Leo should remain as Taoiseach for now but not without strong Opposition and challenging media #COVID19Ireland

These are unprecedented times.  Our worlds have been turned upside down and we have absolutely no idea what comes next.

I have been periodically blogging on this site for almost four years, and I have never made a secret of the fact that I believe in a Progressive government for Ireland.  This of course means the parties which have always represented the status quo such as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have never gotten my vote. I also have little faith in other parties purporting to be “left” such as Sinn Féin and Labour.

Yet when faced with a situation like COVID-19, I do not believe that a radical change to the face of our government is what is needed, even when it comes as it did right after a general election.  Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael were in power when it was time to lock the country down and particularly in the most relevant departments like those of An Taoiseach and Health, we need continuity and stability so regardless of political hue I think the correct course would be for them to remain for now.

Now I’m hoping that my established premise will be remembered as I voice some concerns over the current situation.  In his address to the nation on St Patrick’s Day, Leo Varadkar literally referenced Winston Churchill.

“This is the calm before the storm – before the surge.  And when it comes – and it will come – never will so many ask so much of so few.”

Address by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar 17th March

For the life of me I cannot fathom why there was not more of a backlash to this.  I am absolutely no fan of Sinn Féin but am I the only one who sees the irony in the fact that they would be lambasted for any kind of Nationalist references at this time yet our Taoiseach, one who has often expressed a liking for the leadership of one conservative UK leader in Thatcher, gets a free pass after throwing a nod to another?

This point is one of semantics and cosmetics I know, but I make it first because of the levels of reaction I have seen on social media ever since.  Of course we need to stick together as much as possible during these times, and given the original nature of the crisis there should be much leeway afforded to our government, yet the levels of praise for his leadership have been, in many, many cases, “Churchillian”, and this concerns, nay frightens me.  

Strong opposition and challenging media are important ingredients to any democracy.  If a day ever came when Ireland had Progressives seated around the Cabinet table, I would expect nothing less than for them to have their feet held to the fire where possible, and we all know that would be the case.

And while the Green Party did not get my vote at the last election either, I cannot understand why they are being vilified for not unconditionally joining FF and FG in government.  They claim to have offered three options to the “Civil War” parties, all of which have been rejected…

“I think the idea that FG and FF would present this narrow option to the people of the two of them in power with one of the smaller parties propping them up is very self-serving. It has the coincidental effect of giving them the most amount of power, for the most amount of time with the least amount of oversight.” 

Green TD Neasa Hourigan

Why are politicians so reluctant to form a government?
Justin McCarthy – RTÉ.ie

…and the backlash appears to be “shut up and get on board”. Whatever your levels of respect were for them before, surely they would be lowered should they accept those terms.  But this post is not just about the Green Party. It’s for the type of representative body we want the Dáil to be when it comes to acting as a check on our Government.

Then there is the Irish mainstream media, one that already had a reputation for being more stenographers than challengers.  And that was even before this particular Taoiseach came to power, one who sought in virtually his first act to set up a media arm with the sinister title of the “Strategic Communications Unit“.

Below are just some areas where I would like to ask questions of Leo Varadkar and his government, in no particular order:

  1. What exactly happened with those orders from China which arrived with inadequate supplies?
  2. If Opposition parties should feel shame for insisting that the Dáil convenes due to risk of social distancing among civil servants, have any measures been discussed to allow for some kind of COVID-19 friendly Dáil sittings until the crisis is over?
  3. COVID-19 tests – they are in limited supply.  Is there any transparency as to how they are allocated?  And I have heard stories that the testing itself can take over two weeks to produce results – why is that, is anything being done to speed up the process and is this fact reflected in the numbers we are being given?
  4. We have all has been adversely affected by this crisis, but that does not mean we will all be struggling by its end.  When everyone’s assets have been reduced, the priority of Government care should be those who are left with little or nothing.  So what exactly do you mean by “tough decisions” that have to be made once this crisis is over? Is there to be a period of austerity similar to that affected by the banking crisis or will the burden at very least shared regardless of wealth if not borne by the 1% at the top?  

I am happy for Leo and Simon to remain in their jobs.  I am delighted that Leo is rolling up his sleeves to pitch in as a GP.  That’s all great. But if a republic values its democratic principles, no government should go unchecked, and we certainly shouldn’t assume everything is rosy on these shores based on a comparison to the leadership of the blond buffoons either side of us.  All I’m asking is that we be mindful of this. JLP

#IrishMediaWatch #GE20 : RTE 9oc News Wed 15.01.20

Mr Varadkar said he was very concerned about the case of a man who was seriously injured after the tent he was sleeping in was removed from the banks of the Grand Canal by an industrial vehicle. 

Housing issue dominates first day of election campaign
Paul Cunningham RTÉ.ie

Now that #GE20 is underway I’m planning to keep an eye on the national media outlets to see how they are covering the campaign trail, just to see how balanced the coverage is. For this first installment I have to say things were better than I expected.

On RTÉ’s Nine O’clock news Wednesday, the election featured third in their running order although the piece was related to the second story, about a homeless man who was badly injured by an industrial vehicle which was cleaning a canal area and apparently didn’t know the man was still in his makeshift tent.

This provided a segué into their election coverage as Leo Varadkar was questioned about it on the campaign trail, and in his remarks he suggested a statement from the Lord Mayor of Dublin was appropriate. In response, Micheál Martin accused the Taoiseach of politicising the tragedy since the Mayor is currently from Fianna Fáil.

After watching the quotes from the two men I thought “this is typical – on a classic progressive issue here’s the two Civil War parties finding a way to argue over anything BUT the search for real solutions.”. But to be a little fair to our national broadcaster, for this topic they did at least broaden the scope of opinion.

We also heard from Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who outlined his party’s plans to allocate actual money to address the problem of homelessness by way of improved social housing. The problem with that, of course, is that it’s all very well saying what you;d do if your party held a majority in the Dáil, but the odds of that are slim and none.

Eamonn Ryan of the Greens also chimed in, saying that this was a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Finally Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin appeared more interested in having a pop at RTÉ (re exclusion from debates, something I’d agree with her on if that were the topic) rather than comment on the situation at hand, although it is very possible that the clip was selectively edited.

So no progressive opinion in this piece, although Independent Councillor Anthony Flynn was interviewed for his opinion on the unfortunate homeless man.

VERDICT

As far as I’m concerned, any kind of election coverage that looks for opinion beyond the “Big Two” parties is an achievement by the Irish corporate media. I’ll give them 6 out of 10 for this piece – I wonder will anyone score higher between now and February 8? JLP

Record-breaking hospital waiting lists left until late in RTÉ News broadcast, with little or no discussion #IrishMediaWatch

“The most frustrating part is that we know how to solve this problem: increase staffing and bed capacity, expand community care, and get going with the Sláintecare reforms. Instead, the HSE continues to enforce its rigid recruitment controls, starving hospitals and community services of the staff they need. Our members are rightly appalled by the conditions they are forced to work and care for patients in.”

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha
Trolley overcrowding 9% worse than any other year

To be clear from the outset, this is not a post about the Irish health service. I will do them from time to time on this site, but what I m more interested in is the coverage by the Irish Media, and that is my focus today, specifically that of RTÉ’s Nine O’Clock News on Thursday, January 2, 2020.

And before I get to that particular episode, I should probably make my feelings known about RTÉ in general. Of course I don’t have a problem with the existence of public service broadcaster, but I do believe that the Irish one is, shall we say, far from a shining example of how one should be organised. I am opposed to the continued charging of a license fee and I feel RTÉ tends to approach broadcasting from a perspective of what I call “elitist group-think”.

But all of that said, even I can’t complain about their lead story on their primetime (lower case ‘p’ so as not to be confused with their current affairs programme with an upper case) news show leading off with news of the untimely passing of Marian Finucane. She was well respected both inside and outside Montrose and this was definitely news to be leading off with even if wasn’t on RTÉ.

That said, I still have issues with the sequencing of stories on this particular half-hour broadcast. After an extensive report which chronicled Finucane’s career, there then followed coverage the Australian bush fires, talks in the north on the resumption of the Stormont Assembly, and the appointment of Hillary Clinton as ambassador of Queen’s University, all before the commercial break.

When they returned, there then followed a further segment on Finucane where anchor Eileen Dunne interviewed a former colleague. Personally I feel this was unnecessary. There will no doubt be several tributes on the network in the coming weeks and that would be the time for such interviews.

I feel that time could have been allotted to a more intensive discussion on a report released by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation which offered alarming statistics. Instead when they did get to the issue all they could fit in were brief quotes from representatives from the INMO and the Irish Patient’s Association (essentially saying “the numbers are bad”) as well as one from Minister for Health Simon Harris (essentially saying “when you look at it another way, the numbers aren’t so bad”).

Normally I am annoyed when an important topic such as this is covered with soundbytes from politicians representing just the government and the “opposition”, which these days is technically Fianna Fáil even though they are in what I call a “virtual coalition” with Fine Gael. But this report didn’t even have that.

In an ideal world, the Progressive viewpoint should always be heard when the topic is the public health service, as this is one of the movement’s main priorities. But even talking points from one of the so-called “principle left-wing” parties such as Sinn Féin and Labour would have done in my opinion. For the record, the piece on the RTÉ website follows a similar vein.

Maybe I’m alone in wanting the full range of debate on key national issues when it comes to our national broadcaster? But I think not.