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The Cabinet Papers RTE, subversives and fellow travelers

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

Complaints about RTE allowing "notorious communists and other subversive persons" on programs led to the station’s chairman being carpeted by the minister for posts and telegraphs in 1968, according to previously secret government documents.

The files reveal ministers spent a whole day’s Cabinet meeting discussing the "politically biased" nature of "many" RTE programs before it was decided that Minister Erskine Childers should "summon" RTE boss Martin McCourt.

A furious local government minister, Kevin Boland, wanted to know if there would be a change or whether "I must regard RTE as a hostile organization on a more dangerous level than other political parties."

In an angry memo to Taoiseach Jack Lynch and fellow ministers, Boland said there was now "ample proof" that the people who had control of "informative programs on RTE are intent on denigrating all authority, both civil and religious, and particularly in undermining the government of the country."

The documents reveal the government was embroiled in at least three major rows with RTE during the year involving the "Late Late Show" and the religious program "Outlook."

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The British ambassador, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, complained about the "Late Late Show" after Irish relatives of Princess Margaret contacted him. He said references to the princess and Capt. Peter Townsend on the show by former chief of staff of the IRA Cathal Goulding and Sinn Fein activist Richard Behal were either ignorance or a "studied insult."

In 1955, Princess Margaret had been refused permission to marry Townsend, a divorced air force captain. In 1960 she married photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones, later Lord Snowdon, who is related to the Earl of Ross.

The ambassador accused host Gay Byrne of organizing "these programs merely to publicize himself and his program without a due sense of responsibility toward the community."

Boland was also angry about the "Late Late Show" and the platform provided for an "illegal organization."

But the minister was most angry about the "Outlook" program, which he said "masqueraded as a religious program" and was used to present a "deliberate and maliciously biased picture" of the Dublin housing situation.

He attacked Father Austin Flannery for saying that viewers as Christians should not evade their responsibility as electors.

"The only possible purpose was to suggest that the situation could best be dealt with by changing the government," Boland said.

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