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4 October 2007 Edition

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Bertie Ahern

Bertie Ahern

Bertie soap opera obscures major social issues

It won’t go away, you know.  Yes, it’s the award-winning, long-running Bertie story.  It played to poor reviews in the Dáil last week, when Fine Gael and Labour frittered away the chance to excoriate the government for its real failures in housing, health, education and regional development, but the media are unable to give it up and move on.
The Bertie story is set to run and run.
The whole charade has now reached soap opera levels, with the Irish Independent breathlessly assuring us that Fianna Fáil is “feeling the heat”, while the Sunday Independent equally breathlessly regurgitates Bertie’s every word to the tribunal, to the Dáil, to his friends, to his family, to his benefactors, to us all - as an exclusive!
At least The Irish Mail on Sunday (no less) turned its attention to a matter of major importance - housing.
Given the recession in the housing market, with fewer houses expected to be completed for the market in the coming period, there is a major concern that social and affordable housing - which is supposed to get allocated 20% of all house completions - will be the biggest loser, with consequent misery for those on the ever extending housing lists.
Last Sunday Brian Carroll addressed the issue, but not in terms that the rest of us might feel appropriate.  No, what concerned the bould Brian was the idea that local authorities might buy houses that cost €500,000 or more and fill them with - wait for it - “problem families”.   The gasps of horror could be heard from Foxrock to Montenotte. Surely such people would be better off paying high rents to private landlords, and what about the property values for the unfortunate rich forced to live beside these problem people!
This is the way that the press, owned by vested interests, uses its power to promote the ideas of the vested interests.  It doesn’t examine the crisis of housing, or our failure, during a period of unprecedented boom, to ensure equal rights for everyone.  Instead it exaggerates the costs of social housing - which since the Cullen compromise - are now exclusively in the lower end of the market and predominantly in apartments, a fact which gives the lie to the Mail’s scare headline.
Education is another issue which gets a limited outing in the media.  The scandal of Balbriggan and Diswellstown where the lack of conditions attached to housing and lack of forward planning to make for education needs left scores of children without any school to go to. 
The result, as we know, is what is essentially a racially segregated primary school, with all of its pupils from Black and other ethnic minorities.
But don’t look to the press to find any reasons for this scandal, or to find any pressure on the minister who has presided over this outrage, Mary Hanafin.  The best you can get is another go at the Church, even though this is a crisis that is entirely the fault of the state.
But what lies behind the headlines has been ignored.  Such as the fact that very large numbers of ethnic minority families have been dumped in new housing estates on the edge of the city, in turn producing the schools’ crisis we know about.
This is the breeding ground of ghettoisation and racial division and tensions in the future, but no examination of that in the media, though to her credit RTÉ’s Emma O’Kelly has done some sterling work exposing this story.
Instead, the media are concerned that racists aren’t being given free speech.  Mark Dooley (Doctor Mark Dooley to you and me) takes up the Mail standard and denounces RTÉ for ‘ambushing’ Kevin Myers on the Late Late Show.
Myers was invited on to justify his absurd claims that we could be fifty per cent Muslim by 2050, and so on.  But so what if we are?  So long as people wear an Irish jersey, fly our flag, sing our anthem and speak our language what else is there to make them Irish?
Oops, sorry, I’ve just realised that excludes the ‘Irish’ rugby team which doesn’t fly our flag, sing our anthem, speak our language and has diluted the green of our jersey.
Anyway, Irishness has always been an inclusive concept.  People of Viking descent like the O’Higginses or the MacLoughlins, of French descent like the Roches or the Burkes, even of English descent like the Myers’s are as equally part of the Irish nation as the McCarthys, O’Malleys, O’Neills and O’Donnells.
And what of Myers’s ambush?  Well, it amounted to two people in the audience politely disagreeing with the learned Kevin who promptly asked them what right they had to speak at all.
This, by the way, was the same Kevin who claimed that he only wanted a ‘debate’ about racism. Some debate - when Kevin does all the spouting and the rest of us do the listening.
But that’s the type of “informed” comment our media are full of, owned as they are by British businessmen and West Brit imitators, using their control of the media to advance their undemocratic agendas.

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