Trivial Pursuits

You know this already, but let me repeat it. Journalists make a lot of stuff up. So great is the demand for comment and 'insider' analysis that wild hunches, tripe really, is packaged as fact, trimmed with self-importance and flung into the insatiable mouth of the news beast – Andrew Marr

It was with a bad taste in my mouth that I waded through a red top piece penned about a close friend. Tony Catney has in recent months been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is currently undergoing treatment. I first met him in Magilligan Jail in late 1975. I was being released just as he was arriving in the windswept prison camp to begin a life sentence. Given his age at the time of the offence for which he was convicted the technical term for an underage lifer was 'at the Secretary of State’s Pleasure', in prison vernecular a SOSP. As we now know, if we didn’t already, from the treatment of Marian Price and Martin Corey, British Secretaries of State take great pleasure in keeping people detained, denying them any certainty about a release date.

TC was solid throughout the jail and proved a great friend upon release. We disagreed on many things over the years but could always laugh at it. His decision to challenge the party from within was far removed from my own of challenging it from without. Yet in many ways it was more difficult to stay within that suffocating environment, where ideas struggled to breathe as they navigated a very thin oppositional channel in circumstances where the waters could be made very choppy and turbulent. The only vessels considered fit for travel were those that showed deference to the leadership cult of personality. Much too stifling and restrictive for my temperament. Outside the party there was at least an invigorating ideational and intellectual life that could not be drowned out by the monotonous chant of ‘loyalty to the Big Lad.’

TC refused to join in when Sinn Fein waged its hate campaigns against dissent. His opposition to the party’s strategy of repressing republicans critical of its conservative departure extended to actively providing succour to myself. Despite the Sinn Fein ostracism he would frequently call to my home and I to his. During the battle for interpretation fought out in the wake of the Provo killing of Joe O’Connor, when myself and my wife were on the receiving end of volleys of venom, TC visited us and was not slow in transporting myself and her, then heavily pregnant, from one place to another when the need arose. 

All these things came to mind when I read the tabloid piece about him. Tony Catney’s illness seemed such a cheap way for the Sunday World to hang a story. It appeared crafted to hook the readership on ‘here is a monster and even in his death agony this is his monstrous thinking.’ In an example of what the former Nightline anchormanTed Koppel referred to in 1997  as ‘the trivialization of our industry’, the article conjured up the accusation against him that he longed to see one more spectacular IRA operation a la Masserene before giving up the ghost.

When I visited him in his hospital bed there was plenty of political discussion but nothing of wishing for spectaculars, even by way of jest. To my surprise and relief he was not rendered incoherent or intellectually disorganised by his illness. I was on my way to deliver an eulogy at the graveside of a couple, one of whom I had spent time in prison with, Dominic and Mary McGlinchey. I was in the company of a friend I had also done jail with. We were joined during the visit by a former member of Sinn Fein. The crack was great. Despite going in tentatively and with no small measure of trepidation we left in high spirits because of TC’s attitude. He was uplifting throughout, winding, slagging and holding court from his bed as he discoursed about politics and the need for more debate and exploration of strategic options. He actually referred to a conference he had been planning where the collapse of republicanism would be the main topic for discussion. Not once did he say he would like to see a cop or a soldier killed.

TC has been the victim of many tabloid assaults over the years. Once an interview with him that had never taken place was fabricated and after a complaint to the Press Complaint commission an apology was given. He is said to have vented his dying ‘blood drenched desire’ at his North Belfast home. Yet he does not live in North Belfast. He was also reported to have left the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) with a man ... who was never at any point in the RNU. Inaccuracies of this type littered the piece. It hardly beckoned a strong belief in the accuracy of the ‘spectacular’ comments.

Having more serious matters on his mind Tony Catney is unlikely to worry what is said in the Sunday World about him where much worse has been said about others. On occasion there is a factual basis to what is reported in the paper, but unfortunately it is a rule that doesn’t always hold sway. The late Christopher Hitchens had a point when he said ‘I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information.’

None of us are free from criticism and we must never seek to censor those who criticise, even when they get it wrong. Nevertheless, acuracy goes a long way towards enhancing public understanding and is ultimately what differentiates a newspaper from a comic.


  1. Mackers ,
    I think anyone who has every met TC knows the story was fabricated. It's always a reliable but unknown source I doubt if any of the stuff written about him had a glimmer of truth.
    Great person, great Republican and that can not be diminished by fairy tales.

  2. a disgusting piece of british propaganda disguised as journalism. whoever penned that piece of trash should hang their head in shame but won't because tabloid hacks are vultures feeding off peoples' miseries.

    unsubstantiated malicious accusations and demonisation of an unrepentant fenian.

  3. Saddened to hear this news news about Tony Catney. The first time I heard him speak was an interview he had on Radio Free Éireann following press allegations about his 'supposed' role with the Real IRA. He articulated his anti-GFA arguments extremely well and demonstrated a sound grasp of the fundamentals of the 'Struggle'. Also, his contribution to the 'Truth & Lies' debate (Derry, 2008) is worth taking time to listen too. ( )

    p.s. Thoughts & prayers for him and his family during this time.

  4. Haven't had much time these past few weeks to visit TC. However, I fully intend to and hope he's not too bad.

    Really sorry to hear he's cancer as the illness takes just everything one has to fight it...Having known TC for a few years he'll do his best.

    We're all the more richer for having met and befriended him and his words of wisdom will live on much longer than the gutter press comrade.

    Adh Mhor Ort

  5. I have read the lead article a number of times, and each time I did it resonated with me on a number of different levels. I don't know Tony Catney, but I had the pleasure of hearing him give the oration at The RNU commemoration in Derry a number of years ago. He spoke well and you could tell that every molecule in his body poured into his speech such was his strength of conviction. However at this time when he is unwell my thoughts and best wishes go out to him, his family, friends and comrades.

    The demonisation, criminalisation and felon setting of republicans by the press is nothing new, nor is it restricted to the gutter or what could be considered as mainstream press. The attacks on Tony Catney in particular were highlighted on The Pensive Quill in 2009. The use of 'unsubstantiated malicious accusations' to quote Gerard Hodgins is something we see on a regular basis emanating from various quarters. The profundity of the basis for the ongoing vilification of not only Irish Republicans, but those who have campaigned on a human rights level cannot be ignored and it can be succinctly presented in that 'when the message is untouchable the messenger is the subject of attack.

    The provos and their ilk have for years been involved directly and indirectly in character assassination and castigation of those would disagree with them. Anthony and his family were subject to this when he questioned the provisional movement and this escalated when the provos murdered IRA volunteer Joe O'Connor, something he has already alluded to. Richard O'Rawe who exposed the truth about the political manipulation of the 1981 Hunger Strike by elements within Sinn Fein was subject to similar vilification. O'Rawe who resolutely stood in the face of intimidation and abuse never wavered, he very aptly quoted George Bernard Shaw in 'Afterlives' his follow up to the incendiary 'Blanketmen' when he wrote' All great truths begin as blasphemies'.

    The use of the press to promote and promulgate skewed perceptions and propaganda cannot be underestimated, the treatment of Tony Catney is testimony to this. In the Derry Journal on 30th April 2013 British Minister Martin McGuinness described alleged attacks on his wife and home as “cowardly” and said those responsible had “stooped to a new low” when they attacked his family. “The most disappointing thing was that people chose to arrive at my house when I was not there and verbally assault Bernie.”

    In contrast when Michael Donnelly one of the 'Hooded Men' who had been brutalised by the British as an internee was attacked in June 98 along with his family in Derry for promoting an alternative to the Sinn Fein strategy, McGuinness offered no condemnation, when confronted at his home by Michael's wife and asked why her family were attacked with gas and baseball studded bats the best J118 could offer was that 'I wasn't there'.

    If we were to believe all that we read in the media, I'm sure many here on this forum would have horns on their heads and forked tails. If we were to believe what is presented by the media then those butchered on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday were gunmen and nail bombers. If we were to take at face value the comments of those who subvert from the sidelines and use 'unsubstantiated malicious accusations' then the truth about the hunger strike would never have been exposed.

    The Tony Catney's & Richard O'Rawe's of this world will neither bend nor bow in the face of scurrilous bile spewed at them by the press, the British or their agents. They and many others like them know that the first reaction to truth is hatred.

  6. Great comment Feargal. It would have made an excellent article

  7. Fergal it is interesting that Martybroy was never anywhere near anything that could cause him to have to actually explain himself or the cronies who do his bidding,the demonisation of republicans has been going on longer than this current phase of dissent,aided and ably abetted by scum especially the clergy,it should now be grist to the mill for republicans to highlight the machiavellian antics of these agents of the state,and be of no doubt that agents are indeed what these people are,the sticks became proficient at these tactics cira the mid seventies,the quislings that are now $inn £ein have become clones mimicking their masters contempt and indeed even using the very words written by their masters,as has been said Tony Catney has a bigger battle to fight now and we can only wish him well ,those who use the written word to attack and spread unsubantiated allegations from whatever quarter they come from are nothing more than a wing of cpt Fred HOlroyd,s mit unit. something at this stage seasoned republicans can see from a long way of.