Since Malachi O’Doherty took over as the BBC Louis MacNeice Writer of Residence at Queen’s University, he’s embarked on what sometimes seems like a one-man festival of events. Fortnightly meetings of Blog Standard (a kind of Bloggers Anonymous), a book group, interviewing BBC correspondents and presenters as well as local political journalists.
This afternoon, it was the timely turn of Robert Peston. But last week, Malachi cosied up to Suzanne Breen, who until its recent demise was the Northern editor for the Sunday Tribune. Their hour long discussion is well worth a listen.
About 39 minutes into the interview, Suzanne talks about paramilitary groups not being as willing as they said about letting people look under the covers of their organisations.
[Suzanne] That actually really applies to Sinn Féin as well. For example about a year ago I was involved in a major investigation of Liam Adams – Gerry Adams’ brother – who is accused of raping his young daughter.
Despite the distance that Sinn Féin’s leadership tried to put between itself and Liam Adams, Suzanne Breen found plenty of evidence of his continued active links with the party after Gerry Adams had become aware of and believed the allegations.
There followed an interesting dialogue about why the story ran out of steam and went away.
[Malachi] Why did that story die? I remember Gerry being on Nolan and others taking the line that this was a media vendetta by one particular newspaper, which was the kind of charge he was levelling against you. Why primarily were you the only journalist who was going over and over this material? I presume it has died. In a sense there is an element of sub judice now that Liam is fighting an extradition order. But were you surprised that work that was presumably available for anyone to do was only done by yourself and your paper?
[Suzanne] Well I think there has been a desire – wrongly I would say, at times – not to delve into anything that upsets the current status quo in Northern Ireland. We saw it to an extent with the DUP as well. Until we saw for example Peter Robinson getting a very, very easy ride and not being questioned until we had the BBC Spotlight programme and the exposé there.
And I think even more with Sinn Féin than the DUP, there will be a desire in the media: let’s keep these people on board, we don’t want any situation that there’s going to be return to conflict. We don’t want to give any of their critics in the Republican community an opportunity. So let’s not delve too deeply into anything they do.
[Malachi] Given that that attitude is so widespread, that apparently whatever you do you mustn’t rock the boat too much, is there any merit in that argument?
[Suzanne] I don’t think there is a merit in the argument. I certainly don’t think journalists should be setting out with any agenda to be looking to either build up or destroy anything in terms of politics. But I think you go where the story is …
[Malachi] Were you surprised that other media outlets were doing so little on it?
[Suzanne] Yes. There were some journalists who did bits and pieces. But generally, I think that if it wasn’t Northern Ireland, and if the peace process didn’t come into play; where this Britain; where this any other country, I think it would have been pursued tooth and nail.
[Malachi] And of course the credit was UTV who initiated the story and broke it originally.
[Suzanne] It was Chris Moore who had interviewed Aine Tyrell initially, but I think that for a lot of media, the story dropped there rather than it actually being pursued.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.