Wednesday 11 December 2019

I'm not Osama bin Laden': Waters

Columnist accuses 'Irish Times' of having a 'toxic culture' at its heart

Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Controversial columnist John Waters has accused The Irish Times of treating him like "Osama bin Laden".

In the second part of an interview with the Sunday Independent, the writer called on his former employers to "make some gesture" to him following the high-profile breakdown of his relationship with the newspaper.

When asked what he is planning to do after discovering that former colleague Patsy McGarry, the newspaper's religious affairs correspondent, was behind a Twitter account publicly criticising him, Waters told the Sunday Independent: "I am waiting for The Irish Times to do the decent thing."

Asked if an apology would be "the decent thing", he added: "I don't know. In The Irish Times lexicon, I don't know if there is any such thing. I think the word decency has been erased"

Irish Times editor Kevin O'Sullivan wished Waters well after the columnist announced his departure from the newspaper. He also expressed his gratitude to the writer and told him that his journalism mattered at The Irish Times.

However, Waters expressed bitter disappointment at how he felt he was treated by the newspaper to which he had contributed for 24 years.

Waters said: "The reputational damage to The Irish Times on this is so extreme that they have to take some action."

He added: "I would again have been happy when I drew this [rogue Twitter account] to the attention of the editor two months ago, if the editor actually had the courtesy to ring me or talk to me and say to me, 'John, this shouldn't have happened, we are dealing with it, we will get Patsy [McGarry] to call you and apologise', that would have been the end of it. I wouldn't have even gone public about it."

The Irish Times has yet to comment publicly on the matter.

In a passionate – and at times highly fraught – interview, it is clear that the high-profile spat with his former employers has taken its toll on the writer.

In an angry tirade, Waters described The Irish Times as "a very sick institution".

He also said: "This fundamentally is about a toxic culture at the heart of The Irish Times, which no longer actually subscribes its views to the principles [of the newspaper]. I will read them out to you."

Reading aloud from the memorandum of articles of The Irish Times Trust, Waters then went on to list the ways in which he feels the newspaper had failed to live up to its promise. These include the newspaper's pledge towards the discouragement of discrimination of all kinds; the promotion of a friendly society and the promotion of peace and tolerance and opposition to all forms of violence and hatred.

"Huh? It's satirical. This is satire. This is f**king satire," he said.

Waters applied for the job of editor at the Irish Times in 2011, but said his sole wish at the time was to air his grievances over the direction the newspaper is taking.

"I applied to be editor of The Irish Times to make these points even though I wasn't going to get the job, but in 2011 I decided that the moment was so serious – so grave in my view – that I went along to make a number of points to the panel.

"I didn't want the job. Let me be absolutely clear I did not go for the job either expecting to get the job or wanting to get the job. I went to make a case for something that has been absent in The Irish Times for a long time," he said.

Waters also took issue with the way in which he is dealt with when he visits the newspaper's office in Dublin.

"Let me describe to you the process when I go in. I can go in to any street in Ireland and people will say, 'that's John Waters from The Irish Times'. When I go into The Irish Times, people don't even recognise me. They start issuing me with a badge and I have to fill out a form and then they have to ring somebody from upstairs to come down and claim me. And escort me into the building.

"I am there 24 years and you would think that that would be kind of . . . you know, I am not Osama bin Laden," he said.

"It's bullshit, that's what it is. Obama's gym doesn't have as much security as The Irish Times. It's bullshit," he said.

Waters also told how he felt frozen out by his former colleagues at the newspaper. "I don't really have relationships with anyone in The Irish Times anymore. Because over the years, their attitudes to me – because of my writing about men – have become so hostile and they have made many attempts to have me fired."

He added: "I would like some gesture to be made to acknowledge the incongruity between what The Irish Times is supposed to stand for and what this shows that it is actually like."

When asked if this meant a financial gesture, he replied: "I haven't asked anyone for financial gestures in my life. I don't even know what a financial gesture is. Raising a fiver in the air. Is that a financial gesture? If The Irish Times want to give me money, I won't refuse any money they will give me. But it's been pretty miserly with its money in the past so I don't think it's going to change this in the future. I would like some decency."

Waters, who sparked controversy over his remarks on depression in last week's Sunday Independent, said he has saved many men from the brink of suicide who have been left in despair at the hands of the family courts.

"What has affected me more than that is the absolute attempt to bully me into silence on the issue. I have no right to speak [for] my own humanity. Or the humanity of thousands of men who come to me in despair. Many men I have pulled back from the brink of a cliff, suicide, because I was able to get to them in time. This society is indifferent to it. The legal profession has stitched it up."

But when a study from last year, which found young gay people in this country are seven times more likely to commit suicide, was quoted to him earlier in the interview he replied: "I have seen no evidence to support that or substantiate that. I have dealt with suicide – male suicide for 20 odd years – I have written about it. I have never come across that as a significant phenomenon."

He also commented separately that what he has come across is "a phenomenon of fathers who have been disenfranchised from their children, and nobody wants to talk about that".

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News