Archive for March 27, 2012

Our problems won’t be solved by bad legislation

Even the value of the houses pictured has dropped by 99%.

For its own sake, it’s time the government put the unloved puppy that is the household charge to sleep.

It was a bad idea. It is unjust. It is badly thought-out and could well end up costing more than it brings in.

In short, it’s an accountant’s solution to a politician’s problem.

The level of stupidity accompanying most of the statements being made by ministers to boost the number of registrations is embarrassing. Because of the elephantine bank debt, none of them stand up.

The money will be used to keep streets clean and libraries open? Use the bank debt.

It will fund the fire services and other local services? Use the bank debt.

It will be used to maitain parks and other open spaces? Use the bank debt.

It’s only two euros a week? Take it out of the bank debt.

That is before we get on to the idea of asking people to pay something without sending them an invoice specifying what it is they are paying for, the period covered, the amount.

Add to that that those who don’t own their own homes aren’t liable and it becomes clear that this isn’t badly thought-out.

It wasn’t thought out at all.

In some ways, living in Sweden drives me mad; it is a society based on consensus, and nothing happens until the vast majority agree on the best way forward.

In Ireland, we do the opposite. We leap to conclusions and bull our way through them – the bank guarantee and the household charge were both forced through in haste, leaving but the government and the citizenry to repent at their leisure.

There will be no positive outcome from all these threats and scaremongering. The negatives, however, will be huge.

The government would do well to remember that this is not the last of the austerity budgets – heads still firmly stuck in the sand, our politicians have plenty of taxation time-bombs planted and waiting down the tracks, and not for local services or the public service either. ALL of this austerity is because Brian Lenihan chose to guarantee the banks, without asking his cabinet colleagues, let alone those of us who would be landed with the bill.

The promised property tax that will replace the household charge will be universally reviled, and what the government is doing is creating a dangerous anti-taxation snowball that will further affect the poorest in Irish society.

Until recently, Irish people were beginning to come around to the idea that taxes were a necessary evil that in fact could do a lot of good, and that sharing the burden wasn’t such a bad idea.

But in their boundless stupidity, this government is prepared to sacrifice that – the wellbeing of a just society in Ireland – to get another gold star from the troika.

Because what matters is no longer the pages in the lives of Irish people, but the number in the bottom-right corner of the troika balance sheet.

Fianna Fail spinning in its grave

The Mahon report - over 3000 pages. Very few jokes.

It didn’t take long for it all to become clear. Fianna Fail is not going to disband.

Instead, a party riddled with corruption and lies intends to spin their way out of this one, and it has already begun.

Maybe they’d borrowed Aenghus O Snodaigh’s printer, but somewhere Fianna Fail got it’s flash cards printed up and distributed to the faithful.

On it, words like “50,000 members”, “genuine people” and “minority” were written.

On TV and radio, they were repeatedly spouted by those still faithful to an ideology that is dead and disgraced. They are going down, but they are going down fighting.

The Fianna Fail party leader had an extra couple of flash cards up his sleeve. On one of them was the death sentence for the political career of one Patrick Bartholomew Ahern.

What was most telling about that was the fact that it came approximately fifteen years too late.

Despite his efforts to the contrary, Martin hasn’t just arrived in politics. Lest we forget – he sat around the cabinet table when Ahern was making the short journey to Dublin Castle to convince them that he didn’t have a bank account and that he won his money on the horses.

(Read that last sentence again – it drips with the contempt that Fianna Fail have for the Irish people).

It wasn’t credible then. It’s not credible now.

The Mahon tribunal has found that he was “untruthful”.

Which is a nice way of saying he lied.

The trouble is that we all knew that; Micheal Martin did too, but it took until now for him and his party to take action.

Like Bertie, he is not credible.

Nor is the idea that the 50,000 ordinary, allegedly decent people didn’t know that Bertie lied – a damning indictment of our democracy. They and others kept electing Bertie and Fianna Fail, despite the fact that the dogs in the street knew that Flynn was corrupt and the rest were liars.

Democracy as practiced in Ireland is essentially a moral choice of the lesser of two evils. We tolerate Sinn Féin, despite the fact that many members have a past that has not been fully disclosed or atoned for.

We tolerate a Labour party that saves its most savage actions for the working class it is supposed to represent.

We tolerate a coalition government that lied and lied and lied about “not another cent” to the banks before handing over even more money to them.

The 50,000 not-so-decent people – who recently gave spivs like Cowen an ovation at their Ard Fheis – are not alone.

There are over four million of us in this republic, and the overwhelming sound this morning should be that of us all getting down of our high horses to have a good look at our democracy. They committed the crimes, but we facilitated them and enabled them.

Even now, we allow them to walk free and sleep in their own beds.

Just as this crisis represents a great opportunity to reform society, Mahon represents a great chance to dismantle the gombeen kleptocracy beloved of Bertie, Cowen, Reynolds and the rest.

We either accept that this is the way we are, or we embrace change. Either way, none of us can plead ignorance any longer.

 

Corruption is the least of our worries

15 years, €300 million and all we got was a statement of the obvious.

Bertie Ahern is not to be believed.

Padraig Flynn and a bunch of other politicians have accepted crooked payments.

Corruption is endemic in Irish politics.

None of the above is news.

What is both upsetting is that, with the exception of the deceased Liam Lawlor, all of those criticised in the Mahon report will sleep in their own beds tonight as free men and women.

Our legal and policing systems do not work – if they did, this kind of corruption would either not be possible, or severely punishable. It is neither.

What was necessary was not a tribunal – a call to the police should do.

In the case of Bertie Ahern, a simple criminal investigation for suspected tax fraud would have been enough. This never happened. We won’t be told why.

Same goes for Flynn. Call me old-fashioned, but when fifty grand meant for a political party goes missing, that’s theft. Doing political favours to get the fifty k is also not allowed. Theft is not a matter for tribunals – it’s a matter for the Gardaí.

I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that none those named will wind up behind bars.

Why? Becasue they never do. Not the bankers, not Denis O’Brien or anyone else criticised by Moriarty.

This is Ireland, and we do not do accountability.

If we did, there’d be flashing blue lights in Drumcondra, Mayo and a number of other locations tonight.

Don’t hold your breath.

Rabbitte caught as Gallagher wags the dog

The last we've heard of Seanie? Don't bet on it.

So Pat Rabbitte said no.

There will be no public enquiry into “tweetgate”, and I doubt Gallagher is too disappointed.

He’s in a golden situation, whatever happens. He has been wronged, and he’s making as much hay as he can out of it.

Because this has little to do with RTE, or social media, or democracy, and everything to do with Sean Gallagher’s public political rehabilitation.

It is ironic that Denis O’Brien-owned organs like Newstalk and Independent Newspapers can be so lamenting of journalistic standards at RTE, all the while failing to apply them  themselves- before and after the fact.

In the first instance, there’s a good case to be made for the fact that Gallagher never should have gotten as far as he did.

Despite the prevailing anti-FF political climate, Dev’s border bagman was allowed to reinvent himself with ease as a community and social worker who had but a passing affiliation with the Galway tent.

Not only do we now know this to be true, we knew it at the time – but somehow, the silent acquiescence of the media allowed him to get away with it, almost all the way to the park.

Contrast this with the invasive analysis of the other candidates, in particular Martin McGuinness. Dana Rosemary Scallon had transatlantic family matters dragged up and Mary Davis was battered from pillar to post, as McGuinness had skeletons thrown at him from every conceivable closet.

But in the end Gallagher was placed in a farmyard with a cheque in his fist, very much a member of the inner circle of Fianna Fáil. The voters extracted their revenge, swiftly and mercilessly.

Since then, very little has been heard of him, but now Gallagher is back, having timed his return carefully.

With the wind of the BAI judgement in his sails, he is once again untouchable.

Once again, the lie is played out that the tweet sank him. It didn’t. The word ‘envelope’ and his proximity to the party that destroyed the country did.

Which leads us to the most worrying aspect – the hollow accusations of bias being bandied about, not least at RTE.

O’Brein’s minions would do well to remember that those in glass houses are ill advised to start getting careless with the rocks.

One only need to look at the first three pages of yesterday’s Sunday Independent to get a comprehensive view of the hysterical, anti-nationalist, anti-liberal agenda of the paper.

Turn on Newstalk for five minutes and you’ll hear a watered-down version of the same thing.

To accuse RTE of anything near that level of bias is beyond hypocritical.

RTE should not be biased. In as much as possible (and there are theoretical discussions that suggest that no-one is capable of full impartiality), RTE should strive to be as fair and as balanced as they possibly can, leaving the viewers, listeners and voters to make up their own mind.

The same cannot be demanded of privately-owned media – but what can be demanded is a clear distinction between what is news, and what is ideologically-driven comment.

For instance: the interview with Pat McGuirk – the man was delighted to ask a question on Frontline until the Sindo told him otherwise – by Jody Corcoran was not news. It was an ideologically-motivated attack on RTE, from beginning to end, and this should have been made clear. Any attempt to portray it as anything else is disingenuous and misleading.

(Add to this the fact that everyone in the PR/media business knows that you don’t just show up and ask whatever you like on TV shows. Producers and researchers are very careful about what it is they let through for all sorts of reasons- ironically, appearing to be impartial is one of the primary ones. Gallagher’s claims to be surprised at this fact lack credibility).

The same with Newstalk. At least I know George Hook is a blueshirt, and that he brings on the dimwitted squawking buffoon that is Michael Graham every week to himself appear moderate. I can take that into account, and god knows George says it often enough.

What I cannot take is Jonathan Healy saying “surely RTE must now face a public enquiry” when there is nothing surely about it.

It’s opinion masquerading as news, and the distinction should be an awful lot clearer.

As for Gallagher? Ironically, given that it was his association with them that destroyed his campaign, his FF handlers are now welcoming him back inside the tent.

Why? He is probably the only man who could save the party.  He may have been denied the Aras, but – with a little help from Denis’s uncritical minions – Kildare Street might still be he his.

Tweet was smoking gun, but ‘envelope’ was the magic bullet

Seán Gallagher. Not pictured- Fianna Fáil bag.

There must have been paroxysms of delight at this week’s Sunday Independent editorial meeting, as the decision was taken to go after all the paper’s favourite sacred cows in the story that had it all.

The paper’s big guns were let loose on the Seán Gallagher fake tweet story, and in their sights they had all of their most beloved targets – Sinn Féin, RTE, the Labour Party, the public service, the “D4 meeja”.

Heroic media watchdog Eoghan Harris – who has written the sum total of nothing about Independent Newspapers and their racist attempts to slur a Polish woman on social welfare in Donegal – is once again to the fore, wailing hysterically about how RTE is a tool of the liberal left and how Gallagher never got a fair crack of the whip.

In what will be a new departure for the Sunday Independent, let’s look at the facts, rather than the misleading, hysterical knicker-wetting of the likes of Harris.

I think everyone would agree that a central tenet of Gallagher’s campaign was to depict himself as not being a Fianna Fáil insider.  This is something he did well, harping on repeatedly about his background as an entrepreneur and as a youth and community worker.

But when the tweet from the spoof  Sinn Féin account put him in a farmyard with a brown envelope in his pocket, the game was up. It was his admission that he may have done so (as is the nature of Irish politics, he couldn’t recall getting a cheque for a large amount of money from a virtual stranger).

Watch the tape of the debate: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUhFdi7iRL0]

The first point that Gallagher starts to lose the room is at 5:53. “I don’t want to cast any aspersions on him,” says Gallagher glumly, before performing a clinical character assassination on the man from whom he had collected the money. “I don’t want to get involved in this,” he rounds off, to a ripple of laughter, derision and then mocking applause from the crowd.

They were only warming up.

“I have no recollection getting a cheque from this guy”. More catcalls.

Smelling blood, Kenny steps in, asking Gallagher to clarify- why would you invite a fuel smuggler to a Fianna Fáil do?

(In fairness, recidivist criminals in Fianna Fáil are hardly unusual, but that’s for another day).

Gallagher returns with interest, saying that’s not what the presidential election is about – maybe it was this round of applause that did for him. Maybe he relaxed here and took his eye of the ball.

McGuinness asks the question again and, given enough rope, Gallagher hanged himself. Right there, on national TV.

“If he gave me a cheque”- pandemonium now – “if he gave me the cheque, it was made out to Fianna Fáil headquarters“.

In that one sentence, the careful choreography of his exit from Fianna Fáil, his painfully-sculpted political alibi as nothing more than an ideological dreamer, hi entire campaign as a businessman of the people imploded.

In a race where they hadn’t had the nerve to run a candidate themselves, Fianna Fáil’s bagman was a goner.

Did the tweet have an impact? Yes, and an enormous one at that. And whoever in the control room it was who fed Pat the line that it had come from the McGuinness presidential campaign has some serious questions to answer.

But the impact of the tweet was more in deciding where and when Gallagher’s campaign would end, because end it would.

Sinn Féin and the media were never going to let this one go. Without the tweet he may have survived until the following morning’s radio shows, or even as far as Liveline, but his ship was sinking and everyone knew it.

The tweet may have been the smoking gun, but it was the fact that he had collected cheques on behalf of Fianna Fáil that was the silver bullet that killed his campaign.

Gallagher’s biggest mistake in his campaign was the extent to which he went to distance himself from his Fianna Fáil masters.

Instead of taking the “Road to Damascus” approach – saying he was a member but then became disillusioned – he and his team decided that any association with the party that destroyed the country would be too toxic for the campaign to bear. So they changed his story.

They were wrong. In trying to airbrush himself from Fianna Fáil history, he ignored some of the finer points; we only control the narrative to that extent that our version is the strongest and most plausible.

And when someone else comes up with something better – as they so often try and fail to do in the Sindo  - we’d better watch out.

Why you need to hear less from me, and more from them

There are essentially two reasons I am a journalist, and this blog is a major part of one of them – one is because I love to write.

The other, and the major reason behind the blog, is that on occasion I come up with an idea or an argument that deserves an airing.

Unlike most people (except other columnists, of course), I am mostly lacking in humility, so when I do come up with something I am utterly convinced that it is unique, and should be shared.

Now that, per se, is not a problem. The Internet is large, vast and mostly blissfully ignorant of my existence.

The problem is that there are many others like me. And the ones who are most visible and well-known are virtually all men.

This question was posed on Twitter today  - it asks how we can change the fact that the majority of voices commenting on business in Ireland are male.

If only it were that simple.

The position of women in journalism seems to be limited to “women’s issues”- health, fashion, gossip magazines for other women and the like. This story is not just an Irish phenomenon either.

It also goes entirely against experience. Many of the most outstanding journalists working in Ireland- be they in politics, business or sport – are women.

Of course, women are just as capable of dropping journalistic clangers as their male counterparts (the despicable “Magda” article in the Indo was authored by one Norma Costello, of whom thankfully little is heard nowadays), but these seem to be few and far between.

So if their work is of such a high standard, why do we see so few successes?

The reason is because the positions of power are still held by men.

Owners, editors, producers – most, if not all, of the juiciest jobs in media and journalism are still held by men.

Of those that aren’t, you’ll often find the girls that have beaten the boys at their own game to the hot seat – often with reputations as hard-hearted ball-breaking bitches because of it.

Which is why, when it comes down to a choice between guys and girls, the boys still get the call.

We know the rules.

We laugh at the tit jokes.

We apparently don’t cry or have hormones.

At the root of this nonsensical charade is fear – it is as if, by letting women into the VIP area of the party, we are somehow risking or cheapening what we do.

We aren’t.

In fact, journalism would be a better place for having more women involved – and not because of all the happy-clappy bullshit about how they offer a “softer” perspective, either.

The perspective women offer is not “softer”. Nor is it “harder”. It is just different.

And that perspective represents some 50% of the readership/viewership that’s out there.

But until that viewership and readership are represented on the boards and the production teams and the newsdesks, we aren’t likely to see any meaningful change.

Which is a shame. A democratic, pluralistic media should be all about offering people opinions from all corners of the debate, and not just those that chime in with our own.

So I doubt I’ll be the only one who’ll be glad to hear less of me, and more of them, and if in the future I wind up out of a job or losing a column because a woman gets it, so be it.

Because it will ultimately be because I wasn’t good enough – and that should be all that matters.

Not who wears the pants.

This article is dedicated to Ireland’s Women On Air group, who do great work in promoting the female voice in Irish media- something that, in other jurisdictions, be referred “hostile environment training”. =)

All about the optics at Fianna Fail Redux

"I didn't do it. Nobody saw me do it. you can't prove anything."

“There is no other Troy/For me to burn”, sang a young, angry Sinéad O’Connor back in the day.

If she’d been watching the born-again fervour at the RDS last night, where Fianna Fáil were attempting to once again smear a little lipstick on the pig of their failed politics, she would have found one.

Robert Troy blew hard in the trumpet, and then he was there – the man who apparently only arrived in Ireland a year ago, and had nothing to do with its ruination – Micheál Martin.

No doubt Martin believes he spoke bravely as he forked his tongue around an apology that was – in contrast to RTE’s reporting – anything other than unequivocal.

In fact, the apology started with equivocation:

It’s not enough to point to the worst world recession in 80 years and the Eurozone crisis.  Nor to point to the fact that other parties were demanding policies which would have made things worse.

It’s worth pointing out that Ireland’s troubles are not a result of the Eurozone crisis- we are in fact the cause of a great deal of it. And for that, the blame lies one thousand percent with Martin and the rest of his Fianna Fáil spivs, who were – lest we forget – in power at the time.

He continues to perpetuate one of Bertie’s many, many lies. Nothing has changed.

But for all his bluster, his attempt to regain the high ground of Republicanism from Sinn Féin was probably the most laughable – here was the party that sold this country down the river, throwing away our hard-won sovreignty, claiming to be Republicans?

If Tony McCoy’s undercarriage is ever damaged beyond repair, he can transplant Martin’s neck as fine replacement.

But if the laughter in a million living rooms wasn’t enough, the optics were the most damning.

Every time Martin spoke of pride and achievement and of a new kind of politics, the camera panned to the Soldiers of Destiny who were the architects of our national downfall – Cowen, Coughlan, Lenihan and the spineless goons that kept them in power, not to mention Martin himself.

Not only that- the party faithful actually applauded them. It would appear the party faithful are also at least partly mad.

As the recent interview with the despicable Mary Hanafin has proved, nothing in Fianna Fail has changed – not their policies, not their leadership, not their sense that they did nothing wrong.

This crisis is something that just happened to them. They consider themselves to be desperately unlucky, rather than grossly inept and fantastically corrupt.

What they should have done was to go around to the other side of the RDS, where a careers fair was taking place.

There, they would have met the thousands desperate for a better future – any future – now forced to leave the country because of the catastrophic greed and failure of Fianna Fáil.

There, they could have prostrated themselves before those who are the true victims of this crisis- not themselves, as they would have you believe.

And there, they could have given the greatest apology of all, which would be to close down their corrupt, cancerous party and start anew.

That would have been an apology worth making.

We need to end our celebrity obsession before it’s too Late Late

Ireland's most sensitive man in Ireland's toughest job.

I have a confession to make.

I like Ryan Turbidy. I like him a lot.

He is a skilled broadcaster – sensitive, sympathetic, yet utterly unsuited to the Late Late Show.

The world’s longest-running talk show is in danger of running out of steam.

The Late Late is part of the Irish living room – which, as we all know, can be a loud, rowdy, contrary place.

This doesn’t happen on the Late Late Show. Not any more.

Ryan is too nice. Even when asking a hard question, his face bears an expression that says “this hurts me more than it hurts you”.

It’s an expression Gay Byrne never wore.

Part of the problem is, of course, the guests.

It’s hard to ask hard questions of people who have never done or said or stood for anything of substance.

Last night we had a girl from Galway who got a bit of stick on Twitter, some people dancing for Tescos, and three inane empty-headed hacks speculating about what the murderers of women may or may not have been thinking or doing at some point.

Niall Quinn was his usual sympathetic self, but for a man described as “Mother Teresa”, there are no hard questions to ask.

The interview with comedian Anne Gildea – currently being treated for breast cancer – was gripping television, but Turbidy interrupted uncomfortable silences at critical times.

Just as Gildea had composed herself to answer, Turbidy would interject to lighten the situation. That is not what was needed.

As a standup, Anne Gildea is in probably the toughest profession in showbusiness – she is more than capable of dealing with Tubs, his audience, and indeed cancer, and the best of luck to her in her recovery.

But ultimately the nub of the Late Late Show’s problem is our obsession with celebrities from A-list to Z-list.

The producers obviously have some reason for trotting out these nobodies – that reason is because we watch the likes of “Desperate Scousewives”, and some of us even take them seriously.

That’s not what I learned about making television. When I studied communications, the first question we were taught to ask when producing TV is “what story are we trying to tell?” Then you decide how to go about doing it, and indeed who should do it.

The reality TV celebrity trap is that their only story is themselves, and in 101 cases out of 100 it’s not that interesting.

What pains me – and I’ve made this known to the Late Late producers on Twitter – is that there are so many brilliant, fascinating, uplifting and tragic stories out there among the plain people of Ireland.

There are musicians and magicians and comedians struggling for a break that could do with the exposure far more than some C-lister whose ambition- despite the Twitter abuse- is to go on Big Brother.

There are businesses and volunteers and carers who go to outstanding lengths for their communities. We see them, fleetingly, on the Late Late, before the next washed-up, wrinkled has-been is trotted out.

The producers might do well to remember that what is often their biggest audience of the year is for the Toy Show, when there is nary a celebrity in sight- instead, the show is given over to children, in all their original, chaotic, comedic glory.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Ryan is the right man to do this job.

But I’d rather he turn his sympathetic ear to the stories of ordinary people than whatever talentless gobshite happens to be hawked around Montrose by some PR person during the week.