Members of the AEJ were saddened to learn of the sudden death on the 27th February, 2021, of long-time member Mike Burns. Mike (84) was a stalwart of the Association and not alone attended almost every lunch and event but regularly hosted a table of friends which he said was his way of thanking people for their support and friendship during his life. In recognition of his contribution to the AEJ, he was made an Honorary Life member.
Tributes to him were led by President Michael D Higgins who said his colleagues praised his genial nature and “the ease with which he engaged both with people and with complex issues.” Taoiseach Micheál Martin described him as a “giant of journalism.” He added: “His analysis of the Troubles and work on UK-Irish relations made a real difference that will endure.”
Mike Burns was one of the most significant journalists in the history of Irish broadcasting. In the late 1960s he pioneered three programmes that continue today to be a central part of RTÉ radio news. His close colleague in the early days of the new programmes was another AEJ member, Sean Duignan, and their friendship continued for more than five decades. The team they assembled included AEJ members Kevin Healy and Brendan Keenan as well as the late Gerald Barry and Kevin O’Kelly.
Mike was born in Leicester in the English Midlands but the family moved to a farm in Ballintubber, Co Roscommon, where the young Mike became one of the original members of the Pioneer Aces showband, later renamed the Premier Aces. However, he decided to opt for journalism and got his first reporting job with the Roscommon Champion. He later moved back to England where he worked for regional and national newspapers.
He returned to Ireland to work for the Sunday Independent before joining RTÉ in 1962, a year after Ireland’s TV service began, operating from the GPO on O’Connell Street, Dublin. He began writing for the RTÉ Guide, but soon moved to the newsroom, where one of his first assignments, on the eve of JFK’s state funeral, was to report from the Kennedy clan’s ancestral home of Dunganstown, Co Wexford.
He went on to become RTÉ’s first Editor of News Features, launching the News at 1.30 (now the RTÉ News at One), World Report and the programme that would make his name, This Week. Mike eventually moved to London as RTÉ’s London Editor in the 1980s, where he reported on many major happenings, including the political demise of Margaret Thatcher. During his time in London, his office was the first port of call for most Irish parliamentarians and journalists alike when visiting the House of Commons.
After he retired from RTÉ, Mike became the Media Officer for the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and held that role for many years. He and his late wife, Lynette Fegen, also launched the first Irish Media Directory. On St Patrick’s Day in 2004, he received an MBE from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. The award acknowledged his services to UK-Irish relations. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.