Tag Archive for Pat Rabbitte

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.

Don’t tweet the messenger

NOTE: RTE did not approve this picture, even though I wrote to Bosco in 1981 and my letter was read out.

I learned long ago it’s never profitable to suspect conspiracy where stupidity is a more likely explanation, but the recent ham-fisted attacks on the Internet and freedom of speech bear all the hallmarks of both.

I’ll deal with the issue that has made Ireland the laughing stock of the online world – namely, newspapers trying to get paid because they’re on the internet – some other time.

But first, the ludicrous notion that RTE is somehow behind everything anyone who appears on it posts on Twitter.

Twice recently, the Irish Independent has run stories attacking freelance contributors to RTE for tweets posted from private accounts about members of the anti-abortion lobby.

First, Pat O’Mahony was hammered for calling David Quinn “a poisonous cunt.” Notably, the Indo made much of the fact that Pat works on occasion for RTE, whilst never denying the substance of the tweet.

(If anyone from the Indo is reading this, which I doubt, that’s what’s called satire. The Internet is full of it.)

Today brought the news that Jim Sheridan, musical director of the Late Late Show, was being hauled over the coals for engaging in some humorous slagging-off of Ronan Mullen.

(It’s worth noting that it seems Sheridan’s tweet was posted on December 20, yet the Independent story was only published today. Judge for yourself whether this is an oversight, or part of a concerted campaign to use recent stories about cyberbullying to tar Sheridan with the same brush.)

Now some people may not find Jim’s tweets funny (I do), and some others may find Pat’s judgement of Mr. Quinn a little harsh (I don’t), but there is one thing that they are not – and that is any of RTE’s business.

As freelancers tweeting from private accounts, they are free to tweet and write and record whatever they like. It has nothing to do with RTE, or any other company or entity they work for.

They are entitled to their opinion, and the fact that they work for RTE should not preclude them from expressing it, or making any other joke.

Both have been very, very clear in making this distinction, and to try to manipulate these tweets to misrepresent them as somehow coming from RTE is deeply disingenuous.

A lot of offensive guff gets posted on Twitter and written in Irish media, and no side – right or left, Christian or sensible – has a monopoly on the moral high ground.

But perhaps most offensive of all is that the Jim Sheridan story comes complete with quotes from none other than Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, a man who has done more to denigrate Irish politics than Twitter ever could.

His glib admission that lying to the electorate is “what you do” at election time says it all about the man who now seems intent on silencing all his critics – be they on RTE or on Twitter – by fair means or foul.

Jim Sheridan is not RTE. Pat O’Mahony is not RTE.

And for the sake of Connolly’s party, I hope Rabbitte is not the Labour party.

Because if he is, time’s up.

 

 

Toblerones and cojones

Danger: May ruin your political career.

As a new year of political guff and spoofery dawns, we should forget Swedish-style taxes or childcare – what Ireland really needs is Swedish-style politicians.

2012 in Irish politics began as Ivor Callelly was arrested over false mobile phone receipts. As it went on Mick Wallace was found to have welched on VAT payments, and the name of Michael Lowry was never too far from the headlines.

All of these incidents were just the cherries on the usual rancid pile of lies offered up by Irish politicians throughout the year, with the avid kite-flyers of the government almost better by the opposition spivs that bankrupted the country and now crow about it.

Every time some sharp-suited spiv is spotted with his hand in the government expenses cookie jar, I’m reminded of what is quaintly known as “the Toblerone Affair” here in Sweden.

Mona Sahlin – the prime minister that never was.

Back in 1995 Mona Sahlin was the star of Sweden’s Social Democrats – vice prime minister at the time, she was widely tipped to replace Ingvar Carlsson as party leader and become the first female leader of the Scandinavian nation.

But then newspaper Expressen reported that she had used a government-issued bank card to pay around €6000 worth of private expenses – among them two Toblerones, which gave the scandal its name.

Many expenses, such as restaurant visits, had to be paid for in cash at that time, and money to cover them was taken out at an ATM.

In practice, whatever was left over was essentially an advance on the next salary payment.

Sahlin’s problem was twofold; firstly, use of the card for private expenses was strictly prohibited.

Secondly, a bit of journalistic digging showed that she was generally careless with her personal finances, with a slew of unpaid parking fines and under-the-table payments to childcare workers being two incidents that stuck out.

The judgement of the court of public opinion was as swift as it was merciless. On October 14 1995 newspaper Göteborgsposten published an opinion poll in which 66% of the respondents said that Sahlin was unfit to lead the country.

Two days later Sahlin took a “time-out”, removing herself from the race to succeed Carlsson and thus become prime minister.

On October 16 a criminal investigation began. Sahlin dind’t wait around for the outcome – on November 10 she resigned, her career in ruins.

In January 1996 the investigation was closed as no crime could be detected, and Sahlin eventually paid back all monies owed, plus around €1800 extra, but by then it didn’t matter.

The Swedish people demand standards in public office, and Mona Sahlin had not met those standards.

The story doesn’t end there; for the next ten years, Sahlin wandered the political wilderness before finally getting her chance to lead the party following the loss of the 2006 general election and Göran Persson’s subsequent resignation as party leader.

But her dream of being Sweden’s first female prime minister was to remain unrealised.

The electorate in Sweden neither forgives nor forgets in a hurry, and Sahlin and the Social Democrats were narrowly defeated in the 2010.

I covered the election night for a major news agency, and many in her party suggested that, with a different leader, the centre-left coalition would have won the election – but many swing voters felt they couldn’t get behind Sahlin because of her Toblerones.

To Sweden’s credit, from the moment Sahlin’s creative cashflow solution was unveiled, her fate was sealed. This is less certain in Ireland, where the likes of Seán Quinn and Michael Lowry are often regarded as local heroes, rather than greedy spivs.

Fianna Fáil showed signs of learning the lessons of the likes of Sahlin at the last election – faced with a country full of voters that would never elect many of them again, most chickened out and didn’t contest the election.

The chickening-out of Fianna Fáil represents the green shoots of Irish democracy. It shows that we can and will tell politicians when they have done wrong, and that we will not elect them again if they do so.

It’s time to show some cojones raise the bar in public life considerably – no more fraud, no more lies, no more deliberately misleading the public.

Having been put into €78 billion of debt without our say-so, the least the people that put us there can do is be straight with us – and not steal any more from us.

It may take time, but less Toblerones and higher standards shouldn’t unduly hurt our elected representatives.

 

Rabbitte not the brightest spark

Pat Rabbitte- soon to take over from Margaret Thatcher as Leo Varadkar's hero.

It was only a matter of time before this government let the privatisation genie out of the bottle.

Word from Kildare Street is that a “minority stake” in the ESB, a company “of strategic significance in the Irish economy ” is up for sale.

There’s a lot to suggest that this the thin end of the wedge.

For a start, it’s fitting that the announcement came did not from Leo Varadkar.

Instead, in a a prime example of the sorry state of socialism in Ireland, it was left to Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte to sell us out again.

The problem with the privatisation genie – like the property genie – is that once he’s let out of the bottle, he’s impossible to put back in.

Rather than sticking up for the working Joe, post-socialist man Pat will soon be espousing the virtues of private ownership and competition, and telling us how they will combine to drive prices down, without being able to cite a single example of where this has happened.

The reality is of course that the new owners will want a return on their investment and prices will rise even quicker than they are at the moment.

For those who doubt it, Sweden deregulated the electricity market a few years ago amidst a fanfare of promises of competition and lower prices.

Of course, the opposite was the case as speculation by energy traders forced prices up as they searched for profit.

Recently, the very newspapers that trumpeted this free market triumph expressed their outrage as helpless customers were ripped off at ever opportunity.

In the most extreme of cases (Russia), we witnessed how the selling-out of the nation’s energy infrastructure and resources created a whole new class of super-rich.

Along with it came corruption on a scale that even Michael Lowry might notice.

Pat and his supposed socialists in the Labour party are not content to facilitate the free market in taking all our money via the bailout; they won’t be happy until they’ve given away all our assets too.

For despite the supposedly unprecedented scale and scope of the credit crunch and subsequent debt crisis, there is nothing new here.

The IMF, like the free marketeers of Fine Gael and the Labour party, is still ideologically driven and utterly intent on selling out Ireland, and not necessairily to the highest bidder.

They do this despite ample evidence that such a sell-out causes more damage than good.

But of course by the time this becomes apparent, it will be too late. The genie won’t be going back into the bottle.

And in the end we’ll be left with Pat, our king of the socialist sell-out.

Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned

Politics is often nothing more than the art of being able to say “I told you so”, no matter what the outcome.

There was “Straight Talkin’” Pat Rabbitte on Vincent Browne this evening, giving it large about how we couldn’t possibly burn the bondholders, or anyone else who wasn’t working class, poor, young, old  or infirm.

Of course, just a few short weeks ago he and Eamon Gilmore were promising us “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”. I think we all know how that turned out – at the first sign of a cabinet post Labour’s bluster was gone with the wind.

Fine Gael weren’t far behind them, and the Hide and Seek Champion of Mayo is dodging all talk of burden-sharing. You’d swear there was never a five-point plan at all.

Besides, it’s too late now. As pointed out before the election, a vote for FG or a vote for Labour was a tacit acceptance that the bank debt was ours to bear. No point whining about now, unless we’re seriously prepared to do something about it.

And then populist Pat, suffering under the barrage from Browne and Mary-Lou McDonald, turned his ire on the CEO of ESB, who apparently earns €750,000 a year.

Rabbitte, struggling to get some points on the board, honorably went ahead and attacked a man not there to defend himself.

He even went as far as to open public negotiations with his successor – whoever that may be – by saying that the new person in the position won’t get anywhere near that.

I don’t think you’re the best man to judge that Pat, just as you couldn’t be telling anyone at AIB what they can earn.

You’ll be forced to pay whatever the market demands for a competent person to run a national power company. And if you decide to pay peanuts, you’ll simply end up adding to the abundance of monkeys running – and ruining – Irish public life.

For this is what the free market does. Based on all available information it sets a price, and then it’s up to you to pay it – otherwise someone else will.

Which is exactly why the ESB shouldn’t be sold off just yet, if it is ever to be sold off at all.

The markets are well aware that we have no arse in our trousers and that we are in no position to negotiate; even if we were, we lack people capable of doing so. Thus, we would get nowhere near the real market value for the asset.

The second reason for not selling it off is competitiveness. The CEO of the newly-privatised Irish electricity company would set about justifying his massive new salary by generating massive profits for the new owners- at the expense of the households and small businesses, at a time when they can least afford it.

They have neither the mandate nor the interest in helping the country recover- they are simply interested in profit.

It’s the way the free market works Pat, and the longer you sit on the benches with Fine Gael, the more you’ll find out about it, and the more you’ll have to sit beside Vincent and defend actions that you would never in your wildest dreams have countenanced when you were on the opposition benches.