RTE’s Sean O’Rourke, the subject of my post on Saturday (see below), interviewed Richard O’Rawe this morning about his new book on the late Gerry Conlon, In The Name of the Son.

At the end of the interview O’Rourke then referred to the content of his Friday programme that so many found offensive and objectionable.

My formal complaint to RTE still stands but for those who did not hear this morning’s apology this is what O’Rourke said:

“I just wish 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.”

My Post on Saturday about ‘Today With Sean O’Rourke’

Last week former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave died. He will be remembered for many things to different people but to Irish republicans he will be remembered for his repression: censorship; turning a blind eye to British terror regarding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; the hijacking of the plane carrying hunger striker Frank Stagg’s body back to Ireland; the use of the heavy gangs.

On Friday on RTE’s morning programme ‘Today With Sean O’Rourke’, the presenter reviewed what was said about Liam Cosgrave in an obituary in the Daily Telegraph. Sean O’Rourke’s own contribution and ad libs, including mimicking the voice of Liam Cosgrave, was disgusting and offensive at any level.

You can listen to the relevant clip of the programme here.

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.

There was an outcry on social media with many demanding an apology from RTE. I myself have complained in an email which I reproduce here –

I wish to formally complain to RTE regarding a broadcast by Sean O’Rourke on 6th October. The item was about the death of the late Liam Cosgrave, and Sean O’Rourke quoted part of a Daily Telegraph obituary. In particular, O’Rourke begins laughing when quoting that Liam Cosgrave when told by Cardinal Conway that the hunger strikers were living only on water retorted “Water is too good for them”, followed by another laugh.

I find this offensive, insensitive and in bad taste, and lacking in objectivity and impartiality. There were several republican hunger strikes during the period when Cardinal Conway was all-Ireland Primate (including Crumlin Road Prison and Portlaoise Prison), and two men from County Mayo – Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg – died in English jails. Cardinal Conway felt compelled to speak out about the conditions under which prisoners were being held, as did Cardinal O Fiaich, later, from 1978 until 1981, when ten men were to die on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh, including Kieran Doherty TD and Bobby Sands MP.

One month ago RTE reported on events to remember the death of the first Irish republican to die on hunger strike, Thomas Ashe in September 1917, who was criminalised by the government of the day and who sought political status. The Irish government honoured Ashe and his hunger strike by holding a formal state commemoration in Glasnevin Cemetery with participation by members of the Defence forces. On 23rd September an RTE news announcer, about a commemoration for Ashe in Kerry, said: “the subsequent death of the Lispole man while on hunger strike in Mountjoy led to an outpouring of national grief.”

I’m sure you will agree with me that even despite the passage of one hundred years were an RTE presenter today to joke or quote about Ashe and his other comrades on hunger strike that “Water is too good for them” there would be a public outcry and calls for an apology. Given the more recent deaths on hunger strike within living memory, and the hurt caused to living relatives by RTE and Sean O’Rourke, I think that an apology is called for in this instance.

  • Danny Morrison