Paul Tanney – journalist with a quick wit, a sharp curiosity and an unfailing love of family

An Appreciation

For every household name in the news business, legions of highly skilled journalists toil behind the scenes to bring it all onto the screen, radio or page. One of the very finest was Paul Tanney, the deputy editor of RTÉ's Prime Time programme who died aged 50 one month ago.

Many warm tributes were paid to Tanney, each recalling his quick wit, sharp curiosity and unfailing love of family. When he was diagnosed in 2017 with leukaemia, his first thoughts were for his wife Jessica and children Sadhbh and Daniel. That remained so as he battled for years against sickness, confronting it with courage, endurance and wry humour.

He was the son of Brian and Enda Tanney, the brother of David and Claire. Always proud of his roots in the Stranmillis area of Belfast, he recalled a happy childhood. He attended Methodist College Belfast, fondly referring to it by its local name Methody, and studied history at Trinity College Dublin. He went on to a postgraduate diploma in journalism at the University of Ulster. These were the origins of a distinguished career in which he worked on practically every major news event for a quarter-century.

Tanney came to The Irish Times in 1998, joining the nascent editorial team whose job it was to publish the printed newspaper on the web. This was in the early years of the internet, before wi-fi and the proliferation of rolling news on mobile phones and social media. On long night shifts when the work often went on until 4am, Tanney’s meticulous attention to nuance and his immense knowledge were immediately apparent. So too was his innate facility for fresh and measured thought, even in the dead of night, and his ability to interrogate every side of an argument.

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He moved to the newsroom as a reporter in D’Olier Street and then to the Belfast office, writing on the birth pangs of peace as the Good Friday pact told hold. One news photo of that dramatic time places him among a throng of reporters leaning in to listen to John Hume.

From The Irish Times he went to Newstalk radio, becoming the producer of David McWilliams’s breakfast news programme. This was gruelling work, carried off with aplomb even though he was up every morning in the pre-dawn hours. Tanney’s unerring commitment to his journalism was such that a social evening might end for him when everyone else was getting going. It was the same after his move to RTÉ when he became an editor on the Morning Ireland radio programme, a job he relished that quickly put him on a path to senior editorial posts in TV news. He worked on the Six-One and Nine O’Clock News programmes and became deputy editor of Prime Time in 2016, the tumultuous year of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election.

Tanney loved being a father. When there was a reprieve from illness, he savoured precious time with his family. He was a dear friend to many and an excellent colleague, one of those who could make tricky tasks look easy. Great sadness at his untimely loss is tempered, a little, by good memories.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times