Denying a platform to the oppressed

Ciaran Tierney
6 min readApr 29, 2024


Rafeef Ziadah with musician Phil Monsour and poet Sarah Clancy in Galway. Photo by Ciaran Tierney

By Ciaran Tierney

Did you ever wonder what was the point?

What was the point of independence, after centuries of struggle for Irish freedom, if we are not allowed to express our voices and stand with those who are oppressed?

What was the point of rising up, again and again, against our oppressors only to see hundreds upon hundreds of U.S. troops filling up the cafes and the souvenir shops at Shannon Airport on their way to and from committing atrocities in the Middle East?

What is the point in being “neutral” if we have allowed well over three million U.S. troops through Shannon and nobody has an idea what weapons they are carrying or what is their purpose in flying across the globe?

In school, Irish history was a relentless stream of misery, as we learned again and again how our people were oppressed, had their land stolen, their culture and language destroyed, and even went through forced starvation at the hands of a colonial power.

They rose up time after time, only to be beaten down by the might of the British Empire, until the executions of ten men in 1916 changed everything.

In my travels to the Middle East, I was always embarrassed by the way people would look up to the Irish and thank me for our solidarity.

Yet, when South Africa showed courage, by standing up for the truth and justice when nobody else would, our Irish leaders were not to be found.

At a time when we are witnessing a real, live genocide on our TV screens, when more than 34,400 colonised people have been murdered in a tiny strip of land, there is not much consolation to be had in thinking that Ireland’s partial independence was seen as a beacon of light for other colonised people as far back as 1921.

Here in Ireland, we are great at saying the right things, but doing nothing to back up our words.

Our political leaders condemn a genocide but then spend the national holiday cosying up to the powerful people who arm and fund that same genocide.

Our leaders talk about international law and a “rules-based order” while somehow managing to ignore the huge number of U.S. troops flying through Shannon Airport in clear violation of Irish neutrality.

They talk about Palestinian human rights while welcoming members of the right-wing Israeli Likud Party, who trample all over Palestinian rights, to private meetings in Dublin and Belfast.

They condemn the mass slaughter of people who have been besieged since 2007 but, when it comes to the crunch, they haven’t got the conviction to back up South Africa at the International Court of Justice.

Our universities carry on relations with Israeli institutions as normal, while third level institutions all across Gaza have been bombed and destroyed, and leading intellectuals have been murdered.

Our national broadcaster is happy to share the ‘Eurovision’ platform with Israel even as that country commits a genocide, in full view of the world. It’s on Al Jazeera at any rate, if you haven’t seen the images of mass slaughter on RTÉ or the BBC.

Photos from this national demonstration in Dublin showed there were 30,000 to 40,000 in the crowd.

The state broadcaster sends news reporters to huge pro-Palestine rallies all over the country but somehow manage to edit out the voices who dare to criticise the Irish Government while vastly under-estimating the crowds.

Recently, RTE News claimed there were “more than 1,000” people at a national demonstration for Palestine when the images I saw with my own eyes on social media confirmed that there were 30 or 40 times that number in the crowd.

They trawl the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland out to appear on radio programmes, again and again, to tell us that a genocide is justified or that the lives of innocent Palestinian men, women, and children who are living and dying through horror are not worthy of our concern.

At the weekend, I attended a superb talk called ‘Palestinian Voices’ here in Galway and left it feeling ashamed that my country, or the national broadcaster at any rate, had let down the people of Palestine again.

Like many others in the audience I was both shocked and dismayed to discover that the esteemed Palestinian poet and spoken word artist, Rafeef Ziadah, was denied a platform on the main arts programme on RTE Radio One last week.

Rafeef revealed to a stunned audience at the Mick Lally Theatre in Galway that her invitation to appear on the ‘Arena’ show was rescinded in the interests of “balance”.

Ms Ziadah is currently on a nationwide tour of Ireland with her ‘Let it be a Tale’ show, a stunning visual, musical and poetic performance with musician Phil Monsour, in memory of Palestinian poet and educator Refaat Alareer.

What made this tour all the more poignant is that on Friday, in the midst of her Irish tour, Israel murdered the daughter, grandson, and son-in-law of Refaat, a beloved writer and educator who was assassinated himself in December.

The grandchild Refaat had never seen, Abd al-Rahman, was born in the midst of a genocide and murdered aged just three months. The child’s family had been sheltering in a building belonging to an international relief charity in Gaza City.

Rafeef was amazing. She performed ‘Let It Be A Tale’ at the 39th Cúirt International Festival of Literature, as well as conducting a poetry workshop on Saturday afternoon, and appearing on a discussion panel on Sunday. All three events in Galway were sold out.

The RTE ‘Arena’ show told her last week that, instead of having her poetry featured on the show, she should try a more political show such as ‘Today with Claire Byrne’ who would be able to provide “balance”.

As Ms Ziadah pointed out during her visit to Galway, what does this even mean?

If she chooses to read an “anti-genocide” poem on RTE radio now does that mean that ‘Arena’ must then source a “pro-genocide” artist or musician in order to bring “balance” to the programme?

The next time she comes to Ireland will she need to have an Israeli soldier by her side?

It seems we have now entered a strange, dystopian world where a female poet’s poem, spoken word, or piece of art needs to be ‘balanced’ by someone from the “other side”.

Like so many others, Rafeef’s family was expelled from what is now called Israel in 1948 and, ever since, generations of Palestinians have grown up in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

It’s not often that Irish people get to hear their voices.

As if to prove the point, N.S. Nuseibeh, who was due to share a stage with Ms Ziadah in Galway, was unable to travel to the Cuirt festival due to travel restrictions which are currently being imposed on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.

What’s even more stunning about Arena’s decision not to grant Rafeef a platform was the fact that she did a 15 minute segment on the same programme eight years ago, reading her world-famous ‘We Teach Life, Sir’ and talking about her life in exile.

So what has changed?

Is it now a case that Palestinian artists visiting Ireland who dare to create art about the oppression of their people are no longer given access to our national airwaves?

If this is true, this is a very worrying development indeed.

* A language planner and digital journalist based in Galway, Ireland, Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award. Find him on Facebook or Twitter here.

Protesting for Palestine in Galway. Photo by Colin Stanley.



Ciaran Tierney

A former newspaper journalist, with an interest in human rights, travel, and current affairs, Ciaran won the 2018 Irish Current Affairs Blog of The Year award.