from The New York Times, Agence-France Presse, and various German newspapers are no more.

Lyra McKee was killed in Derry, this mural is in Belfast, her native city.

The murder in 2019 of Lyra McKee in Derry brought into sharp relief the dangers faced by reporters in Northern Ireland today. Journalists who covered the Troubles faced intimidation and threats to their personal safety. But at least in some cases, journalists may have been safer than ordinary civilians, in an era when many paramilitaries felt harming reporters would be counterproductive.

Michael Foley of the Irish Times remembers travelling in a car during the Troubles when he and a colleague were stopped at a barricade patrolled by individuals armed with Armalite rifles. Foley’s outraged companion yelled: “How dare you stop us! We’re journalists!” and showed his National Union of Journalists membership card. This prompted an apology from one of the armed men, who, Foley remembers, “didn’t want us to tell Danny Morrison, who was the Sinn Féin press officer at the time”.

Emily O’Reilly says she “actually never felt unsafe” while covering Northern Ireland for the Sunday Tribune. She “knew that journalists were generally safe in the North” and felt that women “got an extra layer of protection”. In 1984, a Democratic Unionist Party [DUP] politician named George Seawright told a meeting of the Belfast Education and Library Board that Catholics who objected to the playing of the British national anthem at mixed concerts for school children were “Fenian scum” who should be incinerated, along with their priests.

Showing what she called “the fearlessness of youth”, O’Reilly rang Seawright and asked for an interview. He readily agreed and invited her to his maisonette home on the Forthriver Road in Belfast. She wandered into what she called “a wonderful oasis of domesticity”, where Seawright was “the personification of charm” and “just lovely”. She remembers him seeing her off at the door by joking: “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if you got shot here?”

Emily O’Reilly

She arranged to meet Seawright again the following day, where they were joined by a man named John Bingham, a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force [UVF] who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison on “supergrass” evidence [from an informant in exchange for immunity] before his conviction was overturned. The trio did what she called “a tourist trip” around the Shankill Road area, with Bingham showing what she said was “an incredibly detailed knowledge” of where people had died violently. Both Bingham and Seawright were themselves subsequently shot dead.

Andy Pollak, son of a Czech Jewish father and a Protestant mother from Ballymena, County Antrim, edited Fortnight magazine in Belfast from 1981 to 1985. He “very rarely had any trouble” in Northern Ireland. But one exception came in the mid-1980s, when he was researching a book which he was co-writing with fellow journalist Ed Moloney on DUP leader Ian Paisley.

“We wanted to find a place … away from the mainstream, where Paisley was talking to his own people, with no media,” Pollak explains. “He was doing a series of … rallies around the place, and he was in Pomeroy [in County Tyrone], and I went down. There was no other journalist there, and … he gave his rabble-rousing speech. And there were bandsmen, and one of them asked me … ‘Who are you?’ and I said ‘I’m from the Irish Times’ … which was a mistake. So anyway, they started to kind of duff me up and beat me up, you know, [they called me a] ‘fuckin’ Fenian’ and all this sort of stuff, and I was rescued by the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] … The RUC man said: ‘You’ve got a bit of blood on your collar, you could claim for that’ So I came … away eventually three hundred pounds richer … from that trip!”

Such episodes of intimidation were not confined to Northern Ireland. Husband and wife Michael O’Toole and Maureen Browne covered a lot of kidnapping stories for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, and, Browne recalls, “ran into trouble with the IRA” as a result. A petrol bomb thrown at Browne in the Dublin suburb of Portmarnock only narrowly missed its target. Threats against the couple’s children prompted O’Toole to see “the leaders of the organisation” and “the dogs of war were called off”.

The Troubles constitute a small but important slice of the material collected for the project. The thesis researches journalism as a career choice and investigates the relationship between Irish journalism and politics, religion and technology. Recordings of the 30 broad-ranging interviews will become part of the Media History Collection at Dublin City University, where they will be made available for public access and may form part of future exhibitions.

The Europa Belfast, a regular lodging place for correspondents during the Troubles, was considered “the most bombed hotel” in Europe. Despite 33 blasts, nobody was killed, according to the new book, ‘War Hotels’. 2019 photo by MH.

How U.K. election outcome impacts Northern Ireland

BBC results map.

UPDATES:

This is how the UK election may destabilize Northern Ireland,” an excellent “what you need to know” piece from The Washington Post.

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“The tiny DUP, with its newly elevated status, has become an improbable factor in global geopolitics. All over Europe, dusty books on Irish history are coming off the shelves,” The New York Times reports in a story that offers the background.

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DUP cooperation in forming a new conservative government in London could come with a steep price tag, writes John Campbell, the BBC’s Northern Ireland economics editor. “One demand could be that E.U. funds, that will be lost as a result of Brexit, are replaced in full.”

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Prime Minister Theresa May’s failed election gamble has cast the Democratic Unionist Party in the role of kingmaker, giving the province an unexpected chance to have a big say in Britain’s divorce from the European Union, Reuters reports. “We will continue to work with our friends and allies in the DUP in particular,” May said.

ORIGINAL POST:

Irish nationalist Sinn Féin and the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party have gained seats in Westminster, while the moderate Ulster Unionist and Social Democratic and Labor parties are now shut out of the London parliament.

Results of the 8 June United Kingdom election are still being sorted. Below is one early analysis of the impact on Northern Ireland. I’ll update with more coverage over the next day or so. MH

The election outcome  “put a huge question mark over the future of Brexit,” Pat Leahy writes in The Irish Times.

There will be an immediate period of high uncertainty, as British politics comes to terms with the shock result. The pound fell sharply on the news of last night’s exit poll, creating fresh problems for Irish exporters to the UK, paid for their goods and services in less valuable sterling.

[The DUP could be] in a strong position to soften a future May Government’s line on Brexit, at least insofar as it affected Northern Ireland. It also, however, raises the intruiging question of whether Sinn Féin might be prepared to abandon its policy of refusing to take its Westminster seats if it meant it could deny Ms May a DUP-supported majority.

The remaking of the political map of the North – the election has carved it up between the DUP and Sinn Féin – will surely clarify this question.

“Fresh Start” announced for Northern Ireland

The British and Irish governments have announced a new political accord to overcome various crises in Northern Ireland. The North’s two main parties,  the DUP and Sinn Féin, are backing the agreement.

The 68-page agreement, entitled A Fresh Start for Northern Ireland, follows 10 weeks of intensive negotiations. Among the highlights, the deal:

  • reduces the corporate tax rate in Northern Ireland to 12.5 percent by 2018, in line with the Republic of Ireland;
  • provides and additional £500 million to tackle issues unique to Northern Ireland, including efforts on the removal of peace walls;
  • creates new obligations for the N.I. parties to end paramilitarism, and also targets organized and cross-border crime;
  • addresses the issue of flags and parades in the future, but NOT how to deal with the past;
  • reforms the Stormont Assembly, including its size, the number of departments and the use of petitions of concern as a form of opposition.

Read the full agreement.

First-day coverage from:

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