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Excuse Me, Can I Speak to the Editor?
In his first major interview, Aengus Fanning, editor of the Sunday Independent, discusses how he manages the most successful paper in Ireland and the death of Veronica Guerin.
Jason O'Toole, 04 Nov 2008
Have you considered following in the footsteps of your daily counterpart and turning the Sunday Independent into tabloid format?
No. It’s not on.
In your role as editor of the Sunday Independent, what are you most proud of?
What gives me most satisfaction is circulation and readership, I’m sorry to say. (Pauses) I suppose our role in the Peace Process. The Stamp Duty was a bloody good campaign. We broke the Greencore scandal, as well as the Kerry Babies story. Veronica Guerin broke the Fr. Brendan Smyth affair. She fought a lone campaign about crime in Dublin. I’m not expecting any recognition for this, but we called the shots on the economic crisis from about a year-and-half-ago or more. When we felt there was complacency we campaigned to say, first of all, that this was coming and we need action now.
Under your reign, the paper has been very vocal in its criticism of the IRA and Sinn Féin. Your mother was a Presbyterian from Northern Ireland, so was there a personal motivation?
I suppose some of it must be my own background. I would never have had time for violence in politics. My father would have had no time for the IRA either. The line I use about myself is that, ‘I’m a Republican but not a Nationalist!’
Was it difficult for your mother to move from Northern Ireland to live in Tralee?
It must have been a very tough kind of station for her. I understand that at the time of their marriage her relatives didn’t come to the wedding. They disapproved and that took courage on her part. She became a convert in order to marry him. I always say that she became a convert to lapsed Catholicism! My father came from a non-practising Catholic background. He was probably an agnostic really.
Did you ever receive any death threats because of your anti-Republican editorial stance in the Sunday Independent?
No, I didn’t. We got very heavy pressure from a lot of people, like John Hume and people of that stature, and it was difficult. We were traduced and misrepresented and lies were told. For example, there was supposed to be a cartoon of John Hume in which he was depicted with blood on his hands. That went into legend. There was no such cartoon. A couple of years later, I said to him, ‘John, there was no such cartoon!’ And John said, ‘Well, I didn’t see it either, but somebody told me about it!’ At the same time, I was driven mainly – and I have to admit this – by my desire to have well-written, intelligent, challenging copy in the paper. My underlying purpose was to get the readers engaged with the bloody paper. Now, it happened to coincide with my own general views as well. One of my strengths at that time was the support of the proprietor, Tony O’Reilly, who was absolutely steadfast when all sorts of efforts were being made – on both sides of the Atlantic and the Irish Sea – to get him to intervene and change things. He was absolutely rock solid. And that was not an easy thing for a man in his position.