Guth – why we need a new media voice in Ireland


As soon as Gerard Cunningham suggested the idea of a new independent Irish news magazine run by journalists to me, I was onboard. And here’s why.

Modern media is a complex business where the interests of shareholders, advertisers, editors, journalists and readers seldom converge.

Decisions about what stories to cover are taken for a wide variety of reasons – many of them commercial, as evidenced by the explosion in property porn and the light-touch reporting of Ireland’s “booming” economy, which subsequently went bang.

Stories about our society that deserve much greater scrutiny get buried under reams of pointless waffle about “rugby threesomes”, reality TV shows and “tell-us-about-your-book” interviews.

Guth is an ambitious crowd-funded project that tried to address those and other concerns about what motivates Irish journalism.

By securing as much funding as possible up front from readers, the dependence on advertising is removed, allowing much greater editorial freedom in what is a cut-throat market.

Guth will allow reporters to use their news sense to bring you stories that you haven’t already heard, or a perspective you may not have thought of.

It will hopefully herald a wholesale return to top-class investigative journalism in Ireland, of sharp writing and critical thinking.

In an era where freelance fees are collapsing, it will ensure that these reporters get the resources they need to do the job properly, and avoid the amateurish mistakes that are becoming more and more prevalent as hard-pressed hacks seek to churn out low-value content to feed the media beast.

Guth is not the answer to all our prayers, but from what I’ve seen it looks like a pretty good start.

By giving you the reader a sense of ownership, the contributors want to get back to what it is journalists are supposed to do – holding people and organisations to account, instead of sustaining share prices, property markets and fevered egos.

So sign up now for as much as you can, and let’s see how loud we can make this new media voice.

The needle and the damage done

She stood across the high table from me, fidgeting in that imperceptible way that people do when trying their best to appear relaxed.

I was interviewing her because her story was the opposite of most sportspeople.

Though talented, she had never stood out for most of her career.

She was a late bloomer, and than in itself is enough to ring alarm bells. The difference was that when she bloomed – boy, did she bloom.

She went from being among the has-beens and the also-rans to being one of the stars of her sport.

There was no discernible difference in technical ability, just an explosive power and endurance added to what she said “God gave her.”

God appeared to have decided to top it up at some time in her late twenties too – and then some.

I asked the question everybody wanted the answer to – why her? Why now?

She looked at me and started to answer, looking down at the floor momentarily in the middle of it before remembering her well-rehearsed lines.

It was her diet, you see – that, and the new weights program with her new personal trainer.

You see, she hadn’t been taking care of herself properly before, and now she was doing things properly – that was the explanation.

She looked at me as if I was a teacher who’d asked her a history question, a “was that

I didn’t let it go.

“But given all that’s happened across the board in sports – surely people aren’t going to believe you?”

This time, her gaze didn’t waver.

“People can believe what they want to believe –I can’t do to change that. All I know is that I am not a cheat. I know I’m clean.”

Afterwards, I took some pictures to go with the interview. She relaxed and a beautiful smile lit up her face.

Afterwards, we looked at them in the camera together, and she asked me to send them on to her.

She reminded me of many young women – critical of her own appearance, delighted when she found a picture that made her look beautiful.

She asked me to send it to her; I did, and she thanked me for it.

A while later, closer to a major event she was to take part in, I mailed her again. She never mailed back.

A little less than two years later, she was at the pinnacle of her sport, winning the one they all set out to win.

As she collected her prize, her face beaming, I looked at the picture I’d taken on the day I’d done the interview.

Her face wasn’t the same.

The warm natural beauty was gone, replaced by a frozen mask, all teeth and tense eyes, as if waiting for someone to point a finger at her and say: “This is not yours to keep. You don’t deserve this.”

I didn’t believe her story then, and I don’t believe her now.

I believe that, rather than diet and weights, she was taking performance-enhancing drugs.

And I don’t necessarily believe that she’ll ever get caught.

But I do believe that an awful lot of sportspeople – in track, in ball sports, in cycling, in swimming, in skiing – are still telling us the same lies that she told me.

And that tells me that as long as they are prepared to take the risks and tell the lies, we’re obviously not doing enough.

We need to take the rules we have, and put them on steroids.

Breach of trust, but no surprise about Irish childcare

Just watched the “Breach of Trust” program made about Irish childcare facilities by the RTE investigations unit, and the one question that kept coming back to me was – why are we surprised?

RTE PrimeTime Breach of Trust 28.05.2013 by dm_51a5d3b020346

This is Ireland, where since the foundation of the state we have betrayed our children.

For many years, we turned a blind eye as they were raped by generation after generation of priests and religious figures, but no-one intervened.

In our schools, we let some of the same psychppaths beat the hell out of them every day as they attempted to impart their “wisdom” through fear and violence.

For those we abandoned most, we left them to grow up in places like Artane and the Magdalene laundries, where the violence and the abuse didn’t end with the school bell; instead, it went on for years and years, damaging generation after generation of people – men and women – beyond repair.

And even when, as a nouveau-riche nation built on borrowed money and a property bubble, we could afford childcare, we paid over hundreds and thousands of euros a month to the profiteers, private enterprises who, as the program shows, had more interest in making money than the wellbeing of our children.

Where did we go wrong?

Well, we believed that we could serve two masters – that we could have the absolute best of care for our children, and still let the good people running the show make a profit.

The two may not be mutually exclusive, but they’re as near as dammit.

As with many other areas of our laissez-faire lifestyle, what little regulation there is is laughable, such as the stipulation that only 50% of those looking after your children need to be qualified.

Would we accept that in the healthcare sector? Education? Transport? The building industry? No, and for a very good reason.

This is but the latest in a long line of wake-up calls in Ireland, but depressingly, little will happen, as usual. The most-often used phrase on this blog is “we don’t do accountability” but I’ll copy/paste it again here.

The bank bailout means that we can’t change things, even if we want to – and even if we did, we are too enamoured by our love of the chimera of “freedom” and “choice” that the free market promises us as it dips into our wallets and neglects our offspring.

I couldn’t help but noticing that at the top of the list of countries for childcare were Finland and Sweden, and I may as well draw a line under this article here and now.

That we know this to be the case – and that we have known it for a very long time – yet still we refuse to do anything about it says it all about how we run our affairs.

In fact, our social protection minster Joan Burton was here not long after I did a TV show with ITV on how the Scandinavian model works – but doubtless like her gin on the flight home, whatever proposals she brought home with her will surely be watered down by the time she gets to Dublin.

Watch the video above, but before we point the fingers at the hapless, hopeless people working in these facilities, we need to look at ourselves and realise that we can either have it all for ourselves, or for our children.

Not both.

How Boston marks the end for the right to bear arms

The massive display of force by local and federal authorities in their efforts to apprehend the Tsarnaev brothers (prime suspects in the bombing of the Boston marathon) may have had one completely unintended consequence – the debunking of the myth that is the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

As yet there are scant details of the arms borne by the Tsarnaevs – one of whom is now deceased, the other in hospital and unable to communicate – so we don’t know if the guns they carried were legal or not.

What is absolutely certain is that there is no way their arsenal – however big – provided any sort of a match for the collective might of the US authorities.

Why is this the end of the right to bear arms? Well, let’s look at the second amendment for a second, as ratified by the states:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed

The basic premise of the amendment is that guns should be kept and militias organised to protect “the security of a free state” – in other words, if the government gets too big for its boots, the people should be able to rise up and take back power.

Given the immense display of power in Boston the last few days, there is absolutely no way that any militia or any individual in the United States of America – in their right minds – could consider rising up and doing anything.

Like the Tsarnaevs, they would  be crushed within hours.

Any doubts about that? Think again.

Authorities ordered businesses in Boston to stay closed. They shut down transport networks. Logan Airport operated under severe restrictions. They closed off Watertown for the whole day. They stopped and searched hundreds, if not thousands of vehicles and people.

Troops were put on the streets. Police officers, federal agents and SWAT teams searched properties and made house calls. The state had decided it wanted to apprehend these two, and no expense was spared.

When they did run into the brothers, late on Thursday night after the murder of an MIT police officer, they responded with massive violence. It’s fair to say the two brothers responded in kind, but with little discernible effect.

They may have killed four people and injured hundreds more, but faced by the state’s apparatus of violence they were without hope.

It’s worth noting that over 3,500 people have been killed by guns since the slaughter of innocent children – none of whom, presumably, were a threat to national security – at Sandy Hook, and yet nothing has changed, apart from the Obama administration getting a bloody nose as agun control measures were voted down.

Despite the lazy media attempts to shoehorn the brothers into the Islamic extremist corner, we know nothing of their motives yet.

Whatever the Tsarnaevs were, no doubt they would argue that they were “fighting” (for want of a better word to paraphrase the murder and maiming of innocents) for a better society – most likely against the tyranny of the state, real or imagined, and a view often shared by extreme right and left alike, not to mention religious groups.

But the idiotic notion that one man or a small group of men or women can hold the government of the United States of America to account died on a Boston street with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his corpse full of state-bought bullets and damaged by his own cheap bomb.

Despite the lockdown, despite thousands of people missing work, despite the university campuses closing down en masse, despite the terror that gripped the city, the authorities will still tell the people of Boston and the world that the end of this operation is a great day for freedom.

In their nation violently born of a frontier spirit, Americans need to realise is that they can only preserve that freedom – much of it already given away – is by fixing their inadequate, broken democracy.

Not by keeping an assault rifle in the garage and thinking Obama is afraid of you.


Thatcher is dead, but Thatcherism lives on

Margaret Thatcher tries the peace sign. You’re right, it doesn’t suit her.

And so it came to pass – finally got to change their home page from “No” to “Yes”.

Many people – republicans, socialists, communists, Argentinians, Irish people, miners and the poor, among many others – have been looking forward to this day.

And when it passes, they will remain unsatisfied – Thatcher may be dead, but her greedy, selfish, anti-state, pro-market politics are thriving like never before.

Thatcher was never a Tory in the true sense of the word. Her ideology was more that of an old-fashioned liberal, complete with Victorian values and a worldview that was equally out of date.

She took over as British prime minister in turbulent times, believing in the power of money and ambition over all else, and that if only people had enough freedom they would all prosper.

To encourage others to believe likewise, she turned people against each other and began the dismantling of the safety nets that had previously set British society apart.

She might be gone, but her policies live on, not least in Ireland where, on the surface at least, she was more hated than most other places in the world.

The Irish may have hated her personally for her handling of Northern Ireland, but we have never been slow to embrace her policies – letting the free market run riot, offering the vulnerable in society the bare minimum and encouraging private enterprise to solve the problems of society using profit as its motivator.

If there was one place where unions are less-respected than in Thatcher’s Britain, it is in Ireland.

Some of this may be due to the ineptitude of the current and past leadership, but much of it is due to a similar passion for freedom and the misguided notion that every man is an island and in control of our own destiny.

As it turns out, we are not. Like it or not, we are all dependent on others to a greater or lesser extent.

Her status as the people’s champion, the prime minister who stuck up for “the little man” was belied by her being in the pockets of the arms industry, of Reagan and of Pinochet.

Deregulation was the order of the day as banks, financiers and traders saw the rules stripped away. She never allowed a deeper understanding of the complex nature of the world to cloud her simplistic view of the freedom to make a living being paramount.

But as the flags fly at half-mast over Whitehall, her legacy lives on in Kildare Street in Dublin, where the elected representatives will still tell you that there is no good to be had from the unions, and that if only everyone is as free to make as much money as they like, then social justice will look after itself.

And they will be as wrong as she was, despite her passing.

And they will continue to be wrong, long, long after she is gone.

It Says Here – in the Workmans Club next week, talking about journalism

Many have asked me why a journalist would take the stage in a Dublin club to talk about what he does all day, and admittedly it might seem strange.

But rather than hiding in sub-zero temperatures (outdoors, not indoors) in Stockholm, I see that stage as another platform for dialogue in our multimedia world.

It’s also a different way of engaging with people – eye to eye, in a dark room, in a public forum.

I have no fears on that front, because I believe journalism is no longer about me broadcasting to you – it’s about being part of a conversation.

Too often, journalists ignore their critics and do not engage. It’s not always pleasant, but I always try to respond. I think it has made me better and more accountable at what I do.

And that is where I came up with the idea of It Says Here.

“Our free press reflects our democracy”- Billy Bragg, ‘It Says Here’

Billy Bragg – It Says Here

When I grew up I used to read the Evening Press and the Evening Herald every day – we’d buy the Herald, and then when the family was finishing reading it my brother or I would be sent scurrying across to our grandparents’ house, where we’d swap it for the Evening Press.

Before you left with the paper of Dev under your arm, you’d always be grilled by a grandparent about what you thought about what you’d read.

More often you’d be hammered for missing the nuances and given an earful to balance whatever you’d said, before being sent on your way.

And despite college certificates and communications theory, that was where I learned most of what I know about journalism and media, and I want to share it with you.

Because we’ve never been surrounded by more information than we are now, and it has never been more important to be informed.

Politicians, lobby groups, companies sand media organisations all spend massive amounts of money trying to reach us with their messages.

They tell us their version of the truth (which is often very different from everyone else’s) and then leave us to sort out the mess of conflicting messages.

What I plan to do next Tuesday is share with you some of the tools journalists use, both good and bad, in order to make you a more savvy media consumer.

There’s a lot of talk about “good” journalism”, more about “bad” journalism and accusations of “lazy” journalism in Irish media are thrown around like snuff at a wake.

I’ll do my best to show you what I believe to be the right way to go about covering a story, and what tactics are used to make sure I don’t get the truth out of it by those who want it kept secret.

I’ll explode a few myths around the Machiavellian intelligence of our politicians (never suspect a conspiracy where stupidity is a more likely explanation), and try to answer any and all questions you have about the trade, libelling as many people as possible in the proces and then denying it all.

Because journalism is not art – it is a trade.

An article, however significant, is not the Mona Lisa – in it’s proper form, it is the equivalent of a car service for our democracy.

And on Tuesday night at 2000 I’ll be telling you who the cowboys are, how to spot them – and how to call them out.

So come down, talk to me, question me, discuss, listen and leave with more questions than you came in with.

Then go find the answers for them.

The Dithering 2013 – opportunity knocks and no-one answers

Enda Kenny, flanked by some of the Swedish fans and investors that now won’t bother coming to Dublin.

The moment the draw for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers was made, I did a little dance.

Sweden were drawn against Ireland, and we couldn’t lose – off the pitch at least.

How wrong I was.

For me, the draw meant not just that I would be guaranteed plenty of sports journalism work over the year-and-a-half of qualifying – it meant that we would have a brilliant chance to market Ireland in a non-Euro economy.

We would face Sweden in Stockholm in March, with the return leg in Dublin in September. If ever there was an open goal in terms of marketing Ireland, this was it.

Sweden, as we know, didn’t join the single currency, and as such it still enjoys relative stability despite the basket case that the global economy has become.

Ireland’s state agencies market our products and services here admirably, but two World Cup qualifiers between what were the two best sets of fans at the Euros represented a love-bombing opportunity that couldn’t be missed.

And we missed it.

I wrote to minister Michael Ring on August 13 2012 to suggest making an extra effort – to perhaps organise some special events or otherwise plan to make the most of this unique opportunity.

I mentioned the potential for tourism and commercial travellers, and for bringing Irish and Swedish businesses together to explore opportunities.

Swedish fans enjoy the hospitality – and spend their money – in Kiev at Euro 2012

As I saw in Kiev last year, Swedish soccer fans are great tourists. They love beer and craic and they spend money.

Their business people are even better – eager to invest, they recognise a good opportunity when they see one. They also have the kind of hi-tech society and economy we would kill for.

The e-mail to minister Ring contained very specific ideas for what could be done to exploit the opportunity provided by these games – the first competitive games between Ireland and Sweden for the best part of two generations.

The more I wrote, the more excited I got.

He must have missed it, because I got no response.

I wrote again on August 30, and a member of staff acknowledged receipt of my e-mail.

Then nothing happened. Again.

On October 31 I chased it up.

On November 16 I was informed that the minister said to tell me that Tourism Ireland were the body responsible for marketing Ireland abroad, and that he had heard I was already in contact with them.

In fairness, I was already aware of all that.

There was no mention of the other ideas to put together Irish businesses with Swedish investors, no mention of the other ideas contained in the mail. No offer of support.

Perhaps fittingly for a minister whose portfolio covers sport, the e-mail was a kick to touch.

A call to the minister’s office suggested that I contact minister Richard Bruton instead, as this might be more up his street. So I did.

(I also mentioned it in person to minister Lucinda Creighton when we borth appeared on Marian Finucane’s radio show, and to minister Joan Burton when she came to Stockholm to launch the Gathering).

I wasn’t going to contact Bruton, even though my family lives in his constituency and I know him to be a decent man.

The wheels of Irish bureaucracy turn extremely slowly, and I sincerely doubted his department was going to spring into gear, no matter how decent he is.

But then again, I have to practice what I preach – I cannot ask others to do their best to promote Irish business and keep it on the agenda if I’m not prepared to send a simple e-mail myself.

So I took a deep breath and contacted both his constituency office and his ministerial office, and waited for the surprise that would never come.

I got the standard acknowledgement on November 19, and then what I had come to expect. Silence.

Christmas came and went. So did New Year.

Then on January 10 I received an e-mail saying the following:

The Minister has noted the comments made, and has recommended that your email be relayed to the Irish Embassy in Stockholm for advice. Accordingly, I am cc’ing this email to the Office of Mr Eamonn Gilmore T.D., Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, for attention and direct reply to you.

Time is running out, and all I got was another kick to touch.

The Irish community here isn’t huge, so the embassy here already knows all about me and these ideas. It also deserves great credit for doing a brilliant job with virtually nothing.

But they don’t have the resources to help pull off such a comprehensive effort, which was the whole reason for contacting ministers directly.

So instead of our dynamic, youthful, jobs-obsessed government leaping into action, nothing happened.

There are now a little more than two months to go the Sweden – Ireland game in Stockholm, and whatever chance we had of organising anything meaningful to promote Irish business during these two unique games is now gone.

Readers may say I have no right to expect anything of anyone in this situation, but I disagree, and here’s why:

Last February, Simon Coveney invited me in to his office, where he thanked me and the Swedish-Irish community for our efforts and our patriotism.

He also said not to hesitate to contact the various ministers if we thought we could do anything to help promote Ireland abroad.

We did, and nothing happened.

The question remains – why was no effort made to even gauge the scale of what could be done against the backdrop of the soccer games?

I can’t find any other explanation for this wonderful episode (which I have now dubbed “The Dithering”), so my guess is money.

Namely, the Irish government doesn’t have any, and what little it has is not going to be spent doing something daft like making a cross-functional effort to promote Ireland abroad.

Sure we already have the Gathering and Arthur’s Day, what more do we need?

And maybe they’re right. Sweden as a market is probably being seen as insignificant compared to say, China or the US.

But are the tourism euros of 5000 Swedish football fans worth any less?

Are the euros of Swedish investors looking for projects worth any less?

Are the jobs that could be created by those euros worth any less?


As a result of austerity, what Ireland now has is a one-size-fits-no-one economic and marketing policy.

There is no room for anything different. There is no room for deviation.

There is a simple, grim realisation that being different or deviating from what is already prescribed is neither desirable nor possible.

It goes against all I ever learned about sales and marketing – about taking the easy deals (the so-called “low-hanging fruit”), about exploiting the opportunities fate dumps in your lap.

At a time (March 17-22) when Ireland is never going to have a greater media profile in Sweden, our collective government answer is to do nothing.

I don’t think that’s good enough.

There is a happy ending to all this, of course.

Despite the disappointment, the Irish community in Sweden will no doubt continue to wear its green jersey, both figuratively and literally.

We will continue to promote Ireland as a tourist destination (including to Swedish soccer fans), as a place to do business, as a country of wonderful culture and people and sport.

We will continue our efforts to organise as many events as possible as part of the Gathering, and for any other initiative you care to mention.

But the next time a minister calls on us to show our loyalty and patriotism, he or she may well be ignored.

Because patriotism is something for us all, and loyalty is a two-way street.





A protestor holds up an anti-NRA sign.

The saddest thing about the pathetic statement by the NRA is the fact that nothing will now change.

Had they agreed to controls on the most deadly of weapons, some progress could have been made, but the political will in America does not exist to challenge them.

America is effectively ruled by the guns they control.

Because what is it the Second Amendment really guarantees?

In the wake of the Newton massacre last weekend, I sat beside broadcaster Tom McGuirk in an RTE radio studio.

At various points McGuirk suggested that AR-10 guns weren’t the problem, until I politely suggested that there was one thing that could have been removed from the Newton massacre that would have ensured the survival of all or most of those children – the gun.

Moments later McGuirk was talking about the importance of the British secret service and their role in the “defeat” of the IRA.

But given their modus operandi, the IRA and the NRA are not too disimilar – unelected, both nevertheless have a chilling effect on the democracies they exist in.

Like the bible, the American constitution is a document of its time, and when it was written the fledgling nation was intent on doing everything it could to protect its new-found freedom.

Hence the right to defend those freedoms – even against its own government – was enshrined in a dubioulsy-worded amendent. Noticeably, assault rifles are not mentioned, which according to some gives them carte blanche to carry them.

For what the Second Amendment essentially does is give the NRA the right to act as the American equivalent of the IRA, a kind of secretive political police force that malevolently oversees things.

Unelected, it can use fear and intimidation to exert its influence on an otherwise democratic state – much as the IRA did in its “armed struggle”.

For the gun in American history and its current politics is not about violence or machoism, even though both play their part.

For Americans, the gun is a potent symbol of freedom, rather than oppression and death. If ever there was a country that was now ruled with a ballot box and an Armalite (or one of 300 million similar weapons), America is it.

The Europeans who sailed across the Atlantic to settle on the American continet were all fleeing something. Sometimes, as in the case of the Irish, it was hunger. For others, it was religious persecution.

Some of them wanted no truck with any church; instead, they reserved the right to interpret the bible as literally and as opportunistically as they wished.

The same people now choose to interpret the American constitution in the same way – the way that suits them best, much as Irish Republicans twisted their  interpretation of history until it allowed them to bomb and shoot and maim with impunity over almost 40 years.

The discussion in America should not, therefore, centre on gun control; the discussion should centre on how to rebuild trust between the state and its citizens – if such a thing never existed.

It is doubtful that it can be done; American politics is a poisonous mass of extremism, thanks to divisive issues and elements such as abortion, the various wars fought in Asia, the Tea Party and gun control itself.

America is a nation of vested interests that are quick to act should Johnny Sixpack suddenly start demanding safety and security.

That many of the fears propagated by politicians and squawk-box commentators are unfounded make no difference; America has never seemed to have established for itself that solidarity and security go hand in hand.

It is easier to blame the nameless, faceless other than to face up to the truth.

But to do so would be to acknowledge that the Europe its forefathers left had gotten something right.

“War is over, if you want it,” sang John Lennon.

But it appears that, despite 20 dead children, the aftermath of the War of Independence, because the NRA don’t want it.

The best part of this campaign? The end of the Tea Party

Long night ahead…possibly a longer four years.

They’re voting, and counting, ans exit-polling. On both sides of the Atlantic, the pundits and anchors are warming up for the long night ahead.

Already there has been one winner, and that is American politics – despite its Taliban-like Christian tendencies, the end of the Tea Party means there is hope for the greatest country in the free world.

In the end Romney – despicable though he is – has done his nation a great service, perhaps two. He moved Republicanism back towards a mellower middle ground, after its long and dangerous flirtation with the far-right ideology of the Tea Party.

He also revealed that the central tenet of Republicanism remains unchanged – it doesn’t care about the poor. They talk about freedom and equality of opportunity for all, but in power they are rabidly protectionist of their own interests.

This ultimately will be what loses Romney the race. The American people have had it too tough for too long to swallow his schtick, and they’re ready to dig in together for a better future.

But if expectations on Obama were high before, they should be higher now.

Just as W used his second term to ride roughshod over common sense, Obama must now sail closer to the wind and insist on delivering the change people voted for four years ago – never mind now.

Lastly, the people of Syria will be watching tonight and wondering why Obama won’t grant them the same freedom and security – the peace, liberty and justice for all so cherished by Americans.

An Obama victory is but a temporary relief, and a welcome end to the Tea Party. But if he fails to deliver the change he promised – as he has in his first term – many voters will feel short-changed.

Life begins again as Breivik goes down

Germany’s foreign minister lays a wreath at Oslo cathedral to remember the 77 people murdered by Anders Behring Breivik.

There is an expression in Norwegian that has always intrigued me.

It’s interjected into sentences, much the same way as Londoners use “innit” or Dubliners “you know what I mean.”

In Norwegian, it’s “ikke sant?”

Literally translated, it means “not true,” but Norwegians use it as a conversational question with the tone rising on the last syllable.

It’s a clever, almost passive-aggressive way of getting people to agree with you.

It is, it seems, a much more effective method of doing so than, say, terrorism.

It wasn’t needed yesterday though, as almost everyone was delighted that Anders Behring Breivik was found to be sane and criminally liable for the deaths of 77 innocent people – many of them children in the eyes of the law – and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

For the record, the chances of him ever coming out of prison are up there with Elvis returning to play 18 holes on the moon.

In their verdict, the five judges sentenced him to 21 years “preventative detention” and said that there was a very strong possibility that he would remain a threat to society even after his tariff is served; if he is, his detention can be extended for five years at a time.

He will never walk the streets of Oslo as a free man again.

The reaction on the streets was a mixture of fatigue and relief.

People are sick of being asked about him. Sick of hearing about him, and what he did. Sick of trying to work out what his actions say about Norway, and themselves.

But the relief now outweighs that. That Anders Behring Breivik wasn’t shot dead in the dirt of Utoya – like so many of his victims – is a good thing for the healing process in Norway.

If he had been, he would have been martyred for the cause of extreme nationalism, and we would never have understood what made him carry out such unspeakable acts.

But over the ten weeks of his trial we have come to understand him better – his callousness, his twisted logic, his hatred.

We have seen a vanity in him that would make Narcissus blush. And we have seen a total lack of empathy with his victims.

At times we have seen behind the facade – the obsessive organising of  paper and pens before he answered the judge’s question about whether or not he accepted the verdict, quickly followed by the flash of darkness as he attempted to apologise to fellow extreme nationalists for not killing even more innocent children.

Most of all, we saw the smile as the verdict was announced. Breivik welcomed the verdict with something between a grimace and a smirk.

In his own mind, he was victorious yesterday in Court 250 of Oslo’s Tinghus, but it was the people of Norway that won.

And over the next 21 years, Breivik will have plenty of time to reflect over why his actions haven’t launched the war on immigrants he so longed for, and why the people of the blood he was so intent of protecting have rejected him, and all he stands for.

Oslo is a small city, and in the early afternoon I left the courthouse are to walk to the cathedral.

I watched as the German foreign minister laid a wreath at the large red heart that stands in memories of those killed by the hateful, pudgy, vain Breivik.

He, like the rest of the civilised world, rejected Breivik.

And on the way back to the courthouse the ordinary people of Norway spoke of how they wanted to put this behind them and start rebuilding the safe, harmonious society that was blown away by Breivik’s bombs and bullets.

And that is something we can all support them in, ikke sant?