Why I chose to publish Kevin Myers' Irishman's Diary


The Editor of The Irish Times, Geraldine Kennedy, explains how a controversial column made the pages of the paper on Tuesday

Every journalist has experienced that awful feeling - usually in the dead of night and with the newspaper already being printed - that the report or article they've written is wrong. That I might have misunderstood or misinterpreted something. That the sources may have been wrong or playing some devious game. That the leak was not from the final draft of the document. That the story will be proved wrong tomorrow.

I had one of those moments last Monday night over the Irishman's Diary I had read and approved for Tuesday's paper.

To put it in context, one needs to realize that a myriad of judgment calls have to be made in the deadline-driven environment of the editor's office every day. Like other sections of the paper, the Irishman's Diary must be signed off at the highest level. The Editor has responsibility for all of the editorial content of the newspaper but must make personal judgments on those areas that are likely to be most contentious.

Kevin Myers is one of this newspaper's and Ireland's best writers, a brave journalist as well as being a provocative commentator. His Irishman's Diary is never dull, always challenging some orthodoxy or other, and frequently courageous in tackling head-on issues that others prefer to skirt around carefully. It is probably fair to say that most, if not all, of his columns irritate somebody.

Kevin performs a very important function in this newspaper by challenging many of today's orthodoxies in the same spirit as The Irish Times has always questioned the prevailing views of the day. It is part of this newspaper's role to challenge and question, to provide a forum for debate, and to give a platform to minority, sometimes unpopular, views.

It is in this context that Kevin's columns are read to approve their publication or otherwise. Like everybody else, when they coincide with my personal opinions I think he's a great columnist. At other times, when I don't agree with him, I think "that's Kevin doing his job".

Last Tuesday's Diary went through the normal editorial process and was passed to me for approval at about 6.15 p.m. I read it once, and then I read it again. I was unhappy about the use of the word "bastard". He was deliberately, as he spelled out, using it as a shock tactic. I believed that it was deeply offensive to children and their mothers. It stigmatised them. It suggested a mentality with which I fundamentally disagreee.

I had three options: to edit out the b-word, to publish the column as it was, or not to publish any of it. I decided that it would be wrong to censor it totally or to sanitise it. The use of the word "bastard" suggested the mindset of some of those who would like to return us all to a distant and unhappy past. It introduced one perspective to the argument against social welfare for unmarried mothers. The mindset which sees innocent children as bastards still exists in 2005, unfortunately, and I felt it should be revealed.

The word "bastard" is not just a prejudicial and offensive term. It taps into the darkest days in Irish social history: the mothers who had to give up their babies for adoption, the countless children who were stigmatised because their parents were not married, those brought up in institutions where that kind of thinking was a permit to abuse them physically and mentally, and those mothers who brought up children entirely alone in the past and suffered social exclusion for doing so.

I regret the decision to publish the Diary. I am sorry for the offence caused to hundreds of women and children, to many readers of this newspaper.

The Irish Times must go on providing challenging and thought-provoking opinions as well as honest news reporting and insightful features.

We may not always get it right. And maybe, by default, by touching that raw nerve inside so many,we may have started the real debate about the status of children and families in today's society.