Gavan Reilly

thinking out loud

Archive for the ‘Ireland’ tag

So that’s blogging dead, then

with 10 comments

Like a lot of Irish bloggy types I’ve been keeping an eye on the discussion over at Twenty Major‘s blog where a guest post by Una Mullally (formerly UnaRocks) has triggered a massive, and predictably sometimes overtly personal, discussion about whether the “Irish blogosphere” is over the hill.

As with most discussions, there’s good points to be made on both sides – even if both sides can get a bit grouchy and see a personal insult where there isn’t one to be seen – but feeling that I made a pig’s ear of my comment on the piece and wanting to address another point that isn’t being addressed in the comments, I thought I’d have my tuppence here. I’ll start by rewording my original comment and maybe going from there – the probably length of this post has led me to post it here rather than leave another thesis in the comments on the original.

Overall I think Una’s is a interesting piece and includes a few desperately-needed home truths – the fact that it’s provoked more than a few endorsements from commenters who are happy that Una has called the bluff of some circlejerky types where bloggers produce bad content but are encouraged to do more because of the backslappingthey get is a testament to this.

However, I think the comment left by Joe hits the nail quite squarely on the head: the notion of a ‘blogosphere’ is in itself a very cliquey phenomenon. Nobody refers to newspapers or broadcasters as existing in their own semi-autonomous platform and blogging shouldn’t be thought of in that way either. The problem with perpetuating this concept – that the ‘blogosphere’ is an independent platform where the values of what’s worth reading are somehow skewed from the rest of the world – only ends up endorsing this chasm of quality.

Personally I’d be uncomfortable with declaring Irish blogging being ‘over’ – as I wrote my comment on the piece, I noticed Suzy’s post revealing that Bertie Ahern’s book earnings have been declared tax-free, a piece that deserves to be picked up by the mainstream media because of its sheer newsworthyness. Blogs are only relevant as news sources if bloggers notice this kind of thing before a paid professional journalist can do it, and Suzy in one swoop has managed to proof that there’s life in the young dog yet. Likewise what the lads over at TheStory are doing in pointing out the abuse of public spending by certain people, and the attention they’re getting from other people for doing so.

There’s a world of difference between blogging being ‘over’ and the staple figures of early Irish blogging – Twenty, Rick, Una herself, Blogorrah – all moving on or finding their lifestyles changing as lifestyles inevitably do. For someone like myself who’s dabbled in it for about three-and-a-half years, the demise of Blogorrah or Twenty’s retirement were akin to a longrunning TV show being cancelled or the death of an elder statesman. Of course it changes the landscape a bit when a respected senior contributor disappears, but TV wasn’t dead when Gay Byrne quit the Late Late Show, nor was soap opera declared defunct when Brookside was cancelled.

Ireland exists in an unusual and somewhat perverse circumstance, where because of the everyone-knows-everyone-sure-isn’t-it-a-small-world culture we have in real life on this island, some people have an instinct to only read content that’s written by Irish people. This would be akin to people making a principled point in ignoring British TV or newspapers – it’s just too small a pool for many people of real impact to make any significant following.

Una comments that Ireland’s blogosphere has never been as vibrant as those of other countries to begin with, because

There’s no Gawker, no Perez, no Huffington.

I think if Ireland was bigger, there most certainly would be all of those sites – we’re a very gossipy race in Ireland. The problem is that for there to be  an Irish Gawker or a Perez, we would need there to be an enormous talent pool of Irish celebrities to ensure a reasonable turnover of content, where there simply isn’t. An Irish Gawker would be an electronic form of the Sindo Life magazine – God saves us all. There’s no HuffPo or Guido-type character because Irish politics is nepotistic, petty and severely underresourced. Too little happens and when it happens it happens on a scale that’s of very little use to anyone. What’s more, if Ireland had a HuffPo or a Politico – and maybe that’s what Mark Little’s new venture might ultimately produce – there’d be very few people to read it, because with a population as small as Ireland’s, not only would current affairs coverage have limited appeal to begin with, but the nature of Ireland’s tech infrastructure means that there’s still only a limited proportion of people who actually have the means to read it. We often forget in Ireland how few people outside of the Pale and the other major cities have a decent internet connection; your average active citizen in Donegal, Roscommon or Clare might be very interested in the content of a Politico but simply doesn’t have a decent connection to read it. (They might have dial-up but they’re not going to use dial-up to check a site or an RSS reader every couple of hours without paying through the nose for it.)

Ireland is simply too small for this kind of stuff: it’s why we don’t have a Guardian or a real political spectrum of print media; why we don’t have any major domestic professional sports; and it’s why we have a constant chip on our shoulders about people telling us what we do is insignificant.

Blogging won’t ever be ‘over’. Bloggers just eventually do other things, just as journalists and broadcasters and people with any kind of hobby. There is no small irony that Una’s post was published on the blog of someone who has quit blogging before, by a former blogger themselves.

Una’s remark that 98% of blog content is rubbish is probably true, but that’s the same with most media. I used to read the Irish Independent but got bored of its constant editorialising. I now read The Irish Times but not on a daily basis, because I wish it would be more honest about its blatant pro-Labour agenda. The only paper I read regularly now is the Guardian because I admire its design and the resources it affords its writers, but even still I still largely read online so as to filter out a lot of what I consider crap (I had no interest in its Copenhagen coverage, and on the iPhone app I’d selected only content relating to football, other sport, media and technology to appear on the home screen because the rest doesn’t concern me). Perhaps it’s ironic that this isn’t an Irish medium but such is the world that all media, including blogs, now live in. Ireland’s Sunday papers are all quite poor too; the Sunday Times is too full of irrelevant Britspeak, the Sindo is only ever one nude Amanda Brunker picture away from exploding in a ball of its own semen, and Una’s own Tribune appears to be unable to decide what it wants to be, other than a permanent Government-basher (aside from the unfortunate fact that with dropping circulation, it has to keep cutting its pagination to stay alive). But again, TV isn’t dead; radio isn’t dead; journalism isn’t dead (it’s newspapers that are dying, not journalism itself).

One other point that Una made in her post that hasn’t been dissected in some way – and one that relates most personally to me, as someone with airs of trying to get a foot in the door of a paying job in some kind of media – was this:

Many seem to use blogging as their first stepping stone for getting on in other forms of media. Because of this, blogging will always be seen as rung number one on the media ladder, unless you work for the Irish Times or something and you’re dragged by the scruff of your neck into blogville. I think it’s only unfair in exceptions to describe blogging as anything else. The Irish blogsphere is populated by wannabes using a blog to broadcast themselves in the hope of latching on to other gigs, branding themselves as if their opinions or writing or indeed their ‘selves’ as a product is worth branding, and publicising various projects/work/whatever they’re undertaking outside of their blog. Why would anyone want to read that?

Student journalists and people like me are constantly being told that in order to set ourselves apart from the crowd in the quest to get recognised as a worthy contributor and picked up by ‘the mainstream’, we need to be jacks of all trades – we need to be able to produce copy, to edit it, to cut video, to record and treat audio, and to understand the platforms that all of this content uses. Essentially, we’re told we need to master all media, and the way to do this without being part of the bigger entities is to be users of the ‘new media’, of which blogging is the archetype. It might seem cheap, but for people in my shoes we’re expected to blog, and certainly don’t seem to be entertained for very long if we don’t.

I suspect that Una might be overstating it a little, but there certainly are a lot of Irish bloggers who want to latch onto other gigs and who brand themselves as being an entity. UnaRocks herself was one (albeit one that Una herself admits she got tired of, and one that she has abandoned by changing her Twitter username) and admitted in her final post that her online presence got her some gigs that her journalistic one wouldn’t have; Twenty is another, and was given a book deal for his work. Mulley is one too; he’s now able to make a full-time living out of it, and all credit to him. But again, that’s no different to other media.

What’s the difference between the ‘brand’ of Twenty Major and of Fintan O’Toole, or Vincent Browne, or Charlie Brooker or Richard Littlejohn or Terry Wogan or Pat Kenny or Ryan Tubridy or Gerry Ryan or Jeremy Clarkson or Perez Hilton – or, indeed, Una Mullally? There isn’t one – these are all people who make their living out of being a name, a brand themselves that people want to read. This is the nature of all columnists; they’re given the platform to write pretty much whatever they like, and the mere placement of their byline or headshot beside it is what gives it its prestige. There are people who read their output who wouldn’t read anything else in the platform in which it’s presented – Brooker readers who aren’t Guardian readers; Littlejohn readers who might never buy a copy of The Sun; and people (like me) who read O’Toole and Browne on and Una’s column on without buying the paper it’s printed in.

Blogging, therefore, shouldn’t be bastardised or stigmatised because there are people who trade and present themselves as being an entity of esteem, or a brand that people should be attentive to. It’s the basis of all media to have names that people will be attracted to, and that’s what keeps the world going around. Not only is it the prescribed mode for someone like me if I want to be taken on board, but seeing names like O’Toole and Browne is some of the reason people keep picking up the Irish Times, and seeing names like Mullally is one of the reasons people keep buying the Tribune, and keep Una employed and living in a swanky city-centre apartment with a turret.

That’s damn close to the lifestyle I’d like – so what’s an aspiring wordsmith to do?

Written by Gav

January 6th, 2010 at 12:14 pm

The Upper House rules

with one comment

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


with 3 comments

In years to come we’ll remember today, Saturday March 21st 2009, as one of impossible glory, of one where fifteen Irish superhumans rose above the boundaries of mortal achievement and alluded invincibility to all around them.

Much as sport tends to glorify achievements with the beauty of hindsight, it would be criminal to forget just how dramatic Ireland’s game against Wales today was. Today Ireland came dangerously – gloriously – close to throwing it all away. You could have written it, but nobody would have believed you. As Wales crossed the halfway line on 79 minutes searching for a Triple Crown that would likely be forgotten in the relative annals of time, Tony Ward said it himself. “No penalties.” “No penalties”, Ryle Nugent concurred. Immediately Paddy Wallace enters the ruck from the side, referee Wayne Barnes raises his arm towards the Welsh end of the field and Stephen Jones points his finger towards the towering poles ahead of him.

It’s Jones, he can’t possibly miss. It’s 48 yards but he can make it; it’s Stephen Jones, after all.

It flies, it flies…

Ryle Nugent dares to contemplate it before any of the rest of us can. “The Irish team gather under the posts, in case it drops short…”

In case it drops short… oh, God, it can’t possibly drop short…

…can it?

“It hasn’t got the legs!”

RUGBY-NATIONS/And there it is, it drops short; Geordan Murphy gathers the ball and touches it down in the near corner. Suddenly the referee’s whistle blows long and shrill and the tears are flowing long before you can catch your breath or remember that there’s a life outside of the television screen in front of you, or outside of that oval ball a few hundred miles away.

The world comes swirling back to life; your lungs get a moment to themselves and existence wakes from its blissful coma. The recession seems a misty memory – who needs money when you have days like today?

Your phone beeps. It’s a text from your mother: “Wow”. The mood is judged perfectly: punctuation is a superfluous detail in the bigger picture of glory. What to reply? “Amazing”. It does nothing to illustrate just how you really feel but you have nothing else to say. It simply is; it is, and after 61 years of waiting, it’s the is – the simple fact that it’s happened! It’s really happened! – that makes it so much more special.

In the native language of these warriors’ land they say ‘is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras‘. If ever proof were needed that hunger is the best sauce, today must surely suffice. 61 years of pain and anguish, of near misses and total collapses, all melting away as a single kick lands two yards short of where it needs to be.

Sport is most certainly a watertight argument for fate: how different would Ireland’s national mood be today, how differently would the career of Brian O’Driscoll – so often so close but yet impossibly far from success – be thought of in years to come, how forever altered would be the fortunes of Irish rugby be, had Stephen Jones’ kick hit his toe that millimetre higher? Multiply this chance by even individual instance in the match that could have gone either way: every kick from touch from the boot of O’Gara; every lineout stolen by the monsterous hands of O’Connell. And who knows what rewards may be reaped from such unparalleled glory, especially when Ireland is so currently lacking in inspiration?

I’ve never bought into the notion of Irish rugby’s “golden generation”. While indeed the current crop were the first for two decades who came along at the same time (what would Simon Geoghegan give to have been born fifteen years later, and be part of the 2009 team instead of the perpetual solo tryscorer on a losing Irish team mid-1990’s?), the Golden Generation had already done more for Irish rugby than any before them. In the era before entertainment saturation a victorious Irish team had difficulty inspiring young men and women to take up the sport, yet at the turn of the millennium, the fact that Brian O’Driscoll was simultaneously good-looking and world-beating inspired just that. The David Humpreys, Shane Horgans and Girvan Dempseys of this world may not have a Grand Slam 2009 to their names, but they’ll have made it cool to pick up a rugby ball again, without fear of dismissive sneering from those clad in their Umbro FAI shirts.

Alas, such debates are for another time. For tonight, we have our glory, and however long we may have it to bask in, what’s rare is surely wonderful.

In years to come we’ll remember today, Saturday March 21st 2009, as one of impossible glory, of one where fifteen Irish superhumans rose above the boundaries of mortal achievement and alluded invincibility to all around them. Just let’s not forget how close we came to having none of it, and ensure that it makes the fragility of victory so much sweeter.

Horan, Flannery, Hayes; O’Callaghan, O’Connell; Ferris, Heaslip, Wallace; O’Leary, O’Gara; Fitzgerald, D’Arcy, O’Driscoll, Bowe; Kearney. Best, Stringer, Leamy and Wallace. Kidney. Twenty names that came so close to losing it all, but held their nerve and seized that day.

Finally, finally!, Éireann go bráth.

Written by Gav

March 21st, 2009 at 10:17 pm