The silence of ‘the courtiers’

A demonstration in solidarity with the people of Palestine on the Aran Islands. The solidarity of the Irish people with those who have been colonised is not always reflected in our politics or media. Photo: Ciaran Tierney.

by Ciaran Tierney

It was the kind of ‘scoop’ most investigative reporters dream of.

I can still remember the excitement the moment my phone rang.

A senior opposition politician, on his way home from the Irish parliament for the weekend, had pulled in at the side of the road to tell me that, yes, the document I had in my hands was genuine.

Ten members of the US Congress had written to Irish politicians to warn them that there would be serious repercussions for Ireland if the country introduced legislation to ban goods from occupied territories.

Looking back, over three years on, my excitement seems almost naive and completely misplaced.

A friend just happened to call in that night and, as I worked away on finishing my article, I told hm that I had a major international news story on my hands. He could see that my adrenaline was rushing with the excitement.

No other journalist in Ireland had unearthed this letter.

To me, it seemed to be an international scandal. Here were politicians from the most powerful nation on earth bullying Irish legislators and warning them not to vote in favour of a bill which, to most Irish people, seemed morally and legally sound.

After all, if a country invades and occupies someone else’s land, allowing ‘settlers’ to build on stolen land, it goes without saying that the country which has invaded should not benefit from this clear breach of international law.

In Ireland, of all countries, people know about settlers and indigenous people being run out of their own land.

So I filed the piece for Electronic Intifada, quite giddy with excitement, and noted that it was published the following day. At the time the Palestinian news media had huge interest in Irish affairs, because of the Occupied Territories Bill, as it was known.

It would have been the first bill of its kind in the world to be adopted by a national parliament, specifically banning goods from illegal settlements.

Incredibly, it eventually passed through both houses of the Irish parliament, despite pressure from Washington DC, Brussels, the Israeli Embassy in Dublin, and vehement opposition from Fine Gael, the main party in a minority Government at the time.

The bill would have outlawed the sale of goods in settlements in places such as the West Bank which, in theory, should be illegal anyway according to international law.

But it was blocked by the outgoing government and omitted from the current programme for government, despite having the support of two of the three parties in the coalition going into the February 2020 election.

Had it been enacted, it would have meant that goods from Russian-occupied Ukraine could not be sold in Ireland in 2022.

After the piece was published, I sat back and waited for the phone to ring. I expected Irish and international journalists would have an interest in this news story, which clearly laid out how US politicians had interfered in Irish foreign policy.

I expected people to quiz me as to the veracity of the story or to attempt to find out where I had unearthed the letter.

The members of Congress suggested that some corporations investing in Ireland would be violating US export regulations if the Dublin authorities enforced a ban on Israel’s settlement goods.

This obviously had huge implications given that tech giants such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google all have their European headquarters in Dublin.

A human rights lawyer described the letter from the US lawmakers as “a brazen effort by a major power to interfere with the democratic process in Ireland, something which should be of great concern to every Irish politician.”

I waited for a barrage of calls, texts, or emails. And then … nothing.

Nobody picked up the phone.

Nobody asked me where or how I managed to get a copy of the letter. Or even to verify if it was true.

My article was widely circulated on social media, but nothing about it (or no reference to it) appeared in the Irish media.

The silence was deafening.

Days later, and still no calls. It felt as though the story had never been written.

And then it struck me that the person who “leaked” the letter to me did so because he trusted me, a freelancer in the West of Ireland based far from the corridors of power, above the political correspondents he must meet on a regular basis around Leinster House in Dublin.

This “awkward” story just did not suit the news agenda and no reference to the letter from the US Congressmen appeared in the Irish media until months after my initial article appeared in The Electronic Intifada.

How silly of me to think my little article would cause any sort of scandal, when the “powers that be” felt it was better left ignored.

I thought of that article, and my subsequent disappointment, recently when I sat down to watch a stunning four-part Al-Jazeera investigation called ‘The Labour Files’.

Thanks to one of the biggest leaks in British political history, the Qatari-owned station showed how unelected Labour Party bureaucrats silenced and expelled supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

In some cases, Jewish members of the party who happened to be life-long campaigners against racism were accused of “antisemitism”.

Just as with the 2019 letter I received from a politician in Dublin, the files obtained by Al Jazeera have irrefutable evidence of an abuse of power. They contain the UK Labour Party’s disciplinary records from 1998 to 2021.

The four part Al Jazeera investigation exposed accusations of dirty tricks and manipulation within the UK’s opposition Labour Party. Unelected officials undermined former leader Jeremy Corbyn, and anyone who supported him, up to his resignation three years ago.

Party members were expelled on dubious grounds.

And the national media in the UK, including The Guardian and the BBC, joined in a concerted campaign against Corbyn, accusing him and his party of horrendous levels of antisemitism.

A BBC ‘Panorama’ documentary, ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic?’, caused huge damage to Corbyn’s leadership. The Al Jazeera investigation has discredited some of the claims made in interviews for the BBC show and shown how quotes were taken out of context.

So far, BBC ‘Panorama’ have not responded to the findings of the Al Jazeera series.

Senior members of the Labour Party have not responded to questions raised by ‘The Labour Files’.

And you will find next to nothing about the Al Jazeera series in the mainstream British media, almost a month on from its broadcast across the globe.

As the BBC celebrates 100 years as a “national broadcaster” today, perhaps it’s instructive to look at the stories they decide not to cover if you are looking for the truth in the news.

Why, for example, did the state broadcaster decide to host 11 days of non-stop tributes to a 96-year old monarch when 25% of the British population have republican beliefs?

Why did they so rarely educate their viewers and listeners about the crimes of the British empire?

Why did ‘Panorama’ decide to perform a “hatchet job” on Corybn when most people who know him say he hasn’t got a racist bone in his body?

And why is “anti-Semitism” no longer seen as such a huge issue within the UK Labour Party now that Corbyn is yesterday’s man?

Or why haven’t they apologised to the lifelong anti-racists in the party, many of them Jewish, who found themselves being falsely and cynically smeared?

Was Corbyn really a racist at all? Or was racism “weaponised” because it was a convenient way of attacking a man who was seen as a threat by those in power? Even if it meant that genuine, well-meaning activists were falsely smeared along the way?

I guess the team behind the Al Jazeera series have discovered, as I did with my own little “exclusive” three years ago, that sometimes “the courtiers” in the national media have no interest in holding the powerful to account or tackling issues which might cause them concern.

Some stories just aren’t worth touching, it seems.

‘The Labour Files’ is well worth watching over three or four hours. You can find it on YouTube.

But if you are relying on the mainstream media in the UK for information, you would not even know that the series exists.

Standing with Palestine in Galway. Photo: Ciaran Tierney.

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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.