Twenty years ago this week (January 19th 1984) the Irish Section 31 broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin along with republican and loyalist paramilitary groups or any proscribed organisation in Northern Ireland was lifted. This was at an important time just seven months before the IRA ceasefire. The order renewed on January 6th 1993 by the then Communications Minister Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (now an EU Commissioner) directed Raidió Telefís Éireann to refrain from broadcasting any interview or a report of an interview with spokesmen for any of these organisations. As the peace process began to take shape, the order was allowed to lapse by the Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht Minister, Michael D. Higgins (now Uachtarán na hÉireann) of the Labour party.
The republican newspaper An Phoblacht recounts how the broadcast media in the 26 Counties were now free to interview Sinn Féin spokespeople. The paper says the first such interview was with party President Gerry Adams on Dublin’s 98fm radio station. But on the BBC Northern Ireland website where I first noticed the story, it is reported that Highland Radio presenter Kevin Sharkey (now with the BBC) carried out the first such broadcast in their studio in County Donegal, where he interviewed Martin McGuinness and Pat Doherty.