Wednesday, August 03, 2016
How has this come to pass, and how can it have dragged on for so long?
It all started when Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh retired as RTÉ’s lead Gaelic Games broadcaster in the autumn of 2010. Some people thought that Brian Carthy would succeed Ó Muircheartaigh but instead RTÉ chose a rotating selection of commentators, including using commentators who were previously TV-only, such as Marty Morrissey and Ger Canning.
The feeling arose, rightly or wrongly, that RTÉ Sports were operating an anyone-but-Carthy policy. On May 23rd, 2011, Noel Curran, then Director-General of RTÉ, received a confidential letter protesting Carthy’s treatment. The letter was allegedly signed by Mickey Harte, Kieran McGeeney, Brian Cody, Mickey Moran, Justin McNulty, Conor Counihan and Kevin Walsh.
The details of the letter were leaked to the media, and portrayed as an attempt to dictate to RTÉ whom it should or shouldn’t employ. This is exactly what the letter was, of course, but this sort of lobbying occurs all the time. It may be a coincidence that Anthony Tohill disappeared from the Sunday Game after his criticism of Kerry’s Paul Galvin. Or it may not. Who knows?
Lobbying goes on all the time, with mixed success. Most broadcasters pay it no need. It's entirely their decision whom they employ or don't employ - how else, after all, would Tommy "Tom" Carr currently be commentating? It's not because the nation demands it, or will stop watching if Tommy isn't there to enlighten the viewing public.
Back to 2011. John Murray used to present a light-entertainment show on RTÉ Radio 1 in 2011 after Morning Ireland, in the slot currently occupied by Ryan Tubridy. The John Murray Show was light entertainment – a lot like a 2FM show, but less shouty, less music and with more material about going for walks and dealing with lumbago.
A fortnight after the letter protesting Carthy’s treatment arrived on Noel Curran’s desk, John Murray opened his show with a mock interview with Mickey Harte. The setup was that Murray asked questions that would be answered by recordings of Mickey Harte speaking in another context.
The idea was to satirise the idea of Mickey Harte deciding what RTÉ did or didn’t do. So Murray asks Mickey if it’d be OK for him (Murray) to present a show that morning from 9 to 10. When Mickey is OK with what, Murray went on to apologise for the Dalai Lama not being a guest (Harte had recently met the Dalai Lama) and, when Harte seemed to ask for a request, Murray played ten seconds of Daniel O’Donnell singing “The Pretty Little Girl from Omagh.”
This was an unfortunate choice of tune. Mickey Harte had a daughter who was a pretty little girl from Ballygawley, sixteen miles from Omagh. Michaela Harte was murdered at the age of 27 while on her honeymoon in January of 2011. It would be a lot to expect of Mickey Harte to see the funny side of that choice of song six months after burying his daughter.
And this is the reason for the dispute. RTÉ issued an apology for the sketch, saying that they regretted any offence caused, that this regret was “immediately and personally” communicated to Mickey Harte, and that RTÉ did not leak the letter.
The question of who did or didn't leak the letter is probably best solved by asking qui bono - who benefits from its leak? But it's odd the statement mentions the letter, because the letter doesn't matter in the light of the appalling tastelessness of the sketch. I don’t know if John Murray ever apologised on air, to the nation, about the sketch but I certainly don’t remember it or could find trace of it online.
What, then, to do? The Tyrone County Board, by all accounts, are deeply unhappy about the RTÉ boycott and are moving might and main to get Harte to relent. In the light of Harte’s actions concerning his home club in the ’eighties, it will take more than might or main to move him. Harte is a stubborn man, and it takes an awful lot to turn him.
So the question then arises of whether or not RTÉ have done enough to show their horror at so ghastly a sketch. Interviewed in the Irish News, Sunday Game host Michael Lyster is quoted as saying that “It’s not for the lack of effort or not for the lack of want” that the dispute is now in its fifth year.
We all inform our consciences in different ways. Some people would sit in the car outside Mickey Harte’s house day and night waiting to be forgiven. If crawling would help Harte carry his cross, why not crawl? It costs you nothing, and you may do some good. However unfair you feel Harte is being in his reaction, Michaela’s death was still worse by no small order.
Maybe RTÉ have done that. Maybe John Murray or Noel Curran or Ryle Nugent, RTÉ’s head of sport, sat in the car outside Mickey Harte’s house waiting for a chance to make good for days before giving up. Maybe they did.
The John Murray show ended on RTÉ Radio One in June, 2015. Murray himself was back on air in August of 2015 as one of the co-anchors of Weekend Sport. It is not known if the employment of Murray as a sports anchor is part of the effort or part of the want that Michael Lyster referred to in describing the national broadcaster’s attempts to bridge the gap between themselves and Mickey Harte.