November 25th, 1972


FROM THE ARCHIVES:The Fianna Fáil government in 1972 fired the RTÉ Authority after it broadcast a recorded radio interview by Kevin O’Kelly with Seán Mac Stíofáin, then chief of staff of the Provisional IRA. Mac Stíofáin was arrested, charged with IRA membership, and the interview was used as evidence against him. Dick Walsh reported on the late night sacking of the authority which added to the sense of uncertainty that year.

The announcement of dismissal came shortly before 10 o’clock at night in a statement from the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs ; it was an abrupt but not unexpected climax to a week of conflict and speculation after the broadcast of an interview with Mr. Mac Stiofain.

Mr. Collins, who read the announcement on R.T.E. last night, did not make any further comments. He also announced the appointment of the new Authority. The Taoiseach, Mr. [Jack] Lynch, who was in London for his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. [Ted] Heath, was kept fully informed of developments during the day.

Mr. Lynch said at London Airport before his departure for Dublin that the dismissal was an exercise in democracy. The action was taken because the Government saw the need for “protecting our community”.

Mr. Lynch was speaking to reporters just after midnight after arriving at the airport from his dinner with the Prime Minister, Mr. Heath, at Number 10 Downing Street. He said that the Cabinet had decided its course of action in regard to R.T.E. on Tuesday [November 21], and that yesterday he was in touch by phone throughout the day with his colleagues in Dublin.

The R.T.E. Authority, the Taoiseach said, was controlled by Acts of Parliament and was subject to the democratic process.

It was the obligation of the Government to ensure that their terms of reference were adhered to. The Authority breached a directive given under the Broadcasting Act, ordering them “not to project people who put forward violent means for achieving their purpose”.

In the opinion of the Government the interview with Mr. Mac Stiofain was a breach of that directive. When he was asked by a reporter how the Government knew that the R.T.E. interview with Mr. Mac Stiofain was taking place, Mr. Lynch said that they had their own way of knowing things.

Last night, the comments of the members of the dismissed Authority reflected indignation, hurt and relief.

Mrs. Phyllis O’Kelly, widow of the late Sean T. O’Kelly, former President, said last night that it was “a strange thing to happen.” She did not accept that the station was deliberately trying to outwit the Government. The interviewer, Mr. Kevin O’Kelly, had listed various people that he wished to interview, and they seemed all right to her.

The Authority’s letter to the Minister made it abundantly clear that the Authority appreciated his right to issue the direction. It also made clear its anxiety to abide by that direction.