| 4.2°C Dublin

Eoghan Harris: Insidious Sinn Fein is only helped by Insider Ireland

SATURDAY: BREANDAN O hEither was never a member of the Insider Ireland circle. The thought surfaces in my stream of consciousness during the funeral mass in Donnybrook church for the late reporter's daughter Mairin and son Aindriu, who tragically died of cancer within days of each other.



I did not know Mairin or Aindriu personally. I was at the funeral from respect for their mother, Catherine, and their late father, the famous Breandan O hEither, with whom I worked in RTE's pioneering Feach programme from 1968-72 and who died in 1990 at only 60 years of age.

Every week Breandan and myself would get into his battered old banger and set out for Drogheda or Dungarvan in search of a story. First stop was the Goat Pub at the bottom of his road. Then we would drop Drogheda and Dungarvan and head for Spiddal or Doolin.

We always came back with a good story and bad memory lapses. How we got home was a mystery. My inscribed copy of his novel Lig Sin igCathu says simply: "I gcuimhne: mna, boithre, ol."

Time has taken its toll of that trio. But I can still see Breandan, in his worn Special Branch-style sports jacket, hunched over the wobbling wheel of his car, nothing much in his wallet, shortening the road with satirical monologues on the mohair-suited members of the Insider Ireland Club of that time.

Last Saturday in Donnybrook church I renewed my mental resolution not to let him down by showing the slightest deference to Insider Ireland. Because it is that society of the smug that gives credibility to chancers like Mick Wallace and Gerry Adams, who purport to speak for Outsider Ireland.

SUNDAY

Check my column and catch a horror. Moronically, I have written that in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara were serenaded with Mother Machree instead of I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.

Shaken, I tune into The Sunday Show on Newstalk, while recording Marian Finucane and Anton Savage on Today FM. Mark Dooley, a radical conservative and Roman Catholic, and thus not a member of Insider Ireland, is the star of the show, at least with listeners.

But neither the chairman, Michael O'Regan, nor the pedestrian panel seem comfortable with Dooley's sparkling polemics. So when he dares to criticise Ryan Tubridy, the panel rears up and makes itself ridiculous by roaring that Tubridy is a brilliant political interviewer. On what channel?

Later, listening back to the other media shows, I find all three have one thing in common. They won't touch the Terry Prone-Tom Savage story in the Sunday Independent. The one about Terry not telling Tom that their Communications Clinic was working with Fr Kevin Reynolds's religious order.

Terry Prone is Insider Ireland's Insider. And the Sunday media shows are not the first insiders to close ranks around her. Fergus Finlay has already attacked the Sunday Independent for daring to demand that Savage step down from the RTE Authority. And Justine McCarthy, another prolific contributor to RTE programmes, also rallied to Savage's defence in The Sunday Times.

Prone, Finlay and McCarthy are semi- permanent fixtures on RTE. That is why so many shows sound the same. But RTE producers would rather their programmes died than deploy clever conservatives, like Kevin Myers or Mark Dooley.

MONDAY

The Irish Examiner carries a compelling debate between Senators John Whelan and Paschal Mooney. The motion is whether Tom Savage should step down as chairman of the RTE Authority. And I must admit there is merit in both their cases.

Senator Whelan is right to say that the Prone-Savage link leads to a perceived conflict of interest. Senator Mooney is right in believing that removing Savage will not solve the problem of group think, or, as I prefer to call it, the "canteen culture" of RTE.

The Irish Examiner also carries Terry Prone's weekly column. This contains a clue to what advice she might be giving Enda Kenny.

Significantly, she disagrees with the general consensus that Kenny should have taken on Adams during the referendum debates.

Prone argues that "Kenny's absence allowed the Labour leaders and other ministers to get stuck in, and they did well". They did what? Again I must ask: on what channel?

TUESDAY

Prime Time carries a right-on report from Katie Hannon on the rise and rise of Sinn Fein. Some of the participating pundits think Sinn Fein might get 40 seats.

They will get more if Fine Gael and Labour confine themselves to criticising Sinn Fein's voodoo economics, instead of the IRA's voodoo violence.

Sinn Fein are not another normal party. They are a mirror image of the militaristic Fianna Fail party in the period 1927-33, only a few years after Frank Aiken had wiped out a Protestant village.

But while another mass amnesia about IRA atrocities is possible, it is not inevitable. Provided the Sunday Independent is not silenced.

INM investors should note the presidential election revealed that Middle Ireland shares the Sunday Independent's reservations about Sinn Fein. The Irish media market has never rewarded republican poses, no matter how slickly packaged.

The bad news is that neither Kenny nor Gilmore seem to have the bottle to do battle with Sinn Fein where it's weakest -- its failure to apologise and atone for the armed struggle.

Gilmore seems paralysed by his Workers Party past. And Kenny, possibly acting on advice, avoided shafting Sinn Fein, both on The Late Late Show and in the presidential election.

That's a pity. As a sometime spin doctor, I think Kenny is well able for Adams. All he needs is a good briefing from someone who wants to stick it to them. Like me.

Failing that, Fine Gael should protect a paper like the Sunday Independent, which has always been the main media bulwark against trendy terrorists. Any attempt to muffle the pluralist voices in this paper will leave a huge hole -- through which the Sinn Fein suits will march without hindrance.

Fine Gael should also forget its foolish fantasy of a permanent Fine Gael government faced by a permanent Sinn Fein opposition.

As soon as shiny-suited Sinn Fein starts its march to 40 seats, Fianna Fail and Labour will fall into line. Add another recession and Fine Gael will find itself back in opposition faster than it thinks.

FRIDAY

Denis O'Brien and Dermot Desmond change the composition of the Board of INM. They are now newspaper owners. I am a newspaper man. The true test of a great newspaper is whether its contributors can run counter to the politics of its owners.

The Irish Times still passes that test. Today John Waters takes his own paper to task about the value of the IpsosMRBI poll on Irish Catholicism.

Although I am an atheist, I agree with Waters' analysis.

Polls cannot reach the regions where we hide our real beliefs. As Karl Popper, the Austrian philosopher (and atheist) mordantly remarks: "Theology, it still seems to me, is the sign of a lack of faith."

Sunday Independent