A review of the regional daily papers offers an insight not only into what the documents revealed under the thirty-year rule, but it provides an insight into the political nature and interpretation provided by the local media.
From “burrowing like rats” to “systematic beatings by the ‘Goon Squad'” our local papers have got their readership all summed up.Aww … yes … asides from Father Christmas with his sack of goodies, a highlight of this time of year has to be the annual release of confidential state papers under the thirty-year rule.
While some grinch-like public representatives try to pour cold water on the feast by criticising news outlets for looking back thirty-years for headlines, I am quite sure they, like us was enjoyed the different interpretations of the same sheaf of historic documents.
Naturally all three Northern Irish daily papers yesterday led with stories from the treasure trove.
Although, before I let loose my thought on that, perhaps it is also worth noting that only one of the papers, the Irish News to name names, actually used the services of an historian, the notable Dr Eamon Phoenix, to sift through the thousands of pages while the others relied on their own reporters and Press Association (a symptom of what is becoming very common in today’s media which I can only refer to as a symptom of the ‘lazies’ and/or accountants).
The News Letter devoted their flagship front space to IRA informers behind the wire, the Irish News focused on the alleged brutal tactics of RUC officers in the infamous Castlereagh holding centre and the Belfast Telegraph opted for the southern Government’s “doomsday” plan for northern Catholics.
Reading through the papers treatment of the information seemed like a political act itself.
Perhaps then appropriately given this observation, the News Letter called on their political editor Stephen Dempster to do the honours.
In an inside spread, he touched on the tunneling endeavors of inmates at the Maze. He quotes comments made by civil servants who quite patronisingly praise the tunnels as “a form of group exercise involving much planning and effort – thus providing a boost to morale and so also offering a certain therapeutic value”.
I almost feel like diving down to start trying to scrabble through the carpet myself for some much needed exercise and “therapy”.
Dempster goes on to quote a description of the men as “burrowing like rats”.
Speeding from the papers Linenhall Street base up Royal Avenue to Donegall Street, there is a distinctly different feel to the Irish News coverage.
Outrage is expressed at the alleged “goon squad” of ten RUC officers who are accused of being responsible for the worst of the beatings received by men questioned for terrorist offences.
Flicking through to the inside package, the Pope was “gravely concerned” at the conditions inside the Maze during the “dirty protests”, which we should note was self inflicted.
The front splash is somewhat uncomfortably juxtaposed beside the sage advice to beat the credit crunch by having sex more.
Inside they display a series of shorter articles to appeal to both sides including revelations that Government feared loyalist backlash after the horrific firebomb which gutted La Mon and another look at the escalation of the dirty protests.
However they aren’t without gems, most notably the burgeoning relationship between De Valera and Gaddaffi. Gaddaffi thinking De Valera was into equestrian pursuits gifted him with a riding whip, a saddle and bridle, but no horse. (Down boy!)
Newspapers biased as charged? Answers on a postcard …