Ex-Guardian editor criticises Roy Greenslade over failure to disclose IRA support

Alan Rusbridger says article on Mairia Cahill documentary ‘spectacularly fails on transparency grounds”

Former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has accused Roy Greenslade of being "hypocritical" about his failure to disclose his support for the IRA.

Mr Rusbridger, who was editor of The Guardian from 1995 to 2015, said Mr Greenslade should never have criticised the alleged lack of transparency in a BBC documentary about Mairia Cahill when he was himself less than candid about where he was coming from.

There have been calls over the weekend by the Labour leader Alan Kelly and by leader of the Seanad Regina Doherty for Mr Rusbridger to step down from the Government's Future of Media Commission. He is one of 11 members of the commission examining the future of Irish media.

Mr Rusbridger said the article that Mr Greenslade wrote in 2014 about the BBC documentary “spectacularly fails on transparency grounds” now that it has become apparent that the journalist was a supporter of both the Provisional IRA and is now a member of Sinn Féin.


Mr Rusbridger made the comments in an opinion piece published on The Guardian website on Sunday.

Mr Greenslade criticised a BBC Spotlight documentary made about Ms Cahill’s case in which she claimed she had been raped by a senior figure in the IRA in 1997 at the age of 16 and that the IRA had attempted to cover up the rape.

In a news article for The Guardian’s media section, Mr Greenslade said the documentary had failed to disclose that Ms Cahill remained a member of Sinn Féin until 2007 and that she joined a republican splinter group afterwards.

Mr Greenslade concluded: “The feeling lingers that the programme was flawed by being overly one-sided. Cahill’s political stance should have been explored more fully.”

Ms Cahill complained to The Guardian this week following an article Mr Greenslade wrote in the British Journalism Review declaring that he been a supporter of the Provisional IRA during the Troubles.

He admitted that he concealed his support for the Provisional IRA throughout his time as a journalist and editor with various Fleet Street newspapers.

He wrote: “February 7th, 1972 was the first day of my long silence. I knew that to own up to supporting Irish republicans would result in me losing my job. I could have taken that step myself by walking out on principle. But the idea of forsaking a Fleet Street career - indeed, a career of any kind in journalism - was unthinkable.”

Mr Greenslade also stated that he worked for Sinn Féin's An Phoblacht under the pseudonym George King for decades.

“I came to accept that the fight between the forces of the state and a group of insurgents was unequal and therefore could not be fought on conventional terms. In other words, I supported the use of physical force.”

Mr Rusbridger said if Mr Greenslade had been open with him about his affiliations, “I would have been able to come to a different judgment about it overall. So I am sincerely sorry to Maíria Cahill, both for the article and for the upset it must have caused her. Both the Guardian and Greenslade have also apologised.”

He also stated that, other than the occasional piece of media, Mr Greenslade had no role in The Guardian’s coverage of the peace process.

"In one sense, this is all a red herring. Greenslade had no role at all in Guardian editorial conferences and wrote not a single Guardian leader on Northern Ireland. When he and I spoke, it was to do with the media columns he wrote, not his ambition for a united Ireland."

Mr Rusbridger pointed out that it was long known in Fleet Street that Mr Greenslade had “political leanings were much more nationalist than unionist. But his publicly known views on Irish politics were no obstacle to him being offered, and accepting, a media column on the robustly pro-unionist Daily Telegraph in 2005.”

Mr Rusbridger stressed there was never an “IRA cell” within The Guardian newspaper as had been alleged by The Spectator, and the paper had nothing to apologise about in its support for talks with Sinn Féin which led to the peace process.

“But I will make no apologies for the Guardian’s role in, correctly, believing that peace was possible at a time when many not only doubted it but worked actively to frustrate the attempts to achieve it. Unlike Greenslade, we were never “pro-IRA”. There was no “republican cell” pulling editorial strings. We did journalism. And, in the end, we were right: peace was possible.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times