The secret meeting and the change of tack
How coinciding with a secret meeting between media mogul Tony O'Reilly and Bertie Ahern the Sunday Independent changed tack on the Taoiseach immediately before the election
Bertie Ahern was the focus of what amounted to a “hate-campaign” by the Sunday Independent for the first four months of 2007.
On 7 January there was a lead story sympathetic to Enda Kenny “(Sabotage: TD wrecked FG secret strategy”). It claimed John Deasy, the Waterford Fine Gael TD, had “shattered” the party's carefully planned strategy to target selected ministers (Michael McDowell, Mary Harney, Martin Cullen and Micheal Martin).
At the bottom of page one was an opinion piece by Brendan O'Connor, speculating what the media reaction would be had Enda Kenny received a load of money from businessmen while he was Minister for Finance (as Bertie Ahern had done). Inside was a story headed “Bertie snubs Miriam in Who's Who”. Another piece on jobbery and State boards, an editorial on how the tax payers were conned for the third time.
On 14 January the newspaper highlighted a poll revealing nearly two thirds of the electorate did not believe Bertie Ahern when he protested he would not form a government dependant on Sinn Féin support.
On 11 February a story on the thousands of Euro taxpayers were paying to fund media monitoring for Bertie Ahern.
On 18 February a lead story on how Fianna Fáil feared Bertie had “blundered” over election.
On 4 March a headline: “Bertie sinks as house market goes under”.
On 25 March the headline: “Fianna fail resorts to auction politics to woo voters”.
On 1 April “Bertie U-turn wrong-foots Ministers”. Inside a story on how a close associate of Bertie Ahern made a fortune in 24 hours.
On 8 April “Ahern missed boat on election” and inside a headline: “Will Bertie's new Haughey gene cost FF the next election”.
15 April: “Ahern denies air trip with a case of cash” – a rehash of a story that a large sum of cash was withdrawn from AIB bank in O'Connell St , Dublin, where Bertie Ahern and Celia Larkin had accounts, and Bertie Ahern took this cash to Manchester with him in a trip in 1995.
And then a radical change of tack, coinciding with a secret meeting between Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen with Tony O'Reilly the controlling shareholder in Independent News and Media, which published the Sunday Independent. The meting took place in one of O'Reilly's residences in Dublin. Asked about the meting Brian Cowen said it was one of a series of meetings he and the Taoiseach had with media proprietors. Asked if they had met any other media proprietor in the run up to the election he said they had not. He refused to state what was discussed at the meeting.
On 22 April an exclusive interview with Bertie Ahern on stamp duty reform.
On 29 April, the day the election was called, an exclusive (at least for a few hours) that the election would be called for 24 May and then an exclusive interview with Bertie Ahern by the Sunday Independent editor, Aengus Fanning, in the course of which not a single difficult question was asked and nothing at all related to the information collated by the newspapers own investigative reporter, Jody Corcoran, about Bertie Ahern's finances.
The interview dealt with inflation, stamp duty reform, health, Sinn Fein, Northern Ireland and a single question about the Planning Tribunal: “Do you think the Tribunal is worth the money”, to which Bertie Ahern replied: “As I'm involved, I'd better say nothing”.
On 6 May, the weekend the PDs did its wobble on staying in government, unavoidably the paper lead with that story, along with revelations by Jody Corcoran that he had supplied the PD leader with information that went unpublished in the Sunday Independent “for legal reasons”. Balancing this was a headline “Most voters want Bertie as Taoiseach despite money issues”.
Eoghan Harris wrote: “If we let this sinister conspiracy to take out Bertie we will be in big trouble”.
Then on 13 May Bertie Ahern used the Sunday Independent to make his first statement about his personal finances under the headline: “It's all related to my judicial separation”, with no critical commentary drawing attention it was not all related to his judicial separation.,
On 20 May the headline “Bertie boosted in poll – blow for Fine Gael”. Another headline on the front page: “Media tried to scupper Bertie claims loyal Miriam” and inside “Ahern personal finances not an election issue”.
Unsurprisingly, given that pre-election build up another exclusive interview the Sunday after the election on 27 May.
So what happened? How did this dramatic change of tack occur? How was it that the information obtained by its investigative reporter, Jody Corcoran, was never published?