Friday, November 7, 2008

Spinning ourselves stupid

Listening to a local radio station today I heard a lady from Cancer Care West (whom I respect greatly) say: "The needs of cancer patients are greater than ever".

Now I'm sorry. But they're not. They're the same as they always were. Probably slightly lessened, in actual fact, due to advances in technology and medicine and general living conditions.

This is a classic example of the type of hyperbolic spin that is put to use by everyone everywhere with a cause to promote. There are few causes I care about more than cancer care, but I have to ask that a line be drawn somewhere.

Nobody benefits from the exaggeration of something that requires no hyperbole.

The vast majority of people are aware that cancer patients, even those who recover, have a horrible, painful, demoralising journey to go through, and that this is the case no matter how good their treatment is.

Exaggerating something that speaks for itself is dangerous - and these days we are becoming more and more de-sensitised because of it. Forget violence on TV, the constant tugging of our heartstrings and appeals to our compassion are more likely to harden our hearts than anything else you could think of.

As a journalist, I come across a hell of a lot of this.

Some examples from press releases I have recently received:

- "Residents of X are at the end of their tether arising from the behaviour of out of control thugs who are bush drinking, drug dealing, urinating, and generally causing a great disturbance in the area. " (About teenagers drinking in an alleyway)

- "There is no doubt that these five cuts by this Fianna Fáil-led Government has perpetuated a barbaric attack on our children's education in primary and second-level schools." (Increase in class sizes by one child per class)

- "Now we have the details of these savage cuts." (ditto)

I have also received press releases proclaiming weeds (yes, the plants) to be "disgraceful" and trees to be "a dangerous hazard".

To me the words 'savage' and 'barbaric' are rooted in their origins: cannibalism, murder, extreme violence.

Cutting some funding and making life a bit less comfortable for adults and children is not desirable, but nor would I equate it with murder or cannibalism.

I don't know if it's a societal immaturity or the fact that we really need a shock to tug at the heart strings. But where is it going to stop?

Working in the media, you come across a massive amount of this.

In fact, some press releases from my own collection:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Time to respect our elders

Now, enough has been said about the Budget and the Government's general stupidity over the last couple of weeks. Celtic Donkey isn't going to go over old ground, especially as I've been rather quiet lately (for which, my apologies).

Suffice to say that the assurance I felt when the Government took the unprecedented, but (I thought) wise, step to guarantee the banks has been totally and completely wiped out by the most stupid, ill-thought out and badly planned Budget, ever.

I did pass maths for the Leaving Cert too, Brian. But I don't pretend to be an expert.

There are aspects of the Budget I have no quibble with. As a "young professional" in a secure-ish job, I can afford the 1% levy. I can afford the hike in petrol, wine, and the other increases designed to hit me and my ilk.

I don't think a father of three supporting his family on my salary - just lower than the average industrial wage - can afford the 1% levy.

Why didn't they just up income tax? It's a fair, equitable tax, designed to hit those who can afford it. Bloody stupidity, that's why. Everyone was prepared to take a hit, proportional to their income.

And the biggest issue of the Budget; withdrawal of the medical card for the over 70s. Now let me say, first, unequivocally, that I don't believe in universal provision. I believe in equitable provision. And giving a medical card to someone like my Granny, with a full contributory pension and a fair amount saved, is nonsense. She can afford healthcare.

But the medical card opens the door for her to get the services of a public health nurse, a chiropodist, public physio and public geriatricians. All things that are very difficult or even impossible to access even if you are willing to pay. That's something that needs looking at, totally apart from the current argument.

I think the Opposition are being a bit disingenuous in feeding the frenzy over this. They should be criticising the way it was done, but the principle makes sense - they had enough problems with it being introduced in the first place.

But there's one thing about this Budget that is beginning to renew my faith in people. And it's rather a surprising thing, I think.

Maybe it's the fact that we have lived through the good times. My generation thinks recession means you go to the cinema mid-week to get the cheaper ticket. If you took the right to breathe free air off us, we'd probably sigh and say at least the price of drink hasn't gone up.

But old people... well, fair play to them. Despite the fact that not all of them are affected and they may be slightly confused about the details of the plan, they are not taking this lying down.

Fianna Fail, as the funeral-going party, should have anticipated this. The grey vote is absolutely massive. Bertie Ahern knew the value of it. Willie O'Dea knows the value of it. You would think Brian Cowen, a rural Deputy who took his father's seat, would know the value of it. Obviously not.

They have done the least 'Fianna Fail' thing they could possibly have done. They have hit their own core voters with the bluntest instrument they could find.

And those voters are letting them know about it.

The over-70s have mobilised in a way student radicals (all four of them left) can only dream about. Their protest outside the Dail today was absolutely massive. One man (aged 71), interviewed on RTE news had been up since 5.30 this morning for the trip from Waterford, in order to protect his medical card and those of his friends.

They feel, quite rightly, that their generation has been shat on from a height. They are the generation who genuinely worked hard all their lives, paying up to 60% tax, sending their kids to college before free third-level education and paving the way for my generation to have a grand time pissing our way through four years of free college and complaining that we had no money, while spending it on drink.

Try getting a student to get up at 5.30 to go and protest against the reintroduction of fees. Not gonna happen, I can tell you that now. Even if you catch them on their way home from a night out, still drunk.

Whether I agree with the pensioners or not on universal provision, the fact that they have stood up for themselves in an era in which we have forgotten how to make our voices heard in a meaningful way shows the strength and solidarity of times we have forgotten.

We are great at spin and PR and awareness campaigns, and whingeing on Joe Duffy. But we are not great at being proactive about things that really matter. Time we did something that has been forgotten by the Celtic Tiger generation: time to respect our elders, and learn something from them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Demise of the PDs

A lot has been said about this in the lead-up to what, over the last couple of months, could only be described as an inevitable event.

Despite the detractors, and despite the party's synonymity with Fianna Fail and big business over the past number of years, there is something sad about the dissolution of the PDs.

The party was formed out of ideology, and, almost uniquely over the past decade, actually stood for something for a time. Whether you agreed with that something is a different matter, but at least you knew what you were (or were not) voting for. Policies.

Irish politics has a sad lack of actual policies and ideologies. Perhaps this is because we are a national of 'realpolitikos'. Or perhaps it's because we don't really care.

Where the PDs fell down, in my opinion, was in recruiting celebrities to their cause, who had no real affiliation with the party's ideology or background.

Tom Parlon, for instance. From 'committed' farming representative... to 'committed' PD junior minister... to 'committed' head of the CIF. The only thing Tom Parlon believes in, clearly, is himself. He is a career lobbyist. Yesterday's commitments from FF to taking action in the housing market would indicate that he is a bloody good one, too.

Colm O'Gorman was another. Well-known for his founding of One in Four, Colm O'Gorman stood for the PDs in a General Election. Although he did not win, he was appointed a Senator. As a 'name', perhaps he was entitled to this. And, with his NGO background, perhaps he lent some perspective to the Seanad. For the time Colm O'Gorman was on the books of the PDs, so was gay marriage. A friend of mine even spoke at their conference on the issue. We have heard very little of that from them since.

The biggest 'name', and cod, of all, was probably Michael McDowell. While he'd been around longer and shown more commitment to the party, that wasn't much in evidence when he chose to sneak out the back door after his ignominious defeat last May. A real leader, with real passion for his party, would have stuck around and rolled up his sleeves. Harney did that. McDowell couldn't be bothered. He makes better money in the Four Courts.

Those who chose, last night, to announce the party's winding up, are those who worked at keeping it going. They were unsuccessful, but at least they tried.

Mary Harney is clearly exhausted - she has given much of her life to the party at the detriment of her own health, and is now trying to do the same for that very department. Fiona O'Malley stuck around even when it was apparent there was not much to be done, for love of the party and out of family pride. Noel Grealish, quite the man of mystery, never wanted to be more than a backbencher. It is his curse that he was left to the end - he never wanted to be a hero, and was never going to be one. And Ciaran Cannon, perhaps the saddest. Full of misguided optimism, Cannon really thought he would do it. A man of some conviction, he did not have the experience or the cynicism to do what was required and make the call at a dignified time. It is particularly unfortunate for him that his first role on the national stage will always be known as a failure.

Muted craic at FF think in

While Taoiseach Brian Cowen is well known for his singing ability, it was showcased only briefly at this year's Fianna Fáil think-in at Ballybrit's Clayton Hotel.

Pre-dinner entertainment consisted of a speech by raconteur extraordinaire Micheál O Muircheartaigh and a couple of birthday wishes for two parliamentarians who celebrated their birthdays in the past week. No mention was made of Bertie Ahern, who celebrated his 57th birthday last Friday, but was busy elsewhere for this year's festivities.

After Monday night's dinner, An Taoiseach was prevailed upon by local host Frank Fahey to duet with Eleanor Shanley in a 'unique' rendition of the Mountains of Mourne. It went down a storm, as one might expect from a room full of loyal acolytes.

However, Cowen's stint as entertainer was short-lived, as he refused requests for an encore. You wouldn't get that from Westlife.

Lest the hordes go home disappointed, Tuam native Tom Kitt and Munster MEP Brian Crowley entertained into the wee hours at the hotel's piano, resulting in some sore heads at Tuesday morning's sobering health sessions.

Traditionally the life and soul of the party at Fianna Fáil gatherings, Cowen looked like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders at his first parliamentary party conference as Taoiseach.

And well he might. Far from the jubilation of last May's homecoming in Clara, it seems the cat who got the cream has realised that the cream was well past its sell by date when he got it, and is now decidedly sour.

As one TD admitted, there are tough times ahead.

"Well, when you haven't enough money coming into the house, what do you do? You cut back. That's what you do."

And that was the tone of Fianna Fáil's 2008 think-in. The phrases 'tough decisions', 'current economic climate', and 'tighten our belts' were bandied about with increasing frequency.

Even the closed sessions were particularly serious this year, concentrating on 'Sustaining Prosperity' ('Digging Ourselves Out, Part I); 'Defining Ireland's Future in Europe' (DOO, Part II); 'Innovation in our Health Service' (DOO, Part III); and 'Leading in our Communities – European and Local Elections' (DOO, Part IV). That's a lot of doo-doo for one conference.

At yesterday's closing press conference, the mood was grim, leavened only by Tánaiste Mary Coughlan's giggling as she posed for cameras, and the inevitable collective snigger when the Grealish question was asked, yet again.

"I genuinely don't know," said Cowen, sighing. "There is a Parliamentary Party meeting of the Progressive Democrats tonight and we will have to await the outcome of that." Now stop asking me questions I don't have the answers to, was the unspoken warning.

Shortly after the press conference An Taoiseach was whisked off to the National Pay Talks, leaving a disgruntled-looking Minister Mary Hanafin to wheel her own suitcase to her car. Now there's chivalry.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fair City...

Now I know it's not cool to watch the national broadcaster's longest-running attempt at drama, but I feel part of the public service relationship between me and RTE necessitates me supporting them even when they are doing noone a service and they should certainly be doing it in private.

But Fair City. Honestly, isn't it time we started giving credit where credit is due? The Fair City rebrand has been genius... who'd have thought an Irish spoof version of Eastenders could be so successful?

This Terence character (is that his name?) looks rather familiar. In fact, very similar to a guy called Trevor who once terrorised the denizens of Albert Square. Granted he killed noone's wife and there was no restaurateur being electrocuted in the immediate vicinity (see I do watch it), but the similarities are very obvious. Maybe Terence, who is an Irish actor with a very odd Eastern-European, KBG-style accent, went to the same drama school as Trevor. Funnily enough, there was also a villain called Trevor in Brookside, who happens to play Bob in Fair City... maybe there is a school for them and Fair City is like the Transition Year placement you end up coming back to work for when somewhere else fires you.

But the rebrand... and that ad with Paul in it. Hard-hitting stuff indeed. More please! Since Shameless took its series break I've been at a loss for a good comedy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Budget eh - How to survive the recession part 2

Budget eh? Well, the Government is a step behind me there. I've known this recession was coming since I interviewed David McWilliams back in May. Oh yes sir, I have.

As a friend of mine said the other day, "this recession is all about coffee". It sure is, my friend. We have gotten far too used to our daily 'treat'. But the thing is, you can't call it a treat when you give yourself one every day. Then it becomes something you expect as a normal part of the day.

A treat is something our parents know about. Like the first holiday you ever had to Trabolgan when your dad got a payrise and you were 15 and too old for it. But you pretended to enjoy it because it was a treat and you knew that was, by definition, something you enjoyed.

Celtic donkeys have their first holiday (often camping in France) at 2 and have 'done Europe' by the time they are 10. At that stage only Disneyworld Florida can give our jaded worldly children any joy at all. From there on it's the slippery slope of 'doing' SE Asia and then pretty much having nowhere else to go except NY at Christmas because it's such good value.

Anyway, I digress. Sorry. Back to 'treats'.

Cut them out, people! Ta-dah. How to survive the recession 101.
Christy Moore (see previous post) is another tip.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Music to have a recession to

Listening to Christy Moore on Today FM last night (well done Iano, enough of that Bowie nonsense), something struck me. He is music to have a recession to.

Christy wrote songs for the seventies and the eighties, times when things were tough and people were too.

Having grown up through the good times of the nineties I was never a big Christy fan, but now that the recession is beginning to bite and I'm cutting back on the lattes, it's time for some morbid realism of the type Irish people used to be good at. Now that Joe Dolan (who was always slightly too cheerful, in my opinion) and Ronnie Drew have left us, only Christy is left flying the misery flag.

Here are the words to Ordinary Man - if you haven't lost your job yet, print and keep a copy for when you do!

Ordinary Man

I'm an ordinary man, nothing special nothing grand
I've had to work for everything I own
I never asked for a lot, I was happy with what I got
Enough to keep my family and my home

Now they say that times are hard and they've handed me my cards
They say there's not the work to go around
And when the whistle blows, the gates will finally close
Tonight they're going to shut this factory down
Then they'll tear it d-o-w-n

I never missed a day nor went on strike for better pay
For twenty years I served them best I could
Now with a handshake and a cheque it seems so easy to forget
Loyalty through the bad times and through good
The owner says he's sad to see that things have got so bad
but the captains of industry won't let him lose
He still drives a car and smokes his cigar
And still he takes his family on a cruise, he'll never lose

Well it seems to me such a cruel irony
He's richer now then he ever was before
Now my cheque is spent and I can't afford the rent
There's one law for the rich, one for the poor
Every day I've tried to salvage some of my pride
To find some work so's I might pay my way
Oh but everywhere I go, the answer's always no
There's no work for anyone here today, no work today

And so condemned I stand just an ordinary man
Like thousands beside me in the queue
I watch my darling wife trying to make the best of life
And God knows what the kids are going to do
Now that we are faced with this human waste
A generation cast aside
And as long as I live, I never will forgive
You've stripped me of my dignity and pride, you've stripped me bare
You've stripped me bare, You've stripped me bare.

Not a full stop to be seen, but in the current economic climate, full stops are a luxury we can't afford!

Being sexy in politics

Ok , so most of us would agree that being sexy is no bad thing. Most of the time. But why is this even an issue in something like the US Presidential Election?

It's human nature that we prefer someone who is good looking to someone who isn't. But overcoming our natural instincts and letting logic have a role is part of what makes us human.

So, hearing Sam Smyth, for whom I generally have great respect, asking Ed Hayes, the Sunday Supplement's US snitch, if he "fancies" Sarah Palin, was a bit of a pain.

Why should fancying a candidate make them any better at their job? And why should this question only be asked about women?

Hillary Clinton is perceived as too intellectual, too tough and too 'willing to do anything to succeed' for most voters, particularly most men. All these 'unfeminine' characteristics are part of what lost her the Democratic nomination. Also, she just isn't hot.

Granted, Obama is attractive. And granted, this won't have done his chances any harm. But have you heard anyone asked recently, on a quality current affairs programme, if they "fancy" him?

Grow up, Sam.


Here's a novel idea. Why don't we move the school holidays to begin in July, and end at the end of September, which is clearly meant to be the summer? And put some kind of state holiday in April, which, for the last couple of years, has been the finest month of all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Too much reality for TV

With Big Brother in its ninth season and TV execs constantly
scrambling to think of newer, and more profitable ideas for reality TV
(and coming up with the opposite), it may be a surprise to you that
Galway City Council's meetings could soon be broadcast live online.
The proposal, made by Green Councillor Niall O'Brolcháin, would
involve a live webcast of council meetings and a searchable archive.
The proposal was partly aimed at publicly identifying the council's
regular troublemakers.

But it's not just Cllr O'Brolcháin who favours this idea. The
sessions of the Oireachtas are also to be televised.

The question is, do we really want to see it?

'Oireachtas TV' has been undergoing a trial period, for those
participating in the Digital Terrestrial Television trial in Dublin.
It's set to become a reality with the enactment of a new Broadcasting
Bill and RTE's changeover to digital service, which has a deadline of

However, even the most slavish of political sleeveens has their doubts
about this one. Oireachtas Report, the current output of Dáil and
Seanad Eireann, is less than riveting viewing. For a political junkie,
it can have its golden moments, but with these often reproduced on
news broadcasts, it's just not necessary to wait up until the wee
hours for the drama that is our legislature.

While propping your eyes open with sticks is one way of staying awake
before (and during) the show, poking your eyes with sticks can be
preferable to watching a bored politician reading a prepared speech
like a child reciting a poem in a language he doesn't understand.

Before the Lisbon Referendum, there was an undercurrent of what you
might call 'active apathy'. Voters made it clear that they elect
politicians to do things for them, and they should get on with it
without bothering the rest of us.

A lot of people would call that an irresponsible attitude to society.
And they're probably right. But it's very common.

Perhaps Oireachtas TV and Council Chat will provide us with a new
window into politics and legislation. Or perhaps, as with Big Brother
9, most people will switch over to the Big Big Movie for something more adult.

Either way, the move presents an opportunity for public
representatives. But, like Big Brother, Eviction Day is always
approaching – and without subjective editing, for once the truth will

Friday, July 11, 2008

Circle of life

So it's the 'summer' again, and Irish people in their thousands are trying to escape from the country the Romans wouldn't colonise, because it was too miserable.

Trying to escape is proving difficult enough, though, between raised airfares and radar malfunctions.

I don't know if anyone else has noticed the weird circularity of this summer.

People are trying to fly away to escape the bad weather;

Flying causes pollution;

Pollution causes global warming;

Global warming causes droughts, floods and a need for renewable fuels, as well as bad weather;

Droughts, floods and the loss of land to renewable fuel crops cause food and fuel price rises;

Fuel prices rises cause air travel prices to rise;

Ergo, people trying to escape the bad weather a) can't get away from it because they can't afford it, or, b) contribute to the bad weather by escaping.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Lies, damned lies and Lisbon

Forgive the delay in posting, but things have been hectic! As I have some time off coming up, expect a lot more from this direction in the next few weeks!

This is an article I had published recently...

Three debates, countless articles and 148,000,000 press releases (ok, so that's an exaggeration), I'm all Lisbon-ed out. Every journalist in the country is the same, hence Today FM giving airtime to Jim Corr last week in an attempt to introduce some light relief. Like a lot of political junkies, election time is like a holiday for me. I love the sound of canvassers on the march, of leather slapping cement and leaflets floating from letterbox to doormat.So you'd expect me to be screaming with joy that, just a month after a cabinet reshuffle, I have been granted the 'cherry on top' - a referendum. Normally, I would.

But normal rules don't apply to European referenda. Every European referendum campaign ever fought here has been populated by a few of the sane, many of the temporarily insane, and, in large measure, the people for whom sanity has never been an option.

While the media do our best to cover the Lisbon Treaty, you'd be hard-pressed to find an average Joe who knows what it's about. Except for someone I met in the pub recently, who told me that it's about introducing the one-child policy. And there was the woman who told me we're all going to be micro-chipped. These people will believe practically anything, because it says so on the posters, or in the leaflet, or on the internet.

With the 'no' campaigns telling us, variously, that Lisbon will introduce abortion, euthanasia, micro-chipping, detention of small children, huge military spending and lots more bad things, it really puts it up to the yes campaign to think of some really brilliant advantages to voting yes.

But there's the rub. There are no really fantastic, outstanding, thoroughly convincing reasons to vote yes. Just like most of the really horrific, terrifying reasons we are being given to vote no don't exist.

This is an international treaty. Treaties are painstakingly written, excruciatingly negotiated, dense legal documents drafted by the best legal experts Europe has to offer. Look at last week's conference on cluster bombs – hours spent arguing whether the word 'strongly' should be used in encouraging countries not to use the weapons.

The average person is not intended to understand international treaties. Not because anyone is trying to confuse us, but because they have to be entirely unambiguous. They must be airtight, open to one interpretation and one only, so that every country involved knows the legal constraints into which they are entering, and so that these cannot be changed summarily by the European Court of Justice.

Voting for the Lisbon Treaty, for most of us, is largely going to depend on who we trust. If we trust the politicians we elected, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour voters will vote yes, as well as people who believe IBEC, ICTU, and Chambers Ireland. Because 'trusting politicians' is something of an oxymoron these days, many of us will choose to vote no, choosing instead to believe Libertas, Sinn Féin, Cóir and the Socialist Party.

No matter how Lisbon-jaded you are, though, vote. There's a week left, so try to inform yourself, and if you can't, choose who you trust most.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Finally! The media goes for Libertas

Finally, finally, finally, somebody is sitting up and taking notice. To be fair to the IT's Colm Keena, he was the first national journalist to do so, in today's edition (sub needed).

There have been mutterings of this for months. The Galway business community are up in arms at 'one of their own' (Ganley) departing from party line (IBEC, Galway Chamber, most recently the Irish Alliance for Europe Western branch) in such a drastic way.

Dr Chris Coughlan, incoming President of Chambers Ireland, is a founding member of Libertas, along with Dr Roger Downer (former University of Limerick President), Eamonn Cregan (Downer's right-hand man in UL), and a host of Ganley employees... who work for his military communications company, Rivada Networks. The majority of Rivada contracts are with the US military. Ulick McEvaddy is another big Libertas-head.

So where is the connection?
Downer - best remembered in UL for his wonderful fundraising techniques... in the US.
Ganley - gets all his business (multi million, at the very least) from the US military.
McEvaddy - does all his business with the US military.
Other founders - work for Ganley.

What a cuddly organisation. Add to that the noxious John McGuirk and the neo-conservative politico David Cochrane, and you really have something special.

To be fair to another person I usually don't have much time for, Lucinda Creighton seems to have press released about this ages ago. But where was the pick-up?

The possibility of any involvement by the US military in an Irish referendum brings, to me at least, a shiver down my spine. This is like something from a Tom Clancy novel. And we should be, not just pooh-poohing, but really really worried about it.

The world's biggest 'defender of democracy' is trying to interfere in a democratic decision of the Irish people. And Libertas claim to be worried about our sovereignty!

Monday, May 19, 2008

... And you thought I was being paranoid

To be fair, that's usually an entirely accurate assumption. But not in this case. In the mysterious case of 'who has it in for Cowen,' I appear to have been right. (Ha!)

This week's Sindo:
Page 1
Disquiet in FF at Cowen 'dictator' style (contd. page 2 with large headline)

Page 2
Opulent Phoenix Park lodge set to become 'Fortress Cowen'

Page 32 (quite a gap, I admit)
There is less to Cowen than meets the eye

Page 33
Cowen has good reason to mind those closest to him

Also Page 33
Taoiseach must play ball if bigger prize is to be realised
(with subtitle: Worryingly, complacency, timidity and waste have characterised Brian Cowen's early days in office)

... AND ...

To add insult to injury - the magazine runs a four-page piece on how ugly, fat and unstylish he is.

Please let me reiterate that I am not, nor have ever been, a Fianna Fáil supporter. I prefer Cowen to Bertie because I believe he is (more) honest, but he is not my ideal Taoiseach by any stretch of the imagination.

Despite this, I'm willing to give the guy a chance. He is entering power at a time of negative consumer and political sentiment:

- The economy is looking dodgy;
- The future of Ireland in Europe is looking dodgy;
- The world is generally not a happy place (see earthquakes and other natural disasters).

He has a tough enough time ahead of him as it is, without making it personal.

I don't believe in making politics personal. While the Sindo spent the past ten years fawning frantically over Bertie, this was an arrangement with which he was obviously happy. And bully for him.

But Cowen is a private man, with a family that deserves some privacy. And the merits of his policies and his suitability to govern should not be judged on the thickness of his lips, his glasses, or his accent (which, by the way, was finely honed at that posh boy factory, Roscrea).

Also, what happened to the notion of balanced reporting? The Sindo "quotes" "several" TDs in its front page article. None of whom are named, and none of whom offer a dissenting view. As a journalist myself I find this disquieting. There are plenty of people who believe everything they read (I was reminded of this recently when I met someone in a pub who believed the Lisbon Treaty meant we would all be electronically tagged). These people don't realise there is an agenda and do not take more than a passing glance at a newspaper - passing, but enough to lodge key messages in their minds. That's how advertising works.

And just when I was beginning to wonder where this charge was being led from... up pops everyone's favourite Marx brother, Willie O'Dea, on Page 27, bringing Lisbon to the people.

Willie O'Dea, who wasn't promoted by Brian Cowen in the recent reshuffle, despite major constituency expectations. And who was severely reprimanded for garnering almost the same (record) amount of votes as Cowen in last year's election, and yet failing to bring in a third seat in a five-seater constituency.

Coincidentally, there is a rather vindictive attack on O'Dea's heretofore relatively unknown constituency colleague, Peter Power, on Page 33. Power got a promotion last week, making 'Limerick's Minister' a rather smaller fish in the city pond.


Monday, May 12, 2008

... So it's not just the Sindo

Them Dubs on have a problem with him too, it seems. Sorry, not him, the people of Clara and surrounding area.

Although I'm not from the Midlands (and must confess I detest the accent), I felt I must stand up for them! Here is my response to the accusations of Killinascullyism:

Conversations like this are precisely the reason it's good for us to have a country Taoiseach again.

As someone from a rural background but living in cities for the past 6 years, it constantly amazes me when I go home that there is no ATM, no decent coffee, no broadband, no bus service, no bank and nothing to do except go to the pub.

I'm not saying a country Taoiseach will fix all of this (especially not the first two :D ) but I think his presence might refocus the attention of the Dublin media on the fact that a lot of us live outside the Pale, some of us even in places where celebrations such as the one we saw over the weekend would be a great sign of community and togetherness, precisely the things Bertie used to witter on about but never actually practiced.

Despite all Bertie's talk of community and social cohesion, he never appeared to do much about it. He knew the people of Drumcondra (or they knew him) and he liked to go to Fagan's. That was about the size of it.

Cowen, on the other hand, has a big family history in Clara. His father had the local pub, he was TD for the area, and he himself grew up there. His kids go to school there.

And the people of Clara wanted to celebrate one of their own in their own way, which is not unlike the 'own way' of most small towns in this country.

As for the references to Killinaskully, my homeplace is not a million miles from Pat Shortt's, and, although it pained me to admit it for a long time, I recognised most of the characters in it. But how is that something to be ashamed of? I would rather have a Pat Shortt character living next door to me than anyone from Fair City...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cowen and the Sunday Indo

What is it about Bertie and the Sunday Indo?

My family used to buy the Sunday Indo religiously. Not for any political reason, but it was just 'our paper', same as the Limerick Leader on a Thursday and the Irish Times on a Saturday. Until the summer of 2003, that is.

That summer the Sindo really 'came into its own'; at least, it became what we know today. That year saw the meteoric rise of Brendan O'Connor, to the extent that he now graces both the front and back page every week, the '03 team (journalism at its finest, may I say) and then the creation of Bertie Ahern, Superstar.

Seriously. Every single Sunday for the entire summer, Bertie (and Celia/and Cecelia/and Westlife/and Bono/and a pint of Bass) was on the front page. The paper charted the demise of Bertie and Celia in such a dogged way that, however well the relationship was going at the May Bank Holiday, by the Galway Races it was doomed.

So, having created Bertie the pop star, the paper is now lamenting his demise. With Brendan O'Connor writing a particularly excruciating op/ed (has he ever written anything containing fact?) today, deploring us for our fickleness and willingness to desert our Bert.

Would that he had lasted 100 years and made the Sindo his personal newsletter - only then would Brendan be happy, doing weekly 'at homes' with Bertie and going to the odd match with him. As Bertie doesn't have his own house, maybe he can just move in with Brendan and they can start an odd couple diary, happily growing old together. Or something.

(Actually, have just remembered the 'Bertie Ahern: Diary of my Last Days' piece highlighted on the front page - maybe Brendan is ghost-writing, because if Bertie writes the way he talks it won't make for comfortable reading.)

But I digress. What's bothering me today is the way they really seem to have it in for Cowen. Now, it's true that Biffo is not an oil painting, and that he's not what you'd call slick. And he's from the country. All three of these things are obviously inherently offensive to the Sindo.

But de paper is really really putting the boot in to our new Taoiseach, and, other than the reasons above, I don't really get why...

Front page headline: 'Shadow of slump over Cowen glory'... continued on page 5. Along with an analysis of why Bertie 'comes out tops' in the psychologist's chair.
Page 16 off-lead: 'Shiny-suited Goodfellas make way for the strong silent country folk'

... It's at page 26 that the heavies get going...

Editorial: 'Mr Cowen is off to a poor start'
Page 26 lead: 'Who put these people in charge? It wasn't us'
Page 27 lead: 'Ahern can't let it all end like this, he must rise above the bitterness' (written by, guess who, our friend Brendan)

... I understand the need to record change, and to mark such a major occasion in the short history of our country. After all, Cowen is only the 12th Taoiseach of this country, so he is joining a very elite group, whatever we may think of his predecessors in the cold light of retrospection. Which would suggest to me, as a citizen and a journalist, that, while it is time to outline the challenges he is facing and to judge the legacy of his predecessor, it's not the time to condemn him.

There will be plenty of time for that.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Irresponsible drinking

Now, I'm not a parent. Let me just say that before I can be accused of not having a leg to stand on!

But the case of the Irish couple whose kids were taken off them in Portugal because they got so drunk is something else. While I completely agree that they should not have got so drunk, and that the authorities were right to remove the kids from them while they recovered, it has to be acknowledged that there is a bigger issue here.

Irish parents do this all the time. In Ireland. And who looks after the kids then?

I've known families in my own home village to spend the entire weekend in the pub, with kids going from pub to shop, sitting out on the street and waiting, just waiting, for their parents to get drunk enough so that someone will give them a lift to their home, miles away. And who looked after them?

Nobody. Because here we have a culture of not interfering. While it was well-known that that family followed the same pattern every week, who was going to interfere and make sure those children were safe and well? Because that would entail a) suggesting there's something wrong with drinking yourself stupid and b) interfering in 'someone else's business'.

And those are two things Irish people are not good at. While we are all going around tut-tutting and using our well rehearsed exclamations of disgust, it might be time for us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what we would have done in the same situation as the hotel staff.

Irish hotel staff probably would have manoeuvred the couple back to their room and kept the kids occupied (in the bar!) while they slept it off.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Another day, another dollar, another drink : Irish life summed up

Is it me or is the working world intensely boring?

At twentysomething (a young twentysomething, let me stress here), I work, get home, maybe meet friends (out or at home), blog, read, watch TV, go to the cinema, the theatre or a gig and, the odd time, "go drinking". I have enough disposable income to allow all of this.

Most of my friends and acquaintances do similar things, sans reading and blogging, avec plus de "going drinking". Beaucoup plus de "going drinking".

So where's the rub?

Every one of them has 'plans'. Plans that, in the main, will never come to fruition. Plans about Australia, about France, about learning Spanish and moving to South America, even for just a year. Plans to go back to college. Plans to completely change personalities and lives. These are mainly made in the pub.

Oh yes, the pub. Did I mention that? I met someone I know as a passing acquaintance at the swimming pool the other day. In a chat that got way too deep for a five-minute Sunday soak in the jacuzzi, she confessed how hard she finds it to make friends and said she was sick of being thought weird because she didn't just want to" go drinking". Isn't peer pressure supposed to finish up when you're 18?

When did "going drinking" become an adventure sport? When did it become a pastime? What about socialising? What about gigs, darts, playing pool, playing cards, even going on the pull for God's sake... all the things that used to happen in pubs? These days, drinking is the reason you go out. You "go drinking" on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. And maybe "for a pint" (a different thing entirely) on a Sunday, and maybe a Wednesday.

What is wrong with us? Every twentysomething I have met in the world of work "goes drinking" at the weekend.

Despite the bad rep college has, things are worse in the world of the young Irish professional. At least in college you have clubs, societies, and days and nights spent drinking tea and eating whatever biscuits were on 2-for-1 with your flatmates and whoever else happened to call by. Sometimes you may have done that with alcohol. But it wasn't "going drinking", because you were doing other things at the same time, like chatting with friends or even just watching the bloody television. Surfing might be the new black in the West of Ireland, but it plays a poor second to drinking.

Where are we going wrong? Now personally, I read books, I go to the cinema, I drink coffee or tea with people instead of "going drinking". Is it me that's going wrong?

Don't get me wrong. I love a couple of glasses of wine. In fact, I've just had two in the company of a friend for whom I regularly make dinner. While we watch TV. I also love to "go for a pint"* (*denotes drinking which takes place in the context of conversation and without a large amount of flesh on display). But there is something deeply disturbing about the fact that there are thousands (hundreds of thousands? I'm too tired to research) of twentysomethings, mainly in cities and big towns throughout Ireland, whose sole pastime and way of meeting people is through "going drinking". What a way to build a society.

In thirty years' time, we will be the ones running the show. On a society created from alliances based on "going drinking". Marriages, friendships and even business deals will be based on drunken encounters in heaving disco bars and nightclubs. I can hear you scoffing at the thought, but what if I showed you the example of a couple I know, together three years, who I have known six months, but never known to be sober in each other's company after 5pm? And they don't see anything unusual in that.

My life is fun. I like it. But describing a weekend without a "session" sounds, even to me, rather woefully empty - despite being full of fun, chat, gossip, a small amount of travel and even some big deep talks. But sans hangover the weekend does not read as "fun" to anyone else.

... Can anyone explain this to me?

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Lisbon Treaty

In my line of work I come across a lot of press releases.

But I have never in all my days come across so many bloody pointless tit-for-tat press releases on anything as for this bloody Treaty. Do I come across angry? Because if not, you're reading me wrong.

I have had at least ten press releases this morning alone from Libertas. For GOD'S SAKE! You're not helping yourselves, people.

Problems with Libertas:
1) John McGuirk
2) John McGuirk
3) John McGuirk
4) Pointless, personalised attacks in press releases.
5) Over-press releasing. Keep bombarding us with them and we won't use any. Guaranteed.
6) Where is the money coming from?
7) Why does Ganley care so much?
8) General shadiness.
9) John McGuirk
10) John McGuirk.

As noted on, anyone who knows anything about politics in Ireland knows McGuirk is an arrogant p**** with no agenda but his own self-promotion. Libertas has provided him with the ideal vehicle for this. He has jumped from FF to FG when things didn't suit (with very nasty tactics, threatening to anonymously leak information from the FF national youth committee, among other things), and no doubt he would jump straight into a 'yes' vote if Declan Ganley stopped letting him shout the odds on every primetime political programme in this country.

While I'm by no means a confirmed yes voter, Libertas' petty tactics are far more likely to push me in the 'yes' direction than the oiliness of Roche and Cullen.

That's another thing - if the government is so determined to get a 'yes' vote, then why are they sending out Roche and Cullen to defend it? Madness!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Gilmore the gentleman

Eamon Gilmore can be very underestimated.

This from shows his mettle. His statements are always far more carefully crafted than Enda Kenny's. At a time when Mary Harney has never been more pilloried, and the taunts are getting more than mildly personal (anyone else seen that Mr and Mrs Shrek email?), Gilmore gives us a classic example of going for the ball, not the player. Enda could learn from this.

Class act.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

And as it began, so shall it end

So, the end of an era. At least that's what all the Opposition leaders (except Caoimhghin O Caoilain, of whom more later) had to say yesterday, on Bertie's last day at school. I mean in the Dáil. As Taoiseach.

Warm words from Inda. How surprising. Perhaps Inda has decided to take a leaf out of Bertie's now-redundant book and be all nicey-nicey for a change. More dignified that way I guess.

Poor oul Caoimhghin has been universally condemned (see both Miriam Lord and Fionnan Sheahan on Thursday) for his 'ill-judged' attack on the health service. I know it's not polite, but I can see his point - if he has a problem, it's better to be open about these things.

In fairness to Mr Ahern, he was a great Taoiseach in some ways. Northern Ireland is obviously an achievement of indescribable proportions, probably more for future generations than for this one.

But I do wonder about all the praise being heaped on him for the economy. Surely he (and his ministers, let's not forget, as well as government officials) were only capitalising on something that was building since the early 1990s, EU enlargement helped, and of course the improvements in the world economy.

Maybe there's a reason Cowen was somewhat limited with his eulogy - he knows that he will have less to work with, and will be blamed, as Bertie has been praised, for progress or lack thereof over the coming years.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Food prices - poor us

Earlier, I said this cartoon says it all.

Now I'm not so sure.

Rising food prices across the world have already caused deaths, both from riots and from starvation. Survival of the fittest has kicked in; those who have least are getting even less as prices continue to increase.

Riots have already happened in Haiti, Bangladesh and other places worldwide. A quick google of 'food price riots' brings up 34,000 results, and still, most Irish people will ask what you're talking about.

Because what most of us are currently concerned about is our economy. House prices, job prospects, and, oh yes... the price of goods. Did you know that the price of Irish Pride has risen from €1.66 to €2.15 in the past year or so? Disgraceful. How are we going to feed our children?

Hang on a minute. Where's the context? Many of us will pay much more than that for one cup of coffee at least once a day (guilty). Or €100 for a pair of shoes (guilty). Or €1.80 for the Irish Times in which we read about the food increase (nope, work paid for that one :) ).

The price of staples such as bread is not going to put any of us in danger. There are very, very few people in Ireland who cannot afford basic food. While there are plenty of people in this country living in relative poverty, the level of absolute poverty is extremely low. People on the lower levels of the economic ladder in this country will feel the pinch, there's no doubt about that. But they won't know why, because they don't read the Irish Times.

The ones complaining about the prices are people who will pay for a skinny latte four times a day, will drink €15 cocktails and will go on holidays at least twice a year.

Oh yeah, and the farmers. Because the prices are too low.

I appreciate that they are trying to protect their livelihoods. So would I. But can they not see the hypocrisy of giving the annual calf to Bothar, and then crying for a world trade policy that would see all the world's most vulnerable developing countries excluded from the party?

Immigration Bill

So Brian Lenihan is to make 200 changes to his own bill.

Now, I'm no expert but surely this bill went through the Oireachtas committees before publication? And was probably chopped and changed by parliamentary draftsmen plenty of times too.

Michael D Higgins and others have been absolutely apoplectic over it since it was published, and human rights groups all over the place have been scathing about it.

Among other things, it requires non-EEA residents to seek the Minister's permission to marry (how very 1500 - does he want his droit de seigneur too?), sanctions lawyers who take 'vexatious' cases (who defines vexatious?), and is very restrictive on family reunification, which is one of the main problems with the current system. The appeals process would be greatly restricted, too.

UNRWA has even identified problems with it - and our own Mary Robinson a former President. Come on.

Normally I quite like Brian Lenihan - he seems sensible and he seems to know what he's talking about, as well as having a nice gravitas that's often lacking in our elected reps. But was he watching the ball at all on this one?

If he's Minister for Justice, bringing in bills like this, and his brother (of the infamous Kebab joke) is Minister for, of all things, Integration, you really have to wonder about the direction of things.

McDowell may be gone but his ghost lives on.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


This case has me absolutely gobsmacked.

A female, leftwing TD writes a letter verifying the good name of a rape accused's parents to the judge in his case.

I suppose Deputy Lynch being female and of the Labour persuasion shouldn't make a difference to me, but it does.

The blatant clientelism and "don't you know who I am-ism" of it. Everything Labour is supposedly against.

The blatant disrespect for the independence of the judiciary that it implies. Again, something the Opposition parties have spent the past 11 years berating the government for.

The fact that she believes the character of somebody's parents might have a bearing on whether they can be a rapist or not.

The betrayal of another woman that's involved.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cannon elected as PD leader

Wow... I know they said it would be close, but 51% to 49%... that's crazy. Why would that many people vote for Fiona O'Malley unless they were deliberately sabotaging the party?

As I've said before, Cannon appears to be highly competent and organised, as well as having good compassion credentials (former CEO of the Irish Pilgrimage Trust, bringing sick kiddies to Lourdes), which I think we'll all agree is something the PDs could do with, being accused of leaving old ladies to die on trollies and the like.

If you were to believe everything you see in the Star, Mary Harney would have been one of those kids who tied tin cans to puppies' tails and then set them on fire. Something tells me she wasn't. But I digress.

Is Cannon going to be able to make a difference? Despite a nice, catchy, alliterative name that will be kind to headline writers everywhere, can he keep the whole show on the road?

Read more here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

'Quality of life' marketing

Is it just me or is there a whole slew of ads out at the moment intended to make you believe that, not just will the product make you thin/beautiful/happy/sexy, but that it will make you a more alive person.

Seriously. Johnston Mooney and O'Brien, sponsoring Today FM weather (I think). "Love bread, love life."

The Twelve Hotel, Barna, Co Galway. "Celebrate Food, Celebrate Wine and Celebrate Life."

Some wine crowd (can't remember who). "We love wine, we love life."

What is this about? Has someone just caught on to the fact that people, sorry, consumers, are actually living beings? And is this an attempt to bring 'quality of life' in as a marketing ploy? Because if so, it's really not working.

I mean, any idiot understands that eating healthily, playing sports, going on holidays, etc, improves your quality of life. (Thanks to successful advertising campaigns for same, I am now beginning to suspect.) But bread? And wine?

As a carb addict, I do love bread. But I wouldn't say loving bread makes me love my life any more intensely than I would otherwise. In fact, the bloating probably makes me love life slightly less. I love wine too, and the same applies.

Marketers, and advertising execs, stop jumping on every bandwagon passing, and think of something original. Please. Or I might just stop loving life altogether.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Q&A on Tibet

Mullen is commonly known as a right wing politician, but to be fair to the guy, his stance on Tibet was the most humane of all the panellists. Then again, with a panel composed of a FG frontbencher, an FF backbencher, Eddie Hobbs and an Indo journalist, it was never going to be difficult to find the most human rights-orientated panellist...

Am I the only one who thinks Hobbs needs to be silenced? He grows more irritating every time I see him on TV and God knows he's not camera shy.

PDs leadership 'race'

So the PD leadership 'race' is to conclude this week. Voting has ended, and the results will be announced on Thursday, due to the funeral of Paddy Hillery on Wednesday. It's one thing that those pesky FFers had to ruin the race's momentum with the small matter of the Taoiseach's resignation, but now they have to go and disrupt the results announcement by fixing it so that one of them dies! Is there no end to their cleverness...?

On a more serious note, am I the only lefty in Ireland who hopes the PDs will not go out of existence? Now I'm not the reddest lefty you'll ever meet (a nice pinkish-green would probably cover it), but I do happen to believe that diversity is incredibly important in our parliamentary representation. If everyone of every colour joins FF or FG (and I have good examples of people on both ends of the spectrum in either party), then how are we to know what, if anything, we're voting for?

While I would never describe the PDs (or any political party, for that matter) as honest, I do think it's important for a party to have concrete policy positions on things, even if I don't agree with them. At least I know I don't agree with them.

If there are no PDs, then the furthest-right party we have is Fine Gael. That means FG, which is also full of well-meaning lefties weaned on the milk of Garret FitzGerald's snore-inducing (but, again, well-meaning) Irish Times articles, becomes the repository for everyone with any right-wing tendencies. While it continues to jostle FF and Labour (and, probably, the Greens now) for position in the centre. That just doesn't work.

With a well-functioning tradition, recently at least, of coalition government, there should be enough room for smaller parties in the system. Look at the loss of Joe Higgins from the Dáil and the damage that has done to parliamentary debate.

Having said all of that, whichever of the two senators wins the 'race' (why, oh why, do they keep referring to it as a race?!), will have their work cut out for them. And it doesn't really look like Fiona O'Malley (while well-meaning and liked) has either the support or the sense to do it properly.

We await with interest...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The nerve

Pee Flynn. What a neck.

"That £50,000 was a personal political donation and in the end the taxman got half of it."

That's definitely up there with "It's very expensive to run three houses, you know, Gay."

What a pile of s*****. And this is the dross we send to Europe.

Bertie, they're ready for you!