Sunday 25 August 2019

Ryan Tubridy should reflect on Prime Time North poll

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Marx says history begins in tragedy and ends in farce. Irish politics works the other way around.

Last week's Prime Time poll pointed up Sinn Fein's farcical and fantastical pursuit of a united Ireland.

Back in the real world we braced ourselves for more tragedies in our hapless health service.

The Northern nonsense began last Friday week on The Late Late Show when Ryan Tubridy put this ridiculous question to his guest, Ivan Yates.

"Sinn Fein," he began breezily. "Why are the media so tough on that party?"

To his credit, Yates seemed temporarily taken aback. For a while he deflected the question with a disquisition on poll figures.

Before finishing, however, he tried to return Tubridy to the real world by giving him a crash course on the Sinn Fein problem.

"But there's an older crew that have historical baggage and connections and there are some people in the media who will not let that go."

Tubridy came bouncing back, still seemingly bewildered about the media's problem with Sinn Fein.

Tubridy: "They seem to just keep hitting them over the head, saying you guys are the baddies."

Yates: "But there are some unanswered questions."

Tubridy: "But there are some answered questions. Like the Good Friday agreement is an answered question. Like another generation, the likes of Mary Lou."

Yates: "But there is crime in the border counties."

Tubridy: (over him) "Yeh again this is something that they."

Yates: (under him) "No but it is."

Tubridy: (over) "So you think that's again . . . "

Yates: (under) "No, I think there are clear links."

Finally, Tubridy dropped the subject. But he left a big question lingering behind.

How can an experienced, 40-something RTE presenter wonder why the media has a problem with Sinn Fein?

The short answer is that I believe Tubridy reflects a strong strand in RTE current affairs canteen culture which sees Sinn Fein as just another party.

But while I frequently fulminate against that canteen culture, I believe RTE presenters give us a rounded picture on screen.

Bryan Dobson and Sharon Ni Bheolain, both superbly professional, are never afraid to ask, and follow up, a hard question.

That was why I was so disgusted by the Twittertwits who criticised Sharon Ni Bheolain last week.

Her crime? Conducting a properly probing interview with Web Summit chief Daire Hickey, after Patrick Cosgrave pulled out.

Accordingly, I can't imagine Dobson or Ni Bheolain wondering why media might be tough on Sinn Fein.

Like most professional presenters, they probably follow the work of Paul Williams and Jim Cusack.

But Tubridy once courted a socially insecure type of south county Dublin snob by remarking on radio that he didn't read the Sunday Independent. He does now, but not carefully enough.

He also needs to read the Irish Independent, where last week Suzanne Breen recorded one of the reasons the media "hit Sinn Fein over the head".

In 2007, a Provisional IRA gang hit Paul Quinn over the head with iron bars and nail-studded cudgels. And sadistically smashed every bone in his body.

His brother, James, told Breen he will never forget the sight of Paul's broken body in the hospital bed.

"These tramps didn't even shoot Paul. It wasn't a clean killing. They gave him the most excruciating death possible."

But even if Tubridy only reads the Irish Times, he should look up last Thursday's powerful piece by Brendan Smith TD, Fianna Fail spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and cross-border development.

His title told you what was in the tin. 'Sinn Fein remains ever the apologist for the Provisionals.'

Smith was replying to a recent piece by Eugene McEldowney, claiming that Micheal Martin's criticisms of Sinn Fein were motivated purely by electoral concerns.

Now anyone who has watched Martin castigating Sinn Fein for failing to condemn Provo crimes can clearly see his moral anger against criminal thuggery, reminiscent of Dean Swift's "savage indignation".

Smith said the single striking feature of the peace process was that every time someone challenged a criminal action by the Provisional IRA, some Sinn Fein apologist rubbished the motives of those who had taken the IRA to task.

Tubridy should use Smith's three-pronged refutation of McEldowney's piece as a stark screensaver on his smartphone.

"Look back on the records and you will see Sinn Fein claiming that the only reason decommissioning was being demanded was a coming election. The only reason the Northern Bank robbery was being talked about was a coming election. The only reason the brutal murder of Robert McCartney was being highlighted was a coming election."

To be fair, Tubridy may think he is reflecting a Middle Ireland view that Sinn Fein agendas are now widely acceptable.

Not so. Sinn Fein's main aim is a united Ireland. But the Prime Time poll showed that's certainly not on the Christmas wish list of a majority in Middle Ireland.

Romantic nationalists in the Irish Republic, with no real horse in the race, and so running no risk, could still only muster 36pc for a united Ireland.

But Northern nationalists, riding a real horse, and really at risk, had a firmer grasp on reality. Only 27pc wanted a united Ireland.

What we really need, I reckon, is a poll of RTE reporters and researchers who subscribe to the smug Montrose canteen culture of "nothing to see here".

What else explains the great gulf between how RTE online and the Irish Independent online reported the poll?

The RTE heading hyped: 'Poll shows cross-border support for united Ireland.' But the Independent more accurately said, 'Just 36pc of people in Republic want to see a united Ireland'.

However, the headline in my head said: 'Only one northern nationalist in four wants what Sinn Fein wants.'

Indeed most Irish nationalists reject Sinn Fein's aim of a united Ireland. Time RTE canteen culture caught up with its own polls.


Finally, a happy note. Last Friday, Shane Coleman, on The Right Hook, asked me to reflect on the 25th anniversary of Mary Robinson's election as President of Ireland in November 1900.

Looking back, it still strikes me as the most perfect of all political campaigns in this country.

It began with Dick Spring's brave stroke in picking up John Rogers' revolutionary suggestion: to nominate Mary Robinson, a woman with no track record in winning elections.

But Spring, Ruairi Quinn and Fergus Finlay sensed she had the will to win.

Equally bravely, they backed my blueprint for a new kind of political campaign.

It was a very dirty election but it ended in euphoria.

Truly, the hand that rocked the cradle rocked the system.

Sunday Independent

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