Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Archive for the month “August, 2014”

1994 – A timeline of Death that led to peace

20 years on it can be hard to recall just how dark things were in Ireland before the peace process. The summer of 1994 that led to the start of the process was a bloody and merciless few months. We can take peace for granted. There was no guarantee that the ceasefires would ever happen, indeed all the evidence seemed to suggest that it would be a summer of failure. This timeline records the moments in an effort to show just how difficult things were and how precarious the process was.

June 17 – UVF murders a Catholic Taxi Driver in Carrickfergus. A protestant building worker is killed in error in a separate UVF attack in Newtonabbey.

June 18 – Six men are killed and 5 wounded by the UVF as gunmen open fire in a pub in Loughlinisland as those in bar watched Ireland V Italy in World Cup. One of the dead, Barney Green was 87.

June 24 – Reynolds and Major hold a meeting in Corfu. British Government are sceptical of chances for peace. An agreement is reached that Dublin will change constitutional claim over territory of Northern Ireland. In return the British must change Government of Ireland Act and both sides agree to idea of North South bodies. Sinn Fein publishes report of its peace commission which finds 85 submission out of 228 calling for a 3 month ceasefire and also that the Downing Street Declaration only ensured Unionists would remain inflexible.

30 June – Report into Guildford 4 finds that the problem was ‘individual failures’ rather than failures of the system. Meanwhile Albert Reynolds pushes idea of North South Institutions saying that there is an important distinction between authority and co-operation.

6 July – In an important Dail speech that encourages the British Government, Dick Spring says that the Irish government does not want joint authority over NI but rather a political arrangement which would command the support of both traditions.

7 July – Prince Charles visits Derry.

9 July – UFF murders a Catholic man in Tyrone

10 July – The home of William McCrea is attacked by the IRA who fire over 40 shots at the house.

11 July – Ray Smallwoods of the UDP is shot Dead by the IRA

12 July The IRA attempts to smuggle explosives into the UK but a truck with two tons of explosives is intercepted in Lancashire. Albert Reynolds visits the US and promotes the idea of the economic benefits of peace saying that within months roads could be reopened and electricity interconnectors established. He makes clear that he believes the North could be demilitarised quickly too. However James Molyneaux dismisses Reynolds views and says that North South institutions are merely a stepping stone to Irish Unity.

16 July – Loyalist prisoners riot in Crumlin rd prison.

17 July – Body of Caroline Moreland is found in Fermanagh. She was executed by the IRA as an informer.

19 July – James Molyneaux meets with John Major in an attempt to shore up British government support. Major needs the Unionist party vote in parliament. After the meeting a satisfied Molyneaux says that the idea of North South bodies is ‘unreal’.

22 July – UFF kill a catholic man in Belfast.

24 July – Hopes of peace are dashed at a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in Letterkenny. Gerry Adams suggests that the Downing Street declaration marked progress for the governments but little more than that he says it ‘does not deal adequately with the core issues and this is crucial’. The British government are deeply concerned by the development. Dublin maintains that it is still and evolving situation that requires more time.

28 July – Gardai find an arms cache in Co Meath. It contains 24 Kalashnikovs, a flame thrower, machine guns, a rocket Launcher, mortars, 30,000 rounds of ammunition and bomb making equipment.

29 July – The IRA mortar bomb the Newry police station injuring 40 people.

31 July – The IRA steps up activity, killing two leading UDA figures in Belfast. The British government starts to come under pressure about its peace strategy.

1 August – Dick Spring continues to talk to British counterparts to keep them on board but the situation is increasingly pressurised with both governments exposed to severe criticism. Albert Reynolds is making secret contact with the IRA through Fr Alex Reid.

3 August – Some fresh hopes emerge as Gerry Adams says that having met with the IRA leadership he is ‘guardedly optimistic’ of ceasefire prospects.

5 August – UVF murder a protestant man who they say was an informer in Belfast

7 August – The UVF enter the home of Kathleen O’Hagan, they believe her husband to have supported republicans in the past. Her husband is not there. Her children run and hide under a bed she stands over her baby crying in the cot and is shot several times. She was also pregnant at the time.

8 August – A part time member of the Royal Irish Regiment is murdered by the IRA in Co. Down.

9 August – Irish Media report that Loyalist paramilitaries have met and agreed that they will continue their campaign even if the IRA were to call a ceasefire. There are suggestions that both sides of the paramilitary divide contain a significant number who are opposed to any ceasefires and wish to force their opponents to continue.

10 August – The UFF shoot a Catholic security Guard in Belfast

11 August – A Catholic worker in a printers is murdered because the company prints An Phoblacht

12 August – Hugh Annesley of the RUC holds out an olive branch to paramilitaries suggesting that patrols could be reduced in the event of a ceasefire. Albert Reynolds tells Sean Duignan that the time has come for an ultimatum and that he is going to send a message to the IRA to say it’s now or never or they ‘can shag off’. He says they have a choice to support this move now or continue the killing for another 25 years but he intends to tell them if they do he will walk away and they will have nothing to show for their campaign except more dead bodies.

13 August – Tensions rise in Britain as an IRA bomb explodes in Bognor Regis while another is defused in Brighton.

14 August – The UFF murder a Catholic man in Belfast

15 August – John Bruton warns that Sinn Fein cannot be brought into talks without a complete cessation of violence. He warns against any contact with them and says that the worst possible outcome would be a ceasefire where the governments are later forced to relax the terms in order to keep them at the table under a threat of violence. Meanwhile Unionists are increasingly suspicious of John Majors contacts with the Irish government and Sammy Wilson describes the Tories as ‘treacherous’ suggesting that the Unionists should start talking to Labour.

17 August – IRA bomb explodes in a Protestant Bar in Belfast. Another bomb is found on the Shankill Road. Ian Paisley rubbishes talk of peace and says his party will not be taking part in any new dialogue.

18 August – Another IRA incendiary device destroys a protestant bar in Belfast. Amid fears that the IRA is increasing its campaign, Seamus Mallon says that the only hope is for a total and permanent ceasefire or the IRA will not be part of the process.

20 August – A republican march for peace is held in Dublin under the banner ‘Time for Peace – Time to go’. An estimated 10,000 people attend.

21 August – Michael Ancram says the British government will not accept any form of limited ceasefire. Albert Reynolds says that there was never any suggestion that a ‘ceasefire of 3 or 6 months would provide a seat at the table’. He says the IRA must be prepared to lay down arms for good.

25 August – American Congressman Bruce Morrisson leads a delegation that meets with the Irish Government before meeting Sinn Fein. The delegation excitedly tell Reynolds and Spring that they believe a 6 month ceasefire is about to be called and that they will encourage this. Reynolds and Spring are furious. The move threatens the entire process as the governments will not accept a time limit on the ceasefire and are anxious that the American support may encourage Republicans to only offer a short term ceasefire. They make clear that the delegation must convey the message that it is a permanent ceasefire.

26 August – Ten people are injured in an IRA mortar bombing in Co. Down. Accusations of ‘appeasement’ are made at the British government. Meanwhile Albert Reynolds receives a request for a VISA to the US for Joe Cahill. Cahill was a convicted IRA leader who had once been sentenced to hang and smuggled arms into Ireland from Libya. The request from Fr. Reid shocks Reynolds but it is said to be a gesture that would seal the deal. The IRA wish Cahill to brief their US supporters on the peace process and say it’s the only way they can carry their support. Reynolds contacts Jean Kennedy Smith, who in turn puts pressure on Nancy Sorderberg, but the message comes back emphatically that there are no more visas without a ceasefire first. All avenues turn up blank with no US government contacts willing to budge. Fr. Reid continues to pressure Reynolds saying it’s the last piece of the jigsaw.

28 August – Gerry Adams and John Hume issue a joint statement focussing on the need for democratic principles and the right of the people for self determination. The statement also says that different traditions must be respected.

29 August – Reynolds contacts Sorderberg personally making an impassioned plea for a visa for Joe Cahill. He says that this will deliver peace but without it trust is lost. Soderberg agrees to talk to President Clinton but says the proposal has ‘no chance’. Clinton rings Reynolds at 3 AM and tells him he is looking for the impossible. Reynolds makes the case that it will deliver the ceasefire but Clinton counters that a visa for Adams had not done so yet and they had stuck their neck out then, offending the British. Clinton is angry to be asked to do this and says if the IRA were this close to a ceasefire then they would have a statement ready and yet nobody has seen it. Reynolds announces he has the statement in his pocket but he has given his word not to reveal it and he asks the President to trust him. Clinton is unhappy but Reynolds says he will send Fr Reid to Belfast to ask their permission. Fr Reid comes back some hours later with the agreement of the IRA that Reynolds can read the document to Clinton. Afterwards Clinton finally agrees, as do the British. Clinton tells Reynolds ‘We’ll go for it but this is the last chance. If this doesn’t run I never want to hear from you again.’

30 August – Gerry Adams says he now believes the conditions exist for peace. He calls for an immediate recognition of Sinn Fein’s ‘political mandate’.

31 August – The IRA declare an end to their campaign and the Irish peace process begins. Despite bumps along the way and a short-lived resumption of IRA activities in 1996, the process eventually delivers the good Friday agreement. 20 years later Northern Ireland still has many problems to face. However, a cycle of death was stopped. 1994 saw a dangerous round of brutal tit for tat killings and all negotiations took place against a backdrop of bombings and murder. Ireland did manage to shift the majority of debate in a political direction however and the everyday killings that made a generation immune to violence are now a memory. Great risks were taken but there is no question but that thousands of lives have been saved in these years.

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The BAI, Media and Fairness

Over the last few days there has been a lot of reaction to a recent BAI decision. The BAI upheld a complaint against ‘The Mooney show’ as it found that it had not provided balance in relation to an item on Same Sex Marriage considering that we are due to have a referendum on the issue.

Let me start out by making a couple of points. Personally, I support the idea of Same Sex marriage. I also support the finding of the BAI in relation to this matter. When we are supportive of a measure or point of view we can become blind to the fact that there is an opposing argument. We have a tendency to become dismissive of it. However if the shoe was on the other foot we would be scandalised. Some of the people criticising the BAI decision would be apoplectic if a show on RTE had three people saying the opposite with no balance and a referendum coming down the road.

Any person in the media must be conscious of balance. As a broadcaster or a reporter that is where you earn your money, or at least it should be. An ability to observe and appreciate arguments, even if we do not personally agree, is an essential ingredient. I am often asked to take part in panel discussions. When it comes to politics I see it as part of my role to criticise where its deserved and then to also give credit when it is deserved. To put aside my own personal view and try to give a fair and balanced opinion taking into account the arguments in front of me. My own background in Fianna Fail is widely known and written about. There are often occasions where shows struggle to get guests at short notice and I have found myself on a panel with just an FF TD. Immediately this sets off alarm bells for me. I know that the TD is duty bound to be scathing about the government. In that situation even if I am critical of a government policy I will try to allude to their case or to point out difficulties they face. I do this because I immediately feel my role on the panel has shifted from a personal view to a more balanced observer.

In broadcasting it is not difficult, when holding a discussion, to point out that there are opposing viewpoints. It should always be mentioned that another side is not there to defend themselves. When interviewing or asking questions I believe it is my role to always take an opposing view to the person I am talking to. This is simple and doesn’t need to be aggressive, you just simply make the point and ask the person about it. Every so often when I interview a politician for a piece they question me afterwards ‘Surely, you of all people know that argument is rubbish?’ Sometimes I do know I am pushing a line I don’t believe myself but that’s my job when asking questions. It is up to them to point out that the argument is weak or to dismiss it. It’s my job to ensure the point is made and put to them.

Anyone involved in journalism or broadcasting at any level should be careful about leading opinion. We all have opinions of our own and things we like to see happen. There is a time and place to make that argument. If we are not mindful of that then we abuse our position. There is a responsibility. There are many Lawyers and solicitors who have taken cases they might not necessarily agree with but a part of their training is that everyone is entitled to fair representation. The media world is no different. You don’t have to agree with a point in order to make it. You simply need to believe in fairness and ask yourself if the tables were turned what you would like to see. You need to trust the public to be able to decipher arguments without your help and you need to trust an interviewee to be able to make their case without any aid from you. Seeing both sides of an argument is an essential skill for any writer or broadcaster and they should be well able to make arguments on both sides on any given subject. It is a skill that should be practised. If you are paid for your views it’s one thing, if you are paid to extract the views of others it’s another matter entirely.

Lessons for Office Politics

Many young people find it difficult to negotiate the hard world of office politics. Some of the brightest and best young graduates fail to reach their true potential due to getting swamped in a murky world of friendships, favouritism and preferences.

The problem is that there is nothing to prepare you for this. There is no course or discussion to assist you. This is because we don’t really like admitting it exists. We tend to like the idea of everything being a complete meritocracy in our company or profession. However, human nature is such that our relationships play just as big a role in our career as our talents.

There are some lessons that national politics can teach us to help in this endeavour though. The study of this can help a person to understand just why such a system exists and to deal with the grim realities. There are many lessons to learn. Here I am condensing them down to 6 simple rules.

1. Hard work is only a start.
OK all your life you have been told that hard work is what gets you what you want. Hard work will answer anything. The truth is hard work is vitally important and necessary but it is only a start. You cannot rely on hard work to see you through. There have been many hard working politicians who never got anywhere in politics. If a politician were to simply sit at their desk preparing legislation, and helping constituents, towing the party line and putting in hard yards we all know they would be respected but probably not progress. If they want to get to the top they must also use the media, build relationships, and communicate well. Hard work is a great thing, but others will steal your thunder. Others will criticise you just to stop your progress. Hard work is a start but it needs to be defended, marketed and protected.

2. What others think matters
Once again you have probably always been told not to care what people think. To get on with your work and give others no heed. I am sorry but it just won’t work out that way. It does matter what others think. A politician must gain trust. They must get respect in media and their colleagues must be willing to follow them. Other people’s opinions of you matter because it frames all your future career chances. This is how you are seen and you must pay attention to shaping and moulding that in the most favourable light. You can be as great as you like but if people don’t like you then you are going nowhere. Think of it like a house. The inside may be beautiful but only friends and family see that. The outside of the house is what everyone else sees and there are far more of them.

3. Play the Game.
Politics, whether national or in an office, is a game. Different people play it to different levels. You should never let the game suck you in and become an obsession. Bertie Ahern could be accused of letting that happen. However, an even greater error is trying to deny the game exists or steadfastly refuse to play. If you want to be successful then you have to understand it and play it. A quick look at political parties across countries down through the years will show you that while many start out as renegades outside the box, in order to be successful they eventually play the game and learn to play it well. You need friends and allies. You must seek them out and work with them. There are compromises to be made and certain things you will have to go along with in order to achieve or get support for a bigger aim. Don’t lose yourself but don’t stand on the sidelines. It has to be done.

4. You must Lead.
If you want success then you have to show at least some leadership qualities. A meek backbencher in national politics will always remain no more than that. What is it that allows some others stand out? Confidence. Decisiveness. Belief. Charisma. These are all qualities that can and must be developed. People gravitate toward those who form opinions rather than those who follow them. Going into a meeting are you one of those that is a key player yet to be convinced or are you one of those that they can safely assume will follow if we get the main players on board?

5. Respect all.
While nobody likes to admit to it one of the greatest failings we possess is a lack of respect. At first it sounds easy enough. Respect those ahead of you. Bosses, leaders, superiors. You don’t have to defer to them all the time but you do need to respect them and their experience. Do not dismiss anyone. A person may not be as well educated, they may not appear all that bright but they got to a position somehow and until you respect how they did that you are not going to find a way around them. Nobody likes a sycophant but we all do like to be appreciated and our experience noted. The bigger problem is of course those you disagree strongly with. Opponents or competitors. We have a tendency to always dismiss these and show them no respect. Politics contains a lot of this. They are ‘fools’ or ‘incompetents’. We like to name call and have a good snigger behind their back. That happens. Do not let it make you think you are correct though. More than anything else you must understand an opponent or competitor. You must know what makes them tick and what their next move will be. Therefore you need to learn about them, and from them, and to do that you need to respect them. If they really were so useless then you would not be competing or thinking about them would you? Whatever it is they have, its causing a block to you and if you are as talented as you believe then clearly this opponent has ability.

6. Communication is key
It doesn’t matter what walk of life you are in Communication is the key to success. Great Doctors fail because of a poor bedside manner. The knowledge of a teacher is useless unless they can get it across. A politician that can’t communicate won’t last long. In any job you need to be able to communicate with those around you and with customers. You need to develop it so that others see you as an important part of the team. If the customers like you then you are on to a winner. If you communicate well to your colleagues they are far more likely to want to be an ally. if you communicate well to your superiors then they will appreciate your talents far more.

There is much more to learn as you go. Just remember that its always going to be there and there’s not much you can do but use it to your advantage. May the Force be with you!

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