06 January 2006

Remembering the Past: Irish Independent - a century supporting rich and powerful

An Phoblacht

BY SHANE Mac THOMÁIS

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Photo: Tony O' Reilly

On 3 January 1905, 101 years ago, the Irish Independent was launched by William Martin Murphy.

James Larkin once referred to Murphy as the "most foul and vicious blackguard that ever polluted any country... a capitalistic vampire".

During the 1913 Lockout, when the downtrodden workers of Dublin took to the streets for better conditions, Murphy used his paper to beat them into submission with a description of his workers as the "poor and have naught, but if they were rich tomorrow, debauchery would soon have them in poverty again".

The Irish Independent famously called for the execution of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. It continued its anti-republican ways during the Tan War and in December 1919, a group of 20 IRA men destroyed the printing works of the paper.

The Independent naturally took the pro-Treaty side during the Civil War and at the fall of the Four Courts in 1922, it wrote: "To save a Republic that never existed in fact, a number of young men, partly blustering bullies, partly fanatics honest with the terrible honesty of a monomania, partly boys with no mind but for an escapade, broke away from the army of the nation, set themselves up as the directing force of the country, plunder and destroy, threaten and lie, uniting all their diverse qualities of bravado, unreason and irresponsibility to render any government impossible but theirs."

In 1924, the traditional conservative nationalist newspaper, the Freeman's Journal, merged with the Irish Independent. For the rest of its history, the Independent continued to peddle a virulently right-wing editorial line. It gave political allegiance to Cumann na nGaedhael and later Fine Gael. It urged Irish support for the fascist General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. On the 10 August 1936 the Independent told its readers that "nuns bodies were been thrown on the streets of Barcelona". Readers were informed that the fascist Blueshirt leader Eoin O'Duffy was to set up an Irish brigade to fight for Franco and "stop a workers republic, a farmers republic or any other form of republic in Spain".

In the 1970s, the Independent was taken over by Tony O'Reilly, a seller of baked beans, who was shaped in the mould of the papers first proprietor. Under O'Reilly's control, the paper was dumbed-down. It also became less politically aligned with Fine Gael. In the 1997 General Election, it endorsed Fianna Fáil under a front page editorial, entitled 'Its Payback Time'. The 'payback' referred to its chance of revenge for the refusal of the 'Rainbow Coalition' to allow O'Reilly who owned the Independent Newspapers to completely take over a rival newspaper, the Sunday Tribune and so achieve absolute dominance of the Irish newspaper industry.

Today, Independent News and Media holds a near monopoly on the Irish newspaper industry, particularly since the closure of the Irish Press Group in the early 1990s. After the closure of the Evening Press, the Independent's Evening Herald is now the capital city's only evening newspaper.

O'Reilly's endeavours in the interests of the rich and powerful and indeed British interests in Ireland have not gone without due recognition. He has received baubles from the English Queen for his efforts and likes to be addressed as 'Sir' Anthony O'Reilly by his coterie of fawning hacks. Today, O'Reilly's papers, particularly the Sunday Independent continue to pour forth anti-nationalist and anti-worker bile with no pretence of objectivity or balance. William Martin Murphy would be proud.

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