Tommy Roberts

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Tommy Roberts was a journalist with the Belfast Telegraph and then from 1962 press adviser to the Unionist Government in Northern Ireland.

According to David Miller:

The Unionist Prime Minister Basil Brooke had created a Cabinet Publicity Committee in 1943 and the Information Service as a separate entity came into existence in 1955. But, it was not until the mid sixties that 'modern' ideas about marketing and image entered Northern Ireland politics under the impetus of Finance Minister Terence O'Neill. In 1962 Ex Belfast Telegraph journalist Tommy Roberts was appointed as Public Relations officer at the Ulster Office in London by O'Neill, in the face of Cabinet Office objections. His job was to remedy the 'bad industrial press' which O'Neill thought that Northern Ireland was getting.[1] In 1963 O'Neill became Prime Minister and Roberts, while remaining based in London, operated informally as his press secretary on his almost annual visits to the US.[2][3]

Terence O'Neill gave the following account of the decision to hire Roberts in his autobiography:

For years Northern Ireland had had a bad industrial press in London. One would open the Financial Times and see a headline 'NEW FACTORY FOR CORK'... At the same moment a new factory to employ 3,000 people in Northern Ireland would not get a mention. Obviously something had to be done about it. At that time the Belfast Telegraph had a brilliant political correspondent, Tommy Roberts. I arranged for him to go to the Ulster Office in London, despite the opposition of the Cabinet offices in Northern Ireland. Within weeks the situation was transformed. Not only was Tommy known by all the journalists in Fleet Street, and the 'lobby' at Westminster, but at last Northern Ireland was getting good headlines. Recently he has been unwisely withdrawn to Belfast, and Northern Ireland has paid a heavy price. One day I suggested to him that Belfast should figure in the temperature charts as well as Dublin. This was duly arranged and everyone in Britain can now see how hot or cold it was in Belfast on the previous day - unfortunately recently it has tended to be hot![4]

By July 1970, according to a document disclosed at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, Roberts was Deputy Director of the Information Service at Stormont and met with two British military psyops practitioners visiting the North with a view to recommending that the British appoint psyops practitioners in Northern Ireland.

One of those visiting Belfast was INQ 1873 an anonymous witness at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. He visited Northern Ireland on 15-17 July 1970 shortly after the Falls Curfew, while serving as GSO I (PSYOPS) JWE. He met with staff officers at HQNI, R Burroughs, the UK Government Representative in Northern Ireland, and Tom Roberts - Deputy Director of Information, Government Information Services.[5]

In his report on the visit, INQ 1873 made the following recommendations:

a. The feasibility of setting [up] a radio station on the lines of a Forces Broadcasting Station be examined.
b. The feasibility of establishing a committee for the co-ordination of psyops activities and for dissemination of information be established.
c. A Psyops Staff Officer is placed on call to HQ Northern Ireland, and will visit HQNI periodically.
d. An examination is made on the effectiveness of current left wing propaganda activities.
e. PR should be more active and positive wherever possible.[6]

External resources

Notes

  1. Terence O'Neill, The Autobiography of Terence O’Neill, Hart-Davies, London, 1972.:38.
  2. Terence O'Neill, The Autobiography of Terence O’Neill, Hart-Davies, London, 1972:88.
  3. David Miller Don't Mention the War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda and the Media, London: Pluto Press, 1994, p. 72-3
  4. Terence O'Neill, The Autobiography of Terence O’Neill, Hart-Davies, London, 1972:38.
  5. C1873 - Statement Of INQ 1873 (pdf) Bloody Sunday Inquiry, 24 March 2003.
  6. C1873 - Statement Of INQ 1873 (pdf) Bloody Sunday Inquiry, 24 March 2003.