Monday 24 July 2017

Michael O'Doherty: Maybe Alan's old boss Mary didn't have quite the write approach

Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor and her former adviser Alan Cantwell outside the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on Kildare Street. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor and her former adviser Alan Cantwell outside the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on Kildare Street. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Michael O'Doherty

Michael O'Doherty

Two stories over the weekend reminded us all of the unenviable life of those involved in government.

Former Environment Minister Alan Kelly spoke about the abuse that was hurled at him while out walking with his young daughters, courtesy of his involvement in the water charge fiasco.

He also highlighted the fear that dogs so many politicians, "afraid to say what they really believe" and for whom survival is the main goal, trying to court sufficient popularity as they try to live "election to election".

Perception is hugely important, of course, which is why Kelly comes across so well, with his distaste for those who mince their words and resort to meaningless soundbites.

Alan Kelly
Alan Kelly

FLATTERING

Which brings us nicely to Mary Mitchell O'Connor, the other minister in the news at the weekend.

The release of private correspondence between her and her former adviser, Alan Cantwell, paints her in a somewhat less than flattering light.

There is rarely smoke without fire, so when former TV3 news presenter Cantwell quit as adviser to Mitchell O'Connor less than six months after taking up the post, and giving only four days' notice, eyebrows were most certainly raised.

The Jobs Minister insisted at the time that there was nothing untoward about his departure, saying that "Alan is a good colleague and friend and I was sad to see him leave".

However, emails between the two immediately prior to Cantwell's resignation suggest a degree of tension, with the minister seemingly unhappy at the way she was coming across in her speeches.

While no one envies the busy life of a government minister, the emails do make one feel some sympathy for Cantwell.

In one exchange, she criticised his draft speech for having "loads of typos", which might seem a bit rich when you consider the email she sent him in the previous month about a policy speech she wished to give.

In it, she hinted at style over substance, the very thing Alan Kelly finds so distasteful.

"I would like a warm, empathetic narrative and response," she asked of Cantwell, "using words like 'just society', 'we', 'rural', 'ambitious', 'caring' - a few good adjectives, memorable soundbites (less than nine words) and phrases that will resonate with listeners rather than short trite answers."

fussy

It's more than a tad ironic that someone who is so fussy about typos should include two of her own in the brief.

Of even greater note, however, is the minister's demand that this collection of superficial, meaningless buzzwords should result in the speech "sounds like MMO'C ... in my voice please".

She concluded with the request: "I want to make the answers my own."

You can almost picture Cantwell muttering that there is one surefire way of making the speech sound "like your own", and reflecting "your own voice".

Write it yourself.

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