RTÉ’s ‘mutilated’ map of Ireland was a stylistic error, no more

Furore over health services map saw the State broadcaster likened to the Taliban

RTÉ's Late Late Show has been criticised for displaying a map of Ireland with the six counties of Northern Ireland greyed out during a segment with Dr Eva Orsmond on cancer figures. Video: RTÉ


There’s been a lot of talk recently about what will become of the border. Lord Hain, former Northern Irish secretary, has satirically suggested that we are drifting towards a sort of “telepathic” frontier. A few pessimists imagine something akin to the crossing at Tijuana or those that (at time of writing) still sit dangerously between the two Koreas.

The good people at RTÉ have come up with an even more terrifying proposition. The authorities may submerge the six counties and create a new coastline stretching from Culmore to Newry.

The idea has its attractions. Huge cliffs outside Swanlinbar offer picturesque views of the Bay of Ulster. For all its fabled loveliness, Strabane could still profit from a yellowed beach serviced by maritime restaurants. Oh, hang on. If I understand the plan correctly, Strabane will have gone the way of Atlantis. It will exist only to amuse scuba divers visiting nearby Lifford-on-Sea. This is an outrage.

All week, the easily infuriated have been giving out about a map displayed on the Late Late Show to illustrate the unequal distribution of health services. Information was culled only from the Republic and, to reflect that fact, the map appeared free of any Northern Irish counties. We appeared to be looking at the island after another century of climate change. It could happen. But it hasn’t yet.

Stylistic error

The graphics department did make a stylistic error. Maps of an unattached Northern Ireland have been commonplace in the media since partition, but a convention has emerged that we don’t chop off the smaller bit and leave the larger. We are all familiar with British forecasts that seem to imply no weather happens on the southern side of Carlingford Lough.

Severing the North looks ugly and prohibits viewers from entertaining their belief that partition is no more than a fable told to naughty children. But this wasn’t any sort of catastrophe. Was it?

The normally well-balanced Mark H Durkan, MLA for the SDLP, asked his pal to hold his pint as he ploughed in with both fists. “Irish nationalists will be deeply offended by this image... I know I am.” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald also had a crack. “What is this? What is this all about? Who in RTÉ took it upon themselves to mutilate the map of Ireland?” she commented. I assume someone urged a boycott of the national broadcaster, but I can’t be bothered to check.

Durkan and McDonald, both reasonable folk, will have fanned their oxters and quickly calmed down. To encounter the properly barmy overreaction we (you’re way ahead of me) need to make our way to America.

‘Taliban-like desecration’

Fr Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus – an Irish-American lobby group that believes “Ireland too has the right to be one nation under God” – achieved a level of fulmination rarely experienced since Moses caught the Israelites cavorting round the Golden Calf.

“RTÉ’s Taliban-like desecration of Ireland’s map is appalling and deeply offensive,’ he began. “RTÉ … commits the ultimate act of Free State-ism. Even Cromwell did not try to make a part of Ireland disappear.”

Do you hear that, Ryan Tubridy? You’re worse than Cromwell.

The reference to the Taliban is so ludicrous it would be easy to assume Father McManus is joking. It seems not.

The comparison, one imagines, is with the Taliban’s obliteration of ancient monuments such as the Buddhas of Bamiyan. That annihilation was total and permanent. It was directed towards physical objects that many regard as sacred.

RTÉ have destroyed nothing. All other maps of Ireland remain complete. The sense from the statement is that any graphic representation of Ireland is to be respected in the same way some people respect flags. No part should be removed. I trust that no councils in Cork or Waterford produce maps that show their counties in isolation. Even Cromwell didn’t do that.

Would everybody please calm down? It’s not as if RTÉ’s error hung upon a misunderstanding of the frontiers. If you want an example of that then look towards our friends at the BBC.

The day before RTÉ joined the Taliban, a news report on that station, illustrating Europe after Brexit, represented all of Ireland in the same grey that engulfed the newly isolated United Kingdom. Dara Ó Briain was among those slapping his head good-naturedly about the situation on Twitter. It wasn’t a huge error, but it was at least a genuine mistake. It’s worth getting it right.

The other thing was a mere graphical aberration. Flags aren’t really sacred objects. Nor are maps. Patriotism makes people slightly mad.

It’s not as if the BBC called Saoirse Ronan British. Now that does matter. Oscar season is round the corner, and Ronan appears in two projects that look like contenders. I’m sharpening my axe already.

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