Bosses at BBC NI have agreed to meet the SEFF victims’ group to hear concerns over “grossly insensitive” contributions from pundits on the corporation’s programmes.
The meeting was arranged after commentators Jude Collins and Chris Donnelly last week provoked a furious response to remarks they made around the IRA murder of Patsy Gillespie and the Narrow Water bombing memorial respectively.
Mr Collins was widely criticised when he tweeted that Mr Gillespie – who was turned into a human bomb by the Provos in October 1990 – “like so many others ... chose to do work for the ‘security’ forces, even after the IRA had warned that made them targets”.
Mr Donnelly, who is also a regular contributor to BBC NI television and radio programmes, angered many when he questioned the wisdom of placing floral tributes at the Narrow Water site in Warrenpoint – where 18 soldiers and one civilian were killed in 1979 – following a series of sectarian vandalism incidents.
Kenny Donaldson of the South East Fermanagh Foundation said the meeting with the head of BBC NI had been sought to raise concerns around the “palpable hurt” felt by innocent victims and survivors of terrorism.
“Mr Collins has a history of inflaming and goading innocent victims/survivors of terrorism and his most recent remarks concerning Patsy Gillespie are frankly disgusting,” he said.
“The languages used by Mr Donnelly are also concerning in that he was suggesting that the Narrow Water memorial is within a ‘republican’ area and thus the memorial is going to be targeted, just as a republican memorial would be within a ‘unionist area’.
“Let’s be clear, there are not unionist and republican areas and to give succour to this notion is dangerous, effectively the follow-on from this is mob rule and an acceptance for the balkanisation of this region.”
The victims’ group advocate added: “To suggest that the memorial should be removed is pandering to fascism. Mr Donnelly also suggested that the memorial is ‘ad hoc’. That is insulting to those who have year-on-year sought to remember 18 innocent soldiers slaughtered at that site, and we should never forget the 19th victim – an innocent civilian caught in the crossfire.”
However, Mr Donaldson added: “We acknowledge that the majority of BBC personnel and pundits are not individuals who seek to cause division, hurt and distress to already vulnerable people.”
Mr Donnelly responded to the SEFF claims, saying it appeared Mr Donaldson believes unionists “should be able to dictate to public broadcasters who should appear on television and radio”.
Mr Donnelly, a former Sinn Fein election candidate, said it was unfortunate that Mr Donaldson had betrayed “his own political prejudices” with this “cynical stunt,” and added: “The north of Ireland is a divided society and seeking to silence the voices of one section of the community is a negative step illustrative of a worryingly intolerant mindset.
“Discussions on our troubled past in Northern Ireland will often spark disagreements, but such open and honest engagements are essential.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “We are aware of the South East Fermanagh Foundation’s concerns and have agreed to their request for a meeting. This will allow us to discuss any issues relating to the BBC’s output.”
Mr Collins has not yet responded to a request for comment.