Time for change. Real, lasting change. Time to grow up, we Irish have prevaricated enough

Today, you and I – along with several million other Irish people – will enter a voting booth, pick up a pencil and start X’ing.

In doing so, we’ll help seal the Fate of the Republic of Ireland for the next five years, and probably far beyond.

That is a daunting responsibility for all of us and we need to be clear and confident in what we do – for it is not only for whom we give our X but the very action in doing so that could have momentous repercussions. As has been proven scientifically, actions and words have a multiple energy far beyond the effect on the person taking the action or saying a word or phrase.

Without going into further details here, my advice is to be aware of the incredible power you possess that is yours and yours only.

Back to the national elections and one particular influence playing you.

Irish elections 2016, voting in Ireland

It’s time for us to grow up as a Nation. We’ve tried Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour – and they’ve all failed us. Let’s change the game right now.

Established media

‘Established media,’ no matter the country, holds a certain view about social development. Having been in turn, reporter, editor, publisher and journalism professor for over 30 years, I suppose I could easily be lumped in under this heading. I hope not, for the term refers to those media, usually right of left to varying degrees in their political thinking, which support the status quo, regardless of whom is in power nor the far-reaching consequences of that entity staying in power.

Why?

Inevitability it’s because members of the ‘established media’ have well-paying jobs they want to protect at all costs, ones that provide them with hefty salaries, thick expenses and a handsome pension at the end of it all. Change, they feel, means uncertainty. Perhaps, their jobs lost. After all, they are elites and the fall could be a mighty one.

That’s why it is key for us voters to be aware of these factors when we read newspapers, watch TV or listen to radio – especially media supported directly or indirectly by big business (Denis O’Brien at Independent Newspapers) or government (RTE). Health warning: don’t be unduly influenced.

I have been fortunate not only to have spent my media career in both broadcast and print (newspapers and magazines) but also in different countries including Ireland, north and south, the US and mainland Europe, so have gained a broader perspective than if I had stayed in my native Belfast.

As such, while abroad, I was shocked to learn that the entire body of ‘established Irish media’ failed utterly to warn ordinary folk of the economic bubble that burst upon them, a bubble as we know, created by crooked bankers, crooked developers, inept regulators, all caricatured by Fianna Fail’s infamous ‘Galway tent.’

From my standpoint, removed for so many years from journalism in Ireland, the cozy relationship between big Irish media and big Irish business was, and is, so obvious, with some few exceptions, sometimes (such The Irish Times columnists, Fintan O’Toole and Diarmaid Ferriter).

RTE’s Leaders Debate – an exercise in maintaining Right power

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Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams (left), capturing Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny (second left) in pretty much a straight lie was the highlight of the entire set of nationalized ‘Leader Debates’ – but ask the ‘Established Media’ and you’ll get a very different answer.

Take, for example, the ‘Leaders Debate’ on RTE earlier this week. My view: Miriam O’Callaghan’s performance was biased and amateurish, certainly compared to Claire Byrne in the previous debate. O’Callaghan read at times so automaton-like from her prepared script while attempting to stamp her ‘established media’ credentials on the final outcome.

Did you notice how, having mentioned the widespread cronyism that has gone on under the tutelages of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour (hard to avoid), she then turned to Gerry Adams – who, not having ever been Taoiseach or a Government Minister here, couldn’t be accused of cronyism. But that didn’t stop O’Callaghan, citing, unfairly, two particular persons, Bobby Storey and Danny Morrison. Her inaccurate accusation of Morrison being a felon was so reckless and willful an attack that it could well lead to a major lawsuit for which, rightly, RTE should pay generous compensation. Morrison was long ago cleared of all charges in the case the British state brought against him and RTE’s researchers should have been well aware of that.

Not only but in the televised debate, there was one dramatic and defining moment, one captured by Gerry Adams on camera before millions: that, for the first time after multiple denials and prevarications, Taoiseach Enda Kenny admitted – caught unawares – that HE had appointed Donegal’s John McNulty, a Fine Gael Seanad by-election candidate, to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, even though McNulty had no prior interest whatsoever in art throughout his entire life (unless you include the art of deception).

Gerry Adams Sinn Fein, Enda Kenny Fine Gael

Moment of triumph for Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams (left). Caught in a lie, Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) fumbles to keep him at arm’s length.

Hypocrisy of RTE’s Miriam O’Callaghan

I also find rather despicable the hypocrisy of Miriam O’Callaghan in bringing up the issue of cronyism. I met her in the Belfast studios of the BBC in recent years having been invited to attend an event celebrating the investigative program, ‘Panorama.’ I had learned that not only did Miriam use her role as a presenter to help get lucrative contracts with her employer, RTE, for some of her eight children, but also for her private production company, Mint Productions, one she established with her second husband, Steve Carson. Then helped him get a job at the Beeb in Belfast (my belief is that Carson left RTE, in great part, because the conflicts of interest he and his wife were involved in by gaining outside contracts with RTE for his children and Mint Productions was encroaching more into the public arena and the RTE elite were becoming uncomfortable that their lucrative jobs could be at stake for allowing it, but also because of some silly broadcasting mistakes Carson made).

Miriam O’Callaghan elections,

Expensive looking dress. Miriam O’Callaghan and husband, Steve Carson, have done pretty well financially as full-time RTE employers, while also obtaining RTE contracts for their own production company, as well as for their children. But there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

At the public debate that was part of the ‘Panorama’ event, hosted by Miriam, I asked her about these things as the first question from the floor. Her answer shocked me, “I don’t know anything about those things. My husband and I don’t discuss professional matters.”

This is the very same lady who tried to hammer Mr. Adams, Danny Morrison and Bobby Storey so unfairly on national television earlier this week – about cronyism.

Analysis or simply spin?

Immediately after RTE’s 90-minute ‘Leaders Debate,’ the station hosted ‘The Spin Room,’ with so-called experts analyzing the debate. Even though Gerry Adams catching Taoiseach Kenny out on the McNulty issue was by far the most dramatic new development in the whole debate – literally a ‘journalistic scoop’ – the station did not even re-broadcast that short exchange between Adams and Kenny – even though they did replay other videos from the debate, labeling several of them as moments of what they called ‘Adams’ substandard performance.’

RTE’s ‘Leaders Debate’ was peppered with examples of ‘Established Media’ bias. There were plenty more elsewhere:

Noel Whelan, in his column for The Irish Times, wrote that, “The only sustainable outcome (of the election) is a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail Government.”

Sarah McInerney, a political reporter for The Sunday Times, who lives high on the hog in a spacious home in one of the most elite areas of Dublin, said during ‘The Spin Room:’ “The next Government will be Fine Gael-Fianna Fail. If they can’t do business, no-one can.”

Pat Leahy, deputy editor and political editor of The Sunday Post, in his very first column  days before the election was even called, wrote: “For Sinn Fein, the big breakthrough – participation in government – won’t come this time. The party doesn’t really want it to – that’s what its strategy to rule out anything but a left-led coalition means.”

Sinn Fein and Independents: a viable alternative to the same old…

What such ‘Established media’ commentators are saying is that with Labour in free-fall, there is no other choice – but there is, though they don’t dare mention it: a winning combination of Sinn Fein and Independents.

Through sheer hard-work and diligent application, Sinn Fein has increased its popularity, both in votes and seats at both national level (in the election five years ago) and in the local elections (two years ago). Not only but Martin McGuinness – who has acknowledged that, like the 1916 heroes, Padraig Pearse and James Connolly before him, he is an Irish Republican, and was a member of the IRA – did well in the Presidential Election. In fact, his penetrating dramatic contribution on the final televised Presidential debate in 2011, in effect, won Áras an Uachtaráin (the Irish ‘White House’) for Michael D. Higgins.

As for the Independents, their rise up the political ladder over the last five years is just as impressive as Sinn Fein’s, but the ‘established media’ again do not want you or I to consider that duet option. So they’ve tried to pour cold water on it, saying Independents in government is unworkable, especially when they’re Lefty Liberals.

History, however, proves them wrong, repeatedly.

Steve Farnsworth, political journalism

US professor, journalist, author and political commentator, Stephen Farnsworth, says Liberal and Left-wing coalitions can and do govern well.

A long-time friend, Stephen Farnsworth, veteran American journalist with whom I was a colleague in the US, author or co-author of five books and now a tenured Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, told me over the last few days, “Not so.” Pointing to the Liberal minority governments of Lester Pearson of Canada in the 1960s, he informed me, “Pearson was Prime Minister during the 1960s and his amazing record, with the Liberals and the NDP, Canada’s left party, working together, included  universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the new Flag of Canada, a unified armed forces, a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, and he fought to keep Canada out of the Vietnam War. His government also abolished capital punishment de facto.”

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if a coalition of Sinn Fein and the Independents could achieve even half this? Why not? Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour have already failed miserably.

Here in Donegal, there is no shortage of quality Sinn Fein and Independent candidates (and I’m not speaking about pseudo-Independents such as cash-for-favors local councilor, John O’Donnell, who, interestingly, is urging people to vote for Fianna Fail’s Pat the Cope). A TD combination in Donegal of Sinn Fein’s Gary Doherty, Padraig MacLochlann and Pearse Doherty, Independent Thomas Pringle and one of the other candidates, now local councilors, such as Niamh Kennedy, Dessie Shiels, Frank McBrearty or one of the other ‘real’ Independents, seems to me like a good choice.

After all, haven’t we given the Fine Gael-Labour coalition five years to put things right, and what have they done? The former used this precious time to ignore the needs of the vast majority of Irish people and instead strengthened elitism, with economic research showing the most affluent 20 per cent of people in Ireland own 73 per cent of the country’s wealth and the poorest 20 per cent own just 0.2 per cent. Alas, Labour simply sold out its long-held principles for a whiff of power. As for Fianna Fail. Wasn’t that the political party that slept with crooked bankers and developers, bankrupted Ireland, closed hospitals and schools, lost our Sovereignty and sent the country groveling to Brussels for handouts?

Don’t let Big Media misuse and abuse you. This is your time in that voting booth, alone, your time only, a time when no-one has the right to tell you what to do.

As the French might say if they were here – ‘Bon voting‘!

In addition to voting today, there is one other place to which perhaps you would kindly attach your name, for a cause that is both noble and just, virtues hard to find in today’s questionable political world.

Public apology and re-affirmation of support for a true Irish Republic

or

President of Ireland Michael Higgins, apologize & publicly support heroes, families & ideals of 1916 Irish Revolution

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‘Whatever you say, say nothing!’ – motto of Údarás na Gaeltachta

‘People have no right to ask how we spend their money.’

That’s the attitude of Údarás na Gaeltachta, which has once again refused to release key information about how it spends public funds.

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A Senate committee revealed that Údarás pays millions of euro every year in pensions to former executives, some of whom were local Donegal employees including Cathal MacSuibhne, former regional manager based in Gaoth Dobhair.

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Sinn Fein’s Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, a member of that Senate committee, exclaimed, “I nearly fell off the chair when I heard that almost half the current expenditure goes on pension payments to 136 people who are no longer employed by the organisation. Small wonder Údarás is not able to function more effectively.

He added, “This raises serious concerns regarding the levels of monies being paid and who is receiving them.”

Under transparency rules, other public bodies have made a breakdown of such pension figures available for examination, but in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request I made, Údarás refused to do so, citing gobbledegook about data protection.

As a result, having brought the matter to the attention of a number of TDs, the Údarás pension issue has risen to the highest levels of national government, to the office of Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure.

I can reveal in this blog that on my behalf various leading politicians including Public Accounts Committee (PAC) member, Mary Lou McDonald, have attempted to find out the individual pension figures but Údarás has stonewalled every request, preventing their release.

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How it happened

Údarás responded to my initial FOI request last year seeking details on pension and lump sum payments to former executives in a letter signed by Padraic O’Conghaile – a ‘cinnteoir’ at the organisation’s headquarters in Galway.

In the letter, he wrote, “I am refusing these records as they relate to the pension of an individual under Section 28.1 (Personal Information). The FOI Act defines personal information as information about an identifiable individual that: ‘would, in the ordinary course of events, be known only to individuals or members of the family or friends, of the individual.’ I believe that the right to privacy of these persons with regard to such information far outweighs any public interest there may be in this matter.

The fact, that all the pensions and payments are publicly-funded and thus not “known only to individuals or members of the family or friends, of the individual” as he asserts – did not seem to enter Mr. O’Conghaile’s thinking. Or, perhaps, did, but he refused to acknowledge it.

Following this response, I requested several TD’s to present formal written parliamentary questions in the Dail on the same issue.

For example, Mary Lou McDonald, a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), submitted her parliamentary question to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht asking the Minister to “reference the specific provisions of the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 to which he referred (supporting Údarás’ denial of information); the basis on which he believes Údarás na Gaeltachta does not, unlike in the case of all other senior managers across the civil and public sector, have to make public the details of public service pension arrangements on retirement for senior management.

Dinny McGinley, then junior minister, wrote back in a vague response saying simply that Údarás had informed him it was “a data controller, defined under the Acts as a person who either alone or with others controls the contents and use of personal data.

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Put in simple words, it means Údarás, while deriving all its funding from public money, considers ‘People have no right to ask how we spend their money.’ McGinley’s response also has no logical meaning whatsoever under present Irish law. Instead it is a classic delaying tactic. The former Minister did not bother to question it or seek elaboration.

That response led McDonald to submit a follow-up question, this time to Minister Howlin, reading, “given the Minister’s stated commitment to transparency and accountability in the spending of public monies, whether in his view it is acceptable for a public body fully funded by the exchequer to withhold from the public record details of public service pension arrangements on retirement for senior managers; and if he is prepared to legislate to require all publicly funded bodies to make such information public in the interests of open government.

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It is most disappointing that a simple request to a fully publicly funded body about its spending has led to such a reactionary response from an organisation such as Údarás, which is responsible for the economic, social and cultural development of the Gaeltacht.

Such utter lack of transparency and disregard for public concerns has already led to such widespread corruptive practices as those at FAS when it was discovered hundreds of thousands of euro went on lavish holidays including first-class travel and expensive rounds of golf for executives and their wives. Údarás itself has yet to account for trips paid out of public funds for board members, executives and wives to visit attractive international destinations, including Las Vegas.

Public money is a precious thing and every penny of it ought to be properly accounted for and judiciously spent.

I will reprint Minister Howlin’s response on this blog when it is received. It should provide a most interesting read.

Cults, sects and mindless mayhem?

Before the elections, in a FRONT page editorial in the Irish Independent (a most unsuited and unprofessional place – see explanation at bottom of article), Fionnan Sheahan, group political editor of Independent Newspapers, described Sinn Fein as a ‘cult’ and a ‘sect’ whose followers were mindless.

Seeing that this particular political party has just won 157 local council seats nationwide in the Republic with 15.2% of the national vote (not to mention 105 council seats in northern Ireland with 24% of the vote), that’s a helluva lot of mindless people.

Will Mr. Sheahan now apologise to such people publicly in the same manner that he attacked them? Or will arrogance and pride prevent him and pave the way for a continued drop in circulation and quality of a once decent newspaper (one I proudly worked for at the start of my career 30 years ago)? Or is Fionnan’s job so dependent on the blatant bias of the media group’s dominant figures – Denis O’Brien (who was shown by the Moriarty Tribunal to have bribed former Fianna Fail Communications Minister, Michael Lowry, to win a mobile phone license), and Tony O’Reilly (who, after recently announcing bankruptcy, owes you and I more than four million euro after buying a luxurious holiday home in Glandore, west Cork with a loan he can’t now pay back) – that he will continue doffing his cap as a D4/ establishment spin-doctor and apologist?

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Can some political commentators not see the forest for the trees?

And not only.

A few weeks ago on Highland Radio’s Friday morning ‘Press Round-up,’ one of the so-called experts – a woman – said Gerry Adams should resign as Sinn Fein party president – and this was after Mr. Adams had just been voted in an ‘Irish Times’ opinion poll as the nation’s most popular party leader. Consider this unwarranted barb in view of the massive gains Sinn Fein has just won across the nation in this weekend’s local, national and European elections under this man’s leadership.

Will that particular woman now apologize? Not simply for a poorly-informed broadside but what is, in effect, blatantly obvious bias. Surely, Highland Radio, a station fighting for license renewal, can find more objective commentators than this person. As both chat-show program host and station managing director, Shaun should pay closer attention to what emerged from the ‘Media Freedom‘ conference I attended at UNESCO headquarters in Paris recently. Can anyone guess the identity of the woman in question?

But back to the recent elections.

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Turning of the tide?

Some commentators would have us believe they were astonishing.

Nothing could be further from the truth. They were quite the opposite – predictable – based on the trend already set three years ago when Sinn Fein went from four TD slots to 14. Of course, Sinn Fein and Independent generous gains in this week’s elections were accelerated this time round by the abject failures and litany of broken promises by Labour and Fine Gael. With the smell of Fianna Fail corruption still rank in our nostrils, and the ‘old guard’ still there in abundance, it hardly provided an alternative, indicated by its abject failure to have anyone elected in the two by-elections and Pat the Cope ‘(the Pope’ as RTE miswrote in a news Twitter) Gallagher’s failure to hold his MEP seat.

A quick glance at some of the specific results indicates the extent of the triumphs of Sinn Fein and the Independents:

  • Four Sinn Fein MEP candidates – four MEPs elected: Liadh Ní Riada; Lynn Boylan; Martina Anderson and Matt Carthy.
  • Independent Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan topping the poll in the Midlands–North-West constituency;
  • Sinn Fein trebling its local council tally by winning 157 seats nationwide, and in the process becoming the largest single party on the Dublin city council;
  • Independent Marian Harkin defeating sitting MEP Pat the Cope in Midlands–North-West;
  • Sinn Fein securing the single biggest number of first preference votes in northern Ireland’s local government elections while winning 105 council seats;
  • Independents (including the Socialist Party, the Greens, and People Before Profit Alliance) won around 30 per cent of council seats, up from 18 per cent at the last local elections in 2009;

The list just keeps going on, including Sinn Fein winning local council seats it has not held since the foundation of the state, an incredible historic feat. It is something Donegal-based Pearse Doherty, Sinn Fein’s electoral director should be extremely proud of, especially in the run-up to the 1916 centenary commemoration celebrations.

So what happens now? Well-paid Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour spin-doctors – Charlie Flanagan, Pat Rabbitte and Timmy Dooley respectively – have already been out in force on RTE, and other media, this week. They allege – conveniently forgetting that this particular political party has governed alongside its arch-rival, the DUP, for 15 years in northern Ireland – that Sinn Fein cannot govern because it has not learned the art of compromise. In fact, it is one of the very skills Sinn Fein has learned and in the toughest classroom there is – the boiling cauldron of politics across the border. Maybe the faux pas made by Jan O’Sullivan, Labour’s junior minister, on RTE Radio 1 show last Sunday that her party ‘is a mudguard for Sinn Fein’ is more accurate than she cares to believe.

The spin-doctors also say the Independents are a motley group of disparate individuals, again conveniently forgetting that they all, in effect, stood together in unity against harsh austerity and for social justice and fairness – hardly irrelevant issues. Theirs is also a highly pompous and condescending comment to make about ordinary citizens who voted en masse for this so-called ‘motley’ group.

No doubt, Sinn Fein and the Independents will be in the crosshairs of examination over the next two years as the next general election approaches but their strength is that they are bonded by a common purpose. Watch carefully as they come together in unity and forge a partnership to create a more equitable society within Ireland. As they attempt to avoid being the victims of their own success, maintaining organization and structure will be a challenge.

It was also extremely heartening to see so many women win council and MEP seats. Four of Ireland’s 11 elected MEPs being female Sinn Fein candidates while in the two by-elections, Ruth Coppinger won Dublin West for Joe Higgins’ Socialist Party and Gabrielle McFadden of Fine Gael won the Longford/Westmeath seat previously held by her sister, Nicky. Well over 20 per cent of councillors elected are women; 32 per cent of votes cast in Dublin were for female candidates and in some areas 4 out of six councillors are now women. Over 30 per cent of Sinn Fein council candidates were women. Women won 197 out of 943 local seats with campaign group ‘Women for Election’ saying this represented a 33 per cent increase. However, even with this improvement, Ireland remains about 90th in world rankings in terms of women in politics.

However, at last, as this week’s election results show, Ireland is beginning to wake up to reality. We Irish may lack the passion, initiative and courage to go on the streets as did the Greeks and French but we are fortunate to have been given a second chance following our poor voting performance two years ago (echoes – as happened after the 1916 debacle) and have made our voices heard in the polling booths. Rejection of establishment politics and the obvious economic disparities between poor and rich here, has meant Ireland has finally, to a large extent, grown up, matured and begun to shrug off out-dated, horse-blinkered generational politics.

As for Lugh’s choices for my area of the Glenties here in northwest Donegal, I am delighted to say that the little Celtic hero predicted not just the winners, but also the exact order in which they came past the post, viz-a-viz

Marie Therese Gallagher, Sinn Fein

John Sheamuis O’Fearraigh, Sinn Fein

Micheal Cholm MacGiolla Easbuig, Independent

Ireland’s future suddenly seems brighter!

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A new dawn is upon us.

NB: Explanation as promised

In journalism, as a mark of respect to the intelligence of its readers, quality newspapers reserve their opinion columns and editorials for inside pages, designating the front page specifically for informed and – as much as possible considering we have human frailties – objective news upon which readers make up their own minds on key issues. Thus Independent Newspapers broke a golden, nay sacrosanct, rule of journalism, ignoring the fact that only idiots need to be spoon-fed like infants. That may have worked in the past. Not anymore.

Next week’s blog – Remaining on the subject of local elections: how is it a candidate, such as John Curran, failed to get elected in the Glenties to the Donegal council? Was it linked to the severe lack of transparency that has corrupted Irish politics for so long and that still hovers over the workings of Udaras na Gaeltachta of which Mr. Curran is a board member? Or simply that he was the Fine Gael candidate? Next week, I publish the responses from Udaras to questions regarding payments for executive pensions, a breakdown of job creation figures for the Donegal Gaeltacht and total investment in a proposed church-run addiction clinic in Falcarragh. As well as responses from Cuan Mhuire as to whether it shelters convicted clerical child abusers and will provide sex therapy as well as other treatments at the proposed centre.