Broadcaster respected for tough but fair style

Sat, Mar 19, 2011, 00:00

Gerald Barry:GERALD BARRY, who has died aged 63, was a journalist and broadcaster. He edited and presented RTÉ’s This Weekprogramme on Radio 1 for many years and spent more than a decade as political correspondent of the Sunday Tribune, where he was also deputy editor.

He was known for his probing interviews of political leaders, and there were many memorable moments during his broadcasting career. He was the interviewer when then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald launched his constitutional crusade for a more liberal society.

He interviewed Charles Haughey during one of a series of leadership heaves. Haughey insisted his position as taoiseach was secure, and said Barry should “go dance on somebody else’s grave”.

In 1980 this newspaper’s radio critic cited Barry’s interview with FitzGerald about the H-Blocks hunger strike as both scrupulously fair and a good example of the kind of tough questioning that Irish politicians should have to face.

Managing director of RTÉ news Ed Mulhall said this week: “Gerald was a superb journalist with a razor-sharp mind, a brilliant memory and a forensic attention to detail, which, combined with his broadcasting skills, led to many ground-breaking interviews.”

Former Sunday Tribuneeditor Vincent Browne described him as an “outstanding” political correspondent, who enjoyed tremendous access to people because he was liked and trusted and respected confidences. He was tough with interviewees but always fair.

Peter Murtagh, who edited the Sunday Tribuneafter Browne left, said: “Gerry had a gentlemanly quality not always evident among journalists. He loved his work, whether at the Tribuneor RTÉ, and his knowledge of politics was encyclopaedic. But he was never harsh or cruel; there was a very solid core of decency to him that infused his work.”

Born in Dublin in 1947, he was one of three children of Brian T Barry and his wife Stella (née O’Driscoll). He grew up in Clontarf, where he attended Scoil Lorcáin.

Later at Belvedere College he established a reputation as the best all-round cricketer at schools level in Leinster.

Having enrolled at University College Dublin in 1965, he suffered a serious illness. He resumed his studies in 1966 and later became auditor of the literary and historical society. He graduated with honours in economics and politics.

He joined RTÉ’s news features team of Mike Burns, Seán Duignan, Kevin O’Kelly and Kevin Healy, and worked on World Reportand This Week. He became deputy editor of news features, and in 1982 was appointed news features editor.

Kevin Healy remembered his ability to analyse election results – he was in 1977 the first journalist to predict that Fianna Fáil would get 84 seats, a figure that Jack Lynch disputed in studio.

His assignments included reporting from Argentina on the Falklands conflict. He left RTÉ in 1983 to join the Sunday Tribunewhen it was relaunched under Browne. He contributed much to the paper’s success as it established itself in a highly competitive market.

But the paper’s progress stalled due to lack of funding, and he returned to RTÉ in 1995. He demonstrated on This Weekthat he had lost none of his broadcasting skills. In a lengthy interview with Bertie Ahern in April 2001 he reminded him of the controversies surrounding prominent Fianna Fáil figures. Ahern responded: “Sometimes we are criticised because we do not act in a barbaric way and put heads on plates and hang people at the guillotine before they have their breakfasts.”

But, he said, change was under way. “We are tidying and cleaning it up, and we are doing it in a way that I think it is for the good of politics in the long run.”

In 2006 Barry, on his own initiative, organised a seminar on the life and work of Tom Kettle, the poet and politician who died in the first World War; it was the last occasion Conor Cruise O’Brien spoke in public. He retired from RTÉ in January 2010.

Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman last year recalled debating on the UCD team with Barry for the Observer Mace, when the chairman of the judges was Lord Denning: “I spoke first and Gerry second, but Gerry was so enthusiastic that Lord Denning said that the UCD team, while being by far the best, had exceeded the time limit so much that it couldn’t be considered. We had such a good time it didn’t matter.”

An enthusiastic supporter of Manchester United, he also was a follower of Gaelic football. He had a huge library of books on politics, history and current affairs. He also had an extensive collection of CDs of all genres but especially Bob Dylan, on whom he was an expert.

Predeceased by his parents, and by his sister Gillian, he is survived by his brother Brian, sister-in-law Anne Barry, nephew Owen, nieces Suzanne and Clodagh McElhinney.

Gerald Barry: born June 18th, 1947; died March 14th, 2011