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Eoghan Harris: Time to wake up the mute media lambs in Drury's glen


MONDAY: Black Monday for Brian Cowen. The pundits pick over his phone calls and golf game with Seanie FitzPatrick. But they are decidedly delicate in dealing with Fintan Drury.

Why? Fintan Drury is a major player with links to media, banking and politics: former chairman of the RTE Authority, former director of Anglo-Irish bank, close friend of the Taoiseach -- who would not be in trouble today if Drury had not set up that golf game.

Two days into the story and Drury should be the subject of probing profiles on press, radio and television. But the media pass mutely by. How come?


Reading the morning papers and listening to my little radio, in the radiotherapy area of St Vincent's Hospital. Although I no longer have a prostate, my PSA levels are rising again. I am waiting for Professor John Armstrong to tell me what that means.

RTE and the rest of the media are still ducking around Drury. But the Irish Independent breaks the silence twice. In a piece titled "Joining the dots between Brian, Seanie and the PR guru", Sam Smyth writes: "Over the years many people have doodled away evenings linking Mr Drury with Mr Cowen and more recently Mr FitzPatrick."

Siobhan Creaton, same paper, in a carefully written piece, points up Sean FitzPatrick's extraordinarily emphatic denial that he ever considered Drury a conduit to Cowen: "It never struck me once in my whole life that Fintan (Drury) would be very useful because he was on our board and because he knew Cowen so well. It never struck me once."

Prof Armstrong swiftly banishes these minor matters from my mind. Somehow sussing out that I am the kind of Battle of Britain buff who made Spitfire models as a boy, he compares the cancer warnings in my rising PSA to RAF monitors at Dover watching blips on a radar screen.

"The blips are German fighters on the way across the Channel. If you stepped outside and searched the sky with binoculars you would see nothing. But the screen tells us that they are on their way, and with aggressive intentions."

Radiation therapy will try to repel them. But at the cost of some collateral damage. Like anti-aircraft fire, radiotherapy cannot completely isolate the military aircraft from civilian, good cells from bad cells. Just like a golfing party of bankers, politicians and PR men.

I leave looking forward to a double espresso and a single wallow of self-pity. But then I see Brian Lenihan beaming bravely from the Health supplement of The Irish Times and am forced to put on a hero face. Thanks a million, Brian.


Dan Breen -- My Fight for Irish Freedom was the title of Jerry O'Callaghan's documentary for TG 4. Although beautifully shot it went down a predictably reverential road. Me, I would make a film called "Dan Breen -- Portrait of a Political Psychopath."

On Tuesday, January 21, 1919, the Dail met for the first time. It did not declare war on the RIC or anyone else. But on the same day, Dan Breen and his gang of gung-ho gunmen shot dead two Roman Catholic members of the RIC: Constable Pat O'Connell from Coachford, Co Cork, and Constable James McDonnell, an Irish-speaking widower with seven children, from Mayo.

Breen knew McDonnell, knew he would leave seven orphan children, but still shot him down. This foul deed was not condemned -- or if it was the condemnations did not survive the cut -- by the participants in the programme with one exception. Indeed, Dr Martin Mansergh defended Breen's actions, as he has done on many occasions.

But at the time the people of Tipperary town were sickened. Dr John Dowling, the local dispensary doctor, recalled the revulsion in his memoirs. "The occurrence caused a very painful sensation in the town where both men, one of whom was a widower and the father of a family, had been popular."

The sole participant to speak for the dead constables was Daithi Mac Domhnaill, Constable McDonnell's great-grandson. But although he spoke in fluent Irish, he was given little more than a minute. By contrast, Joe Ambrose, author of an admiring biography of Breen, was allowed more than adequate airtime to rail at revisionists -- in English!

Let me remind Dr Mansergh what Arnold Toynbee had to say about the duty of the historian when faced with a dark deed: "He has a conscience that cannot suspend judgment in a case in which the moral issue at stake is grave and the guilt is manifest."

Here is a journalist's judgment. Dan Breen was a bad bit of work. He murdered two decent Irishmen in cold blood simply to make a name for himself. And until we have the guts to say so the Real IRA will have no trouble recruiting idealistic young men to their ranks.


Brian Cowen shows bottle and the contenders collapse. Aristotle says courage is the chief of virtues, because it is the condition for all other virtues. And the challengers lack courage.

Brian Cowen is a bad communicator. He is more loyal than lucky in his choice of friends. But he is not corrupt. He just had the bad luck to be Taoiseach in a terrible time. Deep down I think most Irish people know that.

Meantime I come across a January 25, 2008, story the Irish Daily Mail published about an abortive Drury-FitzPatrick golf development in Hungary in 2003. The Mail reported the pair got a letter of comfort for €10m from Anglo Irish Bank. But because it called this a "director's loan facility" Drury decided it was defamatory and sent them a writ.

The defamation case has been dormant for almost two years in the Dublin High Court. I do hope Drury wakes it up soon so the parties can be cross-examined, the case resolved and the cooling effect of such cases on the media ended.


Let me finish with a brief tribute to John Gross, the literary critic, who died last week. Although I do not normally collect books or authors' signatures, in 1998 on a short trip to London I rang him up and asked him if he would sign his New Oxford Book of English Prose because he, Gross, would have included a piece by William Carleton, the protean Tyrone man who straddled the Protestant-Catholic divide.

Gross said he would meet me in a coffee shop in Westbourne Grove called Byzantium but could only give me 10 minutes. When he arrived he checked that I knew Yeats's Byzantium by heart, as he did, then gave me three hours of laugh-a-line literary gossip studded with gems like "Tom Stoppard is a middlebrow's idea of a highbrow".

And I still cherish his reply when I provocatively asked him how he could reject post-modernism without studying it: "Look, I don't have to study alchemy to know you can't turn base metal into gold."

Ar dheis de go raibh a anam uasal.

Sunday Independent