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Unquiet Graves: TD Flanagan writes to RTE about 'dubious' documentary on Glenanne Gang

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A still from the new documentary Unquiet Graves

A still from the new documentary Unquiet Graves

A still from the new documentary Unquiet Graves

A former Irish justice minister has said the documentary Unquiet Graves - broadcast recently on RTE - was based on “dubious” testimony of a convicted murder and asked what due diligence the broadcaster made before it was aired.

Laois TD Charlie Flanagan said he did not believe the documentary was objective, fair minded and balanced and questioned if RTE bosses were aware of how it was funded.

He has written to RTE director of programming outlining his concerns over the decision to show the documentary, which alleges how the so-called loyalist Glenanne Gang murdered 120 civilians in Armagh and how the British Government colluded with it.

The documentary features evidence from John Weir, a self-confessed member of the terror group.

The film was made by Sean Murray, son of former IRA prisoner Sean 'Spike' Murray, who is still an influential republican in Belfast.

The film was broadcast on RTE last month, attracting an average 213,000 viewers.

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Sean Murray, who wrote and directed Unquiet Graves

Sean Murray, who wrote and directed Unquiet Graves

@Press Eye/Darren Kidd

Sean Murray, who wrote and directed Unquiet Graves

Mr Flanagan said the documentary was too reliant on the testimony of Weir.

“Essentially this is a programme, quite a shocking programme actually, outlining some of the most horrific acts of the Troubles in the 1970s that were perpetrated in what was known as the ‘murder triangle’,” Mr Flanagan told Newstalk.

“But it seemed to me that the essence of the programme was based on the testimony, an affidavit, of a guy called John Weir who himself was a convicted murderer, a criminal, who had motives that to my mind were somewhat dubious.

“That is the basis of the programme and I am concerned that it should have been based just on the testimony of one character who has been outside this jurisdiction for quite some time but whose evidence to my mind is fundamentally questionable.”

He added: “I am concerned that RTE showed the programme without what I felt was due diligence and I want that question answered in so far as what background checks were undertaken by RTE in the form of due diligence?

“My third concern is the matter of the cost. I am not an expert in film production but I did make some enquiries and these enquiries resulted in my being told that this film could have cost up to €400,000 to produce and make and I am wondering what due diligence RTE did in order to follow the money.”

Mr Flanagan said he was awaiting a response from RTE and he is yet to make a complaint through the Broadcasting Authority.

The producers of the film have said it was privately funded and that no political party made any contribution.

Mr Flanagan said: “I was a solicitor before I entered politics. If somebody came into my office with a bag of money and said I, ‘want to buy a house,’ the issue would not so much be the purchase of the house, the issue would be the money and where the money came from.

“I do believe that RTE, being the national broadcaster that are and with their obligations from a public service point of view, had a duty.”

Several members of the Glennnane Gang were serving members of the RUC and security services at the time.

The documentary includes shocking claims by Weir, a former RUC officer, who said the British military initiated plans for a massacre at a Catholic Primary School in Co Armagh in the 1970s.

Mr Weir claimed the plot was intended as a retaliation for the Kingsmill massacre of 1976 in which 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead by the IRA.

Mr Weir said the plot came from military intelligence to make the Troubles “spiral out of control” but that it was ultimately a step too far for the UVF’s Belfast leadership.

An RTE spokesperson said the documentary was subject to editorial review within RTE prior to broadcast, including by its Editorial Standards Board.

"The programme draws on a number of sources, including an interview with John Weir. Mr. Weir's evidence has previously been assessed by An Garda Siochana and Mr Justice Barron, among others. Their assessment of his evidence is included in Mr Justice Barron's report to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Right in December 2003.

"RTE has no oversight of production budgets on acquired programmes, as our engagement with producers and/or distributors begins when the programme has already been completed. RTÉ acquires these productions on the basis of an editorial judgement and their suitability for transmission."

Filmmaker Sean Murray told the Belfast Telegraph he will be seeking a meeting with Mr Flanagan after his comments.

He said: "Mr Flanagan appears not to have viewed the film (although he features in it himself during an attendance at a Dublin/Monaghan bombings commemoration).

"If he had done, he would have seen testimony from, amongst others, former London Metropolitan Detective Steve Morris of the Historical Enquiries Team.

"Strangely, Mr Flanagan did not mention the Dublin/Monaghan bombings although they resulted in the greatest single loss of life, 34, in any one-day during the conflict in the jurisdiction in which he is a public representative.

"Mr Flanagan claims that the evidence given in the film by former RUC Sergeant John Weir is 'seriously questionable'. This contradicts the Garda view as expressed to the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin/Monaghan bombings which has twice been endorsed by Oireachtas joint committees.

"At no point in the film does anyone claim that all RUC officers were involved in collusion. On the contrary, it credits Det. Sgt. Gerry McCann of the RUC who was amongst the first to suspect collusion.

"The film has the support of the Glenanne families. Mr Flanagan appears to challenges the right of victims to tell their own story in whatever way they find appropriate. He has no right to censor or restrict how victims recount their own experiences."

This article was updated on October 6.

Belfast Telegraph