Northern Ireland news

RTÉ defends silencing Joe Brolly but pundit brands broadcaster 'like North Korea'

Joe Brolly on Claire Byrne Live before he was silenced

RTÉ has defended its decision to mute outspoken GAA pundit Joe Brolly during Monday night's live debate on a united Ireland.

The south Derry lawyer and broadcaster was silenced as he launched a broadside against the DUP, whose MP Gregory Campbell had contributed to the Claire Byrne Live 90-minute programme beforehand.

Mr Brolly was censured after accusing the DUP of being homophobic and racist.

“You see them chuckling and guffawing when people are trying to have a serious discussion," he said, speaking from a studio in Belfast.

"Laughing at the Irish language, laughing at Gaelic sports, the homophobia, the racism, all these things.”

The host asked him to refrain from making accusations against the DUP, as Mr Campbell was no longer available to respond.

When Mr Brolly asked: “Which ones would he deny?”, Ms Byrne asked for his video link to be removed from the screen.

She told viewers: "I'm sorry that I couldn't carry on that conversation with Joe Brolly. I have great time for Joe Brolly and great respect for him and that's why he was invited on the programme but we simply can't stand over someone name calling another person who isn't here to defend themselves and I hope you understand that."

Claire Byrne

RTÉ said it had no further comment to add.

The All-Ireland winner then took to Twitter with a series of posts targeting the DUP by highlighting offensive remarks made in the past by party representatives.

“I was taken off air and told it was because RTÉ could not risk me saying the DUP were homophobic, racist or sectarian," he tweeted.

"I must apologise to the DUP at once."

Earlier in the show, Mr Campbell was seen laughing at suggestions that a united Ireland was a realistic possibility, retorting: “It’s never going to happen, we won’t agree to it.”

The East Derry MP argued that it would be better to make the current constitutional arrangements work rather than going into “cloud cuckoo land and trying to develop mechanisms that we will never agree with”.

“We are British, there is nothing you can say or nothing you can do that will change that,” he said.

Mr Brolly yesterday defended his comments and attacked RTÉ, describing the broadcaster as being "like North Korea".

"They (RTÉ) think they are achieving a clear space for debate by keeping things safe but what in fact they are doing is destroying the essence of any serious debate, which is honesty, and what they fear is honesty," he told The Irish News.

He said the DUP was "dominated by an evangelical wing like Donald Trump's Republican Party".

"The DUP have retreated into a triumphalist grouping whose raison d'être is to - and you can quote me - to rub the Fenians' noses in it," he said.

"It's all short-term victories and no long term strategy."

The one-time Derry right corner forward, who in the wake of Monday night's TV appearance was in jovial mood, said that while the DUP had a mandate, the party "don't lead".

"In their position of strength they have an obligation to lead but in my opinion their project is dishonest – the DUP has no integrity as a political party," he said.

"They are fundamentally betraying their electorate because they are creating this fantasy notion that somehow Northern Ireland can survive as it is at the moment."

A DUP spokesperson said the GAA pundit was "no stranger to controversy and often appears to revel in remarks designed to provoke a reaction".

"Whilst this may have been Mr Brolly's advert for a united Ireland, the DUP is focused on highlighting the benefits of remaining within the United Kingdom whether economic or our NHS," the spokesperson said.

"Those are benefits enjoyed by every citizen, including very notably over the last 12 months and continuing through the Covid vaccination programme."

Other contributors to Monday night's programme included Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, former Taoiseach John Bruton, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, rugby player Andrew Trimble and loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson.

However, the SDLP yesterday wrote to RTÉ's director general complaining about its "expulsion" from the programme.

“I watched with dismay as speaker after speaker referred to and quoted from John Hume and Seamus Mallon yet the programme makers made a deliberate decision to exclude the voice of the SDLP," said the party's South Belfast MLA Matthew O’Toole.

"It is enormously frustrating that our distinct voice, rooted in the politics of reconciliation, internationalism and European social democracy, was deliberately removed from the debate."

It has also been confirmed that the Ulster Unionists, who along with the SDLP were the largest party in the north at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, were also not invited to take part.

“Its interesting and unfortunate that RTÉ didn’t seek to include the perspective of the unionist party who helped deliver the Belfast Agreement," a spokesperson said.

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