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Donnacha De Long a Journalist with Many Callings: from NUJ to the Irish Rebellion

Submitted by on April 5, 2012 – 4:17 pmNo Comment

Donnacha De Long is president of the NUJ and last week he chaired a debate on the topical Leveson inquiry for the Benn Lectures. He became President in April 2011 after being a National Union of Journalists (NUJ) member since he was 19. As his role as president is coming to an end, his Irish revolutionary roots seem to be pulling him back to his homeland. He has started to write a book about his family history, focusing on their involvement in the 1916 uprising and the Irish War of Independence.

It was at a coffee shop in Angel where, De Long agreed to meet. He texted to say that he was running ten minutes late for the interview. The first thing that caught my eye when he arrived was the star-shaped badge pinned to his jacket, a symbol for the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), a Spanish Anarchist union which was mentioned in detail by George Orwell in his novel Homage to Catalonia. The red and black lapel didn’t really come as much of a surprise, as De Long’s Twitter account is adorned with the same colours on his profile image, which reads: “I admit. I am an anarchist. Go on, report me!”

NUJ headquarters, Gray's Inn Road, London, Donnacha was president of the union in 2011.

De Long’s long hair was tied in a ponytail; he was wearing prescription glasses and was dressed all in black. The interview took place at an outside table on the coffee shop’s balcony. He had a friendly and confident manner and always kept up direct eye contact. De Long was born in the town of Rathcoole just outside of Dublin, with a semi-socialist upbringing by his parents; he is the oldest of four children. The 36-year old ended up studying journalism for four years at Dublin City University. The bright lights and big city was the view of Dublin that he had from a hill in his hometown beckoning him since his youth. He said: “My main aim was to get the hell out and get into the city as soon as possible.”

He eventually ended up working at RTE, the public service broadcaster for Ireland, as a senior journalist for three and a half years. By then he had gained a lot of experience in the job, as he started working at the channel as a runner, on and off through school and university from the age of 16. During his time at the company, he was as a pioneer for the Internet age, working on online forums in print until the advertising income collapsed, the new department was the first hit and although he was not made redundant, he found the environment unbearable. In 2002 he left to come to London with his girlfriend, who he has been with for 17 years now.

De Long said: “That wasn’t easy, what I found when I came over here was on the one hand that an Irish national broadcaster is not seen as a broadcaster in England. It’s seen as a very local, regional broadcaster and not as an equivalent national broadcaster. On the other hand, because I had worked there for such a long time in the past, I found I was so over-experienced that I could neither get entry-level jobs, nor senior ones. There was no way into the mainstream media.”

For a few years in London, De Long worked at different temping jobs, using his web consultancy skills to earn a living, a practice which he still relies on today as a means of income. He wrote for, amongst other things, the Council of World Missionaries but eventually ended up at Amnesty International in 2006. He was made Senior Editor on the website and left in 2010 to go and do an MA in Political Communications at City University, where his girlfriend Olivia Fox works in the Learning Development Centre.

The NUJ presidency is a lay position that involves representing the union at meetings and public talks, and giving interviews to media outlets. The role is voted on annually and as De Long’s term at the union comes to an end, he is looking back at his past as he writes his book about the Bowlens, on his mother’s side of the family, and their involvement in the fight for Irish independence. He said: “I wanted to study journalism ultimately to become a writer. Quite honestly, the state of UK media, there just isn’t an interest in the type of stuff that I want to write, which is on informed, radical views on radical movements.”

From Dublin to London, the lure of big cities and their hold on De Long seems to have subsided; a revolutionary voice now seems to be his strongest calling. Going full circle, he is returning to where he started his journey all those years ago: home.

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