Sean O’Rourke apologises over ‘hunger strikers’ reference

Morrison complains to RTÉ over ‘water was too good for them’ reference to hunger strike

RTÉ presenter Sean O’Rourke responded on-air to a formal complaint made by Sinn Féin’s former director of publicity Danny Morrison. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

RTÉ presenter Sean O’Rourke responded on-air to a formal complaint made by Sinn Féin’s former director of publicity Danny Morrison. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

RTÉ presenter Sean O’Rourke has apologised for giving some listeners the impression that he disrespected IRA hunger-strikers in the 1970s during remarks made last week after the death of former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave.

Reading then from an obituary of Cosgrave published by the Daily Telegraph, Mr O’Rourke quoted Mr Cosgrave’s remark to Cardinal Conway that “water was too good” for hunger-strikers, Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg.

The quotation led to a complaint from a family member of one of the hunger-strikers, but also, separately, from the former head of publicity of Sinn Fein, Danny Morrison, who has made a formal complaint to RTE.

Responding to the complaint from the family member, Mr O’Rourke said on his programme: “I just want to clarify something from Friday’s programme – it got some reaction – and that’s the quote I read out about the late Liam Cosgrave’s telling the then Cardinal Conway, also now dead, that ‘water was too good’ for hunger strikers.

“The point of reading out those words, which … they did cause me to laugh … it was to highlight how Cosgrave, a devout Catholic, was prepared to dismiss so bluntly the efforts of Church leaders to influence his government’s attitude towards hunger strikers.

“There was a big hunger strike going on in 1977. And it wasn’t in any way, reading out that quote, intended to disrespect the prisoners undertaking hunger strike either then or later, and I’m sorry if … or for giving that impression to some of our listeners.”

In his complaint, Mr Morrison said “O’Rourke begins laughing when quoting that Liam Cosgrave, when told by Cardinal Conway that the hunger strikers were living only on water, retorted that "water was too good for them".

“I find this offensive, insensitive and in bad taste, and lacking in objectivity and impartiality,” said Mr Morrison,, though he  has since withdrawn an earlier remark on his blog which attributed the “water is too good for them” remark to Mr O’Rourke, not to Mr Cosgrave.

 ‘Ridicule suffering’

Mr Morrison claimed Sean O’Rourke “wittingly or subconsciously, reflects that mindset which is to denigrate and ridicule republican and nationalist suffering and the resistance during the conflict, whilst paying lip-service and homage to the suffering of earlier generations whose sacrifices resulted in freedom from British rule which the South enjoys today.

“Given the more recent deaths on hunger strike within living memory, and the hurt caused to living relatives by RTÉ and Sean O’Rourke, I think that an apology is called for in this instance.”