Saturday 1 October 2016

Kim Bielenberg: Rabbitte attacks the media, but he’s master of the personal putdown

Published 08/01/2013 | 15:22

Pat Rabbitte
Pat Rabbitte

IT IS a familiar gripe of ministers. Pat Rabbitte has been sounding off on RTE’s Frontline about the media’s coverage of politics.

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Many will agree with the minister’s complaint that attacks on our political class have become “too personalised”.

How many of us could withstand the bombardment of ridicule that our TDs are subjected to?

But few politicians have done as much in the field of vituperative infotainment as that none too delicate flower, Pat Rabbitte himself.

Listening to the minister, perched atop his high horse, I wondered whether this was the same Mr Rabbitte who livened up many a dull debate and election campaign with his withering personal putdowns.

I was at a press conference in 2002 when the TD complained about the number of Bertie Ahern posters in his constituency: “The Taoiseach's face has been more in evidence this last month than Kylie Minogue’s backside."

Five years later, Kylie’s star had faded somewhat, but Pat Rabbitte’s enthusiasm for icons of popular culture was undimmed.

During the 2007 general election campaign the erudite Labour frontbencher fired off a barrage at PD leader Michael McDowell.

"Michael is like a menopausal Paris Hilton,” said the statesmanlike Rabbitte. “He's an inveterate attention seeker.”

When he delivered these choice soundbites, Pat Rabbitte, was surely not naïve enough to believe they would not be reported ahead of his pearls of wisdom on Labour’s taxation policy.

Rabbitte famously once complained that RTE’s Oireachtas Report was on so late that only “drunks and insomniacs” watched it.

Even these tipsy night owls would probably have switched the programme off were it not for some of Rabbitte’s memorable barbs.

He once told the Dail: "I met a woman in Cork last week who told me that every time Minister Seamus Brennan gives an interview, her dog licks the television set. . . And every time the Minister for Justice (Michael McDowell) gives an interview, the dog uncontrollably barks."

In an ideal world, the media and politicians would always play the ball and not the man. But,as no less a figure than Michael Noonan has observed, sometimes Munster rugby club rules must apply.

Of course, the vulgar abuse directed at politicians should stop, but the Dail would be a poorer place if Mr Rabbitte was discouraged from delivering the kind of comment that he made in the Dail in 2008:

“The only highlights I have seen since the Green Party entered government are those in Deputy Gogarty's hair.”

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