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16 February 2006 Edition

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Media View with Frank Farrell

McDowell's 1930s Vision

It's come to something when the only organ to respond to Michael McDowell's astonishing attack on RTÉ last week is An Phoblacht, considering that members of Sinn Féin were for so long banned from the station.

Having demolished the centre for Public Inquiry via manipulation of the media as well as abuse of Dáil privilege and his access to Garda files, McDowell, in a nostalgic reversion to the Section 31 era, now wants to shackle RTE.

In one of his L&H type dissertations, McDowell demanded that RTE uphold public order and the authority and morality of the state, arguing that criticism of government policy must not stray over into the undermining of the state. One can only presume that McDowell believes that RTE has been guilty of such subversion, or he would not have penned such a speech. The question is: who decides when such subversion has taken place ( a "liberal" Justice Minister perhaps?) and what sanctions would such a Minister impose in McDowell's new media regime?

McDowell appears to have no sense of irony. In another part of his speech he criticises "agenda setting" journalism, the best example of which in recent years was his collaboration with Sam Smyth in the hatchet job on Frank Connolly and the CPI. And in a genuinely scary comment he argued for the state to be the guarantor of the nature of public service journalism, adding with no trace of sarcasm, that this did not mean making RTÉ an arm of Government.

One can only wonder at the precise motivation of this Goebbels-like desire to reshape the media. Was his attack on agenda-setting media provoked by RTÉ's Prime Time investigation of McDowell's selection of the 80-million Euro Thornton Hall site as a new prison? Was it his shock at receiving unusual media criticism over his abuse of his position in the Frank Connolly affair? Or is it merely the nature of the control freak in the Justice Department who cannot tolerate any dissenting public voice?

The other, equally worrying question is why there was little or no reaction from journalists to McDowell's 1930s vision for the media?

The Late, late Chris Penn

Now and then Pat Kenny lets the mask slip and from that wooden exterior emerges the most intolerant reactionary. I refer, not to the Toireasa Ferris interview, but to his treatment of two moderate Muslim voices on his Late Late Show who were harangued by that bellicose supporter of the war in Iraq, John Waters and Israeli mouthpiece, Evening Herald columnist, Ian O Doherty as well as Kenny himself.

Viewers may have thought the recently-deceased actor, Chris Penn had returned from the dead to make a Late Late appearance but, no, it was O'Doherty in the studio who could not hide his hatred of Islam and Muslims. Waters was equally abusive and Kenny joined in the heckling and harassment of his gentle guests in a fine example of the Western tolerance and respect for free speech that we have heard so much about in the debate about about those inflammatory Danish cartoons.

Who fears to write about 1916?

The 90th anniversary of 1916 has striped the Irish Times of it's liberal camouflage and revealed a combination of straightforward unionism (Myers, Lord Laird and David Adams), Stickie unionism (Mary Rafferty), Fine Gael fans like Stephen Collins and old fashioned empire pining in an editorial on the "Myths of 1916".

Against this hysterical Greek chorus, the sole defence of 1916 in the Times came from Fianna Fáil's Martin Manseragh, who defended the Rising as a legitimate insurrection for democratic statehood. Unfortunately Manseragh spoiled his argument by concluding that in it's commemoration the state is emphasising the difference between 1916 and the war in the North - too close in time and space apparently. In so doing, Manseragh strengthened the hand of those who argue that Fianna Fáil's celebration of the Rising is an opportunist political tactic.

Republicans will celebrate the Rising, as always, while also arguing that while much was done, there's a lot more to do, to paraphrase somebody's slogan. Others offer the facile argument that the Rising was a cause of inequality in Ireland, rather than seeing that inequality as the fault of those who strangled the revolution in the following years.

Eoghan Harris Comic relief from this wall-to-wall revisionism came from two sources. One was Rafferty's self-parodying proposition that instead of a commemoration of the Rising we should have a "National Day of Argument". The other came from the clown prince of John A Murphy's class of '62, Eoghan Harris who told RTÉ's Prime Time, amid repressed snorts of derision from the panel, that Padráig Mac Piarais was a "suicide bomber". Interestingly, Harris was reined in by the Sindo and was not allowed to develop this interesting idea in his column the following Sunday.

This column predicts that media critics of 1916 - out of touch with the public, as ever- will receive the same rejection from the Irish people that they received when they condemned the national mark of respect for Kevin Barry and his comrades.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
  • This special edition which focuses on Irish Unity, features articles by Pearse Doherty, Dr Thomas Paul and Martina Anderson.
  • Pearse sets out the argument for an United Ireland Economy whilst Pat Sheehan makes the case for a universally free all-island health service.
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