Harris has held posts in various and diverse political parties throughout his career. Previously a Marxist theoretician of the Workers' Party of Ireland and its predecessor, Official Sinn Féin, he now says that he abhors Marxism. He has also been a short-lived adviser to John Bruton, before he became Taoiseach; an adviser to the Ulster Unionist Party; and most recently a supporter of the Fianna Fáil-led government of Bertie Ahern. At one stage an Irish republican, Harris is now a bitter critic of modern-day Sinn Féin. His critics accuse him of demonstrating ideological malleability, hypocrisy, neoconservatism and inconsistency. He is also noted for his screenwriting work; he lectures at IADT, the Irish national film school, and teaches a screenwriting workshop. Harris is also a judge on the Irish language talent show Glas Vegas, on TG4.
Harris was born in Douglas, County Cork, a village on the outskirts of Cork city, in 1943. He was educated at University College Cork (UCC) where he studied English and History. He later worked at Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), the Irish national television broadcaster, on current affairs programmes such as 7 Days and Féach. He also made a documentary on mental illness, entitled Darkness Visible.
In the Cork Mid by-election in March 1965 he campaigned for Sylvester Cotter, who was standing for Poblacht Chríostúil. At this time Harris met his future wife, UCC student Anne O'Sullivan. The aim of the party was "to base the social and economic policies of our country on Christian social reform, as elaborated by the last six Popes."
Harris was a leading Irish republican in Sinn Féin in the 1960s, and was an important influence in the party's move from Irish nationalism to Marxism, a political ideology which Harris now says he abhors. During the 1970 split of the movement into Provisional Sinn Féin and Official Sinn Féin, he was close to leading Official Sinn Féin members Eamonn Smullen and Cathal Goulding, the latter of whom was at the time Chief of Staff of the paramilitary Official Irish Republican Army. Alongside Smullen, who had spent many years in British prisons for IRA activities, Harris worked in the Republican Industrial Development Division, an organisation set up in 1972 by Seamus Costello to co-ordinate trade union activities, along with John Caden, Des Geraghty and others.
According to Henry Patterson in his book The Politics of Illusion, Harris's pamphlet Irish Industrial Revolution (1975) was influential in shifting the party away from republicanism. Harris continued to do media work for it as it became the Workers' Party of Ireland. However, in 1990 he published a pamphlet entitled The Necessity of Social Democracy in which he surmised that socialism would not survive the Revolutions of 1989. He called for a shift to social democracy and that the party should seek a historic compromise with the social democratic wings of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The document was initially submitted by Eamonn Smullen on Harris's behalf for publication in the party's theoretical magazine Making Sense, but when this was refused, Harris and Smullen published it themselves as a publication of the party's Economic Affairs Department, of which Smullen was head. When the pamphlet began to circulate it was banned by the Workers' Party, and Smullen was suspended from his position on the committee. Harris resigned in protest and Smullen resigned subsequently, along with many of the members of the Research Section of the party. This was the prelude to a bigger split in 1992, when senior members alleged that the supposedly moribund Official IRA still existed and was implicated in criminality, and sought to move to some extent in the direction proposed earlier by Harris.
Harris was for a time a central figure in shaping the current affairs output of Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ). He pushed the organisation towards a perspective heavily critical of Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA. It was stated in the November 1997 issue of Magill magazine that he set up an RTÉ branch of the Workers' Party called the "Ned Stapleton Cumann", which gave the party considerable influence in RTÉ. Michael O'Leary, then leader of the Labour Party, commented that RTÉ current affairs coverage was "Stickie orientated", a reference to the Official IRA, from which the Provisional IRA had split in the 1970s. Those who supported Harris within RTÉ became known as "the brood of Harris". The tensions within the organisation, between journalists such as Mary McAleese and Alex White on one side and the Workers' Party members on the other, led to major disagreements at the station and to criticism of what was perceived as its anti-republican political agenda. Harris recruited Charlie Bird (then a member of Official Sinn Féin) and Marian Finucane to RTÉ in the 1970s.
Harris continues to supply programme material to RTÉ through Praxis Films, the independent film company he runs with Gerry Gregg, formerly an RTÉ and Workers' Party associate. In 2012 RTÉ upheld a complaint against a Praxis documentary, An Tost Fada (The Long Silence), written and narrated by Harris, and produced and directed by Gregg. The programme subject matter concerned Harris's controversial belief that some actions in the Irish War of Independence were sectarian, and involved the IRA targeting Protestants. Previously, in 2007, Harris participated in an equally controversial programme, Guns and Neighbours: The Killings at Coolacrease (Reel Story Productions), in which it was alleged that two Protestant farmers in County Offaly, killed by the IRA in June 1920, were killed for sectarian reasons.
The Labour Party and the Workers' Party jointly nominated former senator Mary Robinson in 1990 to be their candidate for President of Ireland. While Harris's strategy proposal is thought, by some, to have been significant in the rebranding of Robinson, just how influential he was remains a matter of much controversy. Robinson and her campaign team blamed him for a near-fatal change in tactics: having previously been non-combative in dealing with the controversies that had engulfed the recently dismissed Tánaiste Brian Lenihan, Harris pressured Robinson into going on the offensive on a live debate on the current affairs programme Today Tonight. This action was generally seen to have backfired horribly. Harris made three election videos for the Robinson campaign, and claims to have been responsible for a memorable line from her acceptance speech: "the hand that rocked the cradle rocked the system." Robinson won the election, becoming Ireland's first female President.
After the Robinson campaign, Harris was asked to work for Fine Gael by its leader, John Bruton. However, he received criticism from both within and outside the party in April 1991, when he wrote the script for a sketch for the Fine Gael annual conference in which a cleaner (played by the comedy actress Twink) interrupted the leader's speech. The sketch was criticised as being in bad taste and tacky, particularly in its references to a controversial incident that had made the news, wherein a female reporter from RTÉ had allegedly been groped by an inebriated Fianna Fáil TD. Its catchphrase Úna gan gúna ("Úna without her dress" in Irish) was deemed sexist and demeaning of a victim of alleged improper conduct.
In 1997, Harris denounced Fianna Fáil presidential candidate Mary McAleese, calling her a "tribal time bomb" and writing "if she wins not on a technicality but because so many people gave her their number one, then I am living in a country I no longer understand." McAleese won, and Harris has since expressed regret for his sentiments and has praised her presidency.
Harris, along with fellow Sunday Independent columnist Eamon Dunphy, became an outspoken critic of Social Democratic and Labour Party leader John Hume over Hume's decision to hold talks with Sinn Féin prior to an IRA ceasefire. Harris urged the Irish government, at the time led by his friend John Bruton, to end all support for Hume's peace efforts. He wrote, "If we persist with the peace process it will end with sectarian slaughter in the North, with bombs in Dublin, Cork and Galway, and with the ruthless reign by provisional gangs over the ghettos of Dublin. The only way to avoid this abyss is to cut the cord to John Hume". Hume argued that he was seeking to convince republicans to abandon violence. The resulting Belfast Agreement was strongly praised by Harris. Hume and David Trimble won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for their efforts. Harris became an advisor in the late 1990s to Trimble, the then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. He wrote some of Trimble's speeches, one of which included the line that Northern Ireland had been "a cold house for Catholics." He was invited to address the UUP annual conference in 1999, where he described the Belfast Agreement as "an Amazing Grace" and urged the UUP to make a leap of faith in Sinn Féin. They eventually did so, forming a power-sharing executive, although it was later suspended on the issue of the failure of the IRA to decommission its arms.
Harris strongly supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and is unrepentant about its morality, declaring in the Sunday Independent that "hindsight history has no moral status." In May 2003 he wrote "Already, as I predicted in the lead up to the war, the neoconservative hawks have done much better than the liberals in getting down to the dynamics of opening up the gulf to democracy. Already, and this I predicted too, there is substantial hope for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement now that Saddam no longer scowls at Israel". He was bitterly critical of English journalist Robert Fisk. In November 2003 Harris wrote, "Far from wanting to pour venom on Fisk, I think he does us a favour by being so forthright. For my money his analysis of Middle East politics is a first cousin to believing that aliens take away people in flying saucers."
Harris gave media training to Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi in advance of the invasion of Iraq, and wrote in the Irish Independent that:
I first met Chalabi in Washington in March 2001, in the company of Richard Perle, a few months after George W Bush had been elected, and met later in London where I gave him some media training. We bonded from the start, and the basis of the bond was his instinctive feel for Ireland.
Chalabi was one of the sources for the false intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Harris in the mid 2000s (decade) began endorsing the centrist, populist Fianna Fáil, which was in a coalition government with the neo-liberal Progressive Democrats. Harris was one of a minority of journalists to support Bertie Ahern during the "Bertiegate I" crisis, during which questions were raised over Ahern's financial propriety. Harris heavily supported Ahern and Fianna Fáil in the 2007 general election. Some alleged that the Sunday Independent's editorial stance prior to the election amounted to a u-turn from previous criticism of the government, but Harris explicitly denied there had been any u-turn or that the attitude of journalists at the paper was influenced by an alleged meeting between the deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, Brian Cowen and the owner of Independent News & Media, Tony O'Reilly.
Shortly before the election, Harris appeared on The Late Late Show on RTÉ, in which he praised Ahern and poured scorn on those criticising him over his personal finances. Harris's Late Late Show appearance coincided with a rise in support for the Government. Harris also claimed that other newspapers, namely The Irish Times and The Irish Daily Mail waged an anti-Ahern campaign. All other news outlets dismissed the claim, with most accusing Harris and the Sunday Independent of doing its own u-turn following a Cowen-O'Reilly meeting. (The paper had previously been highly critical of Ahern's failure to reform stamp duty, but after the meeting this criticism stopped. Soon thereafter Fianna Fáil promised to carry such reform, if re-elected. This is what later transpired.)
In February 2008, Director-General of RTÉ Cathal Goan and RTÉ director of news Ed Mulhall appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Communications. Both men admitted that they were "uncomfortable" at Harris's appearance on the Late Late Show because it took place so soon before the election.
During a live radio debate on Today FM's The Last Word with Matt Cooper (Election special 26 May 2007), when an Irish Times columnist, Fintan O'Toole denied Harris's claims of an Irish Times campaign against Ahern, and accused the Sunday Independent of having its own political agenda, Harris stormed out of the studio mid-debate. During the debate Harris had admitted that the decision to support the Government was taken because "we got what we wanted on stamp duty".
Eoghan Harris's ex-wife, Anne Harris, is deputy editor of the Sunday Independent. In December 2007, Harris married Gwendoline Halley, from Waterford, Ireland.
Harris has written about Wikipedia in the Sunday Independent.
He was nominated by the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to Seanad Éireann on 3 August 2007, serving until April 2011.
In 2006, during an RTÉ Television debate Harris stated that the leaders of the Easter Rising were "suicide bombers, I mean suicide terrorists".
Harris was featured on the front cover of the August 2007 edition of Village. Inside, Harris was the subject of a number of critical articles written by Vincent Browne.
It was reported in The Sunday Times (Irish edition) that Harris is at the centre of an internal investigation at the National Film School in Dún Laoghaire, where he lectures. Harris has also incorrectly but accidentally claimed to have received a Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in his entry in 'Who's Who' in Ireland, for his documentary Darkness Visible. Harris insisted that he did win the award, saying that the Berlin Film Festival "mustn't keep proper records". The award he actually received is the Prix Futura, awarded at the Berlin Television Festival. He has since corrected the mistake.
On the RTÉ Radio 1 programme News at One on 3 December 2007, Harris strongly defended Bertie Ahern, saying that the Irish Daily Mail was a 'lying newspaper', which practised 'sensationalist, sick journalism' and which had a 'record of fascist appeasement in the 1930s'. He also said that the Mahon Tribunal should be shut down because "there is no natural justice available", and that in ten years time "people will look back and say that the Tribunal time was scoundrel time". The Irish Daily Mail denied his allegations. In a debate with Fintan O'Toole on the RTÉ TV Primetime programme on 4 December 2007, Harris further alleged that "the entire (Mahon) Tribunal is a fantasy of (Tom) Gilmartin".
In another RTÉ related controversy in 2004, Harris was confronted aggressively by an angry viewer, Kilmacud Crokes star Hugh Gannon, regarding the Sunday Independent's editorial. This happened after an episode of Questions & Answers, with Gannon implying Harris was a lackey for Tony O'Reilly. Harris reacted angrily to this, dismissed Gannon as a "Shinner" and presenter John Bowman had to step in to separate the two men. Bowman suggested that the men agree to disagree, but Gannon, a former 1998 Leinster minor hurling medallist and staunch Fine Gael supporter, suggested "No. Let's agree that you agree with me."
During a heated interview on the TV3 programme The Political Party with Ursula Halligan broadcast on 9 December 2007, Harris threatened to walk out because he didn't wish to discuss Bertie Ahern's appearances at the Mahon Tribunal any further. He then changed his mind and demanded that the programme be re-recorded, but Halligan informed him that this was impossible. The show was recorded live and therefore could not have been stopped.
Harris has defended the Irish Language Poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh, who admitted buying lavish gifts for and having sex with 16 to 18-year-old boys while on charitable visits to Nepal. Harris pointed out that Ó Searcaigh was not a paedophile but rather a paederast, a sexual preference which was common among the great philosophers of Ancient Greece, and that the age of consent in Nepal is 16. He also wrote that Nepal is a notoriously homophobic society, and that some of the accusers may have their own agendas.
Harris has been strongly antagonistic towards the Croke Park Agreement, arguing that the levels of pay it guarantees to public sector workers are "choking social solidarity".