Thursday 18 October 2018

Enda spared from Croke Park booing

THERE is growing evidence that the Taoiseach's handlers are micro-managing his every public appearance to ensure that he is not exposed to any possible negative interaction with the public or the media.

Yesterday it emerged that the Taoiseach, who has now confirmed he will not accept RTE's invitation to debate the Seanad's abolition with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, is being shielded from the embarrassing disapproval of the public when he attends Croke Park.

This follows the outbreak of booing and jeering when he appeared on the big screen at the football quarter-final between Dublin and Cork last month.

The Sunday Independent has learned that GAA chiefs ordered that a photo of the VIP section at Croke Park, where the Taoiseach and government ministers were guests at last weekend's football final, be censored, when Mr Kenny's own country, Mayo, were defeated by Dublin.

A source close to the Department of the Taoiseach has told the Sunday Independent it was made clear to the GAA authorities that steps should be taken to "avoid the Taoiseach being placed in that position again".

However, the GAA denied that it had received any request not to show images of the Taoiseach on the screens.

"No decision was taken – nor was such a request received from any quarter – to keep An Taoiseach off the big screen. Indeed, his arrival before the Taoiseach's salute pitchside was carried on both of the screens," a GAA spokesman said.

But on Friday, the GAA confirmed that a decision was taken to ask Eircom to blur the VIP section as a courtesy to their guests.

"The FanPic was used for the first time here at Croke Park this year and in light of that a decision was taken to block out the ard comhairle area and the GAA box out of respect for our invited guests.

"This is an approach that has been adopted at other venues," GAA spokesman Alan Milton told the Sunday Independent.

During Ireland's international soccer match against Sweden at the Aviva Stadium, a similar FanPic was created but no part of the image was blurred, including the part of the stadium where President Higgins was seated.

And yesterday, government press secretary Feargal Purcell denied that any representations had been made in relation to the Taoiseach's image being shown on the Croke Park screens

He described the booing of the Taoiseach during the Cork-Dublin match as merely "a bit of banter from the Hill".

But Eircom, a key sponsor of the GAA All-Ireland senior championships, confirmed that it had received a request from Croke Park that the ard comhairle section of the Hogan Stand, where Mr Kenny, ministers, TDs and President Higgins were seated along with other invited guests, be blurred from the 360-degree image.

More than 210,000 people logged on to Eircom's FanPic to spot themselves, friends and family at the football final. More than 18,000 fans "tagged" themselves and shared the pictures online.

But they were unable to see the government politicians and special guests of the GAA seated in the best seats in the house – the ard comhairle section, where the Sam Maguire Cup was presented to Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton after last week's epic encounter with Mayo.

Earlier in the week, there was another incident in which an RTE journalist was prevented from recording the appearance of the Taoiseach at a referendum meeting in Killiney, Co Dublin.

RTE's Fergal Keane was told by Mr Kenny's Fine Gael handlers that they would not allow him to record Mr Kenny's address to the meeting because "although it was a public event, it was not a media event".

Afterwards, the journalist said he was astonished to be told by a senior party handler not to record any part of the meeting at the Killiney Court Hotel at which Mr Kenny spoke and which was attended by about 200 people.

Mr Keane said: "Again you are left asking yourself what is the big issue about keeping Mr Kenny off the airwaves in situations that aren't fairly heavily controlled?"

This growing pattern was remarked upon last week by Mr Kenny's former government colleague, Ivan Yates, who accused the Taoiseach of having a "control-freak" approach.

"The Taoiseach is refusing a head-on debate (on the Seanad referendum). He was accused of being a dictator. How does this guff pass for serious political debate? He is getting away with being the most unaccountable leader in Europe," Mr Yates wrote.

Yesterday on RTE Radio, the Ceann Comhairle, Sean Barrett, appeared to criticise the Government's failure to accommodate dissenting voices.

Another Fine Gael rebel joined in the chorus of criticism of Mr Kenny's style of leadership. Senator Fidelma Healy Eames said such a lack of willingness to accommodate different views was deeply concerning.

"This type of behaviour, where voices are being stifled and closed down, and the silencing of free speech must make people think deeply about the consequences of closing down the Seanad," the senator told the Sunday Independent.

Meanwhile in the Seanad, Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway denounced the way the Fine Gael campaign ''demeans the profession of politics and the people who dedicate their lives to it.

"I describe it as a low form of a Tesco ad, the type of ad we do not like or an ad for cheap yellow-pack products we do not like."

But yesterday the Taoiseach rejected suggestions that his style was becoming autocratic, especially in relation to refusing to have a debate with Mr Martin.

He said: "I would reject every accusation that I am autocratic. What can be more democratic then asking the people, the electorate, for their view? I have a duty as leader of the party to uphold those rules. Those rules are made not by me but by the members of Fine Gael at the ard fheis."

Yesterday too, there were fresh allegations that Fine Gael was using heavy-handed tactics in the Seanad campaign by launching a personal attack on two of the Seanad's most high-profile defenders, Professor John Crown and Feargal Quinn.

This newspaper has obtained a copy of a statement from Fine Gael head office for the party's councillors to send to local media in the past few days, which singled out Senators Crown and Quinn for criticism.

The choreographed emailed statement, was sent last Thursday by Fine Gael's media and campaigns manager, Gillian Kavanagh, to councillors across the country.

The direct and highly personalised attacks on Quinn and Crown centred around their high-profile careers outside of the Seanad, asking: "Should the taxpayer really be paying for them only to turn up to the Seanad when they can fit it into their busy schedules?"

The statement also said: "What is very interesting to me is that some of the Independent senators who have been most vocal about saving the Seanad have dreadful voting records. Senator John Crown has missed half of all votes, while Senator Feargal Quinn's voting record is only marginally better."

Last night, Prof Crown reacted angrily to the statement, saying he felt "personally hurt" by the Fine Gael attempt to "assassinate" his character.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Crown said: "It is regrettable that a man who won't debate would indulge in personal assassinations.

"This is a deliberate attempt by Fine Gael to distort the truth and smear Feargal Quinn and myself."

- Jerome Reilly,  Daniel McConnell  and John Drennan

Sunday Independent

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