BBC 'blanks out' voice of former Ulster MP

THE BBC last night applied Home Office broadcasting restrictions to remarks by the former MP, Bernadette McAliskey, and two members of the public who do not belong to any of the political or paramilitary groups which are banned under the 1988 order.

Under her maiden name of Devlin, Bernadette McAliskey was elected an 'Independent Unity' MP on her 22nd birthday in 1969. She appeared last night on Nation, a recorded discussion programme on political violence, which was shown on BBC 2.

Later, Ms McAliskey said that 'silencing' her was 'defamatory, derisory and dangerous'. She is taking legal advice after the BBC refused her request to withdraw her contribution from the programme. She said that she belonged to no political party, had drawn a clear distinction between understanding and supporting the use of violence, and had never been subjected to restrictions previously. Recently she expressed similar views on a BBC Scotland television programme and on BBC 2's Newsnight without restriction.

'Nothing I said warrants this kind of treatment. The BBC's position is ridiculous. I said to the BBC if my words might be construed as supporting the use of violence then they should not be broadcast as I do not wish them to be construed that way and yet they insist they go out as subtitles,' she added.

The 1988 Home Office notice to the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the BBC prevents broadcasts of members of a list of republican and loyalist paramilitary groups, and two legal political parties, Sinn Fein and the smaller, hardline Republican Sinn Fein. The voices of Ms McAliskey and two anonymous contributors from the audience were banned under a clause in the notice that prohibits any words spoken which 'support or solicit or invite support for such an organisation'.

The contentious words appeared as subtitles, with the voice blanked out, as the notice permits for members of banned organisations. Her voice was replaced by captions, after the interviewer had asked her if she believed that violence could be justified.

She replied: 'Quite honestly, if I supported it fully, if I could justify it, I would join the IRA. Since I am not a soldier, since I cannot within myself justify it, then I'm not. I can understand it, I can explain it, I can articulate it, and I can offer what I believe to be a rational way out of it, which is discussion and negotiation wherever it is in the world.'

She said that no sane human being supported violence. 'We are often inevitably cornered into it by powerlessness, by lack of democracy, by lack of willingness of people to listen to our problems. We don't choose political violence, the powerful force it on us.'

Ms McAliskey said that she understood the Deal bombing by the IRA, which killed 10 Marines. The Brighton bombing at the Tory conference in 1984 which killed civilians was 'less acceptable within the grounds of the Geneva convention' but she understood it.

'I accept I find the use of war and the use of arms and I find the involvement in political violence by the IRA understandable in that the present position in which we find ourselves, an intolerable position, was created itself out of political violence and the threat of further violence against us,' she said.

'Eight hundred years of the violence of your government has not promoted government of Ireland by Britain with the consent of the people of Ireland. I ask you the same question, is it right, is it necessary, and does it work?'

Ms McAliskey told the Independent in 1988 that she disagreed with Sinn Fein on a number of issues. She said she and the party were different parts of the same movement, and she 'worked with Sinn Fein on the issues'.

A BBC spokesman said yesterday that the programme had been commissioned from Juniper Productions, an independent company which had put in the subtitles on the advice of BBC lawyers. The BBC had agreed to the move.

But Helen Darbishire, campaigns officer for Article 19, an international anti-censorship group supporting a challenge to the 1988 ban in the European Court of Human Rights, said that in her view the subtitled words in the programme did not 'solicit support' for banned organisations under the order. 'I would like to see broadcasting organisations testing the ban by pushing its limits and getting it decided in a court of law. Until then we are not going to see what is within the law.'

In a statement, the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, supported by 25 trade unions, described the programme as 'a drastic extension of the broadcasting ban'.