Sunday, 19 September 2010

Morning Ireland, Morning After

An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen described aspersions cast about his condition and state of mind (somewhere between drunk and hungover) during his Morning Ireland interview of 14th September as 'a new low in Irish politics'. It may be low but it's not entirely new. It is though revealing about the relationship between the media and political establishments, how and why 'news' gets reported.

Few would disagree that Brian Cowen has a face for radio but what was probably not taken into consideration, until now, is that he doesn't always possess a voice that carries well over the airwaves. Actually it all brings to mind an admission made a few years ago by former TD Liz O'Donnell that she often gave radio interviews in her bra and undies. But that's Liz O'Donnell. She is blonde after all (or so it says on the bottle) and she did wait until she had left politics before making the admission. Somehow I feel that a similar admission by Brian Cowen would leave the country with no choice but to demand his removal from office, if not from politics altogether.

It is worth noting that not all sections of the media have jumped on the judgmental bandwagon. Some have simply limited themselves to straight-forward reporting of facts. Writing in the Irish Independent, Fiach Kelly suggested:
It was a night typical of any party gathering, enjoyed by TDs, senators and assembled journalists. At the time, no one could have foreseen the political storm that would envelop the Taoiseach in what would become one of the most damaging episodes of his political career.
An explanation for the reticence might be gleamed from another Irish Independent report, published just prior to the Galway event, this time by John Drennan:
The stage is set for a dramatic showdown between the Cowen and Lenihan factions at the much-anticipated Fianna Fail parliamentary party think-in at the Ardilaun Hotel in Galway next week.
After a summer of feverish intrigue the two factions within the party will confront each other for the first time in three months.

Was Brian Cowen's apparent blunder merely the culmination of such intrigue, which happens all the time and passes for 'politics' with some people. If it is the case that there is in-fighting within Fianna Fáil between the Cowen and Lenihan camps, it is interesting to speculate what bearing it could have had on another public gaffe that broke, at almost exactly the same time, but this time concerning the Finance Minister's brother, Conor Lenihan. It seems that the country's Minister for Science was planning to perform duties at the launch of a book claiming to 'debunk' Darwinian evolution.

But the biggest hurdle for the Lenihan camp, asuming such exists, is that their leadership contender is currently battling with cancer. It will of course be remembered that the manner in which this story was revealed, back in December of last year, caused consternation among Fianna Fáil supporters, or some of them at any rate. Complaints were even made against TV station that broke the story. It went all the way to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland which ruled that it was factual and accurate. There is of course still the unanswered question of who leaked the information in the first place!

The fallout following the Galway event has produced claims and counter-claim and numerous reports about what was said, how much drink was taken, etc. On the other hand, news has been somewhat sparse on the nature and purpose of the event itself - i.e. a Fianna Fáil party gathering, billed as a 'think-in' which one might have expected to produce some kind of assessment of the state of the country, the economy and how the biggest political party in the state propose to address the problems.

I actually had to go to the Fianna Fáil website to get the text of An Taoiseach's speech. In summary, he outlines some factors that he thinks will benefit Irish economic fortunes in the medium to long-term. He mentions that "there is more to this country than Anglo-Irish Bank - terrible burden though that is", from which one could conclude that the government has no plan to change from it's present stance in relation to this issue. He points to investments in infrastructure that the government is continuing to make and identifies export-led growth and attracting foreign direct investment as key to recovery. However all this is underpinned by what is considered the main imperative at the present time - stabilising of public finances, a euphemism for cutbacks.

Besides accusations of drunkeness directed at Brian Cowen the term 'uninspiring' was also used to characterise his Galway performance. There may be more credence to this view. One feels however that Brian Cowen is not alone in that regard and isn't solely to blame.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2010

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