Precious RTÉ ignores story of the campaign, so far
The election campaign started ominously for RTÉ Radio. On the morning of Sunday, 29 April, Sean O'Rourke began the station's election coverage with a 8am start, but for over two hours, there was not a mention of the story of the day, Frank Connolly's exclusive in the Mail on Sunday, about Bertie's extraordinary financial arrangements. There was the usual brisk (breathless?) traverse through the issues, no illumination and not a word about the Mail on Sunday story. Vincent Browne was roused from his bed at some stage during this round-up and asked about the implications of the Mahon Tribunal's hearings on the Quarryvale II module. Clearly, he had not read or heard of the Frank Connolly story and he totally missed the point
I myself missed The Marian Finucane Show on Sunday – I had to take my mother and the brats to Mass – but got back in time for a Brian Dobson special on RTÉ One at noon. Again not a word about the Frank Connolly story. Instead, entirely idiotic pieces by Charlie Bird at Áras an Uachtaráin telling us what we knew already, another idiotic piece by Charlie Bird telling us about what we had just seen of Bertie making a bland statement to cameras, and a piece by a young reporter about the constituencies which even my mother knew was nonsense.
Then on to This Week with Gerald Barry, and again not a word about the Frank Connolly story. The Six One News and the Nine O'Clock News bulletins and still not a word, aside from the side reference from Brian Dowling. Even on The Week in Politics, there was only an oblique reference to the explosive story. A story which, if true (and there is no reason to think it is not) must have critical relevance to the campaign.
Has RTÉ become entirely pusillanimous? Of what are they afraid? To ignore a story that clearly was based on transcripts of private interviews at the Mahon Tribunal, which reveals an extraordinary transaction by Bertie Ahern on the retuning of his house in late-1994 from the Mayo-born/Manchester-based businessman Micheál Wall and think this will have no impact on the elections campaign! Actually, RTÉ might be right about this because if all other programmes ignore it and all other stations ignore it – Ursula Halligan on TV3 in her programme, The Political Party, also ignored it – and the other newspapers ignore it, then it will indeed have no impact on the campaign.
The discussions that did go out on the aforementioned programmes were entirely predictable and entirely uninformative. At least seven hours of broadcast time on RTÉ on Sunday and absolutely no illumination of the issue and a blanket avoidance of that quite sensational story to break that morning in the Mail on Sunday. This was relieved by the excellent The State of Us programme. The characterisations of Pat Kenny, Martin Cullen, Gay Byrne and Willie O'Dea were superb, especially the capture of the inanities of Martin Cullen, the return of Gay Byrne and the preciousness of Pat Kenny. On Morning Ireland on Tuesday, 1 May, RTÉ made amends – of sorts. They had the excellent Philip Boucher Hayes on explaining the background to the Bertie-payment issue and the significance of the new revelations. With all the newspapers focusing on the story (at last), it now seems as though the issue of Bertie's money will be a feature of the campaign. No credit still however to Frank Connolly and the Mail on Sunday for breaking the story.
On that same Morning Ireland there were two other excellent pieces. First Michael McDowell on about the “D” case (the 17-year-old girl in HSE care who has been stopped travelling to Britain for an abortion). Whatever one thinks about Michael McDowell, there is an articulacy and fluency to him which is unique among politicians. It's a “lawyerly” thing but it is superb. And then another articulate, fluent lawyer, Tom O'Malley from NUI Galway, also explaining the legal intricacies of the “D” case. In the latter instance a clear, non-intrusive interview by Áine Lawlor and, in the former, ditto by Cathal Mac Coille.
What If, a Sunday morning cerebral programme presented by the historian Diarmuid Ferriter, has become one of the joys of Sunday morning radio. A few weeks back he had Frank Callanan and Margaret O'Callaghan discussing what if Charles Stewart Parnell had not been embroiled in the Kitty O'Shea divorce controversy would he have brought home rule to Ireland. In a fascinating discussion, Frank Callanan and Margaret O'Callaghan both said no, that the home rule train was coming off the tracks anyway.
Then on Sunday 29 April, a discussion on what if we did not have proportional representation in our electoral system. Again intriguing with Richard Sinnott and Nora Owen, with Diarmuid Ferriter himself contributing hugely to an informative and lively radio half-hour.
So often radio is just windy cackle, which makes such programmes a delight.