Gavan Reilly

thinking out loud

Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

Just how tactless can TV3 be? Answer: very.

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This evening TV3 exclusively revealed that Brian Lenihan, Minister for Finance, had been diagnosed with a malignant tumour in his pancreas.

lenihanSadly TV3 don’t see fit to allowing their videos be embedded elsewhere, but the piece they did – it’s the first 7 minutes out of a 7’30” news bulletin – can be seen here.

It’s difficult to know where to start with a piece like this. TV3 say – and, to be honest, it’s a commendable choice – that although they became aware of the news on Christmas Eve, they chose not to reveal it due to the sensitive timing of the news.

There are, however, a few serious problems with the piece. I’ll start with the meekest one and work upward.

Ursula Halligan, completely aside from the merits of the piece in question, is quite possibly the worst reporter I’ve seen ever. She stumbles, leaves dead air, and struggles to grasp words so badly that sometimes she make Bertie Ahern look like Dickens. Her interviews are inane, bland, and ask so few questions that the subject could admit to serial murder and still come out smelling of roses, such is Halligan’s inability to string up a subject. Bring back Miriam, all is forgiven.

The striking absence from Halligan’s report is not only that Lenihan, the Department, or the Government have declined to comment on the matter, but that Halligan doesn’t see fit to mention this. All in the sake of getting the scoop to beat all scoops. Why would you say “We asked the Department of Finance for a comment, but were told it’d be inappropriate for them to comment on a personal issue” in a piece when it de-sexifies the piece? Lenihan (in a statement) has said he has no plans to speak to the media until the New Year. Clearly that’s a public domain fact. But try telling that to TV3.

It’s tough to imagine how TV3 could have had any less tact in handling this subject. ‘Is it too early to talk about the political impact of this?’, wonders Colette Fitzpatrick live on air, when most viewers are going “Jaysus, I hate him for the pay cuts, but that’s terrible”. Yes, Colette, it is too early to ask who’s getting his job. Frankly it’s too early to talk about the issue at all.

“How do you get pancreatic cancer?” she asks later. Jesus, Colette, it’s not like he got it as a Christmas present. The respondent, Prof John Crown, is hardly any better, essentially implying that because the symptoms of pancreatic cancer tend to strike when it’s too late to do much about it, when it’s diagnosed there’s little that can be done to assist recovery. While TV3 tried their best to demarcate the Lenihan content from the medical analysis, the line was so thinly-drawn as to be blown away the second that Prof Crown drew breath.

Following the interview, the piece featured a retrospective on Lenihan’s 18 months as Minister for Finance. There is very little to justify this. The video reel didn’t need to say anything about the end of Lenihan’s tenure out loud for the implications to ring clear. To do this is galling enough – in essence the reel is an obituary – but given that TV3 had two days to put together the reel, it means that at some point in the last 48 hours, someone – anyone – with editorial authority could have put their heads in and thought, ‘maybe we shouldn’t run an obituary piece’. Again, tactless and horrible.

I don’t think one can be so quick as to condemn the reporters involved – all they can do is get the story and give it to the news editors to use it as they see fit – save for Halligan, who when presented with acres of dead air in which she could have explained that everyone else had declined to comment, rather than choosing to give off the impression that the story was so fresh that they simply didn’t have time to ask.

The kicker is that whatever about his public responsibility or profile, this isn’t really news. Brian Lenihan and his family are the ones to whom this matters most; it’s not as if he’s been incapacitated for some time and that should a bank fail on Monday morning (especially when everyone’s forgetting that Monday’s not a bank holiday) he won’t be around to act. It’s just simply a matter of extreme insensitivity to deny the man with the country’s toughest job a bit of space to come to terms with a debilitating condition, and even if the piece wasn’t as tabloid and grotesque as it ultimately was, there’s simply no forgiving that.

To think they wonder why the mainstream media is falling apart.

Edit: Elsewhere, Suzy Byrne contemplates the impact for ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ between politics and the media.

This post was edited to correct the spelling of Ursula Halligan’s surname.

Written by Gav

December 26th, 2009 at 9:29 pm

On Listowel

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This morning the three major broadsheets carry news of a trial in Tralee concerning Danny Foley, a bouncer who was sentenced to seven years in prison for the sexual assault of a young woman in Listowel. There are two particularly attention-grabbing facts about the case:

  1. That the accused’s parish priest, Fr Sean Sheehy of Castlegregory, had provided a character reference saying the defendant “always had the height of respect for women” and that there was “not an abusive bone in his body”, a statement later heavily criticised by the judge, and
  2. That, before the judge delivered the sentence, a group of fifty people – anecdotally, mostly male – queued up to shake the defendant’s hand and hug him, in some cases with tears in their eyes.

Now, rightfully, when people began sharing links to the story on Twitter this morning, most people were fairly appalled at the idea of a convicted sexual offender being party to such evident public support. However, it didn’t take long – probably because the victim was accompanied by representatives from the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre – for people to start immediately referring to the convicted man as a ‘rapist’.

The man has not been convicted of rape. The man was convicted of a sexual assault.

Elsewhere in the same papers today, we have the news that a boy was taking a Supreme Court case to challenge the quick-fix Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006, because it deemed him to be a statutory rapist having slept consentually with a 14-year-old girl when he himself was 15, while she was portrayed as a “comely maiden” under the same act. Surely this is a reminder to us all that there are degrees of sexual offence – including, evidently, an offence that isn’t an offence at all.

Now, I can’t claim to have heard the defendant’s girlfriend on 2FM this morning – I believe she tried to portray a questionable picture of the nature of “circumstantial evidence” produced at her boyfriend’s hearing – and there’s a fair chance that she may have dug her partner into an even bigger hole depending on the merit with which she presented her thoughts.

But it seems that people are quick to condemn the man, and the people of Listowel, for such an unprecedented move in the courtroom, blithely assuming that those who queued to embrace him were endorsing the offence, and not the person itself.

One action does not, and cannot, give a complete reflection of a person’s character. Clearly, Danny Foley must have been a reasonably popular man in his hometown; any social outcast who is later found to have perpetrated a sexual assault (which, in case there’s any equivocation about this, I totally condemn) would probably have been assaulted himself a number of times in the fortnight between being found guilty and being summoned for sentencing. Obviously Danny Foley was held in great esteem by his friends, and thus must have been of reasonable standing and of seeming good nature to have won this kind of affection from his peers.

Nor does consoling a man who is about to be locked up for seven years – albeit deservedly, it would seem – a total endorsement of his actions and an expression of association with them. I know very few people who haven’t done something they’ve regretted; even if they had carried out transgressions (sadly a dirty word since Tiger-gate) I’d still like to try and see the bigger picture.

Of course seeing a display like this is a gruesome experience for the innocent victim of Foley’s crime. But it’s an enormous leap of faith to condemn the people of Listowel for standing by a friend, especially when they have the right to feel that his conviction is open to question (as his girlfriend clearly does, given her comments on the radio), and especially so to take the easy leap by pointing the finger at a priest who quite clearly wasn’t going to give a false statement.

Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

(Edit: I’ve seen on RTE News tonight that Fr Sheehy was one of the people who queued to shake hands with Foley before his sentencing. That’s reprehensible and Fr Sheehy deserves the bollocking he’s gotten from the Bishop of Kerry as a result. Whatever about the intentions of the other people who shook Foley’s hand, a priest should have been far more conscious of the symbolism to the victim.)

Written by Gav

December 17th, 2009 at 11:44 am

The Upper House rules

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A piece I wrote for today’s University Observer on Seanad reform and why getting rid of the Seanad, as per Enda Kenny’s proposal, is a myopic and short-term solution to a longer-term problem…


Let’s be clear from the off: Seanad Éireann is an imperfect institution. It is little more than a political car park for those postponing the inevitable decline into retirement; a breeding ground for a political party’s new hopes, trying to blood their new meat in the life of Leinster House before the savagery of the Dáil floor; and a consolation prize for those who came close-ish to winning a seat in the lower house in the previous election.

Its work is limited; its relative power to put a stop to legislation is nil; its members largely wish they were elsewhere. It’s a morose place where the good go to die and the young come to roar, all just to get a few minutes’ token coverage on Oireachtas Report three times a week for their trouble.

seanadWith the Seanad being the almost entirely useless entity it has become, it was prudent for Enda Kenny to take a stab (almost literally) last week by proposing its abolition, saving the taxpayer about €25m per year, as part of an Oireachtas reform package that would also see the number of TDs cut by about 20 per cent. The country has grown frustrated with a body that it sees as nepotistic and ineffective, and Kenny needed to be seen as proactive in tackling what is, legitimately, a high-profile waste of exchequer money.

The abolition of a house of parliament is a big choice to make, and one that here, at least, would require a referendum of undoubted painstakingness equal to a Lisbon. Process aside, it’s also a fundamental amendment to the operation of a parliamentary democracy. What Enda Kenny seems to have overlooked, however, is that the Seanad can easily be reformed into a body that works, without necessarily triggering any political seachanges.

The Seanad, in its current form, was established by de Valera’s new Constitution in 1937, with its makeup inspired by Catholic social teaching of the times, led by Pope Pius XI and his visions of social order being based on the co-operation of vocational groups (a system that can be likened to the modern notion of social partnership). With this in mind, the Constitution established five Vocational Panels, with the prevailing logic being that nominees would have special experience or knowledge of one of the five topics, thus becoming eligible for election to that panel. So, for example, those with knowledge or experience in the business world would be elected to the Industrial and Commercial Panel.

The overall aim was that while the directly elected Dáil would remain – as all lower houses are – a political playground, the Seanad would be able to meditate on the nitty-gritty of applying the Dáil’s legislation in the real world, and transcend the relatively lowly bickering of a party political system.

In the seventy-odd intervening years, though, the Seanad hasn’t worked out quite as planned. Because the members of the five Vocational Panels are elected by members of the country’s town and county councils, the elections have become purely party political, with councillors from a political party voting along their own party lines so that the Seanad ultimately mirrors the political constitution of Ireland’s local government.

Another provision allowing for six members to be elected by graduates of Ireland’s two universities (at the time), the University of Dublin – comprised solely of Trinity College – and the National University of Ireland, including UCD, has fallen flat over the course of history. Ireland has seen newer universities formed in the meantime, and despite a referendum allowing the law to be amended to the contrary, the graduates of these colleges have not yet been offered a vote – creating the valid perception that the authority of the Seanad, like its membership, is limited to a minority of society.

While abolition of the Seanad would solve both of these problems, realistically Enda Kenny’s better legacy would be to reform the Seanad in a meaningful way that allows it to best fulfil the intent of the Constitution. An easy start would be to propose the legislation the Constitution already allows for: a law allowing the graduates of other third-level institutions to vote in the university constituencies.

It’s not as if the Seanad hasn’t come up with enough ideas on how to make itself more useful: no fewer than twelve reports on reform have been published over its lifetime. Indeed, only five years ago one of its own subcommittees recommended the abolition of the Panels, opening up nearly half of the seats to direct public elections, and that the eleven seats filled by the Taoiseach’s own appointees be more reflective of the Republic’s role in Northern Ireland, rather than – as present – being merely used to pad out the Government’s majority in the upper house.

The public, however, shouldn’t be surprised if Enda Kenny changes his tune should he somehow manage to lose the next election; he’ll find that due to his party’s victory in the local elections last June, his party will be in the majority in the Seanad irrespective of the nominees of an opposing Taoiseach. In that light, don’t expect the referendum to come any time soon.

Written by Gav

October 27th, 2009 at 8:50 pm

“And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger”

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So “the powers that be want action taken” on Conor Casby’s nude portraits of the Taoiseach that appeared in the National Gallery and the Royal Hibernian Academy.

For anyone who didn’t catch it, RTE were asked to remove the online footage of Monday’s news report from their website, and to broadcast an on-air apology for the piece.

Today on his radio show, Ray D’Arcy (who happily and freely named the artist on the show, incidentally) said that the Gardaí had been in touch wanting to speak to Casby and to charge him with three crimes: “Incitement, indecency and criminal damage.”

On the show (kudos to Cian of Irish Election who grabbed the audio, which you can listen to here) D’Arcy explains the reasoning behind the three charges. At about the same time, meanwhile (about 10.35am for fifteen minutes), FF backbencher Michael Kennedy went on Today with Pat Kenny and tried to defend the apology request.

Kennedy’s major point was that while he had no problem with the Sunday Tribune (who first broke the story, let it be noted) publishing a piece, RTE featuring it was another matter, partially because it’s taxpayer funded, but mostly because it was disrespectful to the position and office of Taoiseach.

God forbid Michael Kennedy should ever be Taoiseach. If he does, we’ll never have anything to continue the Scrap Saturday / Bull Island / Nob Nation tradition that RTE has forged for itself. Even The Panel will probably be pulled for the guff it offers.

When the audio goes up later today (it’ll be here when it does) skip forward to about 50 minutes in. You’ll hear endless dialogue such as:

“I’ve just been handed a picture here of President Obama sitting naked on a toilet.”
“Is that broadcast on national airwaves?”
“I assume so. It’s part of their proud national tradition of toilet humour.”
“But it’s not on a national broadcaster.”

The fact that the United States doesn’t have a public broadcaster apparently being void here. Finally, though, he gets his comeuppance.

“I have a picture here, from the BBC Politics Show, of Gordon Brown in a compromising position” [Note these aren’t direct quotes, I’m working from memory here].
“Is that on a public broadcaster though?”
“Yes, it’s the BBC’s Politics Show [presumably the Daily Politics on BBC Two] for the world to see.”
“Right.” And there’s a stunned silence.

Kennedy has already been calling for Cathal Goan, RTE’s Director-General, to resign over his decision to air the piece. Too right he should resign: he should have had the balls to take on the Government who, let it be reminded, don’t pay for the service themselves.

Mulley says it best in his outright disgust:

Let’s set a date and start a protest, let’s bring all the world’s press together and have them record caricatures of a naked man from the sticks. Let’s keep the momentum going. Let’s send naked pics of Cowen via MMS to each other and wave our phones, let’s encourage the opposition parties to wave these phones in the Dáil. Have them wear t-shirts under their shirts/blouses. Let’s walk up and down outside RTE news broadcasts. Please please please don’t roll over on this because next time we won’t know what else the news is hiding from us.

Get this caricature by Alan Cavanagh, print it on an A3, and put it in your window. Let’s see them stifle that. Let’s make the freedom of our press an election issue for June. Let’s print this poster onto backing boards and put it on lampposts alongside party candidates.

Brian Cowen naked

Edit: You can also buy this caricature on a T-Shirt with proceeds going to the Rape Crisis Centre.

Suzy has a take too.

Edit 2: Apparently the artist’s name is “Caspy”, mistakes fixed.

Written by Gav

March 25th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

A Society without Satire

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…is a society without soul.

And, distressingly, it seems we’re getting dangerously close to it. First the BCI uphold complaints against Nightlive, and now RTE are made apologise for this.

Sad day. Sad, sad day.

Where’s the feelgood factor from being the sporting kings of the world if our leaders seem to be going out of their way to bring the mood down?

Written by Gav

March 24th, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Posted in Ireland

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