The Magic of John Feeney

"To be the medium for possibly malicious lies about a group or individual seems very chancey indeed"- John Feeney. Evening Herald, 11 May 1983

On Wednesday December 7 there was a reception to launch "The Boss", the book on Charles Haughey by Joe Joyce and Peter Murtagh.

John Feeney from the Evening Herald was there. He wrote about the reception in his Ad Lib column. Only Albert Was There To Launch "The Boss", said the main headline. The report said that AIbert Reynolds was the only Fianna Fail TD to attend the launch. "It was not a safe place for FF people. . . the absence of politicians was embarrassing . . . there was a deathly unease at the launch - attended by almost one hundred journalists and no politicians."

The report was wrong, wildly wrong. There was no unease, deathly or otherwise. Ray Burke was there and Jim Tunney, and Michael Woods - more politicians than usually turn up for a book launch.

Not that it matters. No one gets too excited any more when John Feeney gets things wrong. It isn't important when he takes an inaccuracy and builds a story onto it, adding drama, intrigue, controversy. After all, it's only Feeney. He's just doing a job, selling papers.

It should be said that any journalist would be vulnerable to a systematic search through the files in pursuit of inaccuracies. We have not done that. The stories dealt with later on in this article come from a handful of Heralds saved at the time of the November 1982 election and another handful randomly collected over the summer, plus the odd story here and there that was brought to our attention.

A couple of weeks prior to the writing of this story Magill received a letter from Feeney's solicitor. We were not to write anything which would suggest that Mr Feeney was unfit for his trade, profession or calling. Of course not. Research indicates that there is probably no journalist in Ireland more fit for the job for which he was hired.

1. A Hard Man
Joy Hoyes is a whiz-kid. His job is to market the newspaper produced from independent house. Within that company he is regarded with the kind of awe that used to be reserved for who did things like invent the wheel or tear telephone books apart with their bare hands. Joe Hayes is a hard man.

In July 1980 Joe hayes produced an eight page confidential report on the Evening Herald, its strengths and weaknesses, its past and future. The report set out no journalistic targets or aspirations. It saw the paper, its problems and their solutions, in purely financial terms. "Our objective is to realise the maximum financial return from our paper on an ongoing trading basis within the existing competitive environment. Hayes noted that "a mixture of incompetence, laziness and ignorance exists which in many areas, presents a real management challenge". What was needed was a package which would outsell the Evening Press and attract advertising. In 1979 the Herald bad pulled in about £2,350,000 in advertising revenue, but the Press had tamed an estimated £1,800,000 more than that. Only in drink and cigarette adverts (where the Herald had the advantage of the facility for colour printing) and in the "births and deaths" columns was the Herald beating the Press.

Research showed that straight news in reporting is no longer the determining factor in the choice of which evening newspapers people buy. Most people get the latest news from TV. What was needed was a move to "magazine type ingredients", as well as a change to a tabloid format. There should be more on what Hayes called "the TV stars glamour world", more on sport and on entertainment. Less sensationalism as "the Irish character" in "an over¬whelming majority of instances has shied away from extremes of approach in any area.

Hayes was concerned with "image relationship", The Herald's image, he wrote, must henceforth change from "Dublin Jemsers" to "Dublin on the ball". Hayes wrote: "By massaging this package of ingredients and develo¬ping appropriate advertising we must create the perception that the Herald is more alive/modern, more entertain¬ing, more attractive and brighter than the Evening Press.”

Hayes had a number of suggestions. For instance, news stories would be treated, "from a balanced middle class perspective". This would pull in more readers from the A B social categories and boost advertising. "We do not need to be overly concerned with existing down market readers ¬many of these are older and loyal."

2. The Origins of Ad Lib

At the top of the Hayes list of priorities was "to develop our Social Diary - either towards the Chairman's style - or allow Martin, if he demonstrates his ability, to develop a Nigel Dempster style column".

This needs some translation. The social diary is the piece of dreck, usually in the middle of the paper, which traditionally is a litany of the boring things that boring people have been doing recently - attending dances or announcing the invention of a better mousetrap, or whatever. It is usually decorated with "bird pics". The reporter goes to various events and takes down the names of the boring people managing in many cases to actually spell the name right.

The photographer gets several of the women present to say "cheese" and snaps their smiles, (it doesn't matter if the women snapped have nothing to do with the event being covered, as long as their noses are straight and they have all their teeth. PR firms usually bring along several women with straight noses solely for the purpose of being photographed.) The rationale is that the boring people will buy the paper to see their names and pictures, even when their names and pictures are not in it they will buy the paper just in case, or to see the other boring people so that they'll know who's in their set. The traditional social diary is merely a variation of the marketing practice of printing pictures of football teams or of crowds of children who have just made their First Communion. They and their relatives will buy probably several copies.

For some reason the social diary is regarded as a plumb job. It ensures lashings of free drink. However, editors are never satisfied with the way social diaries are done and all feel they could do it better themselves.

The Chairman's style that Hayes refers to is the form of social diary peddled by the Sunday World, made up of gossip of the guess-who-I-saw-¬at-Samantha's type, naming as many business people as possible. The Nigel Dempster style is a British type gossip column, a who's-¬been-sleeping-in-who's-bed done in the best possible taste (ie without attrac¬ting libel suits).

The Martin referred to is Seamus Martin. At the time, the Herald had a traditional social diary, Town Talk, written by Mary Glennon. On the same page there was a livelier column, Ad Lib, written by Seamus Martin. Already there was a move towards providing a more readable social diary, making it more than a marketing device and of some interest to the general reader. Martin had been brought in to provide some humour. Hayes was suggesting that Martin be pushed towards a gossip column style. The swashbuckling Vinnie Doyle was then editor of the Herald and he too, of course, wanted a more juicy type of column. Seamus Martin is a solid reporter with an interest in sports, and a nice line in humour - he is not the first that would jump to mind as the person to tip-toe through society's tulips, picking up tit-bits about people's sexual and social idiosyncracies.

However, there was another repor¬ter tramping the Abbey Street grapes to produce Vin Independent - John Feeney - who was perhaps more suitable. Feeney was a general reporter writing for the Herald and Indepen¬dent. He was then doing the Backchat column for the Sunday Independent. Over the next few months, as Joe Hayes's plans went into effect, there were several changes. Vinnie Doyle was sent to edit the Independent and Niall Hanley was promoted to edit the Herald. Seamus Martin received a phone call from John Mulcahy, who was about to launch the Sunday Tribune, and happily departed from Abbey Street to become sports editor of the new paper. Town Talk was dropped and Ad Lib became the diary page. John Feeney was drafted in to turn Ad Lib into one of the bright, attractive ingredients which could be "massaged".

3. Radical Froth

In 1980 John Feeney was a man with a great past in front of him. He had come to national prominence in the late Sixties as an angry young man on the Late Late Show. His claim to fame was his involvement in the rather noisy student politics of the time, the froth on the late Sixties wave of radicalism.

Feeney is still remembered with some affection among some veterans of that period for his role in organi¬sing support for the long cement strike. He was good at rousing a crowd to militancy. One contemporary re¬members his favourite war cry as, "First, what're we gonna do - then, how're we gonna justify it afterwards!" He led the Student Christian Move¬ment, a body that took the Vatican Council seriously and was thus to the left of the Irish hierarchy. He flirted with several left wing strands from trotskyism to stalinism, eclectic and superficial in his politics but apparent¬ly sincere in his support of the under¬dog.

His contemporaries are less kind in their recollection of his personal qualities. They say he lacked loyalty. One incident is recalled in which several student leaders, including Feeney, faced disciplinary proceedings and decided collectively not to recog¬nise the disciplinary procedure. Feeney came along equipped with a senior counsel. His breaking of ranks and running back to the shelter of the defences provided by his upper middle class background sense of betrayal that still rankles.

The radical phase didn't last long. It had been fun, but the sons and daughters of the rich had careers to forge. Feeney entered journalism through Nusight, a current affairs magazine, and thus became a protege of Vincent Browne. This is now known in certain circles as Browne's First Mistake. From there Feeney went to This Week, another magazine. His subsequent career was low key. He worked for RTE briefly and edited the Catholic Standard during the mid-Seventies. He wrote a number of insightful articles for Hibernia on the politics of the Catholic church.

But it was a mundane career for one who had sparkled so brightly so few years before. He had stood apart from the herd, always leading his own little band of acolytes, never becoming part of the broader mass. He again tried for a special status, that of book publisher, editing a collection of Hugh Leonard's lesser witticisms and producing some other minor pieces. Feeney tried his hand as an author, producing one novel and a volume of short stories, plus a biography of Archbishop McQuaid.
The novel, Worm Friday, is certainly. worth reading, in the light of Feeney's subsequent career.

4. Worm Friday

As a novel, Worm Friday is an honourable disaster. The struc¬ture is amateurish and the characters no more than names on a page. The writing is woeful, ("Anne, as she looked into his eyes, saw that there were depths in his brown eyes and a mind revealing itself which looked at nothing but was suffering with the horrors of Irish society") Woeful. Feeney's attention seems to wander from time to time - a character named Kevin Connolly suddenly be¬comes Peter Connolly in mid-para¬graph; he remains so for another four paragraphs and then is suddenly re-baptised as Kevin.

Yet there is a desperate sincerity in the book. The central character, John Polland, is a TV journalist working for a 7 Days-type programme at RTE (Feeney worked for 7 Days for a while). He is a former socialist, struggling to establish a reputation as a journalist. The novel deals with a few days in which Polland has his big chance to make his name - but must sell out his old comrades in the process. Nervously, he begins the project, dredging up his old radical passions and mocking them, hating himself but confident that this is a necessary step in the building of his career so that he can expose "the horrors of Irish society". Polland's project is aborted by a combination of RTE politics and his own self¬ hate. He is bounced from RTE and staggers home pledging to carry on the fight ("He'd start again, develop a reputation for honesty, criticise the Station from without, bring up the issues in the papers. . . a prophet is not heard in his own land. . . the man of principle who gave up the dinners and the glamour for prin¬ciple. His time would come. . .") and suddenly plunges into despair ("looking into the void of a million stupidities and mistakes he could say nothing"). End of story, house lights up, hankies out.

The book is for some indefinable reason riddled with religious imagery. The portrayal of the radical milieu is daft and unreal. But Polland is all too real. A sad, confused figure with ambition beyond his abilities. He despises his colleagues ("so alike, and so spineless") but envies their success. He despises the working class ("mindless ants") but agonises wIth guilt about his own privileged background. He despises his old com¬rades ("these weird, silly people") but longs for the excitement and faith of his radical days.

He despises Irish society ("nobody prepared to risk the agony and loneliness for prin¬ciple") but longs for its acclaim. Most of all, he despises himself (". . . he knew he was a stinker who had be¬trayed the Left. And he hated himself because he wanted to love the Faith he intellectually scorned, and he felt proud of being Irish even though he despised its smallness and its people").

Worm Friday may be inept and worthless as a novel, but the depiction of Polland is, whether Feeney inten¬ded it to be so or not, a long, painful honest scream of guilt and confusion.

The novel is not necessarily auto¬biographical and Polland not neces¬sarily Feeney. However, Feeney was at that time honestly if hopelessly at¬tempting to establish himself as anauthor and the themes of guilt and betrayal which he was sincerely trying to work out in fictional form were obviously heartfelt.That was 1974. By the end of the Seventies Feeney was a minor fish in the brackish waters of the Indo, anonymous, unacclaimed. This was about to change. Over the next couple of years he would become a household name, famous for his unflinching recording of the foibles and idiosyn¬cracies of the famous. His writingwould still be dull and woeful, his style derivative and badly handled. But his network of sources, his ability to get the inside story on the rich and prominent, would be unmatched. Or so it seemed.

5. The Dubs, Old Blue Eyes and the Miracle of Monaco

Last October the Dublin GAA supporters' Club had a celebration hoolie in the Green Isle Hotel, with the Wolfe Tones providing the music. The occasion, in the wake of the controversial Dublin performance in the All-Ireland, had all the makings of a Joe Hayes special. Newsy, big names, controversy - just the kind of thing for the brighter, more entertaining Herald of Dublin on the ball. Feeney, of course, covered the event in Ad Lib. He described a noisy, rowdy affair. Trouble was, Feeney covered the hoolie a week before it happened."I was wrong", he says, "I was wrong and I said so straight out - I put in an apology". The matter re¬mains in the hands of the solicitors.For Feeneywatchers, the Dubs story was no big surprise. By now, something of a game has developed, Spot The Cock-up, as Feeney attempts to liven up the Herald. In a small country it is difficult to maintain a flow of bright gossip about "the TV stars glamour world" and the like. There just isn't that much of it. But it was what the boss wanted and it was making John Feeney rich andlfamous. By now he was the Herald's star performer, promoted as "the column they always read first". Radio adverts extolling the nastiness of "Mean John Feeney" were pumpedout. Feeney was now a household name and one of the biggest earners in Independent House. Feeney had started out with the intention of writing a lively column, attacking the bureaucrats and the politicians ("the man of principle who gave up the dinners and the glamour for principle, His time would come. "). Early on, they spiked his political stories, but as the column became more popular he could do what he liked.

In September 1982 Princess Grace of Monaco died from injuries received in a car crash. A couple of years earlier there would have been no question of sending the writer of a social diary to cover such a story - a reporter would have got the job. Prior to the build. up of Ad Lib the journalists on the social diary had seldom been able to travel even down the country to cover a festival. But this story had everything: a dead princess, a mysterious accident, Hollywood stars, gambling, Talk about "the TV stars glamour world. . ."The Monaco story had everything - and Frank Sinatra. Feeney wrote: "The fierce rows that had taken place in Hotel de Paris until dawn - included Mr and Mrs Frank Sinatra who in my presence argued about seating arrangements with Grimaldi officials "

Funnily enough, everyone else was reporting that Sinatra, an old friend of the deceased, hadn't gone to the funeral. Asked at the time to explain Sinatra's miraculous bilocation, out of the country yet in Feeney's presence, Feeney told Magill that "I was there when that happened. . . I saw him arguing. . ." He then amended this to say that Sinatra had been on the phone, ringing from "a nearby hotel" and arguing with an organiser who was in Feeney's presence. Asked recently about the story, Feeney denied making those comments to Magill. He now says he got the story from a local paper.

One way or another, it was a beaut. But it sold papers. Who wants to read the Evening Press social diary and find out about boring people going to a dance when they can read in the Herald about Feeney rubbing shoulders with Old Blue Eyes in Monaco? Far from being annoyed by the story, Feeney's bosses saw things "on an ongoing trading basis within the exis. ting competitive environment" and a year later Feeney was in Monaco again to cover the scene on the first anniversary of the death of the princess. One of the most famous lines attributed to Frank Sinatra concerns reporters ant heir habits: "All day long they lie in the sun. And when the sun goes down they lie some more."

6. The Jogger and the Bouncing Cheques

Conor Cruise O'Brien lives in Howth. He often goes for a walk around Howth Head on Sunday mornings. On November 26 1982 John Feeney wrote that "Conor is considering giving up his walks ¬because twice lately he has had un¬pleasant rendezvous with Rose (Dug¬dale), attired in jogging gear, in the open spaces of Howth head".

This is a typical Feeney technique. It brings prominent names into a quirky story that just might be true - and if it's not, no one will be too upset. Again, the Evening Press is writing about boring people, but Feeney has the inside track on the foibles of the famous.

Conor Cruise O'Brien says the story is not true. He walks when he wants to walk. He has never seen Rose Dugdale while out walking. He knows what she looks like, says she's a striking-looking person and he'd know if he had seen her. He hasn't. "It's true", says Feeney, He might deny it, but it's true. I don't see why he'd deny it, but it's true," Feeney says he has a source.

Sometimes Feeney's allegations are not so trivial. Four days after the jogger story Feeney wrote a story headed "Those RTE cheques". It reported a denial by RTE "that the Chairman of RTE is about to issue a memorandum say¬ing that the organisation's pay cheques may not be honoured", Ad Lib, wrote Feeney, "did not say that". But Ad Lib did. In the same column in which the jogger story appeared, Feeney had written that a memorandum from Fred O'Donovan was "on the way". It warned, he said, "that the next monthly RTE cheques may bounce". O'Donovan's memo would state "quite clearly that there is no money - RTE cannot guarantee cheques from three weeks hence", Feeney was blunt: "RTE literally has been warned by its bankers about the future solvency of its cheques". Without government action "RTE will have to either see some pay cheques bounce or close Radio na Gaeltachta or Radio One after lunchtime". All the story needed was another name from the "TV stars glamour world". So, imagine the mayhem if superstars like Mike Murphy got calls from their bank managers that their pay cheques were in ques¬tion'.

It was a very serious allegation to make. Having to print RTE's denial, Feeney got himself out of a corner simply by denying that Ad Lib had run such a story. He had merely said, he claimed, that the memo warned that without a licence fee increase "there would be pressure on wages ¬which of course would mean lay-offs and cutbacks on freelancers rather than dishonoured cheques". He dis¬owned his own story.

7. Corruption, Homosexuality, Snobbery and Treachery

The line between getting a story wrong and inventing a story is sometimes hard to discern. Most journalists make mistakes - getting names wrong, misinterpreting details. Memories lapse, notes are misread, sources misled. Mostly such errors are occasional and inadvertent. Despite popular belief, journalistic inaccuracy more often arises from mistakes than from malice. Feeney's stories usually have a core of truth. Something happened. Some¬where. It's hard to tell to what extent the following story is a result of error, misleading information or invention. It appeared in Ad Lib on November 25 1982, the day before the jogger and RTE cheques story.

RTE backed the British Foreign Office quite bluntly last night, Controller of Programmes John Kelleher barred, on behalf of the Authorty, an item on "Women Today". The item was an interview with a well known author about the British secret police and Foreign Office. It was taped by Ann Daly, the gifted presenter of the programme, in Leeds recently. It was a blunt expose of the homosexuality, corruption, snobbery and treachery rampant in the British upper echelons.

What happened was this. Ann Dily was in England and chanced to get an interview with Ron Smith, father of Helen Smith - the English nurse who died in controversial circumstances in Saudi Arabia. Smith is an obsessive man who has made great sacrifices in an epic campaign to determine the truth of his daughter's death. The interview lasted about 45 minutes. Smith is very blunt and has no hesitation in naming the Foreign Office officials he believes covered up the truth. The legal de¬partment in RTE was worried about the interview and believed that it would be wrong to broadcast accusations of such conduct without sub¬stantiating evidence. The interview, therefore, was not used. A section of it, about five minutes, was subsequent¬ly carried on Day By Day. So far, normal conscientious journalistic prac¬tice. Feeney obviously didn't know or didn't care who had been inter¬viewed. The anonymous "well known author", later referred to as a "well known investigator", just might have been meant to refer to Paul Foot, who wrote a book on the Smith case. Ann Daly had not interviewed Foot or any "well known author".

Since Feeney didn't know who the interviewee was he was hardly in a position to know what was on the tape. So, the homo¬sexuality, snobbery etc, may have been thrown in for spice. Likewise the reference to the "secret police". So far, everything wrong. Feeney then employs his usual technique of bringing a prominent name into the story, and that of John Kelleher is pulled out of the air. Kelleher was then Controller of Programmes for television. He had no responsibility for radio and was not involved "on behalf of the Authority" or anyone else.

From such straws was made the brick to throw at RTE, and the serious and dramatic allegation that "RTE backed the British Foreign Office" in concealing corruption.

8. Gemma Hussey Makes a List

Politicians are fair game. They are paid massive amounts of public money and must be held accountable. Most journalists are only too happy to catch politicians doing things they shouldn't be doing. John Feeney catches them doing things they didn't do. Garret FitzGerald has a son called Mark. Mark got married this year and the FitzGeralds threw a party. Feeney wasn't at the party, but he knew all about it. He had "a source". Feeney wrote of the party and described it in flowery terms - it was held in a specially erected marquee in the back garden. Gemma Hussey was there, talking intimately to Alan Dukes. Trouble is, Garret FitzGerald's back garden is tiny. There was no marquee.

Gemma Hussey wasn't at the party, she was busy that night. "She was invited", says Feeney. Feeney had a string of stories about Hussey, most of them casting her in a bad light. So annoyed was Hussey that she drew up a list of the stories, with one column describing Feeney's tales and another column her explanation that the stories weren't true. She circulated the list to col¬leagues in an attempt to redeem her reputation. In one story Feeney had Hussey tripping off on holidays when in fact she was at work. He had her visiting Marbella, "playground of the rich", and dropping in on Maeve -Hillery's holiday home. Hussey says she has never visited Marbella in her life, never met Maeve Hillery either, Feeney stands by his stories, says he has "a source".

He described Hussey joining a delegation from residents of Temple Road, where she lives, to protest about noisy building work nearby. Hussey says she was on no delegation. Someone from Hussey's household was, riposted Feeney. There are two families living in the Hussey house - if someone from either was on a protest Hussey doesn't know about it.

In the course of slagging Hussey, Feeney, man of the people, sneered at the "very wealthy", "upper middle classes" of the "tranquil, treelined Victorian homes of Temple Road". Feeney was raised on Temple Road and his upper middle class family still lives there.

9. The Yearlings

There is evidence that Feeney's inaccuracies fire born more of error than of malice. Earlier this year he appeared as a witness in a court case taken by publican Dessie Hynes against Alexis FitzGerald the former TD. It was the famous "shed" cast and Feeney gave evidence of remarks that FitzGerald had made. Six months later Feeney wrote a story which referred back to the shed case. The case had lasted four days and Feeney was there for at least two, yet in his story he four times refers to the "High Court" case (it was in the Circuit Court) and twice refers to "Judge Doyle" (the judge, to whom Feeney, ¬gave evidence, was Noel Ryan).

Not that one has to look far to find the malice in Feeney's writing. One target is the left wing of politics, where Feeney had his brief moment of glory. The leader of the Greater London Council, for instance, is described f as "Red Ken Livingstone, the pro-Lesbian, Trotskyite abortionist exhibitionist"

Tony Gregory received sympathetic if somewhat exaggerated coverage prior to his election to the Dail. Since his election Feeney has printed a stream of articles showing Gregory in a bad light, without ever checking'with Gregory. The change of bean occurred when Gregory's vote kepI Charles Haughey in office. Perhaps the worst example of the abuse of Gregory came on November 16 of this year, in a piece in which it was said that Gregory dislikes the Worken' Party "because of their hostility to sectarian murder in the North". The clear implication that Gregory supports sectarian murder brings Feeney closer to the wind than he usually likes to travel.

Feeney also uses the column to work out obscure personal feuds - For instance, he has abused Brian Trench, a journalist with the Sunday Tribune, for a number of years, constantly pecking and gouging. Trench, who has never used his position as a journalist to answer the personal sniping, is these days casually and regularly referred to by Feeney as Brian Stench. The latest dig concerned Trench's failure to turn up to an RTE charity event or to phone to say he wasn't coming. As it happened, Trench was attending a hospital at the time, having a plaster cast applied to his arm. A phone call could have established that. Instead, the Stench abuse was wheeled out again.

Charlie Haughey hardly hails from the left, but he has become one of Feeney's regular targets. Sometimes it is mere sniping, occasionally Feeney has a story. Like the story of August 24 of this year on "Charlie's big killing to keep wolf from the door". Haughey had three yearlings for sale at the Ballsbridge Yearling sale. Feeney got two shots at the story, rejigging it and running it again on September I as "C.J. 's horses to fetch £200,000". Demonstrating an ignorance of the horse trade, Feeney's story was that Haughey was about to get £200,000 for the three yearlings. Feeney rambled on about Haughey and his island in the Blaskets, using the £200,000 horses as a hook to hang the stories on. Racing writer Valentine lamb, reporting on the sales, pointed out that the three yearlings fetched a total of 6,300 guineas between them. Lamb described Feeney's story as “quite the most amazing piece of in¬accurate journalism I have ever read ".

10. Fighting Back

Some people complain, try to get a correction. Liam Kavanagh, Minister for Labour, did. Feeney, whose own command of writing tech¬niques is far from exemplary, insti¬sted a "Pseud of The Week" award, an idea copied from Private Eye. One week he awarded this honour to Liam Kavanagh for a passage supposedly written by the Minister. It was a poorly done technical explanation of an AnCO initiative.

Kavanagh says that while he atten¬ded the launching of the initiative he never formally spoke. His office says there was no speech released. Kava¬nagh wrote to Feeney pointing out that the passage Feeney had quoted was actually "part of an AnCO infor¬mation note on the projects". Instead of correcting his original story, Feeney improved on it. Liam did not merit award, read the headline. He ex¬plained that Kavanagh was not to blame for the "awful pompous prose". What happened, Feeney explained, was that "some civil servant had tagged an AnCO information note on to the end of a speech he was making in Wicklow". Nobody tagged anything onto any¬thing. The awful prose which Feeney complained of came at the end of page two of a five-page AnCO press release. This was printed on AnCO stationery, white with a purple heading, totally distinguishable from the format in which Ministerial speeches are re¬leased. "Some head", wrote Feeney, "should roll for this".

11. The Political Thinker

One of the left-wingers involved in supporting the long-ago cement strike remembers that the Drogheda workers were so impressed with Feeney's help and sincerity that they discussed asking him to stand for a Dail seat in Louth on a Labour ticket. Feeney doesn't recall being asked but finds the idea amusing. Had anything come of it he would now probably be leader of the Labour Party.

Feeney has always, he says, voted Labour. His politics now are "I'll say Social Democrat. Nobody knows what it means!" Unlike other social diarists he takes a persistent interest in politics, He clearly fancies himself as a political analyst, giving his readers inside stories based on his impeccable sources. In predicting the make-up of the Coalition Cabinet last December he spotted Gemma Hussey for P&T (wrong), Michael Noonan for Trade and Tourism (wrong), Dick Spring for Justice (wrong), John Bruton for Finance (wrong), John Boland for Education (wrong), Peter Barry ("al¬most certainly") for Transport and Power (wrong). And all of this in the same article.

However, among journalists such predictions are recog¬nised as a bit of a game, just like the precise predictions of the outcome of elections - something the public expects. Few such predictions are correct and even fewer based on reliable sources. What is unique about Feeney's political insight is the forceful and confident way in which it is delivered. Even his scoop revelation in the lIerald of De¬cember 13 1982 that Eileen Desmond's chances of being Minister for Health were dicey as she "may be pipped by Labour left winger Mervyn Taylor". No more inaccurate than many another political pundit. Except that that story was on page four. On page two of the same paper we find in another Feeney story that "Another anti-coalitionist - Labour's Mervyn Taylor - has also ruled himself out of the Coalition cabinet . . ."

12. The Organ Grinders

Then John Feeney revealed exclusively that the rela¬tionship between Alexis FitzGerald and Mary Flaherty was over - and next day the couple announced their engagement - everyone had a good laugh.

Feeney has in some quarters become since then an object of derision, casually referred to as The Worst Journalist In The World. However, Feeney remains one of Ireland's most successful journalists, a household name, held in high regard by his superiors as a seller of newspapers. He has taken a dull and routine feature - the social diary - and turned it into a lively column, the lIerald's major selling point.

Albeit, at the cost of a loss of respect for journalism among those who have been the victims of his inaccuracies. It is arguable whether it is possible to achieve such success in commercial terms as was demanded of Feeney without sacrificing journalistic standards. When someone else fills in on Ad Lib, when Feeney is absent, the result is competent and unremarkable.Feeney, who has had to bear the abuse aroused by Ad Lib's antics, is merely the dancing monkey - the major responsibility rests with the organ grinders, Tony O'Reilly, editor Niall Hanley, and the man now widely known as O'Reilly's Representative on Earth, Joe Hayes. It is they who set the standards and who protected and promoted Feeney. Feeney, had he stayed in the cul-de-sac of specia¬list writing, might now be a respected correspondent. He has excellent contacts in the Catholic church and the medical profession (his father is an eminent doctor) and with application might have become a good religious corres¬pondent on a daily paper.

Instead, he was diverted by his own ambition and the commercial dictates of his superiors. Every commercial publication has as its prime aims the selling of copies and the attraction of advertising - otherwise it could not exist. However, most establish journalistic aims and parameters without which there is little point tthe enterprise, When these are discarded or don't exist in the first place the publication stops functioning as an outlet for journalism and simply sells yards of words, with the same facility as another enterprise might sell beans. Ironically, there is talent and skill enough in Independent House to produce good work, were they not channelled into the production of packages of ingredients which can be massaged. In recent days there has been some disquiet in Independent House. Tony O'Reilly, it is said, was annoyed at the treatment of John McEnroe and embarrassed by the tennis player's public outburst against Feeney. Feeney says that if there was dissatisfaction upstairs it never trickled down as far as him.`

However, there has been a perceptible downplaying of Feeney recently. His visit to Beirut, which once would have been trumpeted from the heights, was hardly promoted at all. The column itself has toned down some. what and is on occasion quite as accurate and boring as its equivalent in the Evening Press.  

Feeney says he hopes to keep the column going until the end of 1984, then move on to an as yet hush-hush project. It is likely that as long as he fulfills his role as a paperseller he will be given the freedom to do just what he wants. A while back, Tony O'Reilly was heard to evaluate his satisfaction with his papers in percentage terms. The Independent and Sunday Independent rated at about ninety, the Herald, oh, give or take a bit, say about eighty-eight percent. The Herald? With Feeney as the main selling point? “Feeney”, he said, “Feeney is magic”.