PROFILE: HELEN DIXON
ROSE OF TRALEE FESTIVAL’S RED INK
Privacy advocates will no doubt celebrate following the Data Protection Commission (DPC) ruling on Public Service Cards. After many long years campaigning, a copy of Friday’s Irish Times would make a worthy souvenir, seeing as this most unsexy topic finally makes the front page.
The issue had been championed at the paper by journalists Karlin Lillington and Elaine Edwards, who were alive to concerns long before many playing catch up this weekend.
Lillington scored a bonus scalp last week when the DPC ruled that civil servants at the Department of Employment and Social Protection interfered with the independence of their Data Protection Officer. The successful complaint was made by the group, Digital Rights Ireland, on behalf of Lillington and the department now faces serious fines under GDPR.
Edwards, meanwhile, broke the story of a 70 year old woman denied her pension because of her refusal to be bullied into a card. The news triggered a shift in political momentum on the issue, famously leading Social Protection Minister, Regina Doherty, to claim that the card was “mandatory but not compulsory” to access public services.
Gender equality advocates at the paper, meanwhile, (See The Phoenix, 26/7/19) will hardly be impressed to see the work of two women culminating in a front page byline for Jack Hogan Jones.
Curious to see an Irish angle on the biggest story in American politics pass with scarce coverage. The news that George Mitchell is named in court documents as part of Jeffrey Epstein’s child trafficking trial will have come as a shock and the former US Senator denies “any contact” with Virginia Giuffre. The woman, now aged 35, alleges that Mitchell was among several high profile men she was “instructed to meet” while being used as ‘slave’ by the sex offender who was found dead in a New York prison on Saturday.
Mitchell, who has been conferred with something close to sainthood for his role in the peace process and ongoing participation in Irish affairs, is normally guaranteed extensive column inches but reaction here has been rather muted. In print, the Irish Independent was the sole paper to publish an article on the story while Mitchell is named only in passing amongst Epstein coverage at the Irish Times. The London Times obituary section by contrast also reports that Epstein was so “fascinated” with Mitchell’s work “in Northern Ireland and the Middle East that he wrote cheques for Mitchell’s philanthropic causes”. Which makes it all the more curious that the allegations received only the scantest acknowledgement during Radio One’s Today With Miriam O Callaghan on Monday where listeners were assured that Epstein knew many politicians.
There is no report on RTÉ.ie. The latest mention is an interview with Mitchell on the Second Captains show last month as part of the lad’s Greatest Non-Sportsperson Sportsperson series. A look on social media shows the national broadcaster’s US Correspondent, Brian O’Donovan also didn’t manage a tweet on the subject. The news broke last Friday, just as RTÉ’s former Washington reporter, Caitriona Perry, had announced her new book on Irish American politics.
JOSEPHA, SHANE, SHAY AND NEALE
SHAY BRENNAN’S win at the Fianna Fáil Dublin Rathdown convention last week is but a small step in the party’s seemingly hopeless quest to take back the seat held by his late father, political titan Seamus Brennan, a TD and minister for decades.
The real question in Rathdown is what will happen to the Fine Gael general election vote and the performance of minister Josepha Madigan and Senator Neale Richmond as well as minister Shane Ross.
JOAN BURTON’S LAST STAND
THE SUNDAY INDEPENDENT was kind to former Labour leader, Joan Burton, in its recent front page splash about tens of thousands of pensioners being deprived of thousands of Euro each due to a measure taken by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition government in 2012.
The cut in pensioners’ income was made by the Labour minister for social protection, namely, Joan Burton, who decided that women who took time off work to have babies should have their pensions cut. Strangely, the Sindo did not identify Burton as the minister responsible. Burton was one of those Labour leaders that made great play about women’s rights in and outside the home but she also cut benefits for lone parents of children when they reached seven years (it had been 14).
The recent executions in Bahrain of three Shi’ite activists were met with opprobrium from human rights groups and civil unrest in the Middle Eastern kingdom. One member of the country’s royal family, Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, has some interesting Irish connections and for him the timing was not good.
PAT HICKEY’S MEDAL RUN
IT IS not surprising that the photo of former Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) boss Pat Hickey having a chinwag with his good friend, Sport Ireland chairman Kieran Mulvey, set alarm bells ringing in OFI HQ. The main players here – notably president Sarah Keaneand vice president Sarah O’Shea – are anxious that Hickey remains far outside the arena.
PROFILE: FEARGAL PURCELL
Feargal Purcell was back in the news last month following an explosive Dáil row over the Climate Emergency Bill. The Fine Gael handler turned lobbyist has been increasingly active on behalf of the fossil fuel industry and with a supporting role in several sensitive policy dramas, the former spin doctor is continuing a habit of making headlines.
The Kilkenny native joined the Defence Forces as a cadet at the age of seventeen and spent almost twenty years an officer, serving abroad in Bosnia and the Lebanon. On completion of a Masters in Communications, Commandant Purcell took a post in the army press room where he became a familiar face as spokesman during preparations for the deployment in Chad.
From there it was only short march to the elite corps of Fine Gael where he became deputy head of communications in 2008.
TIMMY DOOLEY’S DEMISE
TIMMY DOOLEY’S public dressing down by his boss, Micheál Martin, for his unpatriotic remarks on the Taoiseach as he confronted the old foe, represent the final demise of the front bencher that once stood at Martin’s right hand.
Dooley is a victim of the new wave that Martin promoted in his March reshuffle but the writing was on the wall before then. When Fianna Fáil was on the floor during Enda Kenny’s huge coalition majority and regime, Martin relied heavily on TDs, Dooley and Billy Kelleher. But the 2016 resurgence saw the gradual rise of new factions around Martin.
FINE GAEL’S BAD MARKS
LEAVING CERT STUDENTS awoke to more than just a hangover this morning as reality dawned on life under the country’s first “Trinity Taoiseach”. While parents count the spiralling costs of third level, Fine Gael lined up to dish out a few hard lessons of their own.
Education Minister, Joe McHugh, yesterday helpfully suggested that there are other options for students who, despite achieving the necessary points, will be denied an opportunity to attend university for no other reason than runaway costs. McHugh was quick to wash his hands of responsibility, pinning the blame for rising accommodation costs on universities themselves. This is despite the fact that Fine Gael had until this May avoided bringing student specific accommodation into line with rent caps and meagre safeguards afforded to private tenants since 2015.
Varadkar’s government have presided over an explosion of student accommodation across Dublin’s inner city where, in several cases, state owned lands have been sold to multinational investment firms extracting eye watering rents. Property speculation has been encouraged with a suite of exemptions from tax, minimum building standards and requirements for social housing. Most importantly, developers had free rein on rent increases with the Union of Students Ireland (USI) reporting year on year hikes of up to 30% in some cases. For those priced out of the capital, McHugh’s suggestion of “regional options” comes too little too late when similar price hikes for even the most basic accommodation have spread to Sligo, Waterford and Carlow.
Meanwhile, in a certain sign of coordinated spin, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, the Minister of State for Higher Education, has also distanced government from any blame, expressing “disappointment” that chronically underfunded universities have increased accommodation costs. Nevertheless, the Dún Laoghaire TD recommends that students can use SUSI funding to cover rent. A grant slashed during the bailout and without increase since 2012.
So much for the “republic of opportunity”.
NOT SO CANNEY
Bono and Mary Robinson are among he famous faces wheeled out as part of Ireland’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council (see The Phoenix 29/7/2018). But Ireland lost a lot of face at the UN last month when the hypocrisy of Leo Varadkar’s Government on climate action was exposed to a packed audience of international diplomats.
Almost everything Ireland now does at the UN is done with next year’s election to the Security Council in mind. A key election strategy is championing “intergenerational dialogue on climate action” at UN level. Yes, Sean he Government is presenting Ireland to the world’s parliament as a champion of climate dialogue, while blockingour own parliament from debating Brid Smith’s Climate Emergency Measures Bill, which had majority Dáil support.
On July 16 in New York, junior ministers Sean Canney and Katherine Zappone were he headline speakers at an “Intergenerational Dialogue”, co-hosted by Ireland, on “the role of youth and civil society in climate action”.
Oddly, there was no role on the extensive panel for Irish youth or civil society, despite at least four candidates being in the room and volunteering themselves in advance.
Canney – who last May issued oil and gas exploration licences days after the Dáil had declared a climate emergency – said Ireland was playing a blinder on climate dialogue, citing his boss Richard Bruton’s series of ‘town hall meetings’. The town hall meetings – like almost everything Fine Gael does on climate – are PR stunts. With a carefully selected guest list, they are not publicly advertised – for the same reason campaigners were excluded from the New York panel, namely because they would expose the Government’s hypocrisy.
But that’s exactly what one of the Irish NGO reps did from the floor, once Canney’s greenwash had finished. She read out a statement from school climate strikers’ group, Fridays For Future Ireland, explaining that Irish youth climate groups were not consulted about this “intergenerational dialogue” event and that Bruton’s “weak and inadequate” Climate Action Plan had failed to implement the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations (Canney had cited the assembly as evidence of Ireland’s exemplary climate dialogue).
Irish officials who had carefully choreographed the event were livid. It was the students’ last line, “The Government thinks the place for young people in climate action is outside with a placard,” that enraged them most. “Who are these people!?” one of the officials fumed. Indeed. How dare students make their voice heard at an intergenerational dialogue?
The New York event was a promo of sorts for an even bigger UN electioneering shindig Ireland will co-host there on September 21 – a Youth Climate Summit. Fear of further embarrassment may force the Governmentactually talk to some stakeholders.
YOUNG BLOOD: LISA DUFFYFrom tiny boutique owner to red carpet designer and Instagram influencer, fashionista Lisa Duffy (39) has been one of the more compelling Irish success stories of the social media era. But has the sudden collapse of two companies in her Cari’s Closet group put an... Read more »
PROFILE: PAUL KEHOEPAUL KEHOE, minister with special responsibility for defence and former Fine Gael chief whip, has become one of the latest government whipping boys in another sense, ie as the target for unprecedented anger in the pauperised ranks of the Defence Forces. But Kehoe’s problems are... Read more »
‘MACHO BOYS CLUB’ AT THE ‘IRISH TIMES’THE MOST shocking news likely to be (not) reported in the Irish Times for years is the document drawn up by women in the paper’s newsroom and which alleges a catalogue of sexist behaviour, bullying and discrimination. The incendiary document was researched by social affairs... Read more »
VARADKAR’S UNTAPPED RESOURCESLeo Varadkar’s decision to ignore a request for gender balanced European Commission nominations prove that there are, at least, some occasions when Fine Gael find the courage to give two fingers to the bureaucrats in Brussels. An Taoiseach pointed to parliament Vice President Máiréad McGuinness... Read more »
PROFILE: MICHEÁL MARTIN
SUDDENLY, after three years of being widely mocked as Leo Varadkar’s pussycat and pilloried by his own members for refusing to fight the Blueshirts, Micheál Martin appears to be vindicated. The polls are beginning to show Fianna Fáil edging ahead of Fine Gael and a real poll – the local elections – reflected that lead. Martin’s strategy, derided by his critics, has been almost childish in its simplicity: if Leo is left in office for long enough, the shine will wear off him.
Childish or not, it appears to be working.
YOUNG BLOODS: SEÁN MCLOUGHLIN
BIG PHIL’S PAYBACK FROM LEO
SARAH O’SHEA’S FOOTBALL SKILLS
PROFILE: ENDA O’COINEEN
EYEBROWS WERE raised last weekend when Enda O’Coineen’s name was linked to a possible acquisition of the RTÉ Guide. But the deal makes sense; the Galway man is beefing up the Sunday Business Post for a possible flotation – in Sweden – and the profitable RTÉ Guide would make the business a more attractive proposition. Is there method to O’Coineen’s scatter-gun media business strategy?
YOUNG BLOOD: JAMES GEOGHEGAN
FIANNA FAIL’S ELECTION BEEF
FIANNA FAIL’s claims that the Mercosur Deal – a trade deal between the EU and a host of South American countries – signals a potential “death knell” for the Irish beef industry is further evidence that the party are moving from the posture of ‘mature opposition’ and toward a combative election footing.
The mood among farmers has taken an increasingly apocalyptic turn in recent years as prices are squeezed, Brexit looms and extreme weather takes its toll. This sense of doom is further nurtured by opposition TDs and regular headlines announcing ‘the death of rural Ireland’.
HELEN DIXON IN ISRAEL
THERE WILL be further questions about the nature of Helen Dixon’s watchdog status following a recent speech at Tel Aviv University. The Irish Data Protection Commissioner was in Israel on Thursday to deliver a keynote lecture during ‘Cyber Week’, a joint initiative of the Israeli university, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s office.
Israeli PM Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu himself was present on Wednesday to propagandise about the country’s technical prowess as a “start up nation” and “global cyber power”. This national trophy industry has suffered a reputational blow in recent months when NSO Group, a firm with deep Israeli state links, famed for its phone hacking software, was implicated in the high profile murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
KATE O’CONNELL AND MARIA BAILEY
SIMON COVENEY’S OPTICS
HERMANN KELLY VS SINN FÉIN
GENDER NEUTRAL ‘PANIC’
THE ANNUAL school uniform panic came a few months early this year with the news that a primary school in Wicklow will introduce a ‘gender neutral policy’ from September. That St Brigid’s in Greystones will allow students to wear the uniform they wish is not so much a remarkable story in itself.
The Department of Education Action Plan on Bullying, published in 2013, notes that schools “need to appreciate how difficult it can be for LGBT young people to speak up about homophobic bullying” and develop strategies to combat such bullying.
Gender neutral uniforms, then, are just one element of Irish schools attempting to foster a safer environment for students. The same, however, cannot be said for much of the media in 2019.
FRANCES FITZGERALD’S PRIDE
FRANCES FITZGERALD was to the front on Thursday as the Oireachtas launched an LGBT group for members and staff at Leinster House. With Dublin Pride this weekend, the former justice minister was, as always, keen to capitalise on cuddly liberal credentials, but her time in charge tells a very different story.
With homosexuality still remaining illegal or fatally stigmatised in many countries, LGBT asylum seekers nonetheless face a hostile welcome under the regime that Fitzgerald presided over for three years.
VARADKAR TO BAIL OUT BAILEY?
SOC DEMS TARGET EIGHT DÁIL SEATS
LYRA McKEE EXPOSÉ
HACKS ‘BLOOD’ FEUD
TWO PROMINENT Irish post holders in the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) have become embroiled in the offensive against British Labour Party Palestinian supporters and have targeted an elderly Muslim woman on the NUJ (UK & Ireland) national executive.
The thrust of the British Labour and media campaign against Palestinian supporters is that any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic. NUJ executive member Arjum Wajid tweeted a post criticising two Jewish Labour MPs and a third party member for their pro-Israeli outlook, saying they did not “have a conscience” and I “don’t know what runs through their veins, not human blood”. This tweet was posted within hours of Israeli air strikes across the Gaza strip last August that killed a pregnant woman and her 18-month-old daughter. British Labour’s anti-Jeremy Corbyn faction has claimed the tweet is anti-semitic as it is allegedly inspired by medieval anti-semitism.
VLAD TO EUROPE?
WITH TOP JOBS at the European Commission, Council and Central Bank to fill, readers of the Financial Times may have been surprised to see Leo Varadkar’s name in the mix.
A post-election impasse in Brussels reportedly has European Parliament groupings looking for compromise candidates and the paper claims that Vlad is among the “options discussed by EPP”.