Thursday 21 November 2019

Rabbitte blames RTE not failure of Coalition

Broadcaster has many faults, but the rise of Sinn Fein and the far-left begs radical answers to philosophical questions

Pat Rabbitte
Pat Rabbitte
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

So a semi-state company regularly meets with a Government minister and no minutes or other records of note are kept or published.

This semi-state pays its senior people massive salaries, but the details are also kept under wraps or have to be dragged kicking and screaming from said company and only then are made available when they are several years out of date.

And the citizens of the State are obliged, under threat of law, to pay a considerable three-figure sum every year for the service of this semi-state or face prosecution, a fine and/or of being sent to jail.

But enough about RTE, the State broadcaster, other than to duly note a certain level of irony in relation to its coverage of Irish Water and the anti-water-charges protests in general.

It is difficult to have much sympathy either for the case made by Pat Rabbitte, the former Minister for Communications, who in that capacity until recently had effectively taken up squatter's rights at RTE to be allowed to forcefully, and virtually unchallenged, make the case for the Government.

Last week Mr Rabbitte accused RTE of having effectively acted as a "recruiting agent" for Sinn Fein and the far-left on the water charges issues? RTE, of course, "absolutely refutes" the claims of imbalanced and biased coverage. Mr Rabbitte has a point when he says that RTE has failed to give as much airtime to the claimed need for the introduction of water charges - to raise funds to fix the country's archaic water system - as it has to the water charge protests, with the exception, I would say, of some excellent reports by RTE's Environment Correspondent, George Lee, who has outlined well the case for Irish Water.

But does that make RTE a hotbed for Shinners and the hard left? Well, no - not a hotbed; more a warm bed after a lover's lingering embrace, I would say. Nothing new there, says you.

I do not recall the former Communications Minister appearing quite so agitated after the Presidential Debate, perhaps because on that occasion the Labour Party was the beneficiary: it is worth recalling that Michael D Higgins was not asked a single direct question in that decisive debate.

So there is a certain irony now that Mr Rabbitte has chosen to cut loose when his Party is on the receiving end of coverage at Montrose, none of which should excuse RTE for giving unfettered access to the airwaves to Mary Lou McDonald or Paul Murphy, as so often seems to be the case, as it was when Pat himself was the Minister.

Whether all of this coverage by the state broadcaster will ultimately see Sinn Fein and the far-left sweep to power is another matter, however.

But if they do, the answer to the question "Why?" should be far more searching than the role played by RTE, if any.

Another opinion poll last week showed Sinn Fein neck-and-neck with Fine Gael to lead the next Government, with Fianna Fail still in the position of kingmaker; into either bed it could slip, or neither.

Other outcomes remain: Renua Ireland and/or the planned new alliance may also have a say in all of this, as indeed may Labour itself, or its remnants.

So everything has changed or is about to change and not just here. Throughout Europe, the change brought about by the ravages of almost a decade of austerity beg a far more simple question, which is - what did you expect?

I am in agreement with Peter Mandelson, or, if you like, we are in agreement with each other - last week he said the traditional "electoral levers and buttons" are not working as they have in the past and the establishment parties have to come to terms with this revelation: a jaded and cynical electorate wanted to hear "something different and more radical".

That word again - radical. I have repeatedly argued that the centre will hold, but only if the centre is radical.

A decisive section of society gives the appearance of turning to Sinn Fein and the far-left because the centre of Fianna Fail and Labour is no different or not radical enough for current tastes.

The Government is in a race against time, finding itself hoping against hope that the economy will turn in time, or that the turn will manifest itself in people's pockets.

To soothe itself, and make the case, both Fine Gael and Labour, particularly Labour, turn as they did again last week to the analysis of the ESRI, whose former chief economist, John FitzGerald recently admitted to his serious errors before the crash; and to the IMF, who declared last week that opposition to the water charges was "weakening" and that the economy is booming or about to boom or to get boomier. Our good friends at Goldman Sachs have also felt it appropriate to intervene.

These interventions will have some influence, but a "jaded and cynical" electorate is no longer prepared to play again with such levers or buttons which, of itself is so lacking the elan of the radical, is so devoid of imagination to almost totally fail to understand what is required to hold the centre.

It is no longer just about the economy, stupid - not just - a shorthand view from another age. The answer is far more philosophical.

The answer to the question - will Sinn Fein and the far-left sweep to power? - is no, not this time, but next time if the establishment parties do not de-establish their unshakeable certainties.

Those certainties dictate that the populists will lose their sheen. The gloss may be fading. In Greece, Syriza is on the back foot, but will still leverage something; in France, the National Front did well but not as well as it had hoped in first-round departmental elections; and in Spain, Podemos has also failed to shine in regional elections in the left-wing stronghold of Andalucia.

But in their race against time, Fine Gael and Labour, and others, are deluding themselves if they think Sinn Fein and the far-left will just fade away, or will not come again, next time all the way, if radical answers are not provided to the most basic of questions related to, say, low pay, the living wage, zero-hour contracts and pushing back against the tide, such questions which ask how do we live in community and with equality; how do we more than live, or exist, but thrive with freedoms of emotion and character of spirit?

These simple concepts have been made more complex than they need to be, are not answered in the dry texts of ESRI or IMF reports, but are strangled in the confusion of our new existence, wreaking a sort of mental torture, perpetual, from one day to the next, never seeming to go away, but slowly dawning into a frightening realisation, a new reality which asks, after 10 years of austerity - is this it?

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