From Irish Political Review: February 2006
The Fourth Estate
The Dung Beetle?
Friday the 13th (of October) was unlucky for some. It was the day of the report that saw Fianna Fail soar in the polls after all that had been thrown at it by the Irish Times and its parrots in the Dail over Bertie's gifts/loans/"payments". The chief parrot, Mr. Rabbitte, took the greatest fall.
Geraldine Kennedy wailed editorially:
"A poor reflection of ourselves: What sort of people are we? We know now. The findings of the latest Irish Times/TNSmrbi opinion poll show that two out of every three voters believe that Bertie Ahern was wrong to accept €50,000 from his friends while he was minister for finance in 1993. He was also wrong to accept £8,000 sterling from the Manchester function in 1994.
"And yet, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, has increased his satisfaction rating by one percentage point to 53 per cent, the highest of all party leaders. More dramatically, Fianna Fáil support has received a huge boost. It is up eight percentage points since the last Irish Times poll in May. Support for Fianna Fáil has reached its highest level - 39 per cent - since the last general election."
The Irish Times—which has the pretensions of a State, rather than estate—thought it had found the semblance of an issue to bring down yet another Fianna Fail Taoiseach. As it said on 28th September, "The removal of a Taoiseach from office can be a long and painful process, as both Charles Haughey and Albert Reynolds found to their cost…" But this time the people let the paper down. It was felt that Bertie Ahern had erred in accepting help from his friends at a difficult period in his life, but that this was a minor infraction. It was realised that, if he had been corrupt or self-serving, he would not have needed the relatively minor sums involved to finance his separation.
In the Opinion Poll held in the midst of the furore, it was Ahern's political detractors that took a fall. Unfortunately, there was no question in the poll about the role of the Irish Times in the affair.
Eoin Ó Murchu, probably the only commentator in the Irish media worth a damn, got it right in his column in the Village. He pointed out the double standards of Geraldine Kennedy, who praised Justice Finnegan for sending the Rossport Five to jail to uphold the rule of law, while breaching that august principle and breaking the law herself. He continued:
"So one rule for the Rossport Five but another rule for the Irish Times. But why should we be surprised? This rag has always considered itself above the law because the law is made by the mere Irish, and we all know which way they vote.
"The arrogant humbug of D'Olier Street is, indeed, hard to take; but when will our politicians stop dancing to that west British tune and start arguing with passion and commitment about the things that matter, that affect the lives of real people?…" (Political Farce Overshadows Real Issues, 5.10.06; has he been downgraded by Vincent Browne, the Editor, since writing this? He no longer seems to have a page in the magazine).
Geraldine Kennedy commented on the people's verdict:
"This poll presents a snapshot of the state of the parties at a particular time but, given the events of recent weeks, it does much more than that. The culture of nods and winks and looking the other way is alive and well in Irish democracy. Among a significant sector, however, it reinforces the case that the public interest requires vigilance, investigation and continuing scrutiny.
"If the rest of us “look the other way”, it won't be long before the culture of corruption engendered by Mr Haughey will resurface. But, regrettably, this poll would indicate that this does not seem to matter."
This is the most unmitigated nonsense. This poll reflects the public mind, that of the democracy—which retained a sense of proportion in face of a media onslaught on a decent man. The people are berated by the secretly financed arbiters of ethics for their common sense—but the Democracy is now to be put under surveillance!
"The Fianna Fáil party will be astonished by the finding that Mr Ahern, acting solo on matters of personal and peculiar ethics, has given the party the lift which had evaded it in the last year or so. The party now has the highest rating since the general election result in 2002."
This suggests that Fianna Failers know as little about the public mood as the Editor of the Irish Times.
Fianna Fail, being a proper political party, does not live by public moods and opinion polls—it sees its job quite rightly as the maker and shaper of those moods and the resultant polls and elections. It does not merely reflect what's around them. If it did, it would never have come into existence in the first place The Party created the conditions that produced the results of this poll so how in the world could it be astonished by it?
The fact is that Geraldine Kennedy brings to the West-British traditional anti-Fianna Fail bias of the Irish Times a special personal rancour because a Fianna Fail Justice Minister tapped her phone to try and establish the source of damaging leaks of confidential Cabinet business. The tapping was done because there was a well-founded suspicion that more than robust investigative reporting was at issue: that there was active interference by a foreign Government in Irish political affairs. (One of the other phones that was tapped at the time was that of Bruce Arnold who, though he uses the royal 'we' in his articles, meaning the Irish people, consistently reflects the interests and values of his native Britain.)
The timing of Geraldine Kennedy's campaign to oust the Taoiseach raises further questions. The attempt to destabilise the Government came in the run-up to the St. Andrew's Talks. The Belfast Irish News, which has difficulty with the niceties of 26 County politics, took the accusations against Ahern at face value. It carried two pages of commentary hostile to the Taoiseach. This was accompanied by a half-page colour photograph showing a small number of demonstrators holding a huge banner in front on Leinster House, carrying the words JAIL The Corrupt Politicians. The demonstrators belonged to the People Before Profit Alliance, a minute group. The Irish News story was entitled Ahern Apology Cuts No Ice With Angry Dail Opponents (4.10.06).
This was the background to Ahern's mission at St. Andrew's. Tony Blair had no such problems—even though British police have been arresting donors to the British Labour Party who paid for peerages, and are continuing their enquiries. Nor has much been made in the British press of the expensive holidays the Prime Minister has accepted from such as Berlusconi of Italy (imagine if Bertie had done the same!—but of course his modest holidays within Ireland are only another reason for holding him in contempt), or the 'gift' Berlusconi made to the husband of one of his Cabinet Ministers—a sum large enough to pay off the substantial mortgage on one of her residences. And there has been little notice taken of Cherie's antics in shamelessly using her position as Mrs. Prime Minister to make money. One of her stunts has been to mount highly-paid lecture tours in the colonies.
It would be a very strong man indeed who would be at his negotiating best with the trickiest politicians in the world—Tony Blair and Ian Paisley—after being put through the mill at home. So the question arises, why did Geraldine Kennedy choose to time her revelations as she did? And why did she sensationalise a rather minor matter in tabloid manner?
The case made by Geraldine Kennedy, and by those who support the Irish Times attempt to destabilise the Government and the Northern Peace Process, is that the public interest demanded that certain facts be made known. But did it?
The information used to stoke up a campaign of character assassination by the Irish Times was already known to the proper authorities, the Mahon Tribunal. It was up to Justice Mahon to put it into the public domain in his report, if he felt the political health of the country required it. Geraldine Kennedy usurped the role of the Tribunal Chairman in this instance.
Furthermore, if it is given that the Tribunals are in the public interest—which would be the position of the Irish Times and its liberal retinue—how does it serve the public interest to undermine the work of the Tribunals by publishing information privately given to it by witnesses and by people under investigation? Is such publication likely to encourage others to provide personal details to the Tribunals, information which, though not criminal, would be embarrassing if it got out? And surely it is up to democratically-established Tribunals to decide what information should be put in the public domain and not a newspaper which has no public standing and which is not accountable to the Democracy, but only to a secretive oath-bound directorate?
There is also the consideration that the people can put corrupt politicians out of power at election time. Tribunals have to justify their activity to the Dail and to the Courts. But where is the accountability for the Irish Times and the rest of the media? Why should proprietors worry if the Irish political system is degraded and decent politicians brought into disrepute? Scandals sell papers.
The 'fourth estate' has made itself the ruling estate and grown into a monster. Now that the secular power of the Church is gone, the Irish Times, with its shadowy governing structures, remains the glaring exception to the principle of government by the people, for the people.
Geraldine Kennedy is now before the Courts for subverting the Mahon Tribunal by publishing evidence given to it in confidence and for destroying the evidence which might help to identify her informant.
But we fear that the Irish State does not have the self-confidence to prosecute this breach of the rule of law in the same way as Geraldine Kennedy praised it for doing when the Rossport Five were on the spot.
Here is how 'Goldhawk' of Phoenix magazine summarised the present legal state of play:
"It seems to have escaped the attention of most commentators that Mahon went for the softest of options [in dealing with Ms Kennedy's crime], despite his 'enormous concern'. Mahon could have proceeded to the High Court to seek a conviction and penalty or have referred the case to the DPP. Instead, he merely requested the High Court to demand what he has already demanded, namely the identification of sources and production of documents that he knows do not any longer exist…" (20.10.06).
The Tribunal put two Fianna Fail politicians in jail for failing to give it enough information—even though they had not been convicted of any crime. But when an overt criminal act is committed, and one which strikes at the root of its ability to function, it soft-pedals. Quite simply, the Government and the Judge are afraid of the Irish Times—which has hegemonised the media in general. If Geraldine Kennedy was treated by the same standards as are applied to every other person in Ireland, there would be a media onslaught. In this instance Phoenix astutely calculates that the matter is going to be lost in a legal maze.
"Crucially, the case will not be heard for many months and certainly not before the Supreme Court hearing on November 27 when Mahon's appeal against the High Court ruling in favour of the Post will be heard. If Mahon loses that, his case against the IT will be significantly weakened. And if Mahon does win against the IT in a case some time next year, it will be appealed to the Supreme Court." (We will come back to the issue of the Business Post versus Mahon Tribunal in the next issue of this magazine.)
In fact, Phoenix has a political agenda not that far removed from that
of the Irish Times itself. Goldhawk concludes: "she is a greater
scourge of Fianna Fáil than any of the wet opposition politicians
in the Dáil". Hitting Fianna Fail is elevated into a worthy
project in its own right, regardless of the public interest or good government.
As a journal which depends on selective sensationalist revelations, Phoenix clearly wishes to see its mentors in the Irish Times off the hook. But just where the Phoenix is coming from is shown by the fact that when Jack Lane offered it the newsworthy scoop of the 'White Nigger Letter' (see below), which showed the Irish Times in its true colours, the magazine showed absolutely no interest. Of all the Irish national papers, only the Sunday Independent, for all its faults, took it up. So much for 'investigative journalism'!
The Dung Beetle
late of d'Olier St.
The more I read the Irish Times, the more I am reminded of a wonderful piece of Irish literature—Geoffrey Keating's Preface to his book on Irish History. He wrote his book about 400 years ago in revulsion at the existing written histories of Ireland, which had all been written by Englishmen. He says:
"The English historians… when they write of Ireland seem to imitate the dung beetle, which, when enlivened by the influence of the Summer heat, flies abroad, and passes over the delightful fields, neglectful of the sweet blossoms or fragrant flowers that are in its way, till at last, directed by its sordid inclination, it settles on some nauseous excrement."
The dung beetle and its inclinations are alive and well in the editorial room of the Irish Times.
With Madam on her high moral horse it seems useful to remind readers of a short correspondence with her about what is known as the "White Nigger Letter": to show just how committed the Irish Times is to investigative journalism. In this letter, which was released to the public in the Public Record Office at Kew, the British Ambassador reports to Whitehall on contacts with her paper's modern creator, Major McDowell. The Major was arranging for instructions from Whitehall to guide the editorial policy of the paper in the critical period of 1969. Ambassador Gilchrist reported McDowell's abuse of his then Editor as a "white nigger" for being unduly sympathetic to the natives.
When I sent a copy of this letter to Editor Geraldine Kennedy, her response was to protect her employer, Major McDowell, rather than to vindicate a predecessor, Douglas Gageby.
I sent her a copy
of the released document when it was put in the public domain in Ireland
in early January 2003 by this magazine. I sent it to her on the 10th and
Madam replied on 15th, saying she was "unable
to confirm its veracity". Naturally there was no report about it in
the Irish Times at this point. Later that month the Sunday
Independent covered the story of the letter and so Madam was forced to deal with it
on 27th January—but she did so in a way calculated to minimise its
impact. Instead of reproducing the letter, she carried Major McDowell denial
that he ever called Gageby a "white nigger". The rebuttal was
mixed up with the subject matter of the letter in such a way that readers
were forced to absorb the rebuttal along with the damaging information.
This is a trick of propagandists down the ages.
The implication of the Major's denial was that, for some reason, the British Ambassador in a confidential report to Whitehall told a pack of lies.
Editor Geraldine Kennedy did not publish the letter. But, over a year later, when the story was well and truly known and had been put on the agenda again by Martin Mansergh, she told her readers, on 23rd April 2004 that "The contents of the letter in question were published on January 27th 2003, as soon as its existence was drawn to my attention."
Readers can judge what to make of this assertion. Does Madam suffer from that selective amnesia, which Madam and her paper are so diligent in reporting? (They are so diligent and helpful in these situations that they even add the stutters, stammers, hhhhmmms and aaahhhs, as when reporting Ahern's TV interview.) How thorough Madam can be when others are put on the spot and then suddenly forgetful, shall we say, when her own conduct is at issue!
The history of that letter is a good illustration of how the self-proclaimed 'journal of record' acts when something occurs that might adversely affect itself. Apparently, its investigative journalist failed to find the letter when it was first made available in the PRO at Kew in January 2000, though another reporter does (and suppresses the information). When it is brought to Madam's attention she does not report it on lame grounds. She later reports a denial of its contents; then she asserts that she published its contents as soon as the letter was brought to her attention.
Is this the way a paper of record serves the public interest? Surely it is plain to see that it is the Irish Times's own private interest that is its paramount concern, and all else is pure and simple hypocrisy on its part. It is rather sad to see so many others falling for the humbug.
What is even more serious is that Ahern's Government recently agreed to subsidise the paper in a one-million Euro project to ensure that The Irish Times is available electronically in all libraries for students studying Irish history—the journal that clearly suppresses documents, destroys documents, and has the nerve to keep calling itself a 'journal of record'. The effect of this official endorsement, which has been granted to no other paper, is to give a massive boost to the Irish Times and its shadowy backers against other papers produced in Ireland, past and present.
Has Fianna Fail's eyes been opened by this latest episode? Will it cancel the gift it is making to a criminal newspaper? Don't hold your breath.
The correspondence with Madam is reproduced below:
10th. January 2003.
Ms. Geraldine Kennedy
The Irish Times
Dear Ms. Kennedy,
WHO DIRECTS YOUR PAPER?
I enclose a copy of a publication (Irish Political Review, January 2003) that contains an extraordinary document concerning the running of your paper, The Irish Times.
As you can see, it is a copy of a report by the British Ambassador in Dublin in which he outlines the arrangements made with the owner of your paper, Major McDowell, to have the paper's content directed from No. 10 Downing St.
Do you accept this is a genuine document?
If you do, can you say if these arrangements are still in place and, if not, when were they rescinded?
I am sure you will understand that readers of your newspaper, as of any newspaper, are entitled to know by whom, and in whose interest, the newspaper is run.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Aubane Historical Society
15th January 2003
Dear Mr. Lane,
I can assure you that no such arrangement is in place for the running of The Irish Times. The ownership of the newspaper is vested in The Irish Times Trust since 1974.
I am unable to confirm the veracity of the letter to which you refer. We published a story that Major McDowell was prepared to act as "a link" to encourage North/South contacts on the release of the British Cabinet papers in January 2000.
31st. January 2003
Dear Ms. Kennedy,
Thank you for your letter dated 15th January 2003. You are not able to tell me when the arrangements made by Major McDowell with No. 10 Downing St. were rescinded so I can hardly accept your assurance that they are no longer in place. Moreover, your reference to the Irish Times Trust being in charge of the paper would confirm that the arrangements remained in place. It is well known that the Irish Times Trust was a unique institution of its kind in that it was designed and set up to ensure that the Trust, and therefore its paper, was under the control of a single individual, Major McDowell. I understand that he remains President for life of the Trust. The Trust ensures that his writ runs and as he originated the arrangements with Downing St. it is just not credible that he used his own Trust to undo his own efforts. Au contraire, I would say.
Also, I find it amazing that you cannot confirm the authenticity or otherwise of the document concerned, or even give an opinion on it, although you and your paper were aware of it for over 3 years. You have not taken the trouble to clarify the matter in all that time! This shows an incredible lack of curiosity on your part about the running of your own paper. Your paper gave a misleading account of the relationship between Major McDowell and Downing St. in January 1971 in only reporting a reference to him as simply wishing to be a 'link' between the two governments. You were given an opportunity to rectify this deceit and instead you now repeat it and obviously condone it.
Your paper investigates and reports extensively on a host of issues, many of which are of considerably less significance than what is contained in the Ambassador's letter (the publications of this tiny local history group, for example). You are now shown to be very selective indeed in your investigations, reports and in the issues that seize you.
Your predecessor, Mr Gageby, the object of Major McDowell's barrack-room abuse in the document, was clearly kept in ignorance of the paper's direction arranged by its owner but you are clearly determined to be wilfully ignorant of the facts of the matter and their consequences. You are in denial. This must be a unique attitude for the editor of a paper that claims to be national, investigative and a journal of record. You and your paper are no longer credible in respect of any of those attributes.
This is all the more disappointing as it was generally assumed that your appointment as editor was made on the basis of your reputation for good news reporting and it was expected that you would take The Irish Times in that direction. This incident shows that you have not done so and the deceit and evasions you have practiced about it makes the high moral tone you adopt editorially on other issues appear very hypocritical indeed as your reporting clearly stops short where your own vested interests are concerned.
The contents of the letter in question were published in The Irish Times on January 27th, 2003, as soon as its existence was drawn to my attention. - Ed., IT.
(Irish Times letters, 23 April 2004)
Irish Political Review Editor's Note
Olivia O'Leary, who is both a BBC and an RTE political commentator, and who should therefore know what goes on in the political life of both states, made the absurd statement on Radio Eireann in a kind of Thought For The Day on 17th October, that a British Government Prime Minister in Ahern's position would have resigned without question, but that we do these things differently in Ireland. Is it conceivable that she has not noticed how the Blairs have exploited the Prime Ministership to make money hand over first, with scarcely a murmur of criticism?
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