It was Henry McDonald who left his job at the BBC claiming he had suffered censorship described as “Peace Journalism” – that self-censorship by journalists anxious to prop up the Nothern Ireland Peace Process where news of IRA murders, intimidation or other crimes were spiked to facilitate Sinn Féin’s cleansing after the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire.
“In embarrassing detail he demonstrated how the news agenda of the BBC in Belfast was tailored so as not to give offence to Republicans; and McDonald was in a position to know – in 1994 he had been appointed security correspondent for BBC NI.”
In Henry’s own words – “How the BBC Dances to an IRA Tune“, the BBC was in the grip of:
paralysis crippling its news coverage. It flowed from Pollyana Land, which is where some mandarins in BBC Northern Ireland went on holiday during the peace process. In this fantasy world they imagined that if reporters and correspondents were not too beastly to the Provos, Sinn Fein would be encouraged to come in from the cold and solidify the IRA ceasefire. In Pollyanna Land the war was meant to be over.
Henry had broken the story of the IRA’s murder of Irish police detective Jerry McCabe in 1996 but his initial scoop caused panic in the BBC and his story was spiked.
Was Henry’s stand based on journalistic principle – Fiat veritas quae caeli ruant! – or was it journalistic principle heavily flavoured by his past Official IRA and undisguised Workers Party antipathy to the Provisional IRA and its front Sinn Féin?
Are his journalistic colleagues themselves practising similar self-censorship in removing all references to his Official IRA terrorist past and his work in and on behalf of the Official IRA’s front, the Workers Party, now that he is dead?
It is no accident that the first veiled reference to Henry’s Official IRA background was posted online by author, journalist and blogger Ed Moloney – himself a former youthful Official Republican Movment activist – who at one point was set up for murder by members of the Official IRA for journalism uncovering Official IRA activities in the 1980s.
The grim story of how the Official IRA attempted to arrange the murders of Moloney and also of Vincent Browne is told in great detail in Village Magazine which may be read here.
Within hours of news of Henry McDonald’s death, Moloney recorded his own early (and short-lived) membership of the “Republican Clubs” [political front of the Official IRA] and related Henry McDonald’s later membership of the Official IRA and his longer adherence to its ideology:
We also had this in common: In 1973, I joined the Republican Clubs in the Markets, a natural progression, it seemed, from the civil rights agitation in which, as a student at QUB, I had been involved, and there met his mother who was a fierce devotee of the cause; perhaps it was her inherited DNA that charted his life’s course…
When I returned to Belfast it was with a determination that my life, at least politically, would take a different direction…
The Officials had split when internal differences over armed struggle and the national question had become irreconcilable and a long, bloody feud had claimed too many lives to count. Not only had the political activity of a few years before become life-threateningly dangerous but it was also now pretty pointless, at least to my mind.
Henry, meanwhile, followed in his mother’s footsteps and unlike myself was still addicted to the kool-aid, at least for some long time.
Henry had been invited to the meeting, UTV told us, as a representative of a Dublin-based film company called Iskra, which had the same name as the Bolshevik publication founded by Lenin in pre-revolutionary Russia. You can read the fascinating story of the Irish Iskra and its links to the Workers Party here.
Henry also appeared to maintain links with East Germany…https://thebrokenelbow.com/2023/02/20/so-farewell-then-henry-it-was-nice-knowing-you/
The Official IRA and members of the Workers Party were for years accused of operating a counterfeiting operation in conjunction with entities of both the North Korean and Soviet Union governments, with freedom to operate in East Germany – millions of almost perfect American $ bills were printed by North Korea and distributed across Europe by Official IRA/Workers Party activists.
It was the stuff of a Hollywood movie – but Henry McDonald reported on Official IRA Chief Sean Garland’s extradition woes without admitting his own Offical IRA membership.
Moloney pointedly ended his farewell to McDonald with with a surprising claim:
None of this means that Henry’s later journalism was fatally tainted but to understand why a journalist wrote what he or she wrote, it helps to know where they came from.
We should all expect and even welcome the same scrutiny.
Wow, Ed, you’ve certainly raised the spectre of Henry’s later journalism being tainted – and that there should be scrutiny of it.
While Henry McDonald’s journalistic comrades are engaged in an orgy of uncritical praise of the dead journo, one of McDonald’s BBC colleagues had already recorded his own detailed claim that McDonald was neither objective in his work nor honest – in fact that he was biased and dishonest largely owing to McDonald’s own stated membership of a shady group which although branded as ‘truth seeking’ was in fact nothing more than a spectral ghost of the Workers Party.
Paul Larkin – journalist and BBC film-maker (the BBC Spotlight series) – wrote a detailed review of Henry McDonald’s book “Gunsmoke and Mirrors” relating it to his other tome “Colours” in which McDonald admitted [in passing] having joined the Official IRA.
Larkin highlights that while McDonald wrote about Loyalist paramilitaries and about the INLA [Irish National Liberation Organisation], he failed to write about his own specialist knowledge subject – the Official IRA and the Workers Party and the crimes and misdemeanours of those entities.
In fact, Larkin details, not only did McDonald not write any exposé of his paramilitary terrorist background organisation, he repeatedly played down or ignored events and news detrimental to his own beliefs and to those of a group of like-minded journalists, writers and historians to which he belonged.
The form amongst journalists and writers who broadly share Henry McDonald’s constituency (more of that later) is to cry “Provo at work!” whenever they are faced with trenchant criticism, or facts which undermine their arguments. I am not, and never was, a Sinn Féin member…
Henry McDonald does not argue that John Hume was right and the Provos wrong but that it was the Official Republican Movement which had the correct political analysis all along. Whilst a new generation of readers may not be aware of it, this has been McDonald’s long term political and journalistic stance and he gave a very concise summary of his Gunsmoke position in the Guardian in January 2006 when writing a comparison between Hamas and Sinn Féin:
“Modern Sinn Féin started out as a party of no compromise, splitting from the Official Republican Movement because the latter moved to a historic compromise with unionism, and accepted the existence of partition and the reality of two states on the island of Ireland. Just over 30 years later, and with thousands dead, the Provisionals adopted more or less the same position as their old republican rivals.”
It goes almost without saying that the above is the kind of historical acrobatics, of which McDonald’s former comrades in the allegedly socialist states of the Soviet Bloc would have been proud. It is also interesting that the positive reviews of Gunsmoke, that I have read, barely mention the Official IRA, the Workers Party, or indeed McDonald’s own long term membership of the Official Republican Movement.
Leaving aside all the other omissions, which make Gunsmoke so lacking in journalistic rigour and cogent argument, the central lacuna is McDonald’s failure to make clear to the unassuming average reader that the book has been written by somebody who was a card carrying member of the Official Republican Movement.
The blurb on the dust jacket of Gunsmoke simply states that McDonald was formerly the Irish correspondent of the Observer and is now Irish correspondent of the Guardian.
It does not say that he is a former member of the Official IRA and was active in the ORM right throughout the 1980s. McDonald describes being sworn into the Official IRA’s junior wing in his autobiography Colours on page 155, but makes no reference to this in Gunsmoke. Is this a sign of having the courage of your political convictions?http://www.fadooda.com/index.php?itemid=141
Larkin’s article is a withering attack on McDonald’s writing and journalism and fulfills Ed Moloney’s veiled call for scrutiny of McDonald’s “tainted” work.
It is undeniably surprising that given McDonald’s family links to Official IRA leader and hero Joe McCann – McDonald claimed as a child to have played with McCann’s gun and to have seen him shooting outside his home – that he reported on the legal case against British soldiers charged with shooting McCann without ever recording his own links to the Official IRA.
So if there are journalists who have been set up for murder by the Official IRA – and Ed Moloney claims that it was a person employed by The Irish Times who communicated information to the Official IRA resulting in the conspiracy to murder Moloney and Vincent Browne – and if there are journalists who believe that McDonald and a secretive group [largely old Workers Party hacks] have conspired and militated against journalists who differed in their opinions of the Peace Process and Sinn Féin’s successful rebranding and electoral success – where is the journalistic scrutiny of this?
Does Henry McDonald – a man who accused fellow journalists of engaging in self-censorship “Peace Journalism” – now rely on the same self-censorship by his fellows to avoid legitimate scrutiny of a career tainted by Official IRA and Workers Party bias?
Finally, it is important to test the honesty and grit of a journalist described by his comrades as brave and edgy – how is is that this pillar of Soviet / North Korean / East German Democratic Republic totalitarian communism – who has had hasty changes in funeral arrangements from a short service on the street outside his home to a more convivial “Humanist” burial service in a [dingy?] Music Centre in Belfast – asked a former Provisional IRA Volunteer for prayers for his body and soul as recently as December 6?
Is this Henry McDonald seeking last minute Emergency Roman Catholic Insurance prayers the same gritty, edgy Communist Henry McDonald described elsewhere?
What’s The Sunday World scourge of former Loyalist Paramilitary Terrorists [and Rangers supporters] Hugh Jordan doing strumming his Ukelele at the funeral service of a former Official IRA Paramilitary Terrorist?
One Northern Ireland journalist’s Terrorist is just another Northern Ireland journalist’s Hero?
Henry had one supreme advantage over young teenagers who became involved with various wings of the IRA in the early 1970s – those young dumb teenagers had no idea of what was to come to many of them after 1970 – involvement in murders and bombings, death, injury, long years of imprisonment – the 15-year-olds of 1970 knew nothing of their immediate futures.
But when Henry McDonald joined the Official IRA at the age of 15 in say 1979 he had one supreme advantage – he could look back over the Official IRA’s recent history of bombings, murders and internecine feuds, its involvement in robberies and extortion and punishment shootings, its involvement in murders of fellow republicans and socialists – he could examine the recent outcome of Official IRA revolutionary activities and either reject it all or he could look over it and accept it all – with all its horrors laid out in retrospect – and he accepted it all…
And unlike many of the 15-year-olds from 1970 whose families had no idea of what was going on in the ranks of paramilitaries, Henry’s family did have that knowledge handed down – his mother was involved with the Official IRA and prominent Official IRA volunteers had used his home as a billet, most notably Joe McCann.
In an Amazon review of “Colours”, a reader notes that Henry claimed to have played with a gun at home belonging to Official IRA hero Joe McCann before McCann was shot dead by soldiers.
The furthest travel option on offer to a teenage Provo in the early 1970s was a ticket to Crumlin Road Gaol followed by a long holiday [years of imprisonment] either in Long Kesh or Magilligan with later stops in the H-Blocks or else Maghaberry.
Henry’s travel option with the Official IRA involved trips to what was called the East German Democratic Republic where under the warm gaze of the Stasi secret police he and his Official IRA tourist pals could see clearly a people under totalitarian rule where some fortunate souls managed to escape across the Berlin Wall with their lives or else were riddled with bullets having failed to scale the coils of Communist barbed wire.
But what Henry and pals saw was totalitarian communism oppressing nations and they liked it…
Henry – clearly a youth schooled in some Communist theory and a cut above the dumb 15-year-olds of 1970 vintage who got no political education beyond “Brits Out” – accepted it all – the record of the Official IRA and the patent horror of peoples in subjection to Communist totalitarian dictatorship in Eastern Europe…
Henry’s mindset – formed in part at home and on the streets of the Markets area of Belfast – accepted the Official IRA’s bona fides – it practice and its theory.
Hard to know which was worse – the bloody record of the Official IRA or the bloody record of Soviet totalitarian dictatorship – but Henry knew more than most and saw it with his own eyes and signed up to it.
Throughout the 1980s, newspaper archives record frequent references to Official IRA activities, weapons’ finds, armed robberies, punishment shootings and/or threats of same with persons regularly appearing in courts.
By 1986, with the Today Tonight television program into racketeering in Northern Ireland broadcast on RTE, the Official IRA’s activities were highlighted particularly with regard to armed robberies and extortion, leading to more press coverage.
Vincent Browne’s earlier articles about Official IRA links to the Workers Party [and focusing on Sean Garland] caused a storm and a split in the Party, with some branches in the Republic of Ireland resigning en masse.
This would have been a good time for Henry McDonald to not only resign from the Official IRA, but also to publicly express his reasons for doing so
But a primary part of the Official IRA’s theory which it put into practice was INFILTRATION, of all relevant organisations, but above all in the media – to attempt to control the means of communication.
With INFILTRATION came power and influence – and this type of influencing was of prime importance in controlling narratives.
One of the primary targets of this policy of infiltration was RTE – Radio Telefis Eireann – and many allegations have been recorded of the Stickie infiltration of RTE which need not detain us here.
People have put it to me that being a 15-year-old Provo volunteer and engaged in bombings and/or murders should not in any way mitigate the seriousness of the teenager’s activities – and I have always agreed.
I have always agreed that 15-year-old Provo volunteers should indeed get their comeuppance – death or injury or many many years of imprisonment – the latter probably saving their lives and allowing them a safer space to think and perhaps give it all up.
So by the same rule, the young Henry McDonald who joined the Official IRA and stayed in it for however many years – was RESPONSIBLE.
Another opined that Henry’s politics were ‘well known’ – but it’s not Henry’s politics that interest me, it’s his paramilitary past that is of interest and some of his colleagues have admitted that little or nothing is known of that – largely because Henry was never honest about it.
And while Henry chose journalism and writing as his career, he nowhere provided details of his paramilitary activities on behalf of the Official IRA and the 2004 reference to his time with the Official IRA came some 25 years after his initial membership of the Official IRA.
Hardly a guy given to owning up to his past.
Was it necessary to own up to a paramilitary past?
Taking my own case for example, when I resigned from the Provisional IRA from my cell in Wormwood Scrubs prison in London, I wrote to Martin McGuinness asking if my letter of resignation [giving my reasons] might be published in An Phoblacht/Republican News.
He refused this request.
Opposing his censorship, I asked persons if it might instead be published in my local newspaper, The Derry Journal – and it was.
My reasoning for desiring its publication was that I didn’t want young people to follow my lead, or to imagine that I still supported the IRA’s violence.
It was important to try to clear up the example I had given to young people coming after me.
I was anxious that I should not be responsible for a youth in Derry emulating my deeds by a failure on my part to express where I’d ended up.
Henry was not troubled at all to express any rejection of the Official IRA or its methods – certainly not publicly.
He went forth undercover like so many other paramilitaries/former paramilitaries.
If he could publish meagre details of his Official IRA background in 2004 when selling a book, why couldn’t he have done so earlier when it might have counted to direct young people away from the IRA?
Where was his detailed explanation of his rejection of the Official IRA and based on which matters?
Did he ever leave the Official IRA?
Did he continue to exercise a level of influence on behalf of the Official IRA long after he gave up the paramilitary activity?
Some of his journalist colleagues wonder if he did in fact do this – some of them will attend his funeral and keep silent.
But currently it is only a matter of guesswork because Henry didn’t say and his friends and colleagues who hint at knowledge don’t appear to want to expand on hints or innuendo.
Henry was a ‘good egg’ and escapes scrutiny by his fellows…