Archive for Irish Politics

No “Caravan of Love” for Connors in Donnybrook

Actor, Republican and filmmaker John Connors on the Late Late Show

This morning I re-watched the journalistic car crash that was the John Connors interview on Friday’s Late Late Show.

As John – an actor, Republican and filmmaker, who also happens to be a Traveller – went toe to toe, the interview quickly stopped being about John’s heritage or Ryan’s privilege, and instead became about those who weren’t there at all.

And it is in how we treat those who are not present that we learn where we are as a society in relation to our prejudices; Ireland may have made progress in recent years, but the conservative Catholic ethos still remains.

There is still a hierarchy, and it is slavishly adhered to by many in the media.

Take Paul Williams, a man who apparently told John Connors on film that as an ethnic group, Travellers bear a collective responsibility for criminality in their ranks.

Now in case you need it clarified for you, ascribing collective guilt is one of the oldest and most racist statements one can possibly make.

For instance, by that logic all Irish people bear responsibility for the campaign of bombing that tore through the British mainland in the seventies, eighties and nineties.

Which, of course, is nonsense.

By Williams’ racist logic we also bear responsibility for things like apartheid and the Crusades, given that the majority of Irish people are white and nominally Christian.

But John wasn’t even allowed to bring up what Williams said on the public record and why?

Because “he’s not here to defend himself.”

The same was then said of the local authorities that moved quickly to block the movement of any Travellers onto their land following the Carrickmines fire, in which ten people died.

Then, breathtakingly, Ryan asked John why publicans weren’t in a hurry to serve Travellers alcohol.

So the integrity of neither Williams nor local authorities may be questioned, but Ryan had no problem inferring that Travellers – who, let it be said, also weren’t there to defend themselves – are violent drunks.

Even John’s own experience of racism was questioned, as was his anger towards the system and the society that has not only allowed it to fester, but has in many cases actively encouraged it.

Here’s some of the tweets that were made on the Late Late hashtags during the interview – ranging from openly racist to simple, yet staggeringly ignorant, this is what Ryan believes John has little or no reason to be angry about.

In insinuating that Travellers as an ethnic group are violent drunks or criminals and that they deserve that reputation, Ryan is kowtowing to the racist logic of the sensationalist Williams, but of course, this cannot be discussed.

Because imagine if Williams did what Iona and John Waters and Breda O’Brien did when they were called homophobes by Rory O’Neill on the Saturday Night Show?

What if he sued? How much would it cost? What would that do to Ryan’s career?

Notice nobody asks what would happen if a Traveller sued, as in our society they are granted no standing. Williams can say what he likes – even if it’s racist, or even if it tars Sinn Féin’s voters as terrorists, for instance – but he cannot be called racist for making racist statements on the public record.

This is the legacy of Pantigate, it is what columnist (note: not journalist) Breda O’Brien, journalist and former member of the Broadcasting Authority John Waters and the Iona Institute in general, whose fear of homosexuality is the very definition of homophobia, have left us.

(As both are based on fear, being homophobic or racist are not necessarily bad things in themselves – it is the repression of and the imposition of one’s own values on others, and the denial of the rights of others that is reprehensible.)

Irish voters have in recent times indicated that they are abandoning the vicious, venal, hateful and judgemental attitudes fostered by the church and implemented for generations by politicians as they divided and conquered and created hierarchies that suited themselves.

But as yet the system itself has not changed – The Lads are still in control, and despite the fact that they are a minority, the likes of Iona still call the shots.

Every time they call the lawyers in, journalists jump and eventually they toe the line. When “they” are not there to defend themselves, the lawyers will do it for them, and as a result the questions can’t even be put.

Maybe John and the family of those who died in Carrickmines should call the Iona lawyers and see what can be done about the imposition of collective guilt and responsibility on Travellers, or Muslims, or Africans, or anyone else.

My guess is very little.

Irish media doesn’t tell the truth to power.

Instead, cowed by the fear of legal proceedings, it restricts itself to telling the truth that power wants people to hear.

 

Why angry silence is the only way to commemorate 1916 Rising

1916 banner – presumably there was no room for Ian Paisley.

The banner at College Green has barely been unveiled, but it has already confirmed what I have long suspected.

That I do not want any part of of a commemoration of 1916 that denies, distorts and destroys what it is supposed to remember.

Only in Ireland could a banner commemorating a revolution feature a man who recruited for the enemy and called the event “wicked and insane”, as John Redmond did.

It comes as no surprise. For years the battle has been fought to see who would “own” the memory of 1916.

In then end, it seems, Bórd Fáilte won.

As a result, what we are getting is an approximation of history, a “1916 Rising for Dummies.”

The blood of the dead – men and women, soldiers and rebels, over 300 civilians and more than three dozen children –  washed from the streets.

The barbarity – war crimes on both sides – is forgotten, and the context crushed under the weight of collective denial of what the Rising was, and more importantly, what it wasn’t.

What should have been a conversation about the country we have created has been made into a marketing vehicle for tourism.

Anything else would have forced us to confront the truth of the intervening century.

For all the reverence in which the signatories of the Proclamation are held in Ireland, almost everything they stood for died along with them.

The notion of “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally” was quickly abandoned.

With the hospitals, the schools and the populace in general controlled by a vicious, venal and violent religious junta that is still remarkably healthy and wealthy, it couldn’t be any other way.

Partition – as promoted by what is now Fine Gael – put an end to the dream of a republic that would cover the entire Ireland.

And any chance of a functioning trade union movement to represent the working people died with James Connolly, strapped to a chair in the Stonebreaker’s Yard in Kilmainham Jail.

What we got was no mystical vision of independence, as laid out by Pearse.

Instead, we got exactly what most other countries that were eventually freed from imperialism experienced – a divided society ruled by an appointed elite, first as a transitional system of governance that then became the norm.

The greed and power of the church coupled with Ireland’s isolated position on the edge of Europe kept it out of the reach of international socialism and the kind of liberal social democracy that saw Scandinavia and Germany thrive, especially in the post-war period.

Instead, like many Catholic nations on the periphery of Europe, the Irish poor were condemned to lives of poverty, promised their reward in heaven while their cassocked moral guardians enjoyed the fruits of everyone else’s labours here on earth.

Having presided over misery and poverty, tugging its forelock and deferring to the church for much of the state’s existence, there is little on the credit side in the great ledger of social justice for any Irish government.

Pointing to the recent marriage equality referendum only highlights how little has been done to “cherish all the children of the nation equally.”

Women are still second-class citizens, earning less and dictated to by the state, or ignored when they become too noisy.

The Lads still rule, and their friends at the golf club still get the no-bid contracts and the cheap properties and the planning permissions they need to feather their nests.

Children with special needs and those who occupy hospital trolleys night after night don’t play golf.

The 1916 Rising delivered change, but not the change it wanted or expected.

Yeats was right – a terrible beauty was indeed born; and the poorer you were, the more terrible and the less beautiful it was.

And so to those struggling to “own” the narrative. the idiotic banner at College Green – with three of the four featured having died long before the Rising ever took place – is a symptom of how history in Ireland is distorted and watered down for political ends.

The irish Times reported that the idea for the banner came from the Department of An Taoiseach – perhaps unsurprising, given the spectacular ignorance of the clown that has inhabited that office for the last few years.

Enda Kenny has been doing his best to soft-soap voters into believing that his Fine Gael party are sympathetic to the Republic and the ideals declared by Padraig Pearse a hundred years ago.

Yet it was his party that banned the 60th anniversary celebrations – and using the Offences Against the State Act as the legislative framework to do so is surely the definition of GUBU.

Perhaps even more so than the endemically corrupt Fianna Fáil, Enda’s party is the party of The Lads. Those who have most get more, those who have least get nothing at all.

Labour will begin its struggle to make itself relevant again, oblivious to the fact that Connolly died for his principles, while they immediately abandoned theirs to give a few ageing men one last shot at a ministerial post, where they gleefully inflicted misery on the people who had voted for them, begging for protection.

Like its protagonists, the Rising was complicated, messy and not easily interpreted, but the history ever since is somewhat easier to read.

A hundred years on, Ireland has, on the whole, failed to live up to its promise.

Too often it has failed the poor and the weakest in society, often consciously and deliberately as politicians descended from those who filled the power vacuum by creating a system to benefit themselves and their cronies.

Forget our music and our food and our culture.

Forget the high esteem in which our people – not our politicians or bankers, not The Lads – are held around the world.

Forget our athletes and our artists and our innovators.

All this exists in spite of, not because of, the country we have created out of the ashes of the Rising.

We can celebrate all these things another day.

If you want to commemorate the Rising properly, do so by not accepting the Bórd Fáilte narrative.

The Rising belongs not to them, or the politicians, or The Lads and their vested interests.

It belongs to those who bear the heaviest burden form a political system that demands their servitude but denies their needs, just as it did in 1916.

So skip the official “celebrations” and stick instead to history and the original date of April 24.

Go to the GPO, or to any other post office that has yet to be closed by the march of “progress”.

Stand there in angry silence for a minute and remember what Pearse and the others promised, and how pathetically little their political descendants have delivered.

Then go off and, in the words of Gandhi, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That means tearing down the system of clientelism and privilege, of recognising the dignity of each and every person, and of demanding the highest standards from everyone in public office.

It means accepting that we have to pay our share, and that taking “uncomfortable decisions” means that we too will be affected.

It means doing not what is best for ourselves, but what is just and noble and right, even if we personally lose out.

That would be a truly revolutionary act in modern Ireland.

 

 

Biggest failures in #GE16? Labour, FF, FG and journalism

What election were you watching?

The one I saw was the utter destruction of the status quo.

Incredibly, what a lot of my colleagues apparently saw was a resurgence of it, in the form of Fianna Fáil.

Who, incidentally, had their second-worst election on record.

I saw the outright rejection of the traditional right-wing (note – not centre-right) notion of “stability”of so-called Christian democrats as embodied by the singularly inept and staggeringly incompetent Enda Kenny.

I saw the annihilation of the Irish Labour Party, 100 years after its founder was tied to a chair and shot for his revolutionary tendencies, solely because it abandoned those people who begged it with their votes to protect them.

I saw an election where a motley crew of traitors and treacherous sleeveens record their second-worst election since 1927.

I saw the return of Lowry and two Healy-Raes in an indication that the parish pump of Irish politics is still in full flow in certain parts of the country.

I saw an election that saw Sinn Féin finally returned to the political mainstream after the horrors of the “Long War.”

I saw record numbers of small parties and independents returned as the establishment which has failed Ireland since the foundation of the state was sent packing.

And I saw a fourth estate in the form of the Irish media that couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Throughout the count, journalists and broadcasters have struggled to understand virtually all the phenomena described above, instead choosing the easy angle of the Fianna Fáil “resurgence” – despite the fact that it has seldom in its history been as weak as it is now.

The paralysis is evidenced by the “experts” called to give their opinions – almost to a man (and occasional woman), they are part of the establishment they built, all while the media stroked their egos.

We had the laughable sight of snake-oil salesman Pat Rabbitte calling anyone who annoyed him “ultra-left” and making the staggering observation that Labour – who pissed in the faces of the poor that voted for them and assured them it was raining – is the “only Social Democratic party” in Ireland.

We’ve had Jody Corcoran, whose Sunday Independent newspaper were the big losers in the election as their private Renua party ran aground on its maiden voyage, now lionizing Micheál Martin – a man they have consistently attacked for five years, but who now holds the balance of power.

And we have the return of the odious Conor Lenihan, possibly the greatest spiv of them all – a man who, together with his inept brother and the rest of their cronies, ruined Ireland.

Not only did he contribute to destroying the country – when he was done, he took his state pensions and jumped ship to tout for foreign direct investment.

For Russia.

The problem of Irish political analysis by journalists was laid bare by the pleasantries exchanged – “congratulations on your election/commiserations on losing your seat.”

Whatever you think of them, your job as a political journalist is not to engage in niceties with people in power, or those who would aspire to have it – it is to ask intelligent pertinent questions on behalf of readers and listeners and viewers.

Time and again last night, bitter Fine Gael politicians contended that it was up to the opposition to take the reins of government.

This conveniently ignored the fact that, despite their abject failure, they would still have a considerable influence on how that government might look, especially if they swallowed their pride and joined Fianna Fáil.

Elsewhere, Labour’s increasing variety of failures all used the same three words as the headed to the gallows – “the national interest”.

Seldom were either of these two self-serving, petulant narratives questioned by the journalists interviewing them.

As I’ve stated elsewhere many times, bias is not always conscious; it is sometimes a function of class and privilege and position.

It is my sincere belief that too many journalists are bound to their desks recycling press releases,tweets and Youtube sound-bytes, and not out in the field actually talking to people and building their own understanding.

In truth, far too many of those in positions of power in Irish media and who are in turn tasked with holding those in power to account are too close to be able to do so properly.

A case in point – when Brian Cowen imitated Ryder Cup golfer Philip Walton and made fun of his speech impediment late one night in a bar, there were plenty of journalists present.

Not only did they not report it – they laughed along.

If, then, reporters are too close to those they should be holding to account, it is easy to understand why they absorb the narratives fed to them like crumbs from the top table.

It is easy to see how the establishment line becomes the truth as quickly as it does.

If Labour are the greatest failures, and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are not far behind, we must be honest and say that journalism has also failed the democratic process in Ireland.

It is not an easy place to work, but the inability to either predict or explain the outcome illustrates the need for voices who go against the grain, who do not cosy up to the powerful, and who put no price on their ability to say what they see.

In short, what we need is more independent journalists, and less Independent journalists.

And until we get that, we will only be getting the part of the story the insiders and career politicians want us to hear.

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.