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The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.
- Hubert H. Humphrey

 

 

 

A response to Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston

 

John O’Leary

 

Johnston’s contribution Channel Four Bloody Sunday Discussion
I will deal first with Kathryn Johnston’s contribution to the Channel Four discussion on Bloody Sunday (after the screening of Jimmy McGovern's film).

At no stage did Johnston say that the British Paratroopers "were not justified". Her entire contribution was fixated on the IRA. The closest she came to a negative characterisation of Britain’s role was in answer to a direct question on whether British troops had fired first: she said, "The British Army fired recklessly and at a very early stage". This is a curious echo of one of Lord Widgery’s findings. It brings us to Johnston’s attempt to find something positive in Widgery: "There is no doubt that Widgery's report was deeply, deeply flawed... but at the same time I think we do have to remember that a substantial amount of civilians did give evidence before Widgery, that they themselves saw IRA shots on that day" (sic).

This last quotation is indicative of Johnston's steely and one-sided determination to talk only about the IRA (who, in case it has escaped the feeble minded amongst us, killed no one on Bloody Sunday). She expressed little interest in the British Army's shooting of 28 civilians and the killing of 14, apart from the reference above to British troops being "reckless". Perhaps, to borrow a phrase, "that is a reflection on how lightly [s]he values human life".

I reiterate my earlier point that Johnston functioned effectively as an ally of the retired British General on the programme (the Commander of Land Forces in the North in 1971) General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley - not, as I previously stated erroneously, Major-General Richard Clutterbuck.

Like Johnston, the General was keen to pin the blame on the IRA. Not once did Johnston contradict him in relation to any of plainly idiotic and specious things he said about the Bloody Sunday dead or the situation in Derry at that time. All the work in that regard was left to Eamonn McCann, who also disputed the contents of the Johnston/Clarke book.

John Kelly of the Bloody Sunday Trust indicated on the programme that Johnston and Clarke had maligned one of the victims of Bloody Sunday, Gerard Donaghy. Their book claimed that Donaghy had nail bombs given to him by Martin McGuinness. Every civilian witness (including a doctor) who has commented on seeing or handling Donaghy's body, said that there were no nail bombs on his person after he was shot. They have stated emphatically that they would not have brought him into an adjacent house had he had bombs on his person (which could not have been missed, had they actually been there).

John Kelly quoted from recent evidence indicating that a British bullet, which hit Donaghy, would also have hit one of the mysterious nail bombs. It would have blown him and those around him to smithereens. Johnston did not respond when Kelly said, "You are totally wrong in what you said in that book". Neither did she contradict Kelly’s assertion that the nail bombs were later planted on Donaghy's body by the RUC – even though this contradicted one of the many important allegations strewn around the Clarke/Johnston book.

This episode, like that of Clarke’s and The Sunday Times’ crusade against fellow journalist Sean McPhilemy (see below), illustrates the Clarke/Johnston methodology that obscures direct British responsibility for murder and mayhem. Even an event as clear as Bloody Sunday becomes in their hands a piece of anti-republican propaganda. It is an attempt to out Widgery Widgery and has as much authority and legitimacy as that British tribunal.

Johnston's only other substantial contribution to the Channel 4 programme was to lament that there had been "an effective amnesty" for prisoners of the conflict (or "terrorists" as she preferred to call them) who thus would have no incentive to talk to a truth and reconciliation commission!?

Willie Breslin
Mr Breslin can speak for himself - I reproduced the Derry Journal report of his evidence to the Bloody Sunday enquiry. It is indicative of a widespread attitude in Derry to the two authors - see John Kelly and Eamonn McCann above. (See also the review by Denis Bradley in The Irish News Nov 29 2001)

‘The Committee’ and Martin O’Hagan
In relation to Sean McPhilemy winning a libel action against Liam Clarke and The Sunday Times: it is good of Clarke and Johnston to repeat the point that the verdict upheld the journalistic integrity of Sean McPhilemy (which Liam Clarke and The Sunday Times had sought strenuously to undermine). However, it would have been better, had Clarke/Johnston taken the opportunity (offered by my mentioning his name), to say something positive about the late Martin O’Hagan, a journalistic colleague. The Sunday Times legal team had sought to destroy Martin O’Hagan’s professional and personal integrity during the McPhilemy action.

O’Hagan contributed to ‘The Committee’ and to the The Sunday World newspaper valuable information on collusion between unionists/loyalists and state forces. A public gesture of recognition of the brave, courageous and dedicated work of Martin O’Hagan by Clarke would be a positive, even if belated, gesture in the light of O’Hagan’s recent assassination by the UFF and forces as yet unknown. But then, to again paraphrase Clarke/Johnston, maybe “that is a reflection on how lightly he values” the work and life of Martin O’Hagan. Another contributor to the dossier of information in ‘The Committee’ was the late Rosemary Nelson, similarly assassinated by loyalists and other forces as yet unknown. On the surface it appears like something Clarke and the considerable resources of the Sunday Times could investigate, if they had a mind to.

Instead Clarke/Johnston make a comment about a subsequent action that McPhilemy’s publisher lost, which is presumably meant in some way to be self-serving.

Edward Heath
I congratulate Clarke and Johnston for their ability (one they share with Margaret Thatcher) to irritate Edward Heath, though why this should detract from an overall evaluation of their efforts as an inadequate piece of work that serves pro-imperialist interests, escapes me. (See a broader political characterisation on this point in the Irish Democrat review.) Johnston and Clarke could hardly fail to include the evidence (unearthed by Jane Winter who was a fellow guest on the Channel 4 programme) that Heath had tried to knobble the Widgery Tribunal before it started. Indeed, Kathryn Johnston had to acknowledge Winter’s work in public even as she ventured on gamely to try and salvage something from the Widgery whitewash (see above). It is typical of their commentary on Martin McGuinness that, as Granville (below) points out, “smears… are delivered without fanfare [and] arrive in the company of known facts”.

We await with interest the evidence of Clarke and Johnston at the Bloody Sunday enquiry. We can only hope it is not as partial and inadequate as Johnston’s performance on the Channel Four programme.

Conclusion
I don’t believe anything else arises for the moment apart from a reiteration of my point that the original review by O’Donghaile was in praise of work by a journalist who, as Denis Bradley suggests with commendable understatement, is perceived as someone who “has maintained good contacts with the British Army”.

References
Journey from guns turns out boring
Denis Bradley, Irish News, Nov 29 2001

David Granville reviews Martin McGuinness, From Guns to Government by Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston
Irish Democrat, Feb-March2002

 

 

 

 

 

 

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