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14 September 2006 Edition

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Media View by Frank Farrell

Thatcherite bliss in Dublin 2

The euphoria that greeted Michael McDowell's ascent to the leadership of the nastiest, most selfish and most reactionary party in Free State politics since the 1930s is yet another example of just how out of touch the mainstream media are.

Only the Star refused to lionise the man who more closely resembles Margaret Thatcher than any other Irish politician - and even that paper's editorial declined to level any criticism against a man who has less sympathy for the Star's working class readers than anybody in public life.

At the other end of the market, Irish Times editor and former PD Deputy Geraldine Kennedy congratulated McDowell for doing "a public service by challenging Sinn Féin on its democratic credentials" (ie, he's a unionist and effectively an enemy of the Peace Process); for having "led a campaign to limit citizenship in a referendum and won the support of the people" (he's a racist) and "proposed that ordinary citizens would become members of a Garda reserve and, through his persistence and determination won through" (this is inaccurate and in any case, his intention was to supply an inadequate police force on the cheap).

Elsewhere, the Sunday Independent, his main cheerleaders, lauded McDowell's "intellectual abilities" and claimed that "national politics would be enriched" by him. The more restrained Irish Independent extolled his "positive" influence in government and informed us that if his party were wiped out at the next election the country would be "considerably worse off" (oh, really?). The unreconstructed Tories of the Sunday Times referred to the PDs' "clarity, courage and commitment" while lecturing Irish readers about the necessity to elect someone like McDowell to provide a "distinct and vital" political perspective - just what the Paddies need. RTÉ's Pat Kenny clucked in sympathy as another McDowell champion, the ultra-reactionary Stephen Collins, spoke of McDowell's courage in standing up to Sinn Féin. Sam Smyth, meanwhile, had a multiple orgasm.

What a man! But nowhere was there any effort to identify the politics of a man and a party that has shifted a vaguely left of centre culture in the Irish political establishment to that of a new culture of greed and materialism. The political cowardice and near intellectual bankruptcy of Fianna Fáil, allied with similar characteristics in Labour, have allowed a small and unrepresentative caucus of reactionary commentators to dominate economic and political debate in the media. That this debate sails over the heads of the great majority of the population, who either dislike or simply regard this neo-con babble as irrelevant to their lives, does not seem to bother the editors and owners of the media.

McDowell and those other parties who tail him politically will get their answer at the next election. The 2002 election saw Sinn Féin secure over 50% more first preference votes than the PDs and next time round it will greatly increase that gap. Already, the PD election manifesto can be written: fear of Sinn Féin for the paranoid privileged and offers of more tax cuts for the selfish privileged - more or less the same constituency. The PDs are a tiny party with an electoral support base representing a small fraction of Sinn Féin's. Yet this unrepresentative elite lectures us about democracy while wielding a hugely disproportionate power over people's lives and doling out tax breaks to their friends.

Sinn Féin and other progressives should run their own scare campaign against these people, warning them of the danger to people's lives in a chaotic health service, the poverty amongst the so-called "losers" (ie, working class people) and the danger to the Peace Process that McDowell poses. Let's compare Sinn Féin's vote with that of the PDs now and after the next election and we will see just who is the more democratically representative.


Predictable gloating from much of the media greeted the demise of Daily Ireland, with the Sunday Independent, Sunday Times and Ireland on Sunday expressing their pleasure at the newspaper's closure. Normally, newspapers and journalists affect sorrow, however insincerely, at the loss of jobs and the distinctive voice of any newspaper that goes under, but Daily Ireland's espousal of nationalist Ireland was too much for the conservative media. The Sindo ridiculed Daily Ireland management's accusation that the British Government's refusal to advertise with the paper - as it does with others in the North - had contributed to its failure. But in quoting Daily Ireland's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir the Sindo deliberately excised from his statement that part which referred to the support the paper was receiving from the Equality Commission in its legal cases against the British Government for refusing to provide start-up grants or job advertisements.

This is a straightforward democratic issue which most newspapers in most democracies would support. But a paper that aggressively represented the voice of nationalist Ireland - and it was probably less close to Sinn Féin than the Irish News is to the SDLP - simply had to be buried.


PS. I decided to take my comrade Matt Treacy's advice (issued before Dublin met Mayo) and "refrain from all further intervention in the field of sports journalism". Clearly, these matters should be left to those media experts in the capital and my warnings about Dublin media hype were the rantings of a culchie who will, nevertheless, be looking for that promised "pint" from the jackeens - or whoever might be there - on Hill 16 this Sunday.

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