Archive for Irish Politics

Voters suffer when journalism becomes a rich man’s game

One of the more interesting aspects of the current general election campaign – and indeed the last five years in Irish politics – is how both politicians and media are constantly and consistently misreading the electorate.

As the back-slapping reverberates around their self-contained echo chamber, journalists and politicians cosy up to one another, their flabbers completely gasted when voters either don’t buy their narratives.

Worse still, the great unwashed often ignore them completely, discussing the issues that mater to them on social media and alternative outlets like Broadsheet instead.

A recent example would be RTE’s Claire Byrne recently describing the continued existence of the Special Criminal Court as a “key issue” of the current election campaign, when it is nothing of the sort.

RTE has been accused of bias, not least by supporters of Sinn Féin and the left, and this may be true – but it’s not necessarily a conscious bias.

In fact it is more that, like a crow looking into a milk bottle, they simply don’t know what it is they are looking at.

The problem for journalism is clear – what was once a working-class profession has now become a luxury vocation for those who can afford to indulge in it, and more often than not, they are completely out of touch.

At the very outset, the gates into journalism are locked.

You either need to study journalism, communications, media or arts and pay the fees that Ruairí Quinn said you’d never have to pay.

That simple fact alone immediately closes off the avenue for many people.

(There is of course the possibility of joining a newsroom and working your way up, but this is very much the exception these days).

Then when you do struggle through college and come out the other side, you are expected to work for free for several years – the only difference between “internships” and Jobbridge is that the latter, staggeringly, actually pays more.

The fact of the matter is that more or less the only way to build a career in Irish journalism is to have a mummy or daddy with deep pockets – not the kind of people to be ticking the box for Mary Lou or Clare Daly, if the truth be told.

This process of self-selection leads to a complete lack of editorial understanding for vast swathes of the Irish political landscape, from the enormous anger over water charges to the fact that most people have long since moved on from what Sinn Féin used to be.

With expressions of anger and violence disbarred in the homes of the middle and upper classes, the editors and journalists simply do not know how to deal with it.

Instead of analysing it and trying to see it for what it is – and indeed doing something so simple as actually asking the people concerned what they think – they try to shoehorn it into a context that they can understand, and are doomed to failure.

As a result we have a situation where editors seeking to influence the political discourse don’t have to lift a finger – it is enough just to employ people who come from the same stock.

I am proud to contribute to RTE, the BBC and Swedish public service.

I strongly believe in their mandate and that it is to be defended at all costs from the constant political attacks – from both left and right – that would seek to either silence or castrate them.

I am also proud to remain independent of them – often, my only goal when I contribute is to put a face to people who go otherwise unseen in our media, be they refugees, the poor, drug addicts or whoever else..

That RTE has displayed bias during the current campaign is a moot point, but it should not be assumed that it is conscious or malevolent.

Instead, it is a problem of diversity.

Journalism was once full of working-class jobs, and we must open up the media once again not just to the working class, but to as diverse a range of people as possible.

We need to make journalism, and indeed all aspects of media work, possible, affordable and accessible for all.

At the moment, Irish media is becoming more and more a playground of rich kids, the heirs to the fortunes of The Lads, so its output in support of their aims shouldn’t surprise any of us.

And given the media’s responsibility to hold those in power to account, in the end it is voters that suffer.

We all felt you in our pockets, Fergus

A man believed to be former ACC banker Fergus Crawford who accosted Mary Lou McDonald yesterday. Doesn’t like paying tax.

NOTE: Rabo Bank, the parent of Fergus Crawford’s ACC, was never bailed out by either the Irish or Dutch state. As a collective it was never

nationalised, and instead sank €900 million into ACC.

Ironically, if it had been it would have been Dutch farmers who make up its membership that would have lost out.

So while Fergus and ACC were never the recipients of a state bailout, they certainly contributed to the 2008 meltdown in Ireland.

WE ALL FELT YOU IN OUR POCKETS, FERGUS

An impassioned “concerned citizen” and self-confessed apolitical voter confronted Sinn Féin’s Mary-Lou McDonald on Grafton Street yesterday.

He accused her and her party of attempting to “tax people out of existence.”

Why? Because if Sinn Féin get into government, he will “feel it in (my) pocket”.

Now not wanting to pay tax is understandable – indeed, tax avoidance is a favourite pastime of many Irish people.

And that this should happen before the TV cameras on Dublin’s most upmarket shopping street is almost too good to be true.

I have previously advised against ever suspecting a conspiracy where common stupidity would seem a more likely reason, but yesterday’s clash was either a divine coincidence, or a clumsy set up.

You see, if the hive mind of the internet is to be believed, we’ve all felt this guy in our pockets, for the last eight years or so.

He’s Fergus Crawford, and we apparently bailed out his bank to the tune of €900 million.

Think about that for a second – one of the greatest corporate welfare scroungers in the history of the state doesn’t want to pay tax.

Fergus didn’t reveal much about his past or present.

For instance, he never mentioned that he was a relatively senior figure at ACC, or that his current employer manages pension funds for rich people, who are not renowned for their eagerness to send cheques to the revenue.

Given that his new venture is an Irish entity for Swiss investment house Sarasin, and that a story in the Irish Independent from 2013 says that they were set to take an office at St Stephen’s Green, it’s a short imaginative leap to imagine Mr Crawford building up a head of steam before charging down his marble steps to confront the people who paid for his mistakes.

Interestingly, Mr Crawford – if it is indeed the same fella who was chief economist and Head of Product Development at ACC, among other roles before the crash – didn’t waste too much time on the “middle-income earners” that he first appeared to be taking up the cudgels for.

Nope, he quickly abandoned them. Instead, his answer to Ireland’s problems was to “create wealth” – presumably the kind of “wealth creation” that he made his name in, and that led to a €64 billion bailout by the Irish people, who are now dying on trolleys for the privilege.

Blithely ignoring the fact that the Internet would out him within hours, our as-yet anonymous concerned citizen (erroneously reported by some as a “small business owner”) then moved on to his real concern – “What about their pensions?”

For those unfamiliar with how this works, Fergus and the likes of Sarasin invest people’s money to provide them with an income when they retire, siphoning off a huge chunk of money in the process, often laughably called “management fees”.

Part of their strategy is to pay as little tax as possible, sailing very close to the wind of legality, and sometimes ending up on the wrong side of it.

As recently as January of this year Eric Sarasin paid a “low six-figure sum” to close a tax fraud investigation into his affairs in Germany.

I wrote yesterday that Ireland is run for The Lads, and with impeccable timing, up pops Fergus and his enormous sense of entitlement to confirm my every word.

Ireland is still run for The Lads alright, and will continue to be so.

But The Lads are getting worried that their gravy train is about to be derailed.

It’s about time.

 

 

 

 

The Lads are counting on you

The Lads are counting on you

The message from the establishment parties for the election is a clear one, and it’s very important that you clowns in the electorate don’t get it wrong – you need to vote for The Lads.

They’re counting on you.

Firstly, let’s get one thing straight – you don’t matter.

Not unless you’re male, an en-tra-pan-oor, own a bank or a big building in London or Singapore, or live in a tax haven.

Your function in this is to vote for people who will look after the aforementioned, not to engage in all this crap about social justice and fairness and equality and all that nonsense.

Ireland, you see, is run for The Lads – sometimes by The Lads, but mostly for them. And you better not forget that.

Forward-looking nation that we are, there are some women among The Lads, but it is mostly men.

The Lads need you to work as cheaply as possible so that they can make as much money as possible off you.

The Lads also need you to pay as much tax as possible, so that they can pay as little as possible, and then lecture you about why they shouldn’t have to pay any at all.

The Lads also need you to pay your taxes and expect nothing in return.

That way, The Lads can start up private enterprises like creches and care homes and hospitals, and have a nice oul’ closed bid process where they divvy up the public money that they can get their mitts on.

Then The Lads can then charge you through the nose for things that you’ve already paid for, but that their mates in Leinster House have ensured cannot and will never work properly.

The Lads get to sweep up everything, from “social” housing to communications networks, and you will only ever get to own a share in them if they’re not making any money and never look like doing so ever again.

And ultimately, when it all goes wrong, The Lads will come back to you looking to be bailed out, because they can’t be expected to take these losses on their own – they’re The Lads, for fuck’s sake! Sure don’t we owe them everything!

And as for women, The Lads don’t like them much.

THey want control over their own bodies?! The cheek of them!

They want to be allowed into the boardrooms?! Over the dead bodies of The Lads!

They want to stand for election? IN OUR SEATS?!?!

If you are voting for Fine Gael, or Fianna Fáil or Labour, you are voting for The Lads.

You are voting to allow them to continue putting their hands in your pocket and take your money and your medical card and your dignity.

You are voting to return to power the guard dogs of The Lads, the very people who ensure that the benefits of trickle-down economics continue to flow upwards.

You are voting for stability – for The Lads.

You are voting for recovery – for The Lads.

You are voting for prosperity – for The Lads.

Now a situation might well arise where a few others at the bottom of the food chain might make a pound or two in the process, and that is entirely regrettable – but you can be sure that The Lads won’t be long knocking the craic out of it with a rent hike, or an increase in your premium, or your phone bill.

So remember – vote for The Lads.

They have a plan.

But it doesn’t include you.

And it never will.

 

 

Why I won’t be watching the #GE16 Leaders Debate

The Irish people: Lions led by (these) donkeys

For years I have commented on political communication in Ireland, as well as campaigning for the right of Irish emigrants to vote.

But having watched the “Leaders Debate” on TV3 I’m not sure a vote would be anything to have anymore, and frankly another debate is about as much use to me as an ashtray on a motorbike.

The “debate” on TV3, such as it was, was awful, undignified tripe, consisting of a herd of empty-headed braying donkeys struggling to make their soundbytes heard in an echo chamber of rampant egotism.

You had Gerry Adams pontificating about the great and the good, as if he had never heard of the generation of murder and misery that happened on his watch in Northern Ireland.

You had Joan Burton, whose only political achievement of note is reneging on every promise her party made since the last election (including the cutting of base rates of social welfare, which for some reason Labour still deny, despit the slashing of benefits to young people, driving them out of the country).

You had Micheál Martin, the incumbent Ard Rí of the Party of Spivs (or, as Gaeilge, Fianna Fáil), conveniently forgetting that all the things he was criticising the current administration for were caused by the fact that he and his cronies utterly destroyed Ireland as they buried their noses ever-deeper in the trough.

And then you had the top banana, the laughably inept Enda “Hide and Seek Champion of Mayo” Kenny, the man who is Taoiseach when it simply doesn’t matter who “leads” Ireland.

There is little to suggest that the RTE version will be any different.

It is often said that one canvasses in poetry and governs in prose, but not these morons – they canvass in soundbytes tested on focus groups and then govern in whatever way they are told by their betters in business, the banks and the EU.

Tonight’s debate will add another few hardy bucks to the mix, including Lucinda Creighton of right-wing crackpot outfit Renua, and Stephen Donnelly, a man of admittedly impressive intellect but also a possessor of principles (such as his broad acceptance of TTIP) which would be anathema to other Social Democratic parties that sprang from the workers movements.

But at the end of the day, principles do not matter in Irish politics.

All that matters is power.

If you want to know about the parties, by all means read their manifestos, but in doing so please be aware that, in Ireland, your vote only elects a parliament, not a government.

Literally everything that is said and written between now and when you cast your ballot has no value, as once the count is in all bets are off and the jockeying for position in the next junta begins.

And no matter what they say now, everyone is open to governing with everyone else, because all that matters in Ireland is being at the top table, however briefly, and maximising the return for yourself and your mates once it is achieved.

 

Denis, the Dáil and denying freedom of the press

Imagine living in a country where one single person edited every newspaper and every news bulletin on radio on TV.

If you live in Ireland, you don’t have to.

Because that’s exactly what Denis O’Brien did today.

Citing an injunction handed down recently to stop RTE broadcasting a story about his private finances, the businessman and major media owner used his lawyers to threaten and cajole anyone trying to report what went on in parliament.

That’s right – statements made in the Irish legislature were censored by a Maltese (for tax purposes, at any rate) businessman.

Front-page stories were ditched. Headlines were read out, but the details left untouched.

The story? There is no story. Move along. Nothing to see here, said Denis.

The fact that he is prepared to do that shows that Denis O’Brien is probably not fit to buy an Irish newspaper off a stand, let alone actually own one, and a few radio stations for good measure.

His childish, petulant response is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy.

Denis claims that every citizen is entitled to privacy and to his or her good name, and that is true.

But equally, taxpayers lying on trolleys in hospitals are entitled know if O’Brien – probably the biggest beneficiary of corporate welfare in Ireland, as well as owner of several entities charging the state handsomely for their services- has received their money either in error or under less-than-onerous terms.

If businesses he owned or bought have had debts written off, especially at the expense of the taxpayer, it is in the public interest.

How Denis pays his electricity bill is his own private business.

But if he has got money off a state-owned bank bailed out and underwritten by the Irish people – who, to pay for it, have to pay water charges which no less than Denis O’Brien is profiting handsomely from – it’s in the public interest.

If he has got contracts, deals or acquisitions featuring public money or state bodies without following due process, it’s in the public interest.

O’Brien originally tried to shut down the interest rate story by reverting to the courts. The intervention of Catherine Murphy – who has behaved impeccably – has now moved the story on.

I hate to break it to you Denis, and in fairness I’m surprised it’s me that has to do it given the amount of media bods that surround you, but the injunction you got is not worth the paper it’s written on.

The story has moved on.

The genies is out of the bottle.

And he ain’t going back in anytime soon.

And this is what upsets Denis the most.

No matter how much he pays, we cannot un-know what we now know.

But his reaction is that which is typical of the powerful.

Threaten. Cajole. Denigrate.

How dare these proles stand up to me?

Stand up they have, and they will continue to do so.

Fair play to those at RTE like Keelan Shanley who continued, despite their hands being tied by useless legal advice, to challenge.

The operators at Broadsheet were equally brave.

I wonder, though, about those at Independent Newspapers and in Marconi House, who were either deathly silent or merely gave passing mention to a mini-constitutional crisis, just a week after one of the proudest moments in the history of our democracy.

If I were them and my reporting was being blunted by an owner seemingly only out to serve himself, I would seriously question whether my job, along with my paper or station, was worth having at all.

Being freelance may be an insecure life, but I’d rather my career die because I stood up for something I believe in – freedom of speech and freedom of the press – than be on my knees in front of Denis and his high-priced lawyers.

Note: Today Our Man In Stockholm filled in the forms to register as a publisher in Sweden, meaning that articles and reports can be published here under Swedish media law, rather than the draconian legislation that allows the powerful to sue the press into silence. More news as it breaks…

 

Power addicts anonymous

- Hi, my name is Micheál and I’m addicted to power.

- Hi, Micheál

- Go ahead man, you’re in a safe place here.

- Thanks lads.

I’ve been an addict for years and things were fine. I had all the power I wanted, but ultimately me and a few others abusers used it to destroy.

In the end, we made a lot of people suffer, and then our power got taken away.

- Good for you, man. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, bro.

- I thought so for a while too, but deep down I wanted it back more than anything.

- That’s natural man, trust the higher power.

- Lately, I find the craving is back, more intense than ever. And I’m back to my old ways. I mean, I just stabbed a friend who thought she could trust me in the back.

- What?!?

- No-one’s judging you here, Micheál.

- Thanks lads.

It’s just instinct. She wanted to use the power for good, but the rest of us just wanted to keep it for ourselves, just like the old days. She says we’re hopeless, we can’t change.

- So what did you do?

- She held an intervention and told us we had to use the power for good, for the weak.

- How did you react?!

- We mocked her and laughed at her.

- You LAUGHED at her?!

- I thought no-one was judging me here?

- For fu… go on, Micheál.

- I can’t help it. It’s the crowd I hang around with.

For years, we had all the power we want, and now we have nothing. So we fucked her over in the press, made her out to seem just like us – a greedy, power-hungry, self centred bitch, when in truth she’s nothing of the sort.

But goddamit, we’re good people, we work hard – we DESERVE power! NO-ONE deserves power more than us!!

- Micheál, I think we have discovered the root of this issue. The first step to dealing with your addiction to power is to admit you have a problem.

- I DON’T HAVE A FUCKING PROBLEM WITH POWER! THE ONLY PROBLEM I HAVE WITH POWER IS THAT I DON’T FUCKING HAVE ANY!!

ME?! YOU HAVE A PROBLEM! SHE HAS A PROBLEM!!

- Micheál, there’s no need to get aggress…

- FUCK YOU!!! NOT ONE OF YOU FUCKERS WILL GET ON A TICKET AT THE NEXT ELECTION!! NOT ONE FUCKING POSTER, YA HEAR ME?!?

- OK lads, we’ll have to leave it there for today. Please remember that what you heard in this room today is confidential.

- FUCK YOU!! FUCKING BLUESHIRTS!!

*Micheál calls a number on speed-dial*

- Is that Seán O’Rourke?

Book me in for tomorrow morning, that uppity bitch is getting it in the neck…

Enjoy the silence – “balance” has failed

The broadcast moratorium on the Irish Marriage Equality referendum is now in force, meaning that legacy technology is now excluded from the debate, which will continue online in earnest until long after the polls have closed.

But as the curtains come down on the radio and TV coverage and debates, it’s time to call a spade a spade – “balance” as it is interpreted in Irish journalism (particularly in broadcast journalism) has been a spectacular and predictable failure.

The McKenna judgment may loom large but it is no excuse for not robustly challenging and investigating both sides of the campaign.

Declining to properly investigate and analyse the funding of both sides may appear at first glance to be balanced, but it’s not, as it is the voters who are left wondering how to follow the money.

Allowing campaigners to go unchallenged with statements that range from the completely spurious to the downright offensive does not provide “balance.”

Allowing campaigners to keep referring to the same unrelated subjects, over and over and over again, despite the Referendum Commission saying several times that they were of no relevance, does not provide balance.

Instead, it allows the waters to be muddied – the very antithesis of what journalism, and in particular public service broadcasting, should be.

We have had a situation where, under the watchful myopic eye of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, editors, producers and journalists were too busy watching the clock to ensure that both sides get equal time to notice that the emperors they are interviewing were in many cases not wearing any clothes.

In our newspapers, opinion pieces from both sides were published seemingly without any facts being checked. Glaring errors and misleading information went uncorrected and unacknowledged.

The result was a skewed and shallow debate about non-issues that leaves Irish media consumers with more questions than answers.

Given that Irish people have a tendency to leave the constitution untouched when they don’t have clarity on the issue at hand, it’s hardly a wonder that the gap is closing.

The issue – whether “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex” – has barely been discussed, if at all, in the run-up to polling day.

In the vast majority of cases, media moguls have been running scared.

In some cases, “experts” put forward turned out to be nothing more than internet trolls with dubious credentials. And in the case of at least one prominent gay member of the No campaign, the most charitable thing that can be said is that if he didn’t exist, they would have had to invent him.

Forced to pick from a tiny pool of No contributors, the same faces trotted out arguments that became more and more hysterical and irrelevant.

Pointing this out to them would not have been in any way unbalanced. It would have been simple common sense.

Alas, it happened all too seldom.

There are some notable exceptions – Philip Boucher-Hayes and Miriam O’Callaghan (RTE), Chris Donoghoe (Newstalk) and Matt Cooper (Today FM) all interrupted rants at times to point out that the contents of them were not relevant.

This, unfortunately wasn’t enough to stop some of the debaters, whose ignorance of good manners was almost as broad as their ignorance of the facts.

The provision of impartial information is the job of the Referendum Commission. It is not the media to be a mouthpiece for either side.

It is the job of journalists to report what happens, to question what they are told and to try to put it in context.

For too long,the practice of journalism in Ireland has been drowned in a sea of whingeing from vested interests with an enormous sense of entitlement, and who see the media as nothing more then their own personal moral megaphone.

For much of the existence of this state, the Catholic Church has been at the top of that particular queue, and to a certain extent it still is.

But there can be no obligation for the media to be “balanced” when the arguments put forth are anything but.

Freedom of speech is about being able to say whatever you want – but it does not and should not oblige anyone else to give you a platform to spout bilious irrelevant nonsense.

Also implicit in freedom of speech is that your opinions and your motivations will be rigorously teased out and tested.

Freedom of speech means that you are free to think and to say and to write what you like – but no-one is under any obligation to publish or broadcast it, or  indeed to listen to it or read it.

The Marriage Referendum debate has been a failure of the Irish Fourth Estate, but it is not entirely the fault of journalism.

We need to understand that in some issues the public is in broad agreement, and that giving 50% of airtime in such situations is only going to cause unnecessary hurt and damage to fellow citizens.

We need to recognise that the media ultimately does not tell us what to think – only what to think about. Our families and our peers have a much greater influence on how our opinions are formed than any op-ed piece or self-aggrandising debate contribution ever could have.

In short, we need to learn that balance cannot exist, and exercise common sense instead. There are many rights that come with citizenship but one of the most important responsibilities we have is to understand the consequences of exercising our vote.

And that’s something nobody should be relying on the media for.

 

 

Ryan’s video nasty says more about Late Late than Murphy

A pic of Ryan Tubridy and Paul Murphy taken from the RTE Player.

Let me tell you about The Late Late Show and fairness.

Next week, the show will feature several songs, one of which will be chosen as Ireland’s Eurovision entry.

The backing band and singers for one song are a girl band from Sweden, who asked me if I could find them a gig in Dublin on the Saturday.

I contacted Ryan Tubridy’s show and we agreed that it might be fun to have the girls go on the radio on Friday morning and then have Ryan’s listeners find them a gig for the Saturday night.

Then, yesterday evening, I got an e-mail to say that the idea was being nixed, as it wouldn’t be fair to the other acts appearing on the Late Late to highlight one on the radio show, and not the others.

Then Tubridy interviewed socialist TD Paul Murphy on the Late Late, and all semblance of fairness went out the window.

Tubridy is a terrible, almost comically bad political interviewer.

His only tactics are to provoke his subject and try to channel some semblance of righteous indignation.

But in trying to seem tough and uncompromising, he instead comes across as rude and ignorant.

His questions are aggressive, shallow and transparent, and when the subject answers them capably, he irritatedly talks over them and moves on.

Of course, this Paxman- (very) lite approach is the first thing the media handlers will tell the politicians as they prepare to face him.

Tubridy was entirely right to ask Murphy about his history, his political career, his penchant for protest and his numerous arrests.

And asking him to explain the footage of Murphy with the bullhorn during the “siege of Jobstown” was also journalistically valid, even if it has already been done to death.

But the decision to show the footage of an entirely separate protest, in which Murphy had no hand, act or part, was the most morally bankrupt editorial decision in a long time.

And given that we’re talking about Ireland here, that is some achievement.

The film of Murphy holding the bullhorn is journalistically valid because it gives the context of what happened in Jobstown.

The showing of the film in which president Michael D Higgins was called a “midget parasite,” under the tenuous logic that some of those shouting are known to Murphy, was all about subtext.

Paul Murphy supports water protestors.

Water protestors are violent, foul-mouthed people.

Paul Murphy is a violent, foul-mouthed person.

Deliberate or not, it was a nakedly political act – its message was “protesting is OK, but for the love of GOD don’t offend anyone or inconvenience our betters.”

But the question about the presidential protest had to be asked, you may say – but did it really?

Murphy has condemned the behaviour of those in the video (including those people known to him) on countless occasions.

About half an hour later, the game was up.

The jovial Chris De Burgh was sitting on the couch, singing his songs unprompted and telling everyone how great he was.

But here we had a man who had sex with a teenage girl while his wife lay recovering from a broken neck in one of the greatest scandals in Irish celebrity history, and he wasn’t asked about it.

So the dalliances of the millionaire class pass without criticism, while Murphy has to explain things that have nothing to do with him.

The problem, and it is a problem all over the world, is that journalism is now very much a middle-class profession.

The staggering lack of job security and the pitiful sums paid to journalists for their work mean that only those of independent means can engage in a career.

The result is that newsrooms – and the production offices of shows like the Late Late – have no innate understanding of what life is like for the working class.

Much is made of the influence that Denis O’Brien may or may not have over his newsrooms, but the fact is he doesn’t have to exert any influence at all.

All he has to do is ensure that he hires editors and journalists that share his view of the world, and the rest will take care of itself.

The working class voices are only ever solicited outside the dole offices or courthouses, or on YouTube clips when they finally get it into their heads to protest.

The result is that those who work with working class people and try to improve their lot, like Paul Murphy, are mistrusted and insulted in the media.

Holy Catholic Ireland, as it once was, has never been exposed to socialism or social democracy – the soon-to-be-defunct Labour Party is to the right of Thatcher on many issues.

So it would have been interesting to see what Murphy had to say about his own politics, his atheism (if he is an atheist), about education and health and the EU.

But no. Instead, we are treated to standard reactionary journalism that ensures that the Irish working class will always pay the piper, but it will never be allowed to call the tune.

Stop watering down drink debate

Of three deaths of Irish people I know of recently, alcohol was a factor in at least two of the cases, and arguably the third as well.

And when I say alcohol was a factor, I don’t mean the price of a cheeky Cabarnet Sauvignon.

But as Ireland ramped up a debate about minimum pricing levels, middle-class columnists were busy mis-framing the debate as being about the price of wine, rather than an issue of culture and excess.

The Journal, The Irish Independent, the Irish Times and the Irish Mirror all noticeably led with the effect that such a policy would have on the price of wine – and not on the cheap beer and naggins that people young and old now tank up on before they go to the pub or club.

The Late Late Show had a fairly anodyne, ill-informed discussion on Friday (“people in northern Scandinavia drink because it’s dark and they are depressed…” being one nugget of non-wisdom dispensed by the two well-to-do women Ryan interviewed), all the while avoiding the elephant in the room.

And though there are undoubtedly middle-class homes where mummy necking the Pinot Grigio is a problem, the scaled of the national issue is deeper and wider than that.

Much deeper.

And much wider.

Irish people have a deep attachment to alcohol.

We see it as a human right.

We long for the day when we are old enough to drink in pubs, and many of us go on to exercise that right as often as possible for the rest of our lives.

We drink, on average, the equivalent of 468 pints of beer each per year.

Many of us will lie and say that we drink way below that, which brings us to another problem; sure, there are those who drink less than that, which means, that there are those who drink a lot more.

An awful lot more.

Ireland’s drink problem is not a glass of wine, although that is an ideal we will all gladly hide behind if it means we don’t have to confront the staggering level of alcohol abuse in our country.

Ireland’s real problem is the smell of drink off the fella marking you on a Sunday morning, stinking of stale beer and vodka and Red Bull during the only hour’s exercise he gets in the week.

And when he leaves a pitch surrounded by beer ads, he’ll go straight to the clubhouse for a curer.

Ireland’s real problem is every child shouted into silence this morning by a parent with bad breath and a worse headache.

It is every little girl watching a Frozen DVD and hoping that, sometime before lunch, a mother or father might struggle down the stairs to feed them before trudging back again.

It is every kid looking at an empty sideline as they line up for a soccer match, where the dad who promised to be there either couldn’t get out of bed, or was stopped by the police on the way to the park and found to be over the limit.

It is every teenager who gets a pay packet on a Thursday and heads to the pub, believing that the only real way to reward yourself for a week of labour is a feed of pints, and then make a show of yourself.

It is the fat guys and girls gathered in the pubs to watch the rugby team, Liverpool, the Dubs or whatever you’re having yourselves this weekend who, if they were honest, have little interest in sport, but a huge interest in finding another excuse to be in the boozer.

I don’t drink anymore, and haven’t for five or six years. Pretty much the last time I was out I had a great time, but suffered badly from a hangover for days afterwards.

What had an even greater effect was that a young man who was also out here in Stockholm that weekend never came home at all.

After that, I stopped drinking because I have two children that I wanted to come home to.

And when I was at home, I didn’t like the person I was after I had been drinking.

My children deserve better, and my “right” to a good time, as I perceived it back then, in no way trumps their right to a father that loves them and and cares for them and does things with them.

Ireland’s problem with alcohol will not be solved by minimum pricing.

It may never be solved at all.

But it won’t improve until we stop this fake narrative about the price of wine and start talking about the real problem.

We drink too much, and most of us won’t admit it.

We are too tolerant of people who drink too much, and those who make money out of them and their misery.

And while we are pretending to be responsible adults about it, we are hurting those who have done least to deserve it.

 

 

 

 

No crossed lines about Mulherin’s calls

Incredible. Literally.

In a time where lies and spin and half-truths are the fuel that fires Irish public life, let’s do what they won’t and call a spade a spade.

There is absolutley no way Michelle Mulherin is telling the truth about her phone calls to Kenya.

None.

And the fingerprints of the media advisers and spin doctors employed by modern politicians are all over her car-crash interview with Seán O’Rourke.

She doesn’t know what they cost, and she doesn’t say who they were to. No names, no subjects, just wooly legalese.

Instead of saying she was calling a man she loved or was in a relationship with, she says they “pertained to a third party who had been maligned and defamed in a newspaper because of association with me and potential legal action arising therefrom.”

No names mentioned, just a conveniently sly little dig at the media for revealing her actions – which, of course, are in the public interest.

The transcript is one thing, but do yourself a favour and listen to the interview. Like Fildema Healy-Eames, Michelle speaking English would remind you of a child running down a hill that is far to steep for it – at any point she can lose control and come crashing down in a heap.

Michelle is fine when sticking to the script her handlers give her – “because of association with me and potential legal action arising therefrom” - but as soon as she has to think on her feet, she promptly inserts  both of them into her mouth.

And carries on regardless.

I’ve written to the Ceann Comhairle and I’ve asked them to investigate it. You know the Ceann Comhairle is chair of the oireachtas commission which runs the houses of parliament which looks after the day-to-day affairs of what happens in Leinster House and I’m asking him to look into it. And basically I’m open to whatever he has to say about it. And, basically, the commission which is the committee that he sits with, who then deliberates on these issues in relation to the propriety of any phonecalls I made. At this point, until that clarification is given, I mean in fairness the phonecalls listed there to all over the world, I’d say as there has been every year, and that’s the nature, we’re a parliament, we’re international and I’d like to get more information.

The truth is that Mulherin knows the “third party” very well. In 2012 the Irish Daily Mail printed pictures of her with her arms around the man in question.

What Michelle is essentially doing in the interview is trying to distance herself from the man in question, and paint him as a constituent like any other that she is trying to assist with a legal issue, as that would be correct use of a Kildare Street telephone.

And not, say, as her “partner” (which is how the Mail described him, with no seeming objection from Mulherin), who one could assume might be on the receiving end of her personal phone calls.

Which the Irish taxpayer naturally feels he or she shouldn’t have to foot the bill for.

Then comes the smokescreen – you can almost hear her begin reading from the script again, as all of a sudden it’s in understandable English.

Michelle getting down to business with the recipient of her calls to Kenya.

The issue is, of course, confidentiality – how can our beloved public representative take or make calls to the public, or indeed to journalists, if it might be revealed in the paper?!

It’s very simple. It’s called “accountability,” Michelle.

Under freedom of information legislation, people are entitled to find out what calls are being made at their expense.

And talented, resourceful journalists like those in RTE and the Sunday Times can use that information to find stuff out and draw conclusions.

It’s what we do.

And contrary to popular belief, the Irish people are entitled to know what you do with their money.

Of course, no-one has talked about the content of Michelle’s calls, apart from Michelle herself.

The most interesting part of the O’Rourke interview is also the most fleeting. Seán implies that Mulherin was contacted for comment by journalists. Her response is that she has never been contacted by anyone in the Oireachtas, and moves quickly back ot the “confidentiality” issue. Twice.

By now, the stench of spin-doctoring is by now unbearable.

Luckily, the bottom of the hill catches up with Mulherin and it all comes crashing down, as Seán calls her out on her spurious “third party” spin.

The recipient is eventually revealed to be Danson Kole – the man revealed as Mulherin’s “partner” by the Irish Daily Mail two years ago.

Her defence? Confidentiality.

Again.

And the upshot of all this?

Personally, I don’t want her to refund the money.

Politicians – even Fine Gael politicians – are human. They have private lives and love lives and partners, and if they are going to be asked to spend most of their lives in Leinster House then they should be entitled to call their partners, even if they happen be in Kenya.

But I’d like to see her tell the truth, instead of reading her script on radio and hoping it all goes away.

I’d like to see her say “this man in Kenya is important to me, so I called him, and I’m not one bit sorry,” instead of reducing him to a “third party.”

And I’d like to see her apologise to the resourceful journalists who highlighted her misuse of taxpayer’s money.

There are a lot of things that are confidential in politics, Michelle. The problem for most politicians is that you don’t get to pick and choose what they are.