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Lise Hand: Brian Song-ill cranks up the propaganda machine

IT was like the Cold War had never gone away, what with talk of Russian spies and sinister propaganda abounding in the Dail yesterday.

But it wasn't some cabal of Commies who were in the firing-line for trying to brainwash the masses but our very our Dear Leader, Brian Cowen.

For the opposition parties got quite worked up over a newfangled website called www.merrionstreet.ie, which is very swish altogether and sparkles with glossy photos of the Taoiseach hobnobbing with other world leaders, audio of doorstep interviews with the Taoiseach and various members of the Cabinet, and breathless news items such as 'Irish and German Agriculture Ministers Meet'. Enda Kenny wanted to know how much the website cost -- though his insistence on referring to it by its full moniker -- "www dot merrion street dot ie" -- indicates that perhaps the Fine Gael leader isn't a regular commuter along the information superhighway.

The Taoiseach told him that it cost €34,335 to set up, but reckoned that he -- sorry, it was worth it. "It provides citizens with a single on-line location where the activity of Government can be viewed," he declared, making Leinster House sound more like the Big Brother house.

But Eamon Gilmore was deeply suspicious. As far as he was concerned, the Taoiseach was transmogrifying into North Korea's propaganda supremo, Kim Jong-il (though in memory of the Ardilaun Incident at last month's Fianna Fail think-in, perhaps our Dear Leader could be dubbed Brian Song-ill).

"I note that there was a visit by a delegation from the Chinese Government recently but the Taoiseach did not do any media interviews following the visit," he pointed out. "Instead, he chose to be interviewed by an officer of the Government information services for the www.merrionstreet.ie website," he added.

And indeed at almost any location recently where the media are gathered in the Taoiseach's name, also present are a crew from Biffo TV to faithfully record his pronouncements but without posing any of the pesky questions which the rest of the inky-fingered rabble are prone to hurl at him.

"Is it intended to use that website more frequently for interviews where ministers or the Taoiseach will be interviewed by officers of the Government information services as opposed to doing direct interviews with the public media?" enquired Eamon.

Brian gritted his teeth. A day can't go by without the C-word being flung at him. This whole communications lark is a nightmare -- he's either being nagged at for not doing interviews, or for doing them when he's congested.

Brian Song-ill defended himself with spirit. "As I understand it, I am not obliged to pick and choose what media I deal with," he retorted.

And what's more, declared our Technological Taoiseach, the use of technology has actually saved the hard-pressed government money. "Bringing that to public attention is a good thing," he added, griping that good news should be posted in every way possible.

But before the Taoiseach gets too uppity about his well-oiled propaganda machine, perhaps he needs to keep a close eye on some of its content. For instance, one suitably important-sounding posting is headlined 'Cabinet Meeting Today' and is accompanied by a photo of the Cabinet Room -- with not a soul in it.

Maybe it was one of those incorporeal meetings where they don't actually have to be there in person. But then some cruel folk might suggest that maybe that's not such a bad idea at all.

Irish Independent