Listen to the first 30 seconds of this political podcast, one of a daily series produced by The Irish Times since the election campaign began two weeks ago.
Notice anything wrong?
Having worked for The Irish Times as a foreign correspondent some years ago and now writing periodically for various sections of the newspaper, I was keen to hear their daily insights on the elections.
After listening to some of the political podcasts during the first days of the campaign (there is only one week left before voting this Saturday), I became increasingly irritated that the all- important opening sound-bites featured three male politicians.
One is Leo Varadkar, leader of Fine Gael, the present Government, and the other, Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fail, which supports it. The third may be Michael Healy-Rae, independent parliamentary representative for Kerry. The woman speaking is Regina Doherty.
To my mind, aside from the issue of gender balance, unintentional or not, the arch message being sent out repeatedly to thousands of listeners every single day by a well-respected national newspaper was – at the very least – subliminal.
That message was that Leo Varadkar and Michael Martin were the only important people in this watershed of an election, and by association, that only their political parties mattered (the quote from Healy-Rae pales into irrelevance as banal idiocy).
My frustration rising, I went into action. I found out who the persons were behind the podcasts, including The Irish Times arts and culture editor, Hugh Linehan, who hosts them (quite well I think, with a fine balance of wit and insight, and spot-on with his ‘shitshow’ comment on the Ivan Yates & Co. Virgin Media disastrous debate earlier this week).
Writing to them, several times on all digital platform, I pointed out what I considered to be ‘misleading’ aspects of the opening soundbites, saying gender balance alone surely meant Sinn Fein President, Mary Lou McDonald, or Róisín Shortall, joint leader of the Social Democrats, should be quoted alongside the men.
Not to mention that fact that, reflecting obvious political reality, Mary Lou McDonald should be quoted simply due to the resurgence of Sinn Fein, which is now hovering around and at times above Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in some election polls, and may well play a pivotal role in the next government as majority leader or as minority coalition partner.
(Keep in mind, as Varadkar and Martin are the first voices listeners hear, perhaps the only ones if they tune out quickly, it’s almost a ringing endorsement for the two men and their political parties.)
Full credit to The Irish Times. They listened to my argument for fairness, I received an email several days ago, thanking me for my input and saying they would change the sound-bite intro.
This is the new sound-bite –
Hear the difference?
Aside from not easily understanding what the young child is saying, I’m delighted Mary Lou McDonald has now been given her rightful place.
Thank you Irish Times. For listening.
POSTSCRIPT – Since writing the above post, a poll published by The Irish Times (today, Tuesday) has revealed that Sinn Fein is the most popular political party in Ireland, overtaking both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. In addition, RTE, the national state-sponsored TV broadcaster, has reversed its decision not allowing Mary Lou McDonald to speak at its so-called ‘Leaders’ Debate tonight.’ Instead of just two political party heads, there will now be three.
Oysters, those soft, jelly-like little creatures that are (to some people) delicious to eat and ingeniously produce glittering pearls, are causing some bother in Ireland, especially in Donegal – or at least the greedy corporations hunting them for profit are.
And it seems the partnership government of Fine Gael-Fianna Fail and its back-up civil service are doing their utmost to prevent concerned local communities from doing anything about it.
Sitting at a public meeting this week at Falcarragh Community Centre focusing on these issues, these were the thoughts that passed through my mind as I listened to speaker after speaker give their views on controversial shellfish farming practices at Ballyness Bay near the town of Falcarragh on the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ in the Donegal Gaeltacht they consider are polluting and defacing the lovely, pristine scenery.
John Conaghan, spokesperson for the ‘Save Ballyness Bay’ committee, said four jobs would be created through aquaculture while more than 250 would be created via tourism, therefore “we should be protecting our area environmentally.” He also complained his committee had been denied inaccessibility to certain details, sometimes entire documents, pertaining to official comments made by both Donegal County Council and Údarás na Gaeltachta.
“An official comment from Donegal County Council stated that there would be no visual impact, but the document was simply signed by a clerk,” he said. “I’ve spoken to many councillors and nobody seems to know who authorized the comments. No visual impact? Maybe, lads, you should go to Specsavers.”
Politician after politician, both local and national, including TDs, Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty and Fianna Fail’s Pat the Cope Gallagher, told around 200 concerned people that they were unable to access key information relevant to the situation.
John Shéamais Ó Fearraigh Sinn Fein local councillor and Údarás na Gaeltachta board member said he would try with whatever powers he had to obtain the information required from the council and the Irish language organization. “I will do whatever I can to help,” he said.
Fine Gael local councillor, Michael McClafferty, said he had submitted questions to the local council but had not received any answers. “It looks as if we are being thrown under the bus,” he added.
The proposed shellfish scheme could cover more than 46 hectares of sea coast in the scenic Gaeltacht region, with bags on steel trestles containing millions of oysters, with sediment accumulation beneath them and large-scale congregation of dead shells, committee members said. Licenses for 20 hectares of oyster beds have already been granted, with one site alone being over 10 hectares.
Committee member, Caitlin Ni Bhroin, said “no cost-benefit analysis has been produced for us to see” and licenses have been granted on “unsound scientific criteria, including the idea that oysters are healthy water filters, but they actually emit waste.”
Conaghan said there were many contradictions in the government’s approach. “While it granted licenses for shellfish farming, Ballyness Bay is not designated a shellfish area, but it is a special area of conservation.” He said Inland Fisheries Ireland declared the bay a valuable fishing asset.
“We are against all oyster harvesting in Ballyness Bay, such activity will damage eco-tourism, which could bring much-needed jobs,” he said. “Gaps, mistakes and assumptions sums up the government’s approach. If community concerns had been addressed properly, we’d not be standing here talking.”
He said the ‘Save Ballyness Bay’ committee was being assisted by Belfast-based Pat Finucane Centre.
Commending the committee on its efforts, Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty stated clearly, “My firm belief is that this scheme is anti-community and the application process is not fit for purpose, they are not being given properly and there is a lack of clarity.” He said three years ago he had sent a letter to the relevant ministry and department questioning the decision process, adding “construction cannot begin until all appeals have been heard, which could take several years.”
Being a long time, staunch member of Fianna Fail, part the ‘partnership government,’ Pat the Cope Gallagher, was obviously in a bit of a conundrum. While he offered to find out more information and report back to committee members, he went into a bit of a tantrum when I asked him to say ‘yes or no’ whether he agreed with the ‘Save Ballyness Bay’ committee’s views.
Now, credit being given, Pat is a wily politician, that comes with being forty years and more in politics. Maybe I spoke harshly when I said that his spiel was (to quote myself) “pure politics, filled with generalities and trivialities.” That he took offence was his right. That he tossed the microphone down (as someone said, “like a baby throwing out its dummy-tit”) is also his democratic right.
But he still didn’t answer my question.
Instead, he said previous situations had occurred near his home in Dungloe similar to the one at Ballyness but he “didn’t get involved in them,” but said he did pass on letters he had received from local people to the relevant minister.
At the meeting, two members of Aontú pledged their support, with one young member saying as the shellfish farms were adding to the carbon footprint, people had a right to know more.
Local resident, Mary Attenborough, said while a proper environmental impact study was required, so-called experts were all vetted by the government, and that bias might occur in their reporting.
Committee members were still unsure if licenses already granted were strictly non-transferrable.
One challenge facing the committee is the expense involved in appealing licenses. Each one must be appealed separately at a cost of 200 euro each, with a time limit for appeals being four weeks from date of the government’s decision on December 4.
Columbia Hillen, my wife who is from Romania but concerned about the environment, stood up and asked if those local people who had applied for licenses would show support for the local committee by refusing to accept them even if they were granted. None of those applicants in the hall – and there were some present – said anything. One of the applicants, Seamus O’ Donnell who owns Cluain Na d’Tor (Seaside Nursery Garden) in Falcarragh had gone as far as saying he is “having second thoughts” about his application for over 4.4 hectares of aquaculture if granted. But has he withdrawn his application?
For full information on all applications see HERE.
One speaker said Ballyness Bay was one of the best surfing areas, comparable to Hawaii and western Australia, creating strong tourism income. “Let’s try to keep it that way by not spoiling the scenery.”
Another speaker summed up feelings of many people present, “Governments that treat people with disdain, usually get their comeuppance.”