Budget will not address fundamental inequalities
Sunday Business Post, April 05, 2009 By Vincent Browne
We are a very rich country and will remain very rich, even with a 12 per cent contraction in the economy this year and next. We had an average income of around €38,000 in 2007.
Even if this comes back to around €32,000 by next year, we will still be richer than Australia, Japan, France, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Italy, very much richer than the likes of Cyprus, Greece, Portugal and Poland, and vastly richer than countries that have 90 per cent of the world’s population. So let’s not feel too sorry for ourselves.
Our main problem is that our riches are spread so unevenly. None of us would have a problem living in a family of, say, four, with a combined income of €128,000. The difficulty is that the top 6 per cent get 28 per cent of all income and, according to the Revenue Commissioners, half the population receives only 17 per cent.
The reason we have talked ourselves into a crisis is because of a prevailing - and largely unspoken - assumption that there is nothing significant we can do about this disparity. Fiddle a bit around the edges, perhaps, but no disturbance of the scale of the disparity. That’s the ‘system’, and if we undermine the system, society will collapse. ‘Wealth creators’ will stop creating wealth and jobs, if they are not incentivised by massive salaries.
Inequality is an essential ingredient of a ‘successful’ economy, and therefore of a successful society, and taxation must be calibrated to underpin that inequality. ‘Low income tax equals high growth’ is the mantra.
It remains the mantra here, even though our own recent experience disproves that. The Celtic tiger was booming before the Charlie McCreevy tax reductions, so how is that explained? And how is the economic success of countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland explained, since they have far higher tax rates than here or Britain or the US?
There is a brain-dead assumption that economic incentives are the sole - or even main - driving force and, inexplicably, that argument is promoted by people who defy the claim in their own lives.
For instance, Michael McDowell was one of the proponents of the monetary incentives thesis, yet he opted for politics in preference to his legal practice, even though the monetary rewards were far less.
People give over large parts of their lives to care for their children without monetary rewards. Others give over large parts of their lives to sporting ambitions unrelated to money, or community work or caring for the elderly or mentally ill or the impoverished people of the world.
We don’t need vast inequality for society to work, even for the economy to work. Indeed, the evidence is quite the reverse. The more equal the society, the more successful it is in terms of longevity, health generally, education, law and order and happiness. (This is brilliantly portrayed in a book I am reading currently: The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, by two British academics, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.)
So the necessity for ‘corrections’ to our public finances - around €15 billion over a few years - need not be daunting if we use this opportunity to reconfigure our society, making it far more equal than it is. The top 11 per cent currently receive 38 per cent of all income.
According to the Revenue Commissioners, they earn an average of about €150,000 and pay 25 per cent of their income in tax.
If, instead of getting a total of €29 billion in post-tax income, around €111,000 each, they got €70,000 on average - still about twice the average for all taxpayers - there would be an extra €10.5 billion available.
Over a few years, we would not just have dealt with the deficit problem, but would have made funds available for a proper health system, far better education, money for carers, money to buy up the tens of thousands of vacant residences to rent to those needing housing.
But that is not realistic, not proportionate, not balanced. It would destroy the entrepreneurial spirit, kill off incentive, ultimately impoverish this society.
The wealth creators would emigrate, hospital consultants would down tools. Bankers would sulk. Stockbrokers, accountants, lawyers, estate agents and television presenters would have nervous breakdowns.
There would be wailing and gnashing of teeth because, on average, they were getting only twice the average salary of society generally. And the tax exiles? Rage! After all they have done for the country.
But they needn’t worry. In Fianna Fáil and the Green Party - yes, the Greens - they have friends in high places, who will ensure that their privilege is not substantially disturbed.
Just watch what the Greens will swallow on Tuesday and wait for the explanations: ‘‘the whole world is going through the most devastating recession in 70 years, Ireland is not immune, the pain has to be shared, the country needs the Greens at the helm.
Were it not for the Greens, the pain would be worse. It’s easy to criticise, especially when you don’t have to take responsibility for getting the country out of the crisis. Everyone must compromise.”
Watch them tell porkies about the scrappage scheme, how it saves CO2 emissions, how this is not really a subsidy for private transport at the expense of public transport, how this is certainly not social, economic and environmental vandalism, and why i t shouldn’t consign the Greens to well-deserved, ignominious oblivion.
And now the one and only Vincent ,the voice from the "Village" magazine;
"There are times when one wonders how it is the Irish economy is such a success," says Vincent Browne, my favourite "cut and thrust",somewhat eccentric, journalist. (A spade is a spade,with Vincent, and no bullshit in between.!) Oddly he and C.J.H. are good pals.! He even tried to touch Charlie for a loan on one occasion.
"With the crowd of incompetents, dullards and nitwits that run the country, how did they not screw up the economy or induce others to do it for them?
These are the same people who are responsible for the engagement of media consultants, transport policy, e-voting, the purchase of grand houses for the state and the running of the police force. I am referring, of course, to Messrs Martin Cullen and Michael McDowell.
The Monica Leech story is hilarious. The first thing that Cullen gets into his head, when he becomes a junior minister and then a cabinet minister, is to hire Leech as a public relations consultant.
When he went to the Office of Public Works (OPW), he thought that the very thing it needed was a PR consultant in Waterford. The OPW never had a PR consultant before in a regional centre, but for a reason that was not explained in the report by Dermot Quigley, there was an urgent need for a PR consultant for Waterford.
In fact, it was so urgent that the usual tendering process could not be gone through.
The kind of thing that a PR consultant was needed for in Waterford was to announce an opening ceremony for refurbished government offices, the renovation of a Garda station, the doing up of a fire station and the start of a drainage scheme. If you think I am making this up, just read the report.
Cullen then gets his legs under the ministerial desk at the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and, again the first thing he needs is a PR consultant.
And guess who he has in mind?
It doesn't matter that the department already has lots of press officers, nor that it already has contracted a very expensive outside PR agency, Drury Communications, Ms Leech's services cannot be done without.
She earns a packet of money, and it transpires that 30 per cent of her time is devoted to discussions with the minister, which costs the state around 84,000Euros.That is for discussions with the minister, quite apart from her other functions.
What her other functions were is not at all clear from the Quigley report, especially as he notes there is a scarcity of documentation detailing what she did. She had an involvement in spatial strategy, but Drury Communications was specifically engaged to look after the PR aspects of that, so what was she doing?
And Quigley thinks this is all OK, for he failed to find a hard government regulation that Cullen transgressed in his department's engagement of Leech.
Cullen's ministerial record is such that he would be disqualified for the position of messenger boy in the Dail. He made a spectacular mess of the two major projects with which he has been associated: the purchase of Farmleigh House and the e-voting business.
The money he squandered on Leech is nothing compared with the funds he poured down the drain on these projects. It would have been ironic if he had been dismissed for wasting a few hundred thousand euro on Leech when he was retained and promoted, having wasted (56 million) on Farmleigh House and another 50 million on e-voting.
But whatever the excuse for getting rid of him is, he must be got rid of. We can't have another two and a half years of going forward and "rolling out"something or other. If he is allowed stay, he will have ground traffic to an absolute halt by the time of the next election wherever he is.
Onto the other Lulu, Michael McDowell. His job is to run the Garda Siochana.
He has been squaring up to the police service since he became Minister for Justice two and a half years ago. He was the boy who would sort out the men in uniform.
But what has he done? Yes, there is the police inspectorate stuff, but so what? The same culture that has prevailed within the Garda for years still prevails, and McDowell is doing precisely nothing about it.
The relevance of this has to do with the release on bail of the only person yet to be convicted of an offence connected with the Omagh bombing of August 1998, Colm Murphy.
Again and again over the last few years, the Garda has been associated with scandal, and again and again things go on as before. The same structure and personnel at the helm (apart from the treadmill of retirements), the old culture, the same practices, with politicians on the sidelines, notably McDowell, promising reforms and transformation, on and on.
The Colm Murphy case collapsed because one team of two detectives was found to have fabricated evidence and then given false evidence under oath. What is significant about that is not that there are or may be one or two bad apples in the force, but that it is likely the practice they engaged in has featured on other occasions as part of Garda conduct. McDowell's mate, Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, now on the Supreme Court, waved the red flag about the Garda two years ago in the Frank Shortt case. In a massive judgment, Hardiman catalogued not a lone the intimidatory abuses of the Gardai involved in that case but the inadequacy of the official Garda investigation into what had gone on.
Now, another mate of McDowell, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, also of the Supreme Court, in another massive judgment, has detailed the abuses that characterise the Garda handling of the Colm Murphy case and the trial of the case by the Special Criminal Court.
What more do we need to know about the Garda to realise that there is something very wrong at the heart of the organisation? They made a complete mess of the Veronica Guerin murder investigation, the conduct of the Gardai in Donegal defies belief, the handling of the Abbeylara affair was appalling, and now this.
There is an obvious initiative for McDowell to take but probably too obvious for him to be bothered about. It is to do to the Garda what was done to the RUC in Northern Ireland. Set up a commission to examine all aspects of policing, include on the commission people who know and understand policing (an obvious chairman would be Maurice Hayes who was on the Patten commission in Northern Ireland) and then implement the recommendations, come what may.
But McDowell is too busy strutting over the Northern Ireland peace process to be interested in something so mundane.
How can we believe Ahern’s amazing technicolour stories?
30 March 2008 By Vincent Browne
That it should have been Fiona O’Malley that broke the omerta over Bertie’s amazing technicolour stories about his finances tells a lot about the government parties.
We have known for six months, since September, that Bertie’s stories were not remotely plausible, but no one in the government could bring themselves to even raise an eyebrow, even those who are practised eyebrow raisers, like Mary Harney, John Gormley, Eamon Ryan - even Eamon O’ Cuiv, who has an inherited raised eyebrow.
Just think of the absurdities we have been asked to believe over those months? The one about the £54,000 and the first £22,500 ‘‘dig out’’. Bertie’s story was/is that his solicitor, the late Gerry Brennan, who knew he had savings of £54,000 and who was aware of the £19,999 bank loan, went around their mutual friends, telling them Bertie was strapped for cash, needed to pay his lawyers (including himself) and his wife’s lawyers, £17,000 and raised £22,500?
The story is childish. If a child of such cabinet dignitaries had come up with a story anything like that, might they not have been told to wash out their mouths, or say one hundred Hail Marys?
And then, on December 30, 1993, when Bertie went to his safe in St Luke’s to take out cash to lodge in his newly opened savings account, to benefit from the high interest rates that were then on offer, he took only the £22,500 allegedly from the ‘‘dig out’’ and left behind the rest of the £54,000 savings, that must have been bursting out of the safe when he opened it. Isn’t it more plausible that Bertie had no £54,000 savings and that this £54,000 emerged from somewhere else in 1994?
We don’t need a tribunal to tell us these stories are ridiculous. We need no more evidence other than what Bertie himself has said. The stories are not remotely believable.
Take the story, or rather the stories , explaining how stg£30,000 emerged in his accounts in 1995. His first explanation for this was that he had decided it would be better if Micheal Wall, who lived and worked in Manchester, would handle the refurbishment of the house in Beresford Avenue, Drumcondra, than have Celia Larkin, his then partner, do that, as had been originally agreed.
This is the house that Micheal Wall had never seen, but was about to buy, and the house which Bertie had never seen and was about to rent from Wall.
He thought Wall, rather than Larkin, would be better placed to buy curtains, tassels, wallpaper and other decorative items, and to assist Wall to do that, Bertie converted cash he had in Irish punts into stg£30,000, because Wall dealt in sterling (even thought the decor items would be bought in punts). But then he changed his mind. And nowhere, it appears, along the way did he tell either Wall or Larkin about this.
Again, if the infants of the cabinet dignitaries came up with such a hare-brained story they would be told they had to learn more algebra.
But it gets worse. Obviously thinking that nobody would believe that latter story about where the stg£30,000 came from in 1995, he came up with another story. This was that he had changed his mind about renting the house at all and decided to give back the stg£30,000 cash that Micheal Wall had brought over on Friday, December 1,1993.
This was stg£30,000 that Wall kept in a wardrobe in the Aisling Hotel on the night of December 1,1993 and then arrived in St Luke’s with this cash on Saturday, December 2,1993 - this money was intended for structural alterations to a four-year-old house that neither Bertie nor Wall had seen!
But, wait for it, Bertie never told Wall or Larkin of this change of plan (Larkin was to live with him in this house) and then he changed his mind yet again so he didn’t need to give back the stg£30,000 to Wall, which, he thinks explains how he had stg£30,000 in his accounts in 1995.
And the people who claim to be running the country believed these cock and bull stories, or said they did.
It took poor Fiona O’Malley to break the pretence and, once she spoke out, Harney had to follow suit and then the poor hapless Gormley, not wishing any insult your honour, had to add his wretched little supplication.
Wouldn’t it have been far more honourable for the lot of them, Harney, Gormley, Brian Cowen, Micheal Martin, to say: well frankly we don’t believe a word of this but we don’t care whether the Taoiseach is telling untruths under oath to a tribunal.
We don’t care whether he is telling untruths to the Dail or to the people. We don’t care if he got monies improperly in the early tomid-1990s.
We like Bertie, we think he has done more good than harm and, like it or lump it, we are sticking by him, in spite of all of this, at least until he becomes a liability to our self interest.
All this palaver about waiting for the tribunal to report - we don’t need a tribunal to tell us the explanations Bertie is offering for the cash coursing through his accounts in 1994 and 1995 are not even a tiny bit believable, so just say whether you think all this is okay or not, for that is the only remaining issue.
And it took little O’Malley, opportunistically attempting to rescue her campaign to become leader of the Progressive Democrats (flogging a dead horse is one thing but attempting to ride a dead horse?), to put a hole in all this carry-on.
To expose the pretence that there is any will at all, after all these years of moralising about high standards in public life, to apply such standards.
FF money trail leaves many questions unanswered
24 December 2006 By Vincent Browne
Two paragraphs of the Moriarty Tribunal’s report on Charles Haughey’s finances are of special interest in relation to Bertie Ahern.
They have nothing at all to do with the signing of blank cheques, which essentially was a trivial matter. This has to do with more revealing and important matters.
The background to the issues involved is as follows. In the 1987 and 1989 general election campaigns, there was a problem within Fianna Fail to do with money. The party’s fundraiser, Paul Kavanagh, contacted targeted donors for specific amounts, but some of these would-be donors refused to give the money directly to Kavanagh, preferring to give it to senior figures in the party, so that their contributions would be appreciated at a high level.
The problem was that, when four senior figures received the money intended for the party, they trousered the donations and refused to hand them over to the party.
One of these donations came from Tony O’Reilly’s Fitzwilton. He wanted £30,000 to be given to Ray Burke in June 1989.
Around that time, O’Reilly was on the warpath because he wanted illegal television deflector systems closed down so that his company, Princes Holdings Ltd, which owned the legal television deflector company, could make more money.
There was a big row between O’Reilly and John Bruton in 1997, when the latter was taoiseach, and Bruton and Fine Gael were threatened by O’Reilly’s people if the matter wasn’t sorted out.
Interestingly, it was at the time of the June 1997 election that the front page of The Irish Independent, O’Reilly’s flagship paper, advocated support for Fianna Fail under the front-page headline: ‘‘It’s payback time."
Kavanagh and other people in Fianna Fail’s head office knew that Fitzwilton had given the £30,000 to Ray Burke, and they wanted it lodged in the party funds. Burke refused. He said he was keeping £20,000 for his own campaign and they could have £10,000, which he handed over at a party function in the Westbury Hotel.
The party’s fundraising people were livid - not just with Burke, but also with others behaving in a similar fashion.
There was nothing they could do about Haughey taking party funds, and their leverage with others was limited, for the party leader could hardly make a fuss about others doing what he himself was doing on a far greater scale.
I know about problems with four people in relation to the 1987 election and three people in the 1989 election. One of these was Haughey; another, obviously, was Ray Burke, and I am refraining from naming the other two at this stage because one of them is dead and the other . . .well, maybe we will get around to that on another occasion.
Anyway, as the Moriarty Report recalls, in June 1989, developer Mark Kavanagh was induced to give £100,000 in four payments to Haughey.
The circumstances in which he was so induced have not been disclosed by the tribunal, although it certainly had evidence in private about who did the inducing and how.
A quarter of this £100,000 was intended for the Brian Lenihan fund, with the rest intended for the party. As it happened, only £25,000 got to the party, nothing went to the Lenihan fund, and Haughey kept the rest.
In 1996, the late senator Eoin Ryan senior requested Mark Kavanagh to make another contribution to the party. Kavanagh expressed annoyance that he had not received a receipt for what he had contributed in 1989. Later, there was a discussion between him and Ahern about the matter.
The Moriarty Report states (paragraphs 7.183 and 184): ‘‘Some short time later, Mr Ahern attended a function held at Mr Kavanagh’s office in Wellington Road in Dublin.
"There were a number of persons present from the construction industry, and Mr Ahern addressed the gathering about Fianna Fail party policy."
Isn’t that interesting in itself?
‘‘After he completed his address, Mr Ahern called Mr Mark Kavanagh aside, and apologised to Mr Kavanagh and expressed his regret for what had occurred [over the non-issuing of a receipt] and assured Mr Kavanagh that his donation had been received and was appreciated by the Fianna Fail Party. Mr Mark Kavanagh was clearly mollified by Mr Ahern’s words, as he made a subsequent donation by cheque payable to Fianna Fail.
‘‘What is extraordinary about these events is that it appears from the evidence of Mr Ryan, Mr Mark Kavanagh and Mr Ahern that, in the course of all of the dealings between them, the discrepancy between the donation made and the donation recorded never arose. It appears that Mr Kavanagh never informed Mr Ryan or Mr Ahern that he had donated £75,000, or that he had made his donation personally to Mr Haughey.
‘‘It appears that Mr Ryan never sought to ascertain from Mr Kavanagh what level of donation he had made, and that Mr Ahern never mentioned to Mr Kavanagh that the donation recorded in Fianna Fail headquarters was £25,000, or that a receipt had been sent to Mr Haughey on Mr Haughey’s instructions.
‘‘The only reasonable explanations for all of these omissions are that either those concerned were deeply embarrassed by what had occurred and chose to adopt a diplomatic approach to the issue, or that there was a tacit understanding between them that the matter had arisen in a former era and that its details were best left undisturbed."
But why would Kavanagh have been embarrassed by what had happened? Wouldn’t he have wanted to tell how he was induced to make the huge payment (£100,000), who induced him to make it and the extent of the payment?
And if Ahern did not already know what had happened, isn’t it unbelievable that he would not have asked how much money Mark Kavanagh had given and, on being informed of the huge scale of the donation, would not have asked how this came about, nor why he made such a huge donation? On being told that £75,000 had gone missing from party funds in 1989, wouldn’t you have expected Ahern now, as leader of the party and with a duty to protect its interests, to have instituted an internal inquiry, and sought the return of the monies?
Unless . . . unless there were apprehensions that, if there were such an enquiry, other monies that had gone missing would come to light?
Nah. Couldn’t happen.
by Vincent Browne and John Byrne
Thursday, November 10, 2005(writing in the Village magazine.)
"Aengus Fanning brazenly used a front-page apology to the Lawlor family to boast about the size of his newspaper's readership. This disingenuous act speaks a great deal about the character of the Sunday Independent, and its editor, Aengus Fanning
It took some effrontery to turn an apology for the most grotesque and deliberate exploitation of a family tragedy in the recent memory of Irish journalism into a front-page promotional stunt. That is precisely what Aengus Fanning did in the Sunday Independent last Sunday in contriving to turn what, on the face of, appeared to be an abject apology for his newspaper's coverage the previous week of the death of Liam Lawlor, into an advertisement for the newspaper's claimed one million readership.
The "apology" conceded the coverage of the previous week was "wrong and inappropriate". It claimed, disingenuously, that the coverage was a "mistake". But it was not a "mistake". As they went to press, they knew they were smearing the name of Liam Lawlor on the basis of mere speculation, in a way they would not have dared had he still been alive. The woman in the car they said, quoting an unidentified Moscow police officer, was "likely to be a prostitute". They did not know whether she was a prostitute or not.
The "apology" claimed: "it was not our purpose to add to the grief and distress of a bereaved family". However, they were consciously indifferent to causing grief and distress to a bereaved family on the basis of what they knew was speculation, and what they should have known was thoroughly unreliable speculation (the same source was quoted as claiming, falsely, that Liam Lawlor and the woman had not known each other previously).
Worse than that, perhaps, it has now emerged that a close associate of Liam Lawlor, Pat Long, alerted the Sunday Independent newsroom on Saturday evening once the first editions of the newspaper had gone on sale, telling them that the woman in the car was not a prostitute but an interpreter who had travelled from Prague with Liam Lawlor. It may emerge that they deliberately dismissed this too, so as not to spoil a "good story", although it must be acknowledged that the line-editor who took this call now denies this information was imparted to him.
But the swagger and disingenuousness of the "apology" speaks more about the character of the newspaper that Aengus Fanning has helped to mould, than the recklessness of the coverage the previous week. There is, in the "apology", a scarcely concealed scorn for the outrage of the "little people" over previous Sunday's coverage. There is a brazen confidence that he can survive any temporary little squabble, knowing he has the enduring support of his patron and master, Mr Tony O'Reilly (alias, in the deferential press, "Dr" O'Reilly or "Sir" Anthony O'Reilly).
Aengus Fanning has good reason to feel impervious to such squalls. Mr/Dr/Sir O'Reilly has stood by him throughout other instances of disgrace. There was the bogus claim in 1993 to have secured the first "world exclusive" interview with Bishop Casey after he had fled Ireland; there was the Mary Ellen Synon embarrassment over the Paralympics and Travellers; the sustained, bitter campaign against the Northern Ireland peace process and multitudes of other ignominies – including the vindictive and comprehensively ignorant assault on the character and reputation of Proinsias de Rossa which ended up costing the newspaper well in excess of €1m. There was the nasty libel of Pat Kenny and his wife, and, more recently, the smear of a Muslim school in Cabra, Dublin.
And the reason for Fanning's arrogant confidence is that he has delivered an extraordinarily successful (in commercial terms) package which has become by far the most profitable horse in the O' Reilly stable – certainly the O'Reilly Irish stable. The mixture of sleaze, gossip, comment (reams of same), great business and sports and, occasionally, impressive breaking news coverage, propelled the sales of the Sunday Independent to 342,153 in 1997. The highest sale of any newspaper on the island of Ireland. In reaching that pinnacle, it was helped enormously by the demise of its long-time rival, the Sunday Press, which for decades had far outstripped the sale of the Sunday Independent. The demise of the Sunday Press added a massive 80,000 sales to the Sunday Independent. It was quite an achievement of marketing, packaging and editing for the Sunday Independent to have retained those disappointed Sunday Press purchasers: the profile of the two papers would have been very different, particularly in the latter years of the Sunday Press (more rural, older and more down-market).
Fanning was an unlikely choice as editor of the Sunday Independent. He succeeded the late Michael Hand. A fine writer and great raconteur, Hand had no expertise in marketing and did not have the drive to lift the sales and profitability of the Sunday Independent that O'Reilly required. In 1984 he was brutally removed and, to the surprise of almost everyone, probably including himself, Aengus Fanning, was appointed. The surprise was because Fanning's previous experience in journalism had been almost entirely as the Irish Independent's (and group's) agricultural correspondent.
He was born on April 22, 1944, the fourth of six children, and grew up in Tralee, Co Kerry. His father was a schoolteacher, but came from a newspaper background; the Fannings from Birr, Co Offaly, owned the Midland Tribune. It was there Aengus Fanning was first exposed to newspapers.
"I hung around the newspaper, went out in the vans with the reporters, pestering them with questions... I went to the courts and would sit there quietly and listen all day," he said in a 1993 interview with Ivor Kenny. "I absorbed an awful lot, without being conscious of it. I absorbed things through the pores of my skin that now seem second-nature."
School was the Christian Brothers in Tralee, then a Bachelor of Commerce at UCC. Then it was back to the Midland Tribune where his uncle gave him a job. The cub reporter seems mostly to have covered violent local hurling matches, deaths, weddings and court cases. "You learned some things, like getting the name, address and age right," he said in that 1993 interview – an ironic reflection given recent events. Five years later he joined Independent Newspapers, where, initially, he was "in awe". "I thought that everybody there must be good." That illusion was immediately destroyed by a senior editor ("there are no geniuses out there!"), and from there, life seemed easy.
"I couldn't believe the small amount of work I had to do," he said.
He worked as a reporter. "In those days you had to have about 20 years experience under your belt before you'd be trusted with an important story. Bill Shine was news editor of the Evening Herald and changed a lot of that, he wanted young people".
After four years he was made agricultural correspondent of the Independent Group. That position was more glamorous than it was previously because, in the 1970s, Ireland had just joined the European Community, and the primary focus of our membership was the benefits accruing from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). He developed an expertise and an élan and was probably the best agricultural correspondent around at the time, which was no small distinction. "The EEC was like an oil-well in the middle of Europe – all you had to do was to go over there and get the money and bring it back." In 1982 he was plucked into an editorial position on the Irish Independent by the then editor Aidan Pender (the predecessor of the recently retired Vincent Doyle), as news-analysis editor (responsible for the news analysis and comment on the editorial page). Then two years later still he was in the saddle in the Sunday Independent.
In that 1993 interview with Ivor Kenny he revealed his editorial philosophy: "If three or four papers out of 15 are successful and the others are not, they might say they're not driven by the market, they have some higher vocation: to serve the public interest or some pompous stuff like that. That's how they feel good about themselves. Fair enough, if that's how they want to explain the world. It's a grand excuse for relative failure... I think we live or die by the market, it will always win through."
He set about assembling a diverse team of editorial executives around him. Chief and by far the most important of these was Anne Harris, who had come over from being editor of the women's fashion and cosmetics magazine, Image. She had been married to Eoghan Harris, a secret but significant member of the Workers Party (previously Sinn Féin the Workers Party, previously Official Sinn Féin). He was deeply ideological, although the ideology by then had begun to spin from Stalinism to what has become rabid neo-conservatism. Anne Harris appears to have been the back seat passenger on that ideological roller-coaster, which propelled herself and her estranged husband into extraordinary changes of direction and allegiances, a propulsion which probably has not yet come to a standstill. Neither does she seem to have left the back seat of her estranged husband's rollercoaster, for he appears to remain a critical influence on her and, through her, on the Sunday Independent. Some insiders in Independent Newspapers claim Harris is the effective real editor of the newspaper, driving its anti-nationalist line and its neo-conservative orientation.
Anne Harris had started out as a hardline Official Sinn Féin adherent, at a time when the party still favoured violence and State monopolies. She wrote an infamous column for Hibernia magazine in 1972 scorning the critics of the Aldershot atrocity, where the Official IRA had murdered six cleaning women and a priest in an attack on the parachute regiment, in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday.
But the stint in Image magazine had caused her to abandon all that. She appeared to embrace the more lavish extremes of consumerism and around that time seems to have been introduced to "society" to which she took with enthusiasm.
But whatever was her ideological trajectory, she became the key editorial figure in Aengus Fanning's Sunday Independent. She commissioned and rewrote the gossip column, the defining feature of the newspaper when fronted by Terry Keane. It viciously intruded on the private lives of its subjects, with a tone that was mocking, disparaging, demeaning and which caused much hurt to its victims.
Journalists of real quality were recruited. David Walsh, the best sports writer around, came over from the Sunday Tribune. The late Mick Doyle was recruited as combative rugby commentator. Later, Shane Ross became business editor and he has produced the liveliest and best informed business section in any newspaper here. The oddest recruit was Gene Kerrigan, perhaps the best writer in Irish journalism but whose politics and disposition are precisely what the rest of the newspaper purports to loathe. He has been given the influential back page, now that gossip has been deemed passé.
Willie Kealy was recruited as news editor and did credibly. Jody Corcoran, who is in the teeth of the current controversy over the coverage of Liam Lawlor's death, did some excellent investigative work, although he was caught out on the Seamus Brennan/Aer Rianta story.
Others of note that came on board included Eamon Dunphy, Anthony Cronin, Conor Cruise O'Brien (occasionally, on loan from the Irish Independent) and Colm Toibín.
"I found him (Fanning) really wonderful as an employer and editor and it was a time when freelances were not treated very well elsewhere," says Colm Toibín. "He was very good about money, making sure you were paid enough and on time; he always made sure that my pieces were not cut or changed. In the two or three phone calls we had each week, he could be wildly entertaining and funny – he loves the phone – then offer you a long stream of consciousness about the many matters on his mind" Although he's known for his short temper (he physically assaulted a senior editorial executive in one newsroom fracas), Fanning is said to be good company. He loves cricket and jazz, enjoys conversation and argument.
The ideological tone delivered by the Harris duo has had a cruel edge. Perceived adversaries of the newspaper (but more especially of Mr/Dr/Sir O'Reilly) were/are targeted in the Fifth Column, an innovation seemingly introduced precisely for that purpose. Vulnerable minority groups have also been targeted. In 1996, polemicist Mary Ellen Synon described Travellers as living "a life worse than the beasts, for beasts at least, are guided by wholesome instinct. Traveller life is without the ennobling intellect of man or the steadying instinct of animals". Four years later, she described the Paralympics as "perverse and "grotesque", and that sport was not "about finding someone who can wobble his way around a track in a wheelchair or who can swim from one end of a pool by Braille".
But a decline has crept in. From the high of 342,153 in 1997, the sales have dropped progressively to 291,036, a decline of 51,117 (15 per cent). This has come about in part because of the onslaught on the Sunday market unleashed by London's Associated Newspapers through Ireland on Sunday, but only partly that. The Sunday Independent has lost its edge (including – crucially? – "the Keane Edge"). Aengus Fanning is now less of an asset to Mr/Dr/Sir O'Reilly. And the cocky arrogance on display with the "apology" of Sunday 30 October may not be sustained for much longer."
So much for the Sunday Indo.! gutted i'm sure. Good on you Vincent.
By Joseph O'Malley,
Sunday June 10 2007
IN 1973, when I was appointed Political Correspondent for the Sunday Independent, Fianna Fail had 46 per cent of the vote and 48 per cent of the seats. Jack Lynch was leader, but the party was in opposition.
And a Fine Gael-Labour (national coalition) government under Liam Cosgrave was in power.
Thirty-four years later in 2007, as I retire and write my final column, Fianna Fail has 42 per cent of the vote and 47 per cent of the seats. And, after next Thursday they will be in power again; this time with a smaller percentage share of votes and seats than in 1973.
Since 1973 the economic landscape has been transformed, utterly, thanks to the benefits flowing from EU membership, and the growth and employment gains that have characterised the Celtic Tiger era. The political landscape, however, remains largely unchanged. There, Fianna Fail's dominance not just stands out. It has become far more pronounced. Worryingly so.
The party's grip on power is tightening, not loosening. No one understands that better than Fianna Fail, much better than the opposition parties do. The last time the electorate returned a Fine Gael-led government was in 1982, a quarter-century ago, under Garret FitzGerald as Taoiseach.
No party has been more pragmatic, more ready to sacrifice principle to secure power, and no one has done so more successfully than Fianna Fail. No party has been more prepared to make a virtue out of political necessity, as Charles Haughey so readily demonstrated in 1989. Then, he abandoned the Fianna Fail core value, no coalition. To retain power he agreed to share government in a coalition with the PDs.
Perhaps unwittingly, Charles Haughey in breaking the "no coalition" taboo, opened a new pathway to semi-permanent power for his party.
For by 2012, Fianna Fail will have been in government for 23 of the previous 25 years. Indeed, since 1922, Fianna Fail has been in office for two thirds of the period. Few parties in the democratic world can surpass such a record, save perhaps the Mexican Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Power corrupts. It corrupted the PRI. And, as the tribunals have shown, power has corrupted Fianna Fail.
Charles Haughey provides the case study. And the tribunals, which provide the evidence, now continue in judgement of others.
Fianna Fail since 1989 has become a serial monogamist, changing partners in government where that is necessary to retain power, and thereby establishing a semi-permanent grip on government.
That has left the opposition paralysed: uncertain whether (as the the Greens had done) to play the role of suitors-in-waiting for a possible power-sharing role with Fianna Fail. Or to do as Labour, courageously, did this time, though not in 2002. This time Labour offered themselves and Fine Gael as a non-Fianna Fail alternative government.
No sooner was this election over, and the campaign arguments forgotten, than the Greens were at the gates of Government Buildings, pressing their claims for a coalition partnership, and bringing their own cutlery (long spoons) to the negotiating table. Next time it could be Labour, if they revert to their 2002 policy position of deciding their attitude to government formation after, not before, an election. Or it could well be Sinn Fein seats that are required to make up the Fianna Fail numbers in future.
One thing is certain. Fianna Fail is unlikely to change a winning formula. The opposition parties will have to change a losing formula: by considering merger, amalgamation or whatever is necessary to achieve the critical political mass necessary to challenge what has now become a Fianna Fail monopoly on power. That means Fine Gael and Labour, if they are to build on what has been achieved in this election, may have to take a hard look at the historical facts, attempt to create a new party, and hope that it may be greater than the sum of its constituent parts.
Otherwise, the prospect is for virtual one-party government in perpetuity, with only the minor party changing at elections time, and the role of the opposition being reduced to little more than supplying Fianna Fail with the necessary numbers to maintain a Dail majority.
In December 1973, my first assignment as Political Correspondent was to cover the conference that produced the Sunningdale Agreement. It proved to be a false political dawn. The power-sharing executive collapsed in May 1974. A bold attempt to narrow the political divide was wrecked by the violence of the IRA, and by the strike 'I am grateful for that opportunity. It was a privilege and a pleasure to have served as an eyewitness to so many of the great history-making events since 1973' action of the loyalist Ulster Workers Council, who shut down the North's power supply.
Martin McGuinness was a self-confessed member of the IRA, at that time, intent on physically destroying the Stormont parliament, if possible. Today he is the Deputy First Minister at Stormont. Ian Paisley, who helped to mobilise the opposition to Sunningdale and to undermine Brian Faulkner as prime minister, is the North's First Minister. The Good Friday Agreement, which was only fully implemented nine years after it was signed in 1998, became, in Seamus Mallon's phrase, "Sunningdale for slow learners".
The "slow learners" extracted a heavy price for their failure to learn sooner the lesson of history: that violence does not pay, and that only government with the consent of the minority can succeed in the North.
As that lesson was being learnt painfully over nearly four decades, 3,722 lives were lost in the Northern troubles. The IRA inflicted the most pain, accounting for 58 per cent of those killed.
And Ian Paisley provided the most opposition to any political settlement being found sooner, sabotaging every effort but the final one that secured high office for him, but at a high price: sharing power with a former IRA Chief of Staff.
Keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer.
Journalism has been described as the first draft of history. And the vantage point of Political Correspondent in Leinster House for one third of a century has given me the opportunity to share with my colleagues in the writing of that first draft of history; as leaders rose and fell, as governments were formed and dissolved, and as political reputations were won and lost.
I am grateful for that opportunity. It was a privilege and a pleasure to have served as an eyewitness to so many of the great history-making events since 1973.
And I hope, by what I have written, to have offered you, the readers, some insight into, and understanding of, the major political controversies and dramas that have shaped, and defined, our lives.
- Joseph O'Malley, (Sunday Independent)
I am disappointed with the decision to drop the "Tonight" programme on RTE Radio One but I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to present it for 10 years. I thank RTE for that opportunity and also all those who worked with me on the programme, the participants and the listeners.
I will continue writing for Village magazine and for the web site www.village.ie. I also, today, have a signed a contract with Random House to write a biography of Charles Haughey. Any assistance I can get from members of the public will be very welcome.
written by Eoghain, July 04, 2007
? don't know how I'm going to survive without "Tonight with VB". It has become an essential guide to that perplexing country that can only be described as "Bertieville F.C."
I will miss the great fun and craic that the programme has engendered, Vincent's unrelenting, irreverent and incise deconstruction of all manner of sacred cow and cardboard cut-out politician, the reconstructions of the deconstructions and the de-framings of the framings and the re-framings ? the revealation of the unvarnished canvass of truth.
It did indeed "all come out in the wash", as the great James Gogarty said.
To paraphrase another, you did do us some service, Vincent, and you deserve our thanks and best wishes for the future.
written by PJ Quinn, July 04, 2007
My other favourite RTE radio program was Scrap Saturday. That was axed at the height of it's popularity.
radio evenings exclusively with BBC Radio 4 from now on
written by Mícheál Cogan, July 05, 2007
Vincent, thank you for the invaluable service and fun you provided. We would be a lot less informed about the goings on in our democracy without you. This news is far more important to the tribunals than the Supreme Court decision. If no one knows what is going on, there is little point anyway.
written by Fiona Goodwin, July 07, 2007
I am horrified that the Show is being dropped. It was such essential listening for those concerned with the dark underbelly of Irish politics. Vincent Browne is also the only journalist consistently speaking up for those who are truly oppressed in modern Ireland. I would like to thank him for the years of informative, thought-provoking and sometimes side-splitting radio listening
written by M McDonagh, July 07, 2007
Thanks Vincent for many enjoyable evenings listening to your show. You will be sorely missed on the airwaves. Come back soon.
"Tonight with Vincent Browne"
written by (Fr.) Patrick Rogers, July 09, 2007
I'm very sorry to read of your programme ending its run while it is still enjoyed by so many listeners, including myself. Thanks for many evenings of lively debate and not a few moments of genuine and needed enlightenment about what's really going on in this country.
I look forward to listening to you on another channel.
written by Eoghan & Paula, July 16, 2007
We were very disappointed to hear that 'Tonight' had been axed. We may not have always agreed with your views, but you will be missed in the same way that McDowall (First time that VB has been associated with MMcD?!) and Joe Higgins are. Increasingly it seems Ireland is losing those public figures which represent anything other than banal consesus!
You were often the reason that my wife and I scurried up to our bedside radio at 10pm.
Hope to hear you on anyother channel soon, Thanks.
Browne helps equality, or does he?
written by Eugene, July 24, 2007
Rumour has it that with "Tonight ..." being scrapped Vincent Browne, in an effort to reduce income disparity in Ireland, and promote egalitarianism, is not rushing off to a different radio station to make, in one of his three income earning jobs ( The Village probably being a drain) much more every year than the people he lectures to about self same egalitarianism.
Or not. Egalitarianism is for the little people, obviously.
written by Tom Jordan, August 14, 2007
I reiterate what the first seven people wrote. I hate what RTE Radio 1 is becoming. John Kelly, Miles Dungan, John Creedon and now the mainstay of common sense and critical analysis, the great VB, all axed.
This tabloid-style populism is a very dangerous and counter-productive road to take.
We should all object in writing, protest outside, do what we must. Informed public, strong democracy. We're getting the American version, cajoled public, puppet leaders, weak democracy.
written by Stiofain, September 28, 2007
I've been living abroad for many years now and coming into work in the morning and listening to the previous night's show has always been a highlight of my day for me. The wit, sharpness, straight-to-the-point bluntness, etc... will all be sorely missed. I wonder was it because of the questioning of Bertie at that election campaign press conference?
Whatever, thanks a million and look forward to hearing you elsewhere.
good night Mr Browne.
written by Trevor Walsh, October 16, 2007
VINCENT BROWNE is sacked, EOGHAN HARRIS rewarded.Just two of Bertie's post election adjustments.VB done what the opposition couldn't,took Bertie on and won hands down. This decision along with the RTE v B.Flynn "let off" proves how much pull Bertie has at Montrose,T walsh,Dublin