Eamonn Mallie on new TV series, the state of journalism, his love of poetry and his favorite interviewees…


A FAMILY voice in news reporting in Northern Ireland for 46 years, South Armagh man Eamonn Mallie returns to our screens with a new series of his intriguing Face to Face with. .. interviews for UTV.

The first is Line of Duty actor Adrian Dunbar, with whom he enjoys discussing local colloquialisms that Dunbar’s character, Ted Hastings, has made famous.

“He’s a man of many tastes, very culturally sensitive and very cerebral. He loves Enniskillen and comes across as incredibly loyal to the environment he was raised in,” says Mallie, who is now on his fifth series. of programs for UTV.

The third episode sees him interview Tony Blair’s former press secretary and director of communications, Alistair Campbell.

“Obviously he’s very unhappy with the state of politics today,” says Mallie, who reveals Campbell talks about his battle with alcoholism and depression.

He also discussed Blair’s speech ahead of the Good Friday peace deal when he told cameras outside Hillsborough Castle “the hand of history is on our shoulders”.

Alistair Campbell will also face the veteran journalist

“It’s always fascinated me what people say to each other behind the scenes. Apparently Campbell challenged Blair immediately afterwards when he felt the Prime Minister was preparing for a hell of a fall.”

Emma Little-Pengelly, Susan McKay, Monica McWilliams, former ITN Ireland correspondent Tom Bradby and artist Colin Davidson, whose painting of Mallie was used for the cover of his 2017 poetry, are also included in the programming for 30 minutes of difficult questions. collection, Under the Tilley lamp.

However, the interviewee who ‘surprised’ him the most was Northern Ireland football captain Marissa Callaghan.

“She is an exemplary young woman and a role model par excellence. I predict that she has a very great future in television, if she chooses to follow this path.

One of Eamonn’s favorite guests was Northern Ireland women’s football captain Marissa Callaghan.

“It’s a great story of someone who started life as a footballer on the streets of Divis flats and the evolution and challenges it faced along the way,” adds Mallie, who admits that likes to watch the women’s game.

And, hoping to get the green light from UTV for another series, he’s already making a wish list with Liam Neeson, Roma Downey and Kenneth Branagh as potential guests.

Mallie worked as an Irish language researcher for RTE before training as a radio news producer for the BBC in Belfast and joining Downtown Radio in 1976.

He describes himself as “a hound” when it comes to his reporting style; but thinks his interrogation style is a dying art among broadcasters here.

“The style of journalism I engage in is in your face. I’m very committed to public accountability and I deplore the current state of journalism. This ability to cross-examine and forensically interrogate was the Seamus McKee and Martina Purdy era. Now you have to go to Channel 4 News if you want to participate or hear this style.”

On the accusation that sometimes stories get leaked to reporters, Mallie comments, “Most often they don’t.”

One of its biggest stories was the exposure of secret talks between Sinn Fein, the IRA and the British government, which ultimately led to the resignation of Northern Ireland Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew in 1993.

“Mayhew alleged that Republicans told me this story. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he explains.

Rather, the investigation was sparked by an interview he heard on Radio Ulster with a non-politician, a public figure whom Mallie admits he didn’t have a particularly good rapport with.

A quick call to the interviewee resulted in a face-to-face meeting that ultimately delivered one of his greatest stories.

“It was February and I didn’t break it until early November. It took me all this time to substantiate the story and get the irrefutable gun. If I was wrong, I should have left the journalism.”

A former student of Abbey CBS, Mallie is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin in Gaelic and Spanish. He admits that language still fascinates him.

“I always try to find new words to describe situations. I love learning new phrases in any language and nothing makes me happier than meeting someone from Russia, Poland or Portugal and to greet him in his own language.

“If I was in charge of the universities, I would put ambassadors on the streets of all major cities to engage with visitors and give them an idea of ​​the culture and history of the place and, if possible, speak their language .”

Eamonn Mallie speaks to the Irish News. Photo by Hugh Russell

What excites Mallie most, however, is poetry. He is part of the South Armagh Poetry Group, which published its book Room to Rhyme last year.

“I’m obsessed with poetry. At the very start of Covid-19, I started reading a poem a day on Twitter and did it for quite a while, then others in the neighborhood pitched in .”

Contributors are now as diverse as Orange Order Grand Secretary Reverend Mervyn Gibson and actor Jamie Dornan.

“Jamie read me a poem by Pádraig Ó Tuama’, former leader of the Corrymeela community, and it had something like 40,000 views.”

Dornan took part in Face to Face in 2018, but it’s far from the first time their paths have crossed.

“Jamie actually did his first work experience with me,” he explains.

“At this point he was a budding journalist and I took him to Stormont.”

He adds, “I’m so excited about the appetite there is for poetry on this island. It’s one of the most rewarding and enjoyable contributions I think I’ve made to people in my career. “

Raised in the Roman Catholic faith, Mallie, 71, admits “salvation” is increasingly on her mind.

“I am more and more aware of my mortality. I have gone through my existentialist period as a student and, although I still question myself, I am more and more prayerful as an individual. , I am going to a funeral and I regret the fact that so many of my contemporaries have died or are very ill. Thank God I am in good health and I hope this continues.

Eamon Mallie. Photo by Hugh Russel

And what’s next?

“I’ve had the most fantastic life and I keep trying to reinvent myself. I still have so many dreams to fulfill. I have more poems to write and I’m trying to write a fantasy-style screenplay right now.”

As for the people who influenced him the most, he cites two Presbyterian ministers. First, Reverend Terence McCaughey, who taught him at Trinity College in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and former moderator, Reverend Dr Ken Newell, well known for his evangelical and ecumenical beliefs.

The person he says he admires most in public life for his integrity, morality, compassion and courage was Father Alec Reid, the Clonard priest known for his role as a facilitator in the peace process.

“What a manifestation of humanity and Christianity, to kneel down to embrace and pray for those whom some see as the enemy in the case of the two corporals killed in west Belfast in 1988.”

Finally, on the subject of her ideal dinner guests, Mallie says there was a time when Boris Johnson would have been her number one choice.

However, despite describing himself as ‘intellectually on the left’, Mallie says he would now be delighted to have former Tory MP Michael Portillo instead of Johnson, given the Prime Minister’s behavior in public office .

:: Eamonn Mallie: Face to Face with… kicks off on UTV Tuesday, February 22 at 10:45 p.m.


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