A "press release" from Fianna Fail-but first its deodorized ; then its perfumed; finally it comes out smelling like Christian Dior, ready for dispatch to the media.
Who will win the spin and get back in.?
Fine Gael have announced that they are employing their own rival team of expensive American P.R. ‘spin doctors’ to counter Fianna Fail’s Purveyors of Press Patronage; Propaganda Policies;and Plausible Denial Postings, in the daily papers-all of which form an important part of the war of words which will determine who gets to drive a Car with a Star after the next election,be they Soldiers of Destiny or Rainbow Warriors
The incumbent government are always best placed to win.Their largesse to their camp followers is always reciprocated at election time.They will have the best treasure chest.
Besides retaining the services of a top American Public Relations Firm,who specialize in the ‘ managing’ or ‘massaging’ of election campaigns; Fianna Fail already use taxpayers money to fund a secret army of ‘Special Advisers ‘who strategically disseminate misinformation to counter bad news, deflect attention from hard facts or otherwise distract the electorate from pondering too much on their general, political incompetence, wasteful spending, inefficiency, corruption, cronyism,or whatever.
A team of benefactors, multi-millionaires,like the corrupt Bailey Brother Builders,and so forth replenish the election war chest ,for the upcoming Fianna Fail, General Election Campaign.
Gerry Hickey,Una Claffey,Gerry Howlin,Joe Lennon,Mandy Johnson,are some of the homegrown bunch of shadowy and influential figures who inhabit this twilight world…-all of whom command massive salaries and expenses,while carrying out their covert campaigns.
One,Monica Leech, is an uncertain entrant into the pack…as we go to press.
These people are paid to deceive the public. Their task is to issue misleading press releases which contain as little as possible of the truth.Ministerial cockups, incompetent administration,and the overt favouritism of party cronies in awarding contracts and jobs has to be kept as low profile as possible.
An example of their brief would be FIANNA FAIL's version of history for the party's 80th anniversary celebrations. They have airbrushed every embarrassment and black sheep from the official record.
In a display of "mature recollection" on a grand scale, some of the worst episodes in FF's 55 years in power have disappeared from the balance sheet.
A single paragraph in the FF history on the era of Charles J Haughey suggests that he "improved" the economy as Taoiseach, even though he pump-primed inflation through reckless spending and presided over our worst-ever unemployment crisis.
Neither does this history acknowledge the ruinous "Economic War" with Britain which Eamon de Valera pursued during the 1930s, nor his execution during the years of the Second World War of IRA prisoners who formerly shared his thinking.
The 1970 Arms Crisis is not mentioned in the "approved" history, which Minister Brian Lenihan will deliver at a celebratory evening in Dublin's Mansion House next Sunday.
Charles Haughey, Minister for Finance, and Neil Blaney, Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, were sacked by party leader and Taoiseach Jack Lynch over their suspected involvement in illegal arms smuggling. A third minister, Kevin Boland, resigned in protest at the dismissals.
But the history of the party declares: "The Lynch era was a time of considerable challenges. In 1969, the troubles engulfed Northern Ireland, but Lynch guided the country through these difficult days and ensured unity by peaceful means remained for Fianna Fail the only way forward."
The account of the Haughey era does not mention the many heaves within the party against its most divisive leader of all time. It does not mention the disastrous split, the resulting formation of the Progressive Democrats or the humiliation of coalition with the PDs. The official history says Mr Haughey in 1979 "inherited a country whose economy was being badly hampered by the effects of the oil crisis" - even though the oil crisis happened six years before.
Moving quickly through shambolic administrations that saw 21pc inflation, a 65pc tax rate on workers and a quarter of a million unemployed the history blandly records electoral outcomes.
There is no trace of the background bad news to Haughey's first two Governments, the grubby Gregory deal to secure power, or the GUBU episodes.
Instead the history brightly glosses over it all. There are no mentions of the tribunals, nor of Mr Haughey's lavish receipt of gigantic cash gifts while in office, nor the fact that he had to admit telling lies to Mr Justice Brian McCracken.
Nor is there any reference to Brian Lenihan snr's calamitous loss of the office of President in 1990. Similar bungling in the Albert Reynolds administration that led to the collapse of his Government with Labour over the failure to extradite a paedophile priest is passed over.
Freedom of Information - Government failing to live up to pledges (Article in Examiner January 2006)
"THE insidious erosion of the public’s basic right to information is one of the more cynical faces of the current administration.
Motivated by a culture of secrecy that would not be out of place in the Orwellian world of Big Brother, this Government ranks as the least accountable ever to hold sway in Ireland.
The Coalition’s blatant disregard for basic principles of openness and transparency is reflected in the increasing exclusion of public bodies from the remit of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.
As revealed in this newspaper yesterday, the latest example of its shoddy denial of people’s right to know involves the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) which until recently was open to FoI queries.
Inexplicably, the lid has been tightly clamped on its work, removing its investigative activities from the public gaze. At a stroke, workers have been deprived the right of access to information about their accidents.
This means, for instance, that where documents relating to HSA investigations of workplace accidents are concerned, a worker seeking compensation for injury will in future be denied easy access to them.
Instead, the injured party faces the daunting prospect of having to go through a costly legal process in order to ascertain the relevant information.
Rightly or wrongly, a cynic could be forgiven for perceiving the hand of powerful elements with strong political associations behind this mysterious departure.
Rather than giving people greater access to what is going on behind the closed doors in the corridors of power, the shutters are coming down. Clearly, in the HSA case, the FoI process has been turned on its head.
The question is, who is being protected? Undoubtedly, the latest change militates against the rights of vulnerable individuals.
And, arguably, it is manifestly to the benefit of powerful factions with deep pockets.
Not before time, an Oireachtas committee will next month scrutinise the gradual strangling of the FoI process with a view to making recommendations to the Government about how the system should be improved.
But the committee members would be unwise to hold their breath, judging by the contemptuous attitude of faceless civil servants towards Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.
When she contacted officials at the Department of Finance concerning the surreptitious HSA change, about which she had been kept in the dark, the Information Commissioner was told it was up to her to find out what was going on.
That speaks volumes about this Government’s arrogance towards the public.
Originally, when the FoI Act came into force in 1997, more than 100 bodies or sensitive divisions of Government departments were excluded from its remit. Since then, 50 more bodies and agencies have been brought into the exclusion zone.
An unflinching champion of people’s right to information, Emily O’Reilly has openly complained about the exclusion of from public scrutiny.
When greater restrictions and higher charges were attached to FoI queries, it was widely seen as a deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for the average person, and the media, to access information on decisions which influence people’s lives.
As predicted, there has since been a significant fall-off in the use of FoI channels. Not only is the culture of secrecy still operating, it is flourishing.
By any standard, the cynical denial of the public’s right to information makes a mockery of Coalition pledges to bring greater accountability and transparency to governance.
The growing exclusion of public bodies from the FoI spotlight is a matter of the gravest concern."
In March 2007 Information Commissioner Emily O'Reilly released a report which said, by and large, the FoI system is failing.
Using careful language, Ms O'Reilly described her report as "mere suggestions designed to increase the effectiveness of the FoI Act and further benefit the public's right of access to officialinformation".
Reading between the lines, though, she seems to believe that the controversial and deliberate changes to the 1997 FoI Act, made by the Government and signed into law in 2003, have damaged our democracy, and should be rolled back as soon as possible.
Two months ago, this newspaper examined in detail the impact of those changes to FoI introduced in 2003.
Ms O'Reilly has proposed that fees for requests and appeals be either greatly reduced or abolished, as they are seen to be one of the main deterrents. She also proposed that many of the 2003 changes be rolled back or eliminated, particularly those "relating to governmental records and the definition of government".
The Information Commissioner has also said that a sneaky change in the law in 2005, which removed many health reports from underthe scope of FoI, should be eliminated.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Ms O'Reilly said: "I would suggest that as a society, we should be seeking to encourage greater levels of engagement with 'Government' by members of the public. The figures show that since 2003, such engagement has declined dramatically.
"Before the fees, a journalist could simply rattle a request off from his desk, whereas now the additional red tape of getting the fee puts many of them off, as is proven in the drop-off in requests," Ms O'Reilly said.
According to Ms O'Reilly, herself a former journalist, the message of the amendments has been that "people's FoI rights have been severely curtailed; the exercising of those rights has been made more difficult, and the Government is now less enthusiastic about FoI than hitherto".
In addition to the 2003 amendments, there have been several law changes to exclude agency reports which have, as a result of FoI, caused significant embarrassment for the Government.
But why is Freedom of Information so important?
According to its advocates, FoI is the ability of the citizens of a country to be able to examine closely how their government and their state agencies are working. Freedom of Information has helped highlight instances of abuse, corruption and wrongdoing.
This weekend, the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrats Government has said that there will be no roll-back on FoI before the election. However, as the people who introduced FoI and as the people who are benefiting from the restrictions on it, they would say that.
FoI has already caused this government considerable embarrassment. Restrictions introduced on it meant that many of the Government's decisions from 1997-2002 did not make it into the public arena. The Government claimed it did not want departmental officials being overworked because of FoI, but in truth, FoI hurt the Government too many times and it has done its best to kill it off.
However, both Fine Gael and Labour have pledged to the Sunday Independent that if elected, they will roll back on the controversial amendments to FoI.
Oisin Quinn, a barrister experienced in media law and a candidate for Labour in the upcoming election said that his party is fully committed to rolling back on the 2003 changes in the law.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, he said: "It's unusual, and it's not an issue that is coming up on the doorsteps. But we all are silent victims of the changes. The Labour Party ran a big campaign back in 2003 opposing the amendments. We need a robust system of FoI to ensure government and the administration of government improvesitself."
Fine Gael's Enda Kenny, leader of the proposed alternative government, said that he will roll back the 2003 amendments and eliminate fees for FoI requests. This is a significant commitment by Mr Kenny, but only time will tell if he will stand by his words if he makes it into government office.
The Department of Finance, which has overall responsibility for Freedom of Information, said: "Fees have been a feature of the FoI Act since its introduction in 1997 and up-front fees were introduced in 2003 to encourage a greater appreciation of the work involved in dealing with an FoI request."
Daniel McConnell(Sunday Independent)
THE MEDIA scored an important victory in the High Court in February 2006 when Justice Frank Clarke ruled that District Court Judge David Anderson had been completely wrong to make an order preventing the identification of Church of Ireland rector of St Cronan’s in Roscrea, Joseph Condell, who had been charged with the possession of child pornography. In the past the same DJ has been involved in some interesting cases. Certainly, Justice Clarke found little of merit in Judge Anderson’s decision to prevent the identification of the Roscrea rector. In October 2003, Anderson had said his ruling prohibiting publication of the man’s identity was final and could not be varied.
In the High Court challenge to Judge Anderson’s gagging order, the media claimed that the ruling was unconstitutional and Justice Frank Clarke ruled that Judge Anderson had been incorrect in each of the reasons given by him in October 2003 for refusing to lift the restrictions. Interestingly, prior to the Condell case,Judge Anderson was involved in another child porn case where identifying the defendant was an issue. In 2003 Garda Darach Kennedy was charged with possession of child pornography but the president of the District Court, Peter Smithwick, imposed an order prohibiting the naming of the accused. The DPP sought to have that order lifted when the casecame before Judge Anderson for theserving of the book of evidence butAnderson refused, stating that the proper place to hear submissions was on appeal. As with last week’s case, objections were duly made by the media leading to Judge Smithwick lifting the order.
One of David Anderson’s more memorable hearings resulted from the high profile anti-bin tax protests in
2003. During one such protest at a depot on Collins Avenue, a Dublin City Council bin lorry driver ran into one of the protesters, resulting in a charge of dangerous driving. However, in Court Judge Anderson had little sympathy for the injured party Mooney had been carried 30-40 yards by driver John Clegg’s lorry after he climbed on to the front of the vehicle by holding the windscreen wipers. Judge Anderson, however, said the protester had "got his just desserts" and asked if any damage had been done to the windscreen wipers on the lorry and if there was a criminal charge in relation to any such damage. The ruling resulted in the Dublin Campaign Against Bin Tax criticising the "overtly political" statements of the District Court judge.
TEN years ago, Freedom of Information was introduced to end Ireland's culture of secrecy and to promote "open government". However, since then, as a result of sneaky amendments and last-minute law changes, the system has been largely sabotaged, to the point where it's not working.
Launched to much fanfare, and one of the last achievements of John Bruton's Rainbow government, the 1997 Freedom of Information Act sought to "replace the culture of secrecy within the public service with a culture ofopenness."
But a Sunday Independent investigation now shows that the system of Freedom of Information (FoI) is not only failing but failing badly. Applying for records under the Government's much-vaunted commitment to transparency and accountability has proved expensive and frustrating, to the point where fewer and fewer people are applying. It is now more difficult and more expensive to get information than ever before.
But why is FoI so important? Well, for example in the last 12 months alone, FoI has provided such big stories as the revelation that health board inspectors recommended against the registration of Leas Cross nursing home; the annual breakdown of TDs' expenses; many of the stories about MRSA; annual schools league tables, to name but a few. FoI also allows people access to reports or documents pertaining to themselves, which they did not have before.
Since its introduction in 1997, FOI quickly became popular with journalists and many members of the public, because it provided previously unheard-of access to the workings of government, both central and local, and many state agencies. Many 'sexy yarns' began to adorn the front pages of the newspapers, and time and time again the Government had to swallow hard as details of its failings were there for all to see.
But eventually, obviously sick of being forced by this new law to give out what was often highly embarrassing and controversial information, the Fianna Fail and Progressive Democrat Government set about reeling back the scope and impact of FoI.
In April 2003, new restrictive amendments were squeezed by the Government through Leinster House. Despite heavy criticism and pressure from opposition parties, the then finance minister, Charlie McCreevy, said that the changes were necessary. There was talk of legal challenges to the amendments at the time, but it came to nothing.
Crucially, as part of new amendments fees were introduced for the use of FoI. People requesting information now had to pay €15 in advance for non-personal information. Internal and external appeals of a decision on such a request cost €75 and €150.Medical card holders are given discounted rates.
Also introduced in the 2003 amendments was a series of non-disclosure clauses, which allowed huge tracts of information to be kept from entering the public domain. Among these was Section 53 of the 1998 Education Act, which prevents the release of information that would facilitate the compilation of league tables on schools' performance. A five-year moratorium is also imposed on draft strategy statements and ministerial directions emanating from Government departments. The immunity from disclosure of these decisions has been vigorously opposed by the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, Emily O'Reilly. She said that her recommendations on the provisions had been broadly accepted by the Dail committee, which then did an apparent U-turn and supported ministers. Commenting on the changes in the FoI legislation, a spokeswoman for the Department of Finance said: "In general, the fees were designed to encourage a greater appreciation of the cost of administering the FoI Act by public bodies. The average cost of processing a single FoI request has been estimated at €420. The fees were not considered to be a deterrent to responsible use of the act."
However, it is now widely acknowledged that the introduction of fees has caused the number of applications to plummet. In 2002, the last full year without fees, 7,936 requests were made, compared to just over 3,000 in 2005.
The Information Commissioner has said that the most worrying aspect of this is the fall-off in requests from journalists. Ms O'Reilly told a conference before Christmas that in 2002, before fees were introduced there were 2,103 requests from journalists, compared to 963 in 2005.
O'Reilly said: "I would suggest that as a society we should be seeking to encourage greater levels of engagement with 'government' by members of the public. The figures show that since 2003 such engagement has declined dramatically.
"Before the fees, a journalist could simply rattle a request off from his desk, whereas now the additional red tape of getting the fee puts many of them off, as is proven in the drop-off in requests," Ms O'Reilly told the Sunday Independent this weekend.
According to O'Reilly, herself a former journalist, the message of the amendments has been that "people's FoI rights have been severely curtailed; the exercising of those rights has been made more difficult, and the Government is now less enthusiasticabout FoI than hitherto". In addition to the 2003 amendments, there have been several law changes to exclude agency reports which have, as a result of FoI, caused significant embarrassment for the Government.
One example of this came in the summer of 2005 when the dilapidated state of school buildings in some parts of the country was a hot political topic. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) sent in inspectors to a number of schools to make sure that they were safe workplaces for teachers. Their findings - which the Sunday Independent obtained under the Freedom of Information Act - made headline news and embarrassed the Department of Education. Not long afterwards, in September 2005, the Government quietly passed legislation which ensured that those reports would never be published again.
When in 2006 we again applied for the HSA's inspection reports on schools, we were told we couldn't have them. The legislation resulted in the HSA's "investigative functions" no longer falling within the remit of the FoI Act. It put inspection reports on hospitals, nursing homes and other public buildings out of reach of the FoI too.
An email from the Department of Finance (which has overall responsibility for FoI matters) to the Sunday Independent said: "The HSA was subject to FoI in full, but in legislation passed last June . . . the Minister for ET&E [Enterprise, Trade and Employment] removed from FoI coverage the investigative functions of the HSA - ie, inspection reports on industrial etc, accidents/incidents . . . previously available under FoI are now excluded."
A Government spokeswoman said: "It is understood that most of the FoI requests received by the authority [HSA] prior to the exemption related to incidents investigated by the authority, a proportion of which were stillunder investigation or proceeding to prosecution at the time of the request. The potential for such information to come into the public domain at such a delicate time and prior to possible prosecutions was likely to be prejudicial to court proceedings."
However, while the reasons for removing the reports from FoI may have some validity, there is no doubt that the absence of such reports is to the advantage of a Government keen to limit the damage which such reports cause it.
There are numerous other anomalies in how the act is applied. The Health Service Executive (HSE) recently decided, on foot of a recommendation by the Ombudsman, to publish inspection reports on nursing homes. The Sunday Independent used the act to apply for the reports on four nursing homes that were at the centre of controversy late last year. The homes had been told not to admit any more patients. We wanted to get the reports to find out why.
Our requests were forwarded by the HSE to relevant area managers, who refused our request but for different reasons.
The east coast area of the HSE said we couldn't have the inspection reports because there were "broader community interests" at stake and releasing them could lead to "ill-informed conjecture". Other areas said we could not have the information because the inspection process was still in train.
On another occasion, the Sunday Independent sought inspection reports on hostels for asylum seekers from the Department of Justice. The department at first refused to release the reports because they were "commercially sensitive". Even after the Information Commissioner granted our appeal, the department initially refused; this time because it was simply too much work.
Emily O'Reilly has called for a full analysis to gauge the impact of the amendments. She said: "I think it is high time for the application of FoI to be looked at. It's clear it is not working as well as it should be . . . The changes have been so negative that many of them must now be reviewed, most of all the issue of fees." O'Reilly has also called for An Garda Siochana to be subject to FoI. In her strongest attack on the Government's stance on FoI, she said that of 26 Council of Europe states, including former eastern bloc countries such as war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina and Moldova, Ireland is the only country to exclude police-related information from being made public.
"It may be argued that An Garda Siochana is currently undergoing major transformation and this is not the right time to make it amenable to the act. I would argue the opposite: FoI, along with the Garda Inspectorate and Garda Ombudsman Commission, should be seen as contributing to this overall transformation process."
The Government has said there is to be no roll-back on FoI before the election.
Daniel McConnell (Irish Independent)
DEATH is the ultimate price a journalist can pay in the line of duty. Persecution comes a close second, and prosecution completes the anti-media troika.
What connects all three is silence.
Or more specifically, such heavy-handed measures are aimed at silencing any critical media coverage, usually of national governments with secrets to protect.
Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist who reported fearlessly about official corruption, paid the ultimate price.
Renowned for her opposition to the Chechen conflict and the Putin administration, she was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building last October.
Politkovskaya's murder sparked international outrage. So, too, did the imprisonment of former New York Times investigative reporter Judith Miller.
Two years ago Miller was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA operative's name.
Miller, who was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about the dangers of al-Qa'ida prior to the September 11 attacks in America, was sentenced to jail because she refused to identify a source.
She served 85 days in a federal jail, the longest term served by a reporter in the world's greatest democracy.
Now it is the turn of Irish journalists to join the roll call of reporters who may be forced to pay the price for reporting candidly on governmental affairs.
The prospect of imprisonment (for refusing to reveal their sources) awaits no less than three journalists in a country that held the coveted title of number one for press freedom for four years.
Who knows how far Ireland's ranking will plummet when the annual Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index is next published?
It will be another few weeks before Geraldine Kennedy, the editor of the Irish Times and Colm Keena, its Public Affairs Correspondent, discover what sanctions - including a possible two-year prison term and fines of up to €300,000 - the High Court will hand down in the duo's wrangle with the planning tribunal.
The journalists published confidential details last year which revealed that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern received payments from friends and businessmen when he was Minister for Finance in the early 1990s.
They refused to disclose their source and said the documents they had received relating to the story had been destroyed.
A clearly embarrassed Ahern fumed about the "dirty and dishonest" nature of the leak. Apparently, we were meant to forget about the payments, but it's ok, as the justice minister would say - we got the gist.
The Mahon Tribunal has itself received a stunning High Court rebuke over its attempts to enforce "a species of confidentiality it had created unilaterally" when it sought to gag Sunday Business Post reporter Barry O'Kelly from publishing material it deemed confidential.
It was accused by one judge of taking a "blunderbuss" as its weapon of choice. Blunderbuss is an appropriate phrase to describe the recent arrest of Mick McCaffrey.
The former Evening Herald crime correspondent is also facing a possible jail term.
McCaffrey was arrested last week for publishing extracts from a draft report into the investigation of the garda handling of the Dean Lyons case.
No individual or group in society is above the law or entitled to immunity from prosecution.
Richard Nixon found this out during the Watergate affair, and journalists and their sources are no different.
But the arrest and imprisonment of journalists is a vital barometer for the political health of a nation.
Attacks on the press are instigated when reporters seek to publish stories that are not only in the public interest but are likely to cause political discomfort through the candid exposure of state corruption or ineptitude.
POLITICAL opposition to media conduct in Ireland has been brewing for some time.
It reached a zenith following the coverage of the death of former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor and a series of media reports that scrutinised a panoply of government bungles. When journalists reported stories gleaned from details they had received as a result of the Freedom of Information Act, the Government filleted the legislation. When it got uncomfortable about scrutiny of a range of state scandals, the Government, which is fighting a rearguard against decades of corruption, sought to introduce a privacy bill.
The bill, an appalling piece of legislation, will - if passed - sound the death knell for investigative journalism.
It is a sad irony that the bravery of investigative journalists, whose work on corruption led to the establishment of tribunals, has given birth to a privacy monster.
Because it is corrupt politicians, their business bankrollers and others with deep pockets and dodgy pasts who stand to benefit most its implementation.