independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

John-Paul McCarthy: Montrose fails to see value in Lowry story

John-Paul McCarthy ponders the passive reaction of both the Government and RTE to the Lowry tapes

THE Lowry affairs continued to fester last week, and the various twists and turns in this extra-ordinary tale help us take the national pulse.

That said, readers may be wondering if the national broadcaster has any pulse at all after a fairly dismal week for Montrose.

RTE missed several boats this last week.

The Irish Examiner carried a powerful piece last Monday that bore the subheading: "Michael Lowry is still refusing to answer questions about apparent contradictions to his evidence to the Moriarty tribunal after pressure was raised on him by a junior minister."

Niall Murray explained in the piece that "Minister of State Alan Kelly has called on the Independent TD to stop ignoring the questions arising from evidence that emerged two weeks ago about payments to a land agent. He is the most senior politician in the Government side of the Dail to make such a call publicly".

The Kelly intervention added extra spice to the whole imbroglio.

The fact that Lowry is still a viable political actor after the Moriarty tribunal's findings on the Esat licence was one weighty thing for sure.

Niall Murray's piece showed that this issue now also had to be screened through the prism of mounting coalition tensions about Lowry's relationship with Fine Gael.

A very big deal for a Monday morning, right?

Not for RTE though.

The What it Says in the Papers slot on Monday's Morning Ireland contained snippets from the Examiner's coverage of the ongoing mortgage crisis, Sister Patricia Wall's sky dive, and some incident that involved a brave constable who sustained 25 stitches.

Reflections on 'Ming' Flanagan's driving technique and the tweets of Gerry Adams rounded out a desultory summary of news stories.

The Murray article might never have been written.

Listeners were treated to the same thing the day before.

RTE's flagship This Week programme was equally bored by the Lowry material that had been flagged in these pages. This Week gave priority in its podcasts to the property tax, the Magdalene Laundries, Venezuela's mourning for its fallen caudillo, and American torture squads in Iraq. The news headlines at one o'clock dealt with a fire near Stuttgart and the Falklands referendum.

Jody Corcoran's story about Alan Kelly's challenge to Lowry and the resulting coalition tensions was somehow deemed to be of less national news value than these dregs of the international arena.

You needed to listen to Shane Coleman and Chris Donoghue on their Tuesday morning breakfast show on Newstalk to stay up to date.

They ran riveting snippets from a confrontation between Lowry and Seamus Martin on Tipp FM, a local DJ who put Lowry under serious pressure.

Over on TV3 on Thursday night then, Vincent Browne provided an even more glaring contrast to RTE's handling of Lowry.

Browne played the famous tape of the phone call between Lowry and Kevin Phelan.

He assembled a tough and forensic panel that included Sam Smyth, Elaine Byrne and Conor Ryan from the Examiner to join the dots for the rest of us.

Smyth reminded people of Lowry's strong Fine Gael pedigree and his prowess in the fundraising arena during the Rainbow government era of 1994-1997.

Byrne then made the telling point that the present Fine Gael-Labour cabinet wasn't taking the Lowry issue at all seriously – despite all its talk of whistle-blow- ing charters and anti-corruption acts.

Reasonable people obviously still find it hard to understand why the Government hasn't reacted more aggressively to the Lowry tapes, considering the fact that he was the Fine Gael minister responsible for the biggest procurement decision in the history of the State.

Micheal Martin put it succinctly a few weeks ago when he explained to a bored Taoiseach and a grinning Minister for Communications that that "what concerns me most, as one of many members who set up the Moriarty tribunal, is whether the tribunal was continually undermined in its efforts to get to the full truth of the issues it was investigating".

Martin had to scold the minister at one point, saying: "This is not a laughing matter, Deputy Rabbitte."

That's quite an array of reactions to process.

The brave Newstalk breakfast team doubles down and keeps digging.

TV3 aired the Lowry tapes so citizens can digest it for themselves.

The Minister for Communications found the whole business to be funny, offering at the very least a studied contrast to the Taoiseach's indifference and RTE's comparative silence.

Could RTE be ignoring the work of people like Jody Corcoran, Niall Murray and the brave Newstalk breakfast duo because it cannot see any news value in the Lowry tapes?

If so, that's quite a waste of the licence fee.

Maybe Montrose has got the giggles like its minister and, as such, can't quite match the moral seriousness of News- talk and TV3?

A chill wind blows.

Irish Independent

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