Garret FitzGerald, Conor Cruise O'Brien and censorship of RTÉ
Madam, - In his recent tribute to Dr Conor Cruise O'Brien, Garret FitzGerald revises part of his own history (Opinion, December 20th). Referring to the decision of the 1972 Fianna Fáil government to sack the RTÉ Authority, which refused to discipline journalists who had broadcast a report of an interview with the IRA's chief of staff, Dr FitzGerald writes: "I supported the ban on radio and TV interviews with IRA representatives".
In fact, in the Dáil on November 23rd, 1972, Garret FitzGerald followed Labour TD David Thornley's trenchant opposition to the Section 31 ban and RTÉ sacking with: "Deputy Thornley is to be congratulated on his speech, with every word of which I heartily agree". Dr FitzGerald said the questions asked by RTÉ's Kevin O'Kelly of the IRA leader were not in breach of the ministerial censorship directive under Section 31. He continued: "But, even if the questions had in some extraordinary way been neutral, which would, of course, be impossible in an interview of this kind, even if they had the effect of enabling the person concerned to make some more effective points than he was able to make, even if that had happened, how important is that beside the independence of the RTÉ Author- ity and the maintenance of free- dom of speech?".
Conor Cruise O'Brien followed and prefaced his remarks by agreeing with both FitzGerald and Thornley. He supported RTÉ's right to interview the IRA spokesperson. However, he indicated that if a statement by then Taoiseach Jack Lynch prefaced reports of violence in the North, an unlikely scanario, he would ban that. The Taoiseach had said: "Violence is a by-product of the division of our country".
When Dr O'Brien became Minister for Posts and Telegraphs one year later, he was, almost, as good as his word. He set about banning interpretations of violence that did not match his view. However, he did it by extending the censorship ban on spokespersons for Sinn Féin and the IRA, the type of censorship he had opposed in November 1972.
In this way Dr O'Brien marginalised the nationalist middle and helped to populate the increasingly disaffected extreme. The opposite of his intentions, I'm sure. - Yours, etc,