Terry Prone: In 50 years, nobody stopped Eoghan Harris. That's our shame, not his

10th May 2021
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Originally published in The Irish Examiner

Day 211

A client working for a multi-national who has to attend four Zoom meetings a day with zero chance of being called on to contribute confessed she’s taken to doing her 10,000 steps during the first of those meetings, listening as she goes but not visible onscreen.

Day 212

The EU hasn’t distinguished itself thus far in relation to vaccinations. Speedy development of a simple vaccine passport could redress the balance.

Day 213

I hear a chirping. Like a bird in distress. Inside my home. Accompanied by the triumphant bellowing of a cat with prey. Rushing out into the main room, I encounter the rear view of Dino, who is settling down to a repast. Without registering one crucial detail, I kick him with a socked foot, yelling profanities at him. He is affronted by this, moving away but not far and gazing at me with concentrated enmity. The detail I missed was a long tail. No feathers. Just the kind of long tail you get on an oversized rat. I panic that the rat may attack the socked foot with which I kicked Dino, but the rodent doesn’t seem to have any attack left in him. I apologise to Dino and invite him to get on with the meal I interrupted. He gives me a long “that’ll teach you” look and exits, leaving the rat as my problem.

Day 214

Bill and Melinda Gates put out a statement to the effect that they can no longer grow together. Grow together? Ah, lads. Why don’t the rich simply say “we’ve gone off each other”?

Day 215

My colleague, Robyn, sends a copy of Boys Don’t Cry by Fiona Scarlett with a tiny note marveling at this being a debut novel. She’s right.

Day 216

Overnight, Alan English, the editor of the Sunday Independent, has canned Eoghan Harris.

It’s taken a long, long time. When I was a teenage freelance journalist and broadcaster, Harris, then an RTÉ producer, became a legend during a series of “sit-ins” within the national station. My print boss at the time was the wonderful Mary Kenny, and, at a meeting in her office in the defunct Irish Press on Burgh Quay, I listened to her accurately describing Harris as a brilliant, charismatic leader. One of the volunteers over in the TV block in Donnybrook, sitting in as a protest, was my radio producer, Howard Kinlay, already under a management cloud for left-wing activism.

Worried for Howard, I told Mary, in front of the other freelances on her team, that Eoghan Harris was a ruthless demagogue who never considered the possibility that he might be wrong about anything, a man who didn’t care about his followers, leading the naive into danger yet somehow never suffering, in career terms, himself.

The silence that greeted this blurt was, I thought, more reverential than the comment actually deserved. Until Mary drew a deep breath, nodded at one of the other hacks present, and said: “You do know, don’t you, that Anne is Eoghan’s wife?” Of course, I hadn’t, and, of course, it’s impossible to apologise satisfactorily for something you’ve said when you believe every word to be true. What small potential had ever existed for Anne Harris and me to be friends died right there.

Nobody ever stopped him

I wasn’t particularly clever in my teens and I mention what I said then not in schadenfreude but to wonder why, in the half-century afterward, until Alan English, nobody ever stopped Eoghan Harris.

Harris survived and succeeded like the Hydra in Greek mythology. The Hydra had an endless supply of heads, which, until Hercules outwitted it, made it unkillable. Same with Harris, unique in his transient energetic commitment to political parties including, at different times, Labour, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and unionists. Fine Gael was badly burned by his tasteless, unfunny, ard fheis skit starring Twink. The party leader of the day had to apologise for that skit at some length. Harris, never. In fact, he found a way to blame Fine Gael for the disaster.

As the Sunday Times noted yesterday, Harris for 20 years denied his secret membership of the Workers’ Party, threatening to sue anybody likely to say otherwise. His political loyalties might shift. His modus operandi, never.

His key instrument was the unstoppable monologue. Some politicians at the receiving end worked out that the payoff for humouring him could be a positive mention in his Sunday Independent column. The currency was attention. Give him that, and approval flowed from him. His prime need is to be validated, whether as a commentator, screenwriter, or adviser to politicians. So bottomless is the pit of his neediness, it’s no surprise he ended up on Twitter praising himself for oratory, literacy, singing, and heroism.

Most commentators, when RTÉ stops ringing them, know — if they’re realistic — the station a) thinks they’ve become predictable, or b) finds them a temperamental pain in the arse to deal with. Not so Harris. He used the Sunday Independent and — as we now know — his pseudonymous Twitter account for the same purpose: To rail against his absence from the airwaves as being attributable to RTÉ being in the pocket of Sinn Féin.
Insight? None.

It’s crazy someone could kid themselves they’d assuage the anxieties of the disaffected Northern Ireland working class through a Twitter account with fewer than 2,000 followers. It’s crazy to insult this paper’s Aoife Moore in such crude terms that she needed the help of gardaí and a counsellor to cope with it. (And, don’t forget, the account impugned Aoife’s journalistic standards as well as laying twisted sexuality on her.)

It’s crazy that a man with half a page to himself every week in our biggest Sunday newspaper would repeatedly speak of himself as having no platform.

It’s crazy he and some other anonymous old persons would set up and use eight sock puppet Twitter accounts so ineptly. (The word ‘tribal’ is a giveaway. Harris always uses it to smear people he disagrees with.) It’s crazy that, having been discovered, fired, and exposed, he would still think he would win by going on RTÉ’s Drivetime to be interviewed by someone who’d been Tweet-abused by him. It’s even crazier that, when Sarah McInerney instanced this abuse, he basically told her it was all right because she was a strong presenter.

This is parallel universe stuff. But it has worked. For 50 years, Harris built a career out of duplicity, force of personality, lack of insight, flashes of creativity widely separated from each other, frenzied self-regard, and sheer uncaring nastiness to others. Anybody who’s come into contact with him could see him for what he was. And is.
Because he has never changed.

But in half a century, nobody stopped him. Nobody stopped him. That’s our shame. Not his.

Day 217

I am twice blessed. Or at least, as of yesterday, twice vaccinated. Oh, the places I’ll go! If they ever open up, that is.