There are fresh protests against the institutional sectarianism of the BBC in Ireland as infamous radio and TV presenter Stephen Nolan continues to generate intense anger among nationalists.
Known for his contemptuous treatment of the Irish language, the broadcaster’s one-sided focus on alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations by Catholics has reached new levels.
Since the republican funeral in west Belfast of former IRA leader Bobby Storey in June, Nolan has reported almost exclusively on cases in which nationalists have been accused of breaching regulations. He visited the predominately nationalist student area of Belfast’s Holylands in order to ‘expose’ students failing to observe social distancing. More recently, he attacked the Gaelic Athletics Association over the celebrations of Tyrone club Dungannon Clarke’s after it achieved a historic victory.
But he has also ignored or skated past examples in which members of the unionist community have not followed Covid-19 regulations. These include the ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires and ‘Twelfth’ parades, the street celebrations of Glentoran FC fans after a soccer success, the funerals of prominent unionists and the repeated failures of DUP MP Sammy Wilson to wear a mask.
For some, Nolan’s attempts to heap blame on one side of the community in the north of Ireland for the transmission of Covid-19 recalls the sectarianism and anti-Irishness of the 19th century, when victims of the Great Hunger were quarantined and the slur of the ‘dirty Irish’ took hold.
The dominant position of BBC in the north of Ireland is maintained and funded by television licences paid by both communities. But its broadcast reach has frequently been abused by Nolan to target Sinn Fein, and it was his campaigning which ensured Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and other Sinn Fein politicians are being forced to attend police interviews over alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations at the Bobby Storey funeral, an unprecedented action against mourners in the current pandemic.
His over-the-top attack on celebrating GAA supporters, who he condemned as “disgraceful” and “dangerous” and vilified in subsequent broadcasts, are understood to have led to him to finally be reported to Ofcom, Britain’s communication regulator, for spreading hate.
GAA commentator Cahair O’Kane this week won support on social media when he hit out at the unrelenting sectarianism of ‘The Nolan Show’.
“In recent years particularly, The Nolan Show has become a serious issue in a society that is in many quarters trying its best to heal itself,” he wrote.
“It has become a root of the culture of Them ‘Uns. Saying we shouldn’t boycott it is easy because if you do that, Them ‘Uns get a free run. But because both sides keep engaging, the wheels of division keep on turning.”