30 March 2006 Edition
Missing the real story, as usual
BY FRANK FARRELL
Rarely does An Phoblacht get carried away with the trends and results shown in opinion polls - even when they show a rise in support for Sinn Féin. However, the establishment media takes such polls very seriously - except when they show a rise in support for Sinn Féin.
Last weekend's Sunday Business Post Red C poll showed that Fianna Fáil had dropped two points to 33% while the PDs were unchanged on 4%.
This is obviously bad news for Fianna Fáil and pretty meaningless for the PDs who rely on a small, privileged niche segment of the population. The real significance in these polls is that the Fine Gael/Labour alternative government is not benefiting from the government's unpopularity. Fine Gael is static on 25%, while Labour is actually down by one point at 11% - after nearly two terms in opposition. Sinn Féin, meanwhile, is showing at 11%, up one point and now even with Labour, while the Independent tally of 9% - another less relevant statistic given their disparate politics - is also unchanged.
Meanwhile, the Greens, boosted by their party conference and their victimhood at the hands of Mad Dog McDowell, rose two points to 7%.
Obssessed with Dáil arithmetic and the 'real' political alternatives (FF/PD, Lab/FG or a variant of these with the Greens sometimes thrown into the various equations), media pundits miss the real picture. That picture is one of disillusionment with establishment politicians in government as well as the share of both alternative coalitions actually falling. However, analysis from the political correspondents remained firmly fixed on electoral arithmetic as it affected the establishment parties and oblivious to the increasing alienation of real people on the ground.
The fact that Sinn Féin drew level with Labour, of course, was barely commented on even though it is a statistic that was more newsworthy than anything else in the poll and will certainly have traumatised Pat Rabbitte and his handlers. Former Labour Party activist and ex-Irish Times deputy editor, Jim Downey, merely remarked in the Indo that Sinn Féin was threatening Fianna Fáil in several constituencies.
McDowell, meanwhile, reeling from a week in which he used his luger to shoot himself in both feet, resorted to the easiest distraction available to him - a scare story in the willing Sunday Independent which warned of catastrophe in the spectre of a Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin administration after the last election.
• Eoin O'Duffy addressing a meeting of the Blueshirts, bandon, Cork, 1934
On a historic-political note, it should be said that Mad Dog may have been treated a little harshly last week. Richard Bruton is no Nazi, but I can't resist pointing out that Bruton's political pedigree (and McDowell's) lies in the Blueshirts, a group of thugs and anti-democrats who received their inspiration from the Italian Blackshirts. It was the IRA and other republicans that drove these 1930s fascists back into their dung heaps and it is Sinn Féin and other socialists that confront their more sophisticated political successors today.
The media made huge play of the raids on both sides of the border with the Murphy family being accused of smuggling, racketeering etc as hired hacks were escorted around the 'badlands' of South Armagh by gardai last week. Even The Irish Times dumbs down to Evening Herald standards in these situations and they devoted page after page to the affair.
However, a small item, tucked away on page 19 of that paper on the operation by CAB as well as Customs and Excise officials against a farmer, cattle dealer and large land owner in the same area caught your correspondent's eye last week. John Oliver Byrne (55) was charged and convicted (unlike the Murphys) at Dundalk Circuit Criminal court on three charges of failing to make tax returns. It emerged that cash in Euro and sterling amounting to €200,000 was found in raids on Byrne's property as well as an unspecified amount in cheques and that he had operated a "substantial" business delivering grain to merchants throughout the country for a number of years.
It also emerged in court that Byrne had 86 previous convictions in the North, mainly for traffic offences but also for fraud of £1.3 million sterling for falsely claiming grain subsidies. Byrne also had 71 previous convictions in the South, for traffic and liquor license offences. Byrne has farms on each side of the border but the politician that accompanied him in court on the day was the former Louth Fine Gael TD, Brendan McGahon, a scourge of the IRA and all things illegal.
Looks as though there is one attitude to convicted Ordinary Decent Smugglers (ODS) and another for republicans who have been smeared but neither charged nor convicted of any such offence.