Declan McSweeney: The Trials of the International Local Journalist

May 19, 2023 00:54:57
Declan McSweeney: The Trials of the International Local Journalist
The Plastic Podcasts
Declan McSweeney: The Trials of the International Local Journalist

May 19 2023 | 00:54:57

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Show Notes

Declan McSweeney has over twenty five years experience as a local correspondent and writer on either side of the water. As a journalist with the Offaly Express he covered the disappearance – still unsolved – of Fiona Pender, before working both with the Romford Recorder and as a freelance columnist across England. He tells of the changes in regional press, the differences between Irish and English methods and the barriers now facing him and other European journalists when trying to report outside of London. Plus Mick Ord raises his Aunt Phyllis onto The Plastic Pedestal
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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:21 How you doing? I'm Doug Dni and you are listening to the Plastic Podcasts Tales of the Irish Diaspora. Did you miss us? We missed you, but let's not get too emotional. This is a grownup relationship between podcast and listener. No mushy stuff here. Nothing but chat and the facts. Pretty much the definition of local journalism, if you ask me. Speaking of which, our guest today has spent more than a quarter of a century engaged in that noble endeavor on either side of the water. Declan Mc Sweeney has served mostly on the provincial beats of awfully and romford chasing stories, interviewing past presidents, and bringing truth to power at local and national levels. Recently, however, Declan now a resident in Manchester, has found himself be calmed and stalled by a curious insistence on certain qualifications, an insistence that has implications for both his age and his Irishness. Now, for clarity, N C T J refers to the National College for the training of journalists. But we'll let Declan explain all that as we get straight to the point after a quick, how you doing? Speaker 2 00:01:29 <unk> Not too bad, dog. Not too bad. You Speaker 1 00:01:31 Approached me, what, around about a year ago, is it now? Speaker 2 00:01:34 I suppose it must be about that. Tell us more. Speaker 2 00:01:36 Well, I suppose what I'm trying to highlight is the barriers that are faced by Irish people in trying to find work in regional journalism as opposed to London journalism. Now I've often, because it's a distinction that many people miss because they'll often say, what about Amon Andrews? And what about End Brady? You know, these people that have done well for themselves in media here. But what they forget is that all those people were based in London, uh, where 65% of media jobs are. But if you take the rest of the country and you divide up all the towns and cities up with the number of jobs, the number in any given location is quite small. And the problem is that they're dominated by the regional newspapers. And the regional newspapers invariably insist on in C T J qualifications, and they don't get that Someone from the Republic will not have that qualification. So this is the problem that I've been trying to highlight for many years. I've written to many politicians, but nobody is really taking any interest in it. Speaker 1 00:02:41 So when did this dichotomy and lack of opportunity make itself known to you? Speaker 2 00:02:46 Well, I mean, as I say, I had worked in London, then I made, with hindsight, an <inaudible> had return to Ireland. I was working with a paper, another paper there, and I was barely back, but the economy crashed and I got paid redundant. So I returned to England in 2011, and, um, but I couldn't afford returning to London. So, um, I've been trying really ever since to get back into the, the regional media. But, um, as I say, this was one of the main issues I was facing. On top of that then was the fact that, uh, many newspapers are insisting on shorthand, and because I have mild cerebral palsy, I wouldn't be able to do shorthand. So that was yet another barrier. And then more generally, you know, what I'm hearing is that there is an age issue that, um, you know, most the chains are reluctant to take on people with experience. Speaker 1 00:03:44 If I may ask, how old are you? Speaker 2 00:03:46 63. It has been said to me that young people are cheaper, but then the jobs are looking for, I was looking for the same pay anyway. So I, I wouldn't see that as really the issue, but I think they feel that young people are more malleable, that they will do whatever the boss Hilton to do. If they see older people with experience, they feel that they're, that we're kind of set in our ways, and that they, the, if if your editor is 30 years younger than you, he's going to feel perhaps uneasy about dealing with a more experienced colleague. Speaker 1 00:04:21 So you're 63 now, which means, um, with a rough bit of mathematics. You were born around about Speaker 2 00:04:26 Nineteen sixty, nineteen fifty nine. Yeah. Yeah. Speaker 1 00:04:29 So where were you born? Speaker 2 00:04:31 Well, I, I grew up in Kok, in the Irish Midlands, you know, and, uh, I went to, went to school there, and then I was, went to university in Dublin, did a BA in history and economics and ma in history at University College, Dublin. Uh, then I entered journalism, and I was a reporter for over 18 years with a paper in awfully, which is now closed, the Awfully Express. And then later, as I say, I was in London for a bit, and I worked for the Rumford recorder, and then I was a sub editor with Associated Press. Speaker 1 00:05:01 Then what happened? Speaker 2 00:05:02 So, as I say, well, I, with hindsight made a big mistake to return to Ireland, thinking that I was going back to a more secure job, but the opposite was the case. I was barely back, but the economy crashed and it got very redundant. So Speaker 1 00:05:16 Give yourself some of your timeline there. So when did you start the job? In awfully? Speaker 2 00:05:19 1988. So Speaker 1 00:05:21 You read about 28, 29 then, and then you came across, uh, what year? Speaker 2 00:05:25 I was only then in, I was only in London for about year and a half then, you know, so, uh, it was basically a misunderstanding, I suppose, about the nature of job security in ap. And I, I, I got an impression the job was insecure, but her, now, now, there was no redundancies there afterwards, you know, Speaker 1 00:05:44 Then you, you went back to Ireland? Speaker 2 00:05:46 Yeah, 2008, and then that the year the economy crashed, you know, I was with Topic newspapers and <inaudible>, and then, as I say, it was only a couple of months there, but I got made redundant. Speaker 1 00:05:58 Was that a decision then to come back to England? Speaker 2 00:06:01 Yeah. But, um, in 2011 then, you know, Speaker 1 00:06:04 The predominant part of your journalist work has been in regional and local news. Yes, Speaker 2 00:06:08 That's right. Speaker 1 00:06:09 Is that something that you think is a, a preference on your part? Speaker 2 00:06:13 Um, well, you know, uh, I mean, I feel I would have a particular flare for it. I feel if I was, had been given the opportunity here, I could do it. Even the relatively short time I was with Rumford Recorder, I found, uh, I adapted quite quickly to that area, and I made contacts and I was able to get a handle on what was happening there. So I do feel, yeah, if I had been given that opportunity, say in the regional Center, that I could have done it. Um, but as I say, just wasn't to be. Um, I mean, I have, as I say, I have done other kinds of journalism. I have, as I say, been a subeditor for Global News with Associated Press, and I worked briefly then with about a few months with done SAR Media and Milton Keens worked subbing material on, on sport with them, you know? But I think all things being equal, I, I, I suppose I would've a particular aptitude for the, the regional journalism. Speaker 1 00:07:17 And you started journalism at 28? Speaker 2 00:07:19 Well, before, really, before that. I mean, I had been basically freelancing for a couple of years from the mid 1980s, uh, really after college. And then I worked for a year and a half on a temporary basis for another paper. And after the, after independent, I was, it was very understaffed, and I wasn't, it wasn't doing particularly well. So the Express was a new paper at the time. So I got in with them then to say it as it's since closed down with the, the decline of the newspaper industry. I mean, to put all that in context, like there were, in my area, there used to be three local papers at that stage, and now there's only one. So it shows you how the industry has gone down. You know, Speaker 1 00:08:04 Say we back to that period when you were basically freelancing and, and, and putting stuff out essentially on spec, I suppose. And even prior to that, had you always intended on being a writer of some kind, or a journalist of some kind? Speaker 2 00:08:16 I don't know that I, it was consciously there in my mind. It was something that sort of materialized after college. I think when I was younger, I thought I would become a teacher, but, uh, then I realized my, my handwriting was going to be a problem there. So I began thinking then, you know, that I, I, having studied history, that I had experienced writing reports and events and that I could put out use in, in journalism. So that's kind of how I got into it. Um, as I say, that was the mid 1980s I was starting. And the, the freelancing I was doing was mainly for the Awfully Express, which as I said, was a newspaper at the time. Uh, but I did get bits and pieces, international media from time to time. Speaker 1 00:09:05 Uh, did you specialize in anything, or was this just finally whatever stories you could Speaker 2 00:09:10 No, I mean, whatever coach, when I worked with Offley Express, I would say an average, uh, 40% of my week would be covering the law courts, because you're talking, you're looking at a day in there, and then you're, you're looking at another day then checking the court details and writing it up. And sometimes it would go into a third day. So that would, uh, I'd simply the, the dominant thing in the week. Um, I actually got a reference from, as a Soliciter, saying that my court of court were so accurate that he and his colleagues used them as a basis for appeals. Uh, but then I also covered politics. I covered business. I entered a weekly business section. I, I entered an education section. I covered religion, I covered the arts, you name it. Basically, I was doing everything by our sport. Uh, you know, I was covering, there was a number of other guys specializing in sport. So I did the, the general news, you know, Speaker 1 00:10:06 I was just wondering there, because you mentioned a little earlier that you didn't have shorthand and also that you mentioned that you didn't really trust your own handwriting. And there you are in courts, um, producing these remarkably accurate descriptions of, uh, of, of what was going on. How did you manage? Speaker 2 00:10:23 Well, you see, I, I mean, what I'm saying is, I could take the notes, but I knew other people wouldn't be able to read my writing. But I mean, I could read my own. I knew I couldn't be a teacher. Cause I knew the students wouldn't read my writing, say on the blackboard or whatever. Oh Speaker 1 00:10:35 God. That never stopped off of the teachers I had Speaker 2 00:10:38 <laugh>, I, I always found, developed my own form of shortage. You could say it, as I said, it did the trick. What Speaker 1 00:10:45 Were you like at school? Speaker 2 00:10:46 What was I like at school? In what way Speaker 1 00:10:49 Were you particularly studious? Were you sporting? Were you, it's like somebody that the academia came easy to, did you like school? Speaker 2 00:10:55 Yeah, I, I did. I certainly, I did like school and I would've been very much academic. I was nicknamed a professor, and, um, yeah, I would've been one of the top students there in my secondary school. Speaker 1 00:11:08 And was that a particularly a big school? Speaker 2 00:11:10 No, not back then. It would've been a relatively small school. It was all boys and, um, it was the only odd boys school in <inaudible>. And, um, but I got on, well, I must say, like, which the bulk of my classmates, you know. Speaker 1 00:11:22 And you mentioned that you so history and did Speaker 2 00:11:25 History and economics in the ba then I did an MA in history. Were Speaker 1 00:11:29 These things that you liked at school? Speaker 2 00:11:30 Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I, I think, um, particularly those subject plus, I liked the languages also, you know, English, Irish, French, uh, Speaker 1 00:11:38 Did you have any brothers or sisters? Speaker 2 00:11:40 I'm the youngest of five. Um, my eldest brother died nine years ago, and, um, they now have two other brothers and a sister. Speaker 1 00:11:48 Were they also professorial? Speaker 2 00:11:50 Yeah, I mean, one of the brothers actually did become a professor down in, uh, a university near London. And he's, he's been in a couple of different universities now. And Speaker 1 00:11:59 What is it your parents did? Speaker 2 00:12:01 Uh, my mother was at home full-time. Of course, uh, that was the norm for women in those days. But, uh, my father worked in, I suppose you could describe it as educational management, you know, in terms of recruitment of teachers and that type of thing. Yeah, I mean, he had been the teacher himself then when he was younger, and he sort of progressed from that to more managerial role. Speaker 1 00:12:23 So you got to, to university Speaker 2 00:12:26 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, university, college, Dublin, U C D as we call it, for short. Did you enjoy it? Yeah, I mean, it was, uh, I suppose it was a big change being away from home for the first time. And, um, it did take some time to get used to it. I mean, I think with hindsight, the one thing I would've done differently is probably with the BA course, I probably would, if I was going over it again, I wouldn't have done the economics part for the pa I liked the history. I didn't really like the economics much at that level. I had studied politics in the first year as a subsidiary subject, and I was given a choice. And about hindsight, probably should have taken politics in the degree course, you know, but, but socially, I mean, you know, I got on okay with the other students. I mean, it was, um, but I was very much a studious person, you know, I wasn't really involved in any societies or anything in the, at university. It was a couple of years later, really before I, I mean, I had a couple of temporary jobs here and there, but, um, it was a couple years later before I started really into, into journalism. Speaker 1 00:13:40 You're listening to the plastic podcasts. We all come from somewhere else. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Declan mc Sweeney's Life as a journalist has seen the nature of reporting, whether local or global change, almost beyond recognition. Garner the days of Hot Ink and hold the front page before we discuss those changes. And his current situation, I take him back to the early days. Speaker 2 00:14:07 Well, as I say, when I was freelancing Act, it was those days, it was manual typewriter. So you just type up the articles and hand them, and then I would go into the office and hand them into a reporter there. And that's how it was done those days. It was bef before the computers came on stream. Speaker 1 00:14:26 So how did you feel when you first got your first byline? Speaker 2 00:14:29 Eh, well, it was, of course, it was a, it was a great feeling. It seems such a long time ago now, you know, but, um, I think the very, actually, the very first piece I got was into the Irish Times in 1985. It was a piece about, um, the legacy of the Hugo Refugees in the Midlands and speaking to some of their descendants about, you know, what ancestry meant to them and so on. You know, that seems such a long time ago. I suppose I, I more conscious of what happened after I became a staff report or, you know, um, things were more straightforward at that stage because you were covering, as I say, on the courts to cover on a regular basis. Then I was also covering the council meetings a lot, county council, town council, and various public bodies like that. And all that took up the big slice of my week. So you were making contacts and, um, you know, but I always got good feedback. And, um, I've got to say, I've got references from not just this solicitor, but various other people about the accuracy of my coverage of those parties. Speaker 1 00:15:36 And what about other reporters at the time? Uh, sorry, what kind of backgrounds did they come from? Speaker 2 00:15:41 Um, the first journalist really, that I worked with in on a, on a full-time basis really was a man called Eddie Rogers. He's deceased now, now, I mean, Eddie had been doing it part-time. Uh, initially he, he worked in a local factory and he would cover sports events at the weekends, and then gradually became full-time. Certainly, I think none of the early journalists I worked with had ever done any formal courses. They all learned on the job as it were. Now, over time, it became more common to find people who had been to journalism colleges, but I would say probably majority of journalists overall that I worked with did not do any courses in it, Speaker 1 00:16:26 Lou, so they came from a variety of different backgrounds than I presume? Speaker 2 00:16:30 Yeah, some came straight from secondary school. Others had been to university. We had done degrees and other things, you know, I mean, for example, Paul Rouse was a guy I worked with for about a year and a half after Eddie Rogers retired. Now, Paul had done somewhat similar background to myself in some ways. He had done a history degree as well. Now, then he went back to university and to do a doctorate. And he ended up then becoming a history professor in U C D. But he still does a bit of part-time writing. He does, uh, columns for one of the Irish newspapers, mainly in relation to sport. Speaker 1 00:17:10 You said you were in off Leaf for how long there? Speaker 2 00:17:13 Well, as I say, I was most of my life really. I mean, I was, as I said, the awfully express I was over 18 years there, you know, Speaker 1 00:17:21 You decided to move across to England after that point? Speaker 2 00:17:24 Yeah. Speaker 1 00:17:25 When you came across and you said you were working in Romford, was that relatively easy? I mean, we're talking about the, the difficulty the Irish reporters without the, the kind of N Ct J qualification have now in order to find out, was that, was that relatively easy to get the work then? Speaker 2 00:17:38 Yeah, it was no problem. Uh, that's why I say there's a, there is a difference between London and the rest of the country. I mean, I, I would still, I'd have contacts, but a number of Irish journalists who are based in London, and none of them have N Ctk, whereas you go outside the Capitol, it's a completely different ballgame. To the best of my knowledge, there's only one person from the Republic working in regional newspapers. That's a man working in Wales. But with the Rumford recorder, no, there was no problem. Um, and as I say, you know, I got to know that area. It was, um, basically the borough of Havering. So there was the three areas. Those was Romford itself. There was Upminster and Horn Church, and, uh, I was covering all those areas, got to know some of the mps and, uh, some of the local counselors and people involved in various community groups there, you know. Speaker 1 00:18:37 And had you applied to many papers before getting Rumford? Speaker 2 00:18:40 It happened pretty quickly after arriving in England, what are called was very, very soon after, within a couple of weeks. Was Speaker 1 00:18:48 Irishness an issue? Speaker 2 00:18:49 No, as I said, it wasn't a problem as, that's what I'm saying, like in London, that never seemed to be an issue. Um, and then later on when I worked with ap, that was run by Americans, and you were working with people from literally all over the world, you know, you were look working with people from every one of the continents. Um, but it, it was a completely different mindset. In London, you, you sensed they were, the industry there was very much open to accepting people from different backgrounds and so on. But then you've got to say, you go into the region papers as a taught much more rigid mindset about who they can employ. Speaker 1 00:19:38 So from wrong thread through to the Associated Press, and then mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you made what you call this ill-fated decision to, to head back to Ireland. Was that, to go back to family? Was there a nostalgic reason for that? Speaker 2 00:19:50 No, as I say, I just got into my head that the job in AP wasn't safe. Now, as I say, I know with hindsight it was, but it was, you know, I misread the signals there. Speaker 1 00:20:01 You mentioned that your brother, or is also in academia, uh, in this country, had, had much of your family moved across to England at that point? Speaker 2 00:20:07 He's over here most of his life. The, then the eldest brother who's now deceased, he, um, he was over here too for long. He was here for about, um, oh, he was over 30 years here. And then he, he moved back to Sligo and her wife was from there. But they, they were to very much regret that decision. I think they, they themselves were very sorry. They didn't stay here for a lot of reasons, particularly the cost of healthcare over there compared to, to having the nhs. Um, um, you know, but they, then they sort of, they got a residence in Northern Ireland as well. So they were able to sort of benefit from it to some extent there. Speaker 1 00:20:57 And obviously, like you say, it's, it's bad timing, yet you come back to come back to Ireland and it's the, the, the crash of the Celtic Tiger mm-hmm. Speaker 2 00:21:03 <affirmative>. But on top of that though, that, yes, it was the collapse of the county Tiger. But while the overall Irish economy has recovered since the newspaper industry has certainly not recovered, I mean, I know two of my old colleagues there, one of them took nine years to get a staff job. I know it took 13 years. So that's how dire it is. You know, Speaker 1 00:21:26 People have noted that the, what's called Dead Tree Press is essentially under the decline, given the availability of, of online reporting and 24 hour news and so forth. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, do you think there's something being lost that way? Speaker 2 00:21:40 Yes. I mean, I have, personally, I've tried, you know, to keep up my skills as much as possible. And I, I have a lot of experience on the online writing, but, um, I don't think that a lot of the media have become more distant from the readers. Um, you know, and that's something that I would find very hard to take in compared to what my experience is. I mean, I remember reading an account of one newspaper saying, A journalist will be in such a place on certain day week. And, uh, readers may call and see him at that on that day now. Whereas to me, I was accessible to readers every day, you know, and people just physically walked in and spoke to me. Uh, so it's a, it's a very different ballgame, you know? Speaker 1 00:22:34 So you think the local prices is much part of the community as it is part of journalism? Speaker 2 00:22:39 It was. In those days. Nowadays, you're seeing situations where newspaper offices are often 40, 50 miles away from the communities that they're supposed to be writing about. So there's no way the journalists will really know anything about those places. You know, they're oftentimes, they're copying and pasting stuff from social media, and they're no real feel for the areas that they're writing about. Speaker 1 00:23:01 It's what they're called churn, isn't it? Speaker 2 00:23:03 That's it. So, you know, I mean, I don't know what the solution is. I mean, it's, there just seems to be an unwillingness to invest in the industry. I mean, I was reading an article there a while ago about, um, cause during the Strike by Reaff, and, and somebody was quoted as saying like, he has to work from home most of the time, and if he wants to go out and the store, the enter is begrudge him the time, saying, we can't afford that. But with that kind of mentality means he, he never gets to know the readers. He doesn't know what makes the readers think. He, he, he, you know, he, if you're not actually physically sitting down and having a cup of tea with a reader, you don't know what's going through their head unless you're in actually going into their house and sitting with them in their kitchen. You know, how are you going to know what motivates them? Speaker 1 00:23:53 Going back to the comparison between Romford and Awfully, in many ways, did you feel that you were doing much the same sort of thing in both those situations? Speaker 2 00:24:00 Broadly, broadly speaking, you, you know what I mean? In one sense, perhaps I was, was long enough I suppose there to really answer that fully. But I said at the same time, I was long enough to, as I say, get the feel of what the various community groups were doing and, um, you know, to hear concerns that people would have. And I mean, I remember for example, doing a story about the St. Francis Hospice there, and they were having a, there was a golf classic, you know, to raise funds for it and things like that. Stick in your mind, Speaker 1 00:24:35 You said that you were available to members of the community for pretty much all the time. Did you get many stories that way? Speaker 2 00:24:40 Yes. I mean, people would literally come up to you if they saw you in the supermarket and then, then, and then tell you, I have a story about such a thing. And I said, like, right, I'll give you a shout. You know, you could be standing behind someone in the queue for the, the checkout talking to them. And then you get their stories that way. The two, I suppose I am thinking particularly about that situation about, as I mentioned, supermarket Qs. I do remember, and I remember the date very clearly, it was 1994 talking to the lady in front of me in the queue. And she had escaped from the genocide in Rwanda, uh, with her Irish husband. So I went out and interviewed her, and of course it was very shocking hearing about how her mother had been raped and murdered and how a number of her siblings had been massacred. And then how her niece then later on, when there was a sequel later on, her lease was found alive in a heap of dead bodies. And they were able to get her then over to Ireland through, uh, her brother-in-law was a police officer there, and they had connections there and so on. So, you know, very grim stuff. But, um, it's striking how a conversation is Overmarket q can give rise to that. You, Speaker 1 00:26:07 And was there an essential difference you found between, say, local journalism in Ireland and in England? Speaker 2 00:26:15 I think perhaps there's a little bit more emphasis in Ireland on being sensitive to the families. Eh, safe point. There's a tragedy involved. The one thing I found very hard to get around my head around, I didn't personally experience it, I didn't have to do it myself, but I've heard about it from others, is the notion of the death watch. The idea that you call to the homes of somebody who was, say that someone in a road accident or whatever, we would never Dr. Have dreamt of that in Ireland. It would be unthinkable. Uh, but here the idea seems to be that you must do it because if you don't, you're a competitor will do it. Um, I mean, the way we would've approached it, if there was a tragic death like that, we would be talking to the undertakers and talking to neighbors and, you know, other people, but not to the immediate family. And now in some cases, it could be that family members might approach us themselves and say something, but if they made, that was fine. If they made the approach, we wouldn't have approached them. Cause we were just regarded that as insensitive. Speaker 1 00:27:29 Would that be because local news is possibly more local? Speaker 2 00:27:33 Yes. You know, because, you know, you kind of know these people are your neighbors and you're going to be meeting them anyway, and you don't want to offend them. You know, as I say, I didn't personally have to get involved in, in doing that myself. It was just something that I was, was told about by others, you know. Speaker 1 00:27:49 So were there any particular differences for you? Speaker 2 00:27:52 Not, not dramatic, you know, I mean, I, I did maybe a trivial enough thing, but we were much more formally dressed at work here. You know, here, I remember in, in the Ranford corridor, basically you wore a suit and tie, whereas, you know, I was used to an Ireland to wearing jeans and things. It was much more sort of laid back that way, which you had to be very much more professional in your appearance here, I Speaker 1 00:28:20 Suppose you're kind of not so much being part of a community as representing a, an office. Speaker 2 00:28:26 Yes, yes. Yeah. I mean, I was mistaken on occasions for, I remember that time I went to the inquest, I was mistaken for an insurance official. Uh, and another occasion I was mistaken for a Jehovah Witness preacher. So we get all kinds of things when they see you dressed in a suit and tie. Speaker 1 00:28:53 We'll be back with Declan Mc Sweeney in just a moment. But first it's time for the Plastic Pedestal, that part of the podcast where I ask one of my interviewees to discuss a member of the diaspora of personal, cultural, or political significance to them. In keeping with this episode's journalistic theme, Mick Ad of Mick Ad Media pays a very personal tribute. Speaker 3 00:29:16 I'm thinking my Aunt Phyllis, one of the things I've always said to young reporters or people in any profession is you might be going in one direction, but keep your eye out cuz something might come along that is actually a better road to go. And when I was trying to trace my mother, I was thinking, well, we might end up having a great relationship, and I might have brothers and sisters that she'll introduce me to, and her husband might be thinking, oh, you know, I've got a new son, um, and she'd take me to Ireland and take me around the, where she was brought up and take me to America. And of course, none of that happened. It didn't happen like that, you know, we didn't really have any meaningful conversation of any, of any length. But what I got out of it was me, uh, my auntie, we are so close, we're very, very similar. Speaker 3 00:30:17 What boot? She's, she's read, I just, I just can't come up with books. And she, she's read them, you know, and she can tell you about them, and she doesn't wear their learning on a sleeve like a lot of people. And when she came over to Liverpool, I took around the Walker Art Gallery, and she knows a lot about art. And then there was only one painting that she said, oh, I can't remember what it was really, Doug, but it does, it doesn't matter. And she was just explaining. She said, well, look at the way he's painted that woman's dress there. See the way the FOLs. And I'd never have never have appreciated that in me life. Um, she was very religious. She was, well, she was a nun. And then she stopped being a nun and she taught in New York and she became a librarian in New York. Speaker 3 00:31:07 And not so long ago, she was one of the librarians at the American Irish Library there. And she was doing some sorting one day, and she opened a book and she found a handwritten letter by Wolf Tone, you know, that is now in the archive somewhere. So she, you know, she made a lot out of her life. I g I was trying to get a relationship with me mother and ended up getting one with her far richer than I would've had with Joan. And it's, it's something which has really means so much to me from not just, um, an emotional point of view, but a cultural point of view as well. You know, um, what she achieved, what kind of person she is. She welcomed me into the family, as it were, as far as she could. I've, now I've got, uh, I, I've got cousins in California, I've got other cousins in Ireland. There's one other person who I've got to meet in Ireland as well. <laugh>, let's see about that. Um, and this was all because, mainly because of her. So for, from all, all kinds of reasons, I would say that she is the best example of someone in the Irish diaspora who means so much to me and always will do Speaker 1 00:32:34 Mick OT there with a tribute to his late Aunt Phyllis. And if you want to hear more of what Mick has to say, and to find out who else he met in Ireland, why not listen to his entire interview? The easiest way is to go to our website, www.plasticpodcasts.com, click on the episodes page, find Mick's interview, and listen to both your hearts and your ears content. The interview is also available on Spotify, apple Podcasts and Audible. However, while you are at our website, www.plasticpodcasts.com, why not subscribe to the whole darn thing? Simply go to our homepage, scroll to the bottom, insert your details in the space provided, and one email, click later, the entire plastic loot of the world shall be yours. And now back to Declan Mc Sweeney, after the largest part of 25 years on the beat in Awfully and Romford, as well as as a freelance writer, Declan has had his journalistic career stymied by a lack of NCT J qualification, despite the NCT j's own warnings about what they call the ization of the press. I wonder if he thinks there's a chance of him pounding that beat once more. Speaker 2 00:33:48 Realistically, at this stage, I don't see it happening. Um, bo I would like to sit, make sure that no one else goes through. You know, what I have, I think that's what I would say. I would want to see a situation that the industry, and I'm talking particularly about the beach, the three big regional chains reach Newsquest and national world, where they would have a serious discussion about the criteria that they use to recruit people. And, you know, I mean, one thing I I, I remember the, the then president, it really sickened me, was the then president of the Society of Editors at the time of the Harry and Meghan controversy. He said, we hold them powerful to account. And I said to myself, there's no one holding them to account. There's no willingness on the part of the industry to answer questions themselves about why they recruit certain kinds of people and don't recruit other kinds of people, you know, and why their advancements are phrased in a certain way. Speaker 2 00:34:57 And, you know, there's no willingness on their part to reflect on how the criteria that they use to approve has the result of excluding large categories of people. They're just not willing to talk about that. But you look at the ads and you'll see in most cases, the ads will say things about N CT J or equivalent. Now the question is how do you define equivalent? And that's the $64,000 question, given that Ireland doesn't have an equivalent of the nct J you know, it, it sort of makes it academic. Now, I am told that at the moment that there are discussions taking place between the N C T J and some of the Irish journalism training schools about how to recognize Irish experience. But I'm told that it's likely to be a very prolonged process. I reckon I'll probably be in my grave before they actually get her out to doing anything about it. Speaker 2 00:35:54 And I would think, I mean, what they're saying is that Irish training is more academic in its nature, and that the British approach is more practical giving. The example they give is the aforementioned death watch. Uh, whereas that the Irish approach is more into like writing essays about the nature of journalism and so on. But, and it has been said to me that for that, that was the reason why the N C T J closed down the Dublin office years ago. But, you know, if all that is the case, all the more reason then quite, they should recognize the practical experience that's already been gained. Speaker 1 00:36:37 When we prepared for this interview, you sent them across an article about a French journalist who was having similar problems. Yes, Speaker 2 00:36:45 Indeed. So I think it's not just Irish people having this problem. Um, you know, this is what that lady Camille Dubon was writing about, uh, you know, about editors assuming that she's not able to speak English even, even though she can. And likewise, you know, I see what people from Germany and from Bulgaria and various countries having similar problems, there're just seems to be an unwillingness and the parts of the editors to think outside the box and to consider that someone from outside, as it were, could have a contribution to make. Speaker 1 00:37:20 I hesitate to ask the question because it become cliche after a while. Do you think this is a consequence of Brexit? Speaker 2 00:37:26 I, no, I think it was there already long before Brexit. Speaker 1 00:37:29 You think it might have been reinforced? Speaker 2 00:37:32 It's probably reinforced. I right though it probably is reinforced. No, no doubt about it or not. What I would also say incidentally, uh, that what does disappoint me also is the lack of interest in this subject on the part of organization's concerned with the Irish and Britain. Uh, I've been trying to draw this to their attention, uh, you know, groups like Irish and Britain, and they're just not taking any interest. And like the, the two main newspapers for the Irish committee, the Irish Post and the Irish world, again, the lack of interest in the subject and their part in something that would disappoint me very much. Speaker 1 00:38:13 What is it that you would like to see? Speaker 2 00:38:15 There's two things. I suppose what I would ideally like to see is a root and branch reform of the criteria that the industry uses to recruit journalists. Uh, I would like to see a situation where they would, before they publish an advertisement for a job, they would ask themselves, who are we excluding by publishing this ad? Are we phrasing this ad in such a way that it excludes people who have experience? Um, and you know, there's a whole range of ways that they exclude people, whether because of their age, because of their nationality, because disability, whole lot of things, uh, in which job advertisements are phrased to exclude people. So I would like to see them putting a lot more emphasis on how can we include people. And while it might seem very extreme, I would ask, actually ask them to suggest that they get someone on the queue in the job center to write their job ads for them. Speaker 1 00:39:28 You mentioned age as well as a mm-hmm. <affirmative> potential disadvantage too, being employed as a, as a, as a journalist. Do you think age is an advantage? Speaker 2 00:39:35 Sometimes? I, I do. I mean, I do think, and, and I've said this, but I've never, they never seem to listen that if you take on an older person, they will stay in the job. If you take on a young person, they could very well be gone in six months. I mean, I've read so many accounts of people who've got senior editorial roles, and they literally are gone to another job within a few months. If you appoint an older person, you're not going to have that worry. Speaker 1 00:40:05 Are you still right? Speaker 2 00:40:06 I do some pieces. I don't get paid for it. Like, um, I get a number published on a Belfast website called Slugger Ro Tool, and, uh, I've had maybe seven or eight articles published with them in the last year or so. I have written about, uh, such things as, you know, recounting my own experiences in journalism in terms of covering, I did a piece about my experience of covering the child abuse cases when this began to come out in a big way in Ireland in the 1990s, and how, you know, it was something that was very much hidden in society before that, and the effects of bringing it all out into the open. Um, now following on from that, then, uh, just shortly before last Christmas, I shared on Facebook, um, an article that had appeared in the Irish Times about Ill treatment of schoolgirls in the past. And when I shared it, I was amazed that a dozen women commented about their experiences in their own school days. And I wrote, wrote an article sort of drawing their experiences together and got that published on the website, you know, um, a written, I suppose most of them have been in some way or other related to my memories. Uh, uh, I'm drawing on from that, you know, Speaker 1 00:41:43 You're an educated man with a degree, uh, in history and economics, and yet there is something about journalism that obviously seems to call to you. What do you think that is? First Speaker 2 00:41:52 Of all, I liked the writing itself. I liked reporting on the events, but I also, I liked the interaction with people, you know, hearing their stories, whether the stories be good or bad. Uh, I liked to hear the stories and the, you got a sense of satisfaction that you could by giving a sympathetic ear and then putting those stories in writing that you were helping them, whether it be in relation to their joys or their sorrows. I mean, I, I know of people, for example, who told me afterwards that they kept copies of obituaries I wrote on their parents or whoever died, belong to 'em because they liked the style that had summed up the character of the deceased person in the obituary. And that had, you know, brought them consolation. So that gave me satisfaction. Speaker 1 00:42:50 Is that a sense of belonging or a sense of giving, Speaker 2 00:42:54 I suppose It's a bit of bot, isn't it? You know, Speaker 1 00:43:04 You're listening to the plastic podcasts, tales of the Irish Diaspora Times change, and local journalism, whether print, radio, television or online is hardly immune to that alteration. Declan Mc Sweeney is a realist. He's not looking to turn back the clock, but he still has a faith in the local press and a hope for his part in it. I wonder what it is that motivates him. For example, would he call himself a socially conscious individual? Speaker 2 00:43:32 I would, I would be very much someone who would be very much conscious of, uh, you know, issues around poverty and deprivation. And I would take a very close interest in those kind of matters, you know, and I, I would be very much, um, you know, a believer in trying to, um, how would I put this to you in, you know, backing groups that would seek to unite rather than to divide people, you know? I mean, another example where Larkin did that was the, um, you know, I mean the Jewish community in Dublin then was still relatively new, but, uh, you know, he, he, he was, he did pay a tribute to the support like that they had given, uh, to people at the time when many people were, were finding things hard. And, um, again, there were some who sought to sort of make the escape court, but he was having none of that, you know, I'm wondering if those are the, those are the stories that you tried to pursue when you were writing for, for local press? Speaker 2 00:44:38 I mean, I think that I would have, um, you know, be, I, I I would've thought to reach out to, you know, different groups in society. And, um, you know, there were always, um, I suppose divisions of one kind or another between various groups, you know, particularly at times, I mean, the travelers and the settle people. And I dealt a lot quite closely, like with the organizations working with the travelers and, uh, you know, help them to sort of express their concerns, I suppose. Um, and the same time, it was a difficult balancing act because you also knew that there were sometimes residents in areas nearby who also their concerns. So you had to kind of listen to all sides, I suppose, and enable people to have their say, but try and do it in a way that would not inflame tensions, you know, to do it in a, in a balanced way. Um, and then, uh, you know, likewise, you know, coverage of various referendums and so on in Ireland, which were quite controversial at the time, and again, we were commended for balanced coverage and trying to avoid inflaming tensions. Um, I mean, I had close contact, as I mentioned earlier, in passing about coverage of religious matters. You know, I would hardly sought to cover at that time all the different denominations. And, uh, it was something I kind of went out my way to do, you know. And what's the story you're most proud of? Speaker 2 00:46:34 I mean, I think that the one story which I, I don't know if prouder was the right word to use, but the one certainly that attracted most attention was in 1997. It was a year after the disappearance of a local woman, Fiona Pender, who was a hairdresser who went missing when she was seven months pregnant. Now, it was, you know, the actual story of the disappearance. I was covering it on an ongoing basis. Um, now the, there was, her boyfriend was already seen as the main suspect, but he initially refused to speak to the media. But then to my amazement, a year after she went missing, he agreed to speak to me, and I sat in his van. He had a written statement prepared. I spent an hour and a half with him, but I went on, obviously to ask him all kinds of questions. And, um, it was picked up on by a lot of national media, and I was interviewed on television about the story. Um, now, unfortunately, all these years later, the case has never been solved, and he has moved to Canada. But, um, you know, I'm just saying at the time, that was the most high profile story that I had. Speaker 1 00:48:12 What's the best result you think you ever got from the story? Speaker 2 00:48:15 You know, I mean, I think I mentioned there earlier about, uh, the travelers. Uh, I know there was a, a perception, let's say, at times, that they felt they were being excluded from some of the local sports clubs. And I did some stories in relation to that, and it appears to have helped, you know, break down barriers that they were able to join those clubs. And, um, it does seem to have achieved, you know, what, what, in a sense, I suppose what they wanted, you know? And it, it did seem to bring people together there. Speaker 1 00:49:00 Where was that? Speaker 2 00:49:03 In, uh, in <inaudible>, Toni Moore. Speaker 1 00:49:05 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And what's life like now? Speaker 2 00:49:09 You know, you get on with it, you know, but, um, there is always a certain sadness, I suppose, there that I wasn't given that opportunity back in 2011 to resume journalism at that point, you know? Speaker 1 00:49:26 Do you think that as an Irish reporter in, in, uh, England, that you offer maybe an outside voice? Speaker 2 00:49:38 Yeah, I mean, I, I think maybe I look at some things. I mean, you mentioned obviously the Brexit issue of the example, but more generally, uh, there, there are various issues which I suppose I'd be looking at, perhaps from a somewhat different perspective. Um, because sometimes if you're too close to a situation, you're not always looking at it objectively. Um, and I mean, one of the things that has struck me to take a quite a different example is I'm quite shocked really by how badly a lot of the police forces here have handled issues around child abuse. Uh, that they're only learning stuff now that was beginning to be discussed in Ireland nearly 30 years ago. It's like, there's only suddenly catching up with it now and lacking a basic knowledge of what it's all about. Um, so that, that, you know, that's o one thing that would certainly strike me, that I feel the lessons that I saw that were learned over there, um, you know, it's something I'd say, you know, if I would've been, say, had been covering such cases here, I would know what questions to ask police forces about, about these matters. You know, what Speaker 1 00:51:18 Would those questions be? Speaker 2 00:51:20 Well, I'd be asking officers, for example, um, where why do they assume that young girls who are having sex with older men are sex workers? Why do they not, why does they not come into their head that they're victims? Why do they not think about the, the fact that the responsibilities and the older person, the person who's over the age of consent, why have they not given any thought to that? And, you know, why have they not thought about the fact that instability in a family situation can make them more vulnerable to abuse? Speaker 1 00:52:07 Do you read local newspapers anymore? Speaker 2 00:52:10 Um, well, I, so some, I mean, I, I do follow a lot of the Manchester Evening news stories online. Well, I, you know, and, uh, some of, some others, some of the surrounding areas. And, um, I do follow some of the local sites, you know, Speaker 1 00:52:29 And I suppose the last question, under normal circumstances, I would say to ask something along the lines of, what's it like to be a member of the I F D ASRA in this country for you, et cetera. But I suppose what of the, what I want to probably ask is, what do you think the prospects are for Irish journalists in England or in Britain? Speaker 2 00:52:46 I mean, just to come back to your first question, then I'll answer the second. I mean, I, I would say, and, you know, I think it's important that I say that I've never encountered any hostility from, you know, the ordinary person here, uh, quite the country. You know, people are very much, uh, full of conversation about, uh, family ties to Ireland or about holidays they spent there, or whatever connections they have over there. So it's not an issue with the average person. But in terms of, uh, the situation for Irish journalists, um, as I said, there doesn't seem to, to be any willingness on the part of the industry to acknowledge that there is a problem. I did correspond with one editor of, uh, a national paper who actually did say to me that she, that it had never occurred to her that, that, that this would affect Irish people. And she did say herself that she thought the industry should be looking at providing training for migrants instead of excluding them because of not having British qualifications. But she's about the only one that's actually said that to me, generally speaking. Um, they're just trying to avoid the subject. The only way I think this will, it'll ever change is by political action, by by being forced to change. And the current government is not willing to address it. Whether a neighbor, government in the future would address it as another is work. Speaker 1 00:54:21 You've been listening to the Plastic Podcasts Tales of the Irish dra, with me, Doug Devan, and my guest, DLA mc Sweeney. The Plastic Pedestal was provided by Mick h and Music by Jack Devaney. Find [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or email us at the plastic podcasts gmail.com. The Plastic Podcasts is a proud member of Irish in Britain.

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