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31 May 2007 Edition

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Media View

Fintan stands on his head and the world gasps!

Well, who would have believed it?  After years of urging Labour to do the “decent thing” and put Fine Gael back into power, after having waged the most scurrilous and malicious campaign against Fianna Fáil in the recent election, the Irish Times, the ‘paper of record’, has changed its mind and its most senior guru, Fintan O’Toole, arbiter of all that is worthy, is now urging Labour to go into government with Fianna Fáil in order to keep the PDs out!
How Madam Editor, a former PD TD, will react to that is unclear, while editorial hatchet man Peter Murtagh is said to be beside himself at Fintan’s “betrayal”.
How long this rush of blood will be allowed to continue is not certain either, but obviously Fintan doesn’t buy the “Enda Can Do It” line which RTÉ has been busy peddling – as if the election result can be changed by editorial wish.
It just shows the disarray of the establishment’s intellectuals.
The Times turn-around is matched of course by the Sunday Independent where veteran Fianna Fáil hater, Eoghan Harris, has put himself forward as the prime champion of the Soldiers of Destiny.
The Sindo conversion, however, is easily explained by two things:  first of all Fianna Fáil have admitted that they formally met Tony O’Reilly (Sir Anthony to his friends) about the Sindo coverage of Fianna Fáil before and during the election campaign – a meeting which was obviously “positive” and “fruitful” from a Fianna Fáil point of view.
Secondly, and ironically in the light of the conversion to FF thinking, the Sindo editorial team has been smarting at Enda Kenny’s lack of bottle in doing the dirty.
The Sindo tried to whip up an extra line in the Bertie finances story by publishing allegations from a dubious Garda “source” to the effect that Celia Larkin had given the said Garda fifty grand for safekeeping to take to Manchester.
Fine Gael wanted the “story”, and MEP Jim Higgins co-operated fully in lining the story up.  But Enda washed his hands of it when it became public, leaving the Sindo – which was only doing Fine Gael’s dirty work for them  – exposed.
Hell hath no fury like the Sindo scorned, and when the word came down from Sir Anthony the Sindo switched sides with a vengeance.
But what has caused Fintan’s change of heart?  Did Brian Cowen have a private meeting with the great brain, or is there something deeper involved?
O’Toole understands that Labour is in crisis following the absolute failure of the keep Fine Gael afloat strategy, and that the party has nowhere to go unless it can break decisively with this failed policy.
That, of course, would create a vacuum on the left, and while Sinn Féin did not do well in the election, it still has a coherent strategy and with the party in government in the North and active in the North-South institutions there is a real danger of Labour being outflanked in the long run.
Were Labour to be subsumed totally into Fine Gael – which is the logical end of Pat Rabbitte’s strategy – there could well be a terrible vista for Fintan to contemplate.
Better to get in early and try and get Labour back on its feet, even if that means a belated recognition that the PDs were always the most obnoxious element of the Irish political scene and that by ignoring them Labour was playing a part in its own suicide.
One other factor is that it is clear that Fianna Fáil is going to be the winning team for some time.  There is an obvious danger that if these media outlets who consider themselves to be the last word on proper order remain in permanent opposition to what is likely to be a near permanent government then they will have little if any influence over it or the context in which future politics might develop.
God forbid, but circumstances and political activity might even remove the need for the demonisation of Sinn Féin and republicanism, and where would the Irish Times be then.
It is worth noting that the last thing Fintan would consider – even at this stage – would be a united cooperation of the Left with Sinn Féin, Labour and the Greens working together to challenge the privatisation programme of the last and probably the next government.
Still, it would be churlish not to recognise this change of heart, even if we have to wonder how long it will last and how long the Times editor will let her pages be used for such dire heresy.
It’s one thing to have John Waters infesting the pure Times lines – but he can be explained away as a gesture to pretending that all points of view are covered. But don’t expect to see Madam let there be too much of a good thing.
We’ll have to watch this space.

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