Saturday 20 January 2018

Fianna Fáil missing the point in effort to shoot the messenger

Leader of Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin at the opening of party Ard Fheis 2015 in the RDS
Leader of Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin at the opening of party Ard Fheis 2015 in the RDS
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

As soon as the 'Claire Byrne Live' programme came to air last Monday night, the words 'agenda' and 'conspiracy' could be heard coming loudly from Fianna Fáil circles.

Just weeks earlier, the party's representatives used an Oireachtas committee hearing to accuse RTÉ bosses of bias.

There were six weeks of the 'Claire Byrne Live' programme without involvement by Fianna Fáil and this was completely unacceptable, claimed the party's communications spokesman, Michael Moynihan.

The programme covered the issue of childcare without featuring the new policy document by the Fianna Fáil spokesman on children, Robert Troy.

"Deputy Robert Troy produced an excellent policy document on childcare in which he reflected the concerns of the main stakeholders, from parents right through to workers," Mr Moynihan said.

"RTÉ, however, when it did a programme on childcare, did not find his document newsworthy. Instead, the RTÉ panel consisted of people who did not have as much information as Deputy Troy. This clearly showed a bias."

Why was Fianna Fáil being so unfairly treated by the national broadcaster and particularly its new flagship show?

Like all sections of the media, RTÉ gave additional focus to the Fianna Fáil party this week in the run-up to its 76th Ard Fheis in Dublin.

The same programme that has been apparently snubbing Fianna Fáil even dedicated an entire segment examining the party's standing in politics.

The panel was evenly split, with Fianna Fáil represented by its justice spokesman Niall Collins and former deputy leader Mary O'Rourke.

The audience consisted of Fianna Fáil supporters and representatives, as well as Irish citizens who for legitimate reasons cannot bring themselves to vote for the party again.

But from Fianna Fáil's perspective, the party was being set up.

Niall Collins claimed he has only been invited to appear on RTÉ programmes in recent weeks in order to discuss poll ratings.

Immediately after the programme ended, Fianna Fáil figures were already talking about lodging a complaint against RTÉ.

"Who are the people in RTÉ who continually decide to run hatchet jobs on FF?" tweeted party senator Thomas Byrne.

As the week continued, the party bemoaned coverage by this newspaper about the highly-intriguing 'Battle of Blackrock' involving Mary Hanafin.

"The only people interested in Mary Hanafin are the Irish Independent," one party official said.

Coverage of former councillor Mary Fitzpatrick's claims the party is facing the prospect of its demise led to incredulous accusations that we were seeking to "smother" the Siteserv controversy - a story that appeared on our front page three days in a row.

Returning to the airwaves, Fianna Fáil figures were less than pleased with broadcaster Richard Crowley's robust interview with party leader Micheál Martin on the 'This Week' programme yesterday.

Mr Crowley pursued Mr Martin over his pledge to abolish Irish Water and sought to know how Fianna Fáil would fund its plans. Mr Martin admitted he didn't have specific figures, but said it would fund its plans through general taxation.

Reacting to the interview, Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney tweeted sarcastically: "Hey This Week RTÉ, it's an interview with Micheál Martin not with Richard Crowley."

Such was the level of paranoia about media coverage this week, some Fianna Fáil TDs discussed the prospect of "going to war" with certain journalists.

It is the type of language you tend to hear sometimes from Sinn Féin circles. It smacks of desperation from a party that appears to be in denial about its popularity. Ard fheiseanna provide an opportunity for reflection and taking stock.

Many delegates at the RDS expressed deep frustration when asked about the party's standing.

Talk that Fianna Fáil has lost some of its core republican values may not please party handlers, but it was very much on the lips of party members at the weekend.

They are concerned that the hard work being carried out at a local level is being lost as a result of the infighting that has plagued the parliamentary party.

Fianna Fáil hierarchy should consider whether the constant swipes at the media are serving the interests of many members who refuse to abandon the party they love so dear.

Irish Independent

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