Taoiseach launches book chronicling history of Irish Sunday newspapers

Media should cover personal stories ‘responsibly’, Varadkar says

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the launch of ‘The Sunday Papers: a History of Ireland’s Weekly Press’ with the book’s editors, Mark O’Brien and Joe Breen. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the launch of ‘The Sunday Papers: a History of Ireland’s Weekly Press’ with the book’s editors, Mark O’Brien and Joe Breen. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Tuesday launched a new book chronicling the history of Ireland’s Sunday newspapers.

The book, The Sunday Papers: a History of Ireland’s Weekly Press, was edited by Joe Breen and Mark O’Brien, and draws on chapters penned by several former journalists, each focusing on a different Sunday title.

Speaking at the launch of the book in The Irish Times building on Tuesday, Breen explained the original idea for the book was to focus on the Sunday Review, a tabloid paper published by The Irish Times from 1957 to 1963.

The idea for the book expanded to feature the history of all main Sunday papers in Ireland, an area which had received “scant dedicated attention” in the past, Breen said. The book is published by Four Courts Press.

Mr Varadkar said Sunday newspapers had a “special and perhaps unique role in Irish life,” before sharing a piece of advice he had been given by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

“He said to me: ‘Don’t read the Sunday newspapers, you’ll only get annoyed and you shouldn’t be annoyed on a Sunday, and if it’s really a story someone will definitely tell you about it on Monday,’” he said.

Remarking on some of the chapters in the book, Mr Varadkar said the winner for the best historical slogan had to go to the Sunday World.

“When it was founded in 1973, it had the catchy and provocative slogan, ‘Are you getting it every Sunday?’ I imagine that would no longer be permitted as a newspaper slogan,” Mr Varadkar said.

Personal stories

Mr Varadkar said journalists had a crucial role in scrutinising claims, whether they came from government, opposition politicians, trade unions or a solicitor with an active case. But it was also up to the media to cover “personal stories responsibly,” he said.

“By their nature personal stories are compelling, and they help bring focus on issues and that’s why they need to be reported. But by their nature any story that is personal or emotive is subjective, and it is the journalist’s job to inject objectivity into it, so the public get the full story and not just one side of that story,” Mr Varadkar said.

The need for quality journalism was “as strong today as it ever was,” he said.

“Good journalists have never been under more threat, from the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, to the Khashoggi murder in Istanbul, to efforts to crackdown on the free press even in countries that are members of the European Union,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Government had an “enormous responsibility” to protect the free press and democracy, he said.

“Ahead of the European elections next May a lot of us have concern about forces that may try to disrupt those elections,” he said.

The book includes chapters focusing on many now-defunct titles such as the Sunday Freeman, the Sunday Press and the Sunday Tribune, as well as chapters looking at the history of contemporary Sunday papers.

Breen is a former managing editor at The Irish Times, and O’Brien is the author of several other books, and an associate professor at the school of communications at Dublin City University.