Tuesday 15 October 2019

Eoghan Harris: 'The week in bad politics no credit to Irish media'

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Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Surfing Irish social media last week was like a long swim through sectarian sewage.

The worst tribal tweeters were not Sinn Fein trolls but a sneer of bourgeois bigots unbuttoning their tribal prejudices in unfunny misogynistic jibes at Arlene Foster-Kelly in America.

The mainstream media was not that much better. Instead of investigating whether Leo Varadkar's backstop had led us to the brink of a no-deal abyss they dumped on the DUP.

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Anyone familiar with Northern media knows that no mainstream unionist journalist abuses southern politicians in the manner now common in mainstream Irish pundits when talking about Arlene Foster-Kelly.

But not content with being tribal they also tell you brazen lies. Here's three.

First, they continually dismiss the DUP as deluded dinosaurs with no defensible reason for not doing what we want them to do.

Only one journalist, Dan O'Brien, consistently defies the southern consensus to spell out why unionists, who support a soft border, hate the backstop.

"The backstop would leave the citizens of Northern Ireland disenfranchised, they would be subject to laws made at EU level, but without a vote in the European Parliament."

Second, they lie by depicting the DUP, in the words of a letter to The Irish Times last Friday, as "misogynists and homophobics".

But if the DUP was misogynistic surely it would not have elected a woman leader, something neither of the two main southern parties have done yet.

True it is still sexually conservative - but so were Fine Gael and Fianna Fail until more recently than we like to remember.

Being slow to accept same-sex marriage is regrettable, but it is not an excuse for the verbal ethnic cleansing carried out by bourgeois bloggers I call the Pope's Grandchildren.

The green fever that infects the Pope's Grandchildren was not borne on a Northern breeze.

Starting with his glib promise, in December 2017, not to abandon Northern nationalists (abandon to what - a free health service and a €9bn subsidy?), Leo Varadkar has infected the body politic with a green fever as potentially dangerous to our political health as the black or yellow fevers of the Great Famine were to our physical health.

So far Middle Ireland has proved immune to green fever. But not the Irish bourgeois media, by which I mostly mean RTE and The Irish Times, where it has surfaced as uncritical support for the backstop.

Last week, both did their best to hide the fact that Leo Varadkar had folded his arms to save his face and let Theresa May drown. Let me show why I believe that.

Last Tuesday, before the crucial Commons vote, when it was vital to put a good face on the EU tweak, the Taoiseach kept telling us nothing had changed.

At which point the Irish media should have pointed out that if nothing had changed then logically he was offering nothing to help the DUP do the deal they clearly wanted to do.

But the Irish pundits were too busy working us up with Kitty The Hare stories of the horrors of a no deal they failed to ask the logical follow up. If no deal was that bad why was Varadkar not offering a compromise - as a majority of people wanted?

Let me briefly take you through last week to show you the creepy compliance of Irish media.

SATURDAY. Michael Lillis writes a letter to The Irish Times revealing Jeffrey Donaldson's tribute to John Hume during a panel discussion in Glasgow University on February 26.

Later that day, as Rory Best, a Northern Protestant, led the Irish rugby team into the Aviva, the DUP was signalling it wanted to vote for the May deal but needed a softer backstop.

SUNDAY. Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP talks on a link to Aine Lawlor of The Week in Politics.

Donaldson, in what I call his Daniel O'Donaldson mode, rational and charming, repeated his tribute to John Hume and set out the DUP's stall.

"We want a soft border. We want to avoid a no deal. We want to avoid a hard border."

Incredibly, Aine Lawlor seemed to decide that Donaldson's determined positivity was actually a disguised DUP negativity.

She half lifted her downcast head and shook it despairingly at Charlie Flanagan and Lisa Chambers who, still basking in the aftermath of the Donaldson glow, were taken aback by her determinedly downbeat summation:

"Charlie Flanagan, watching Jeffrey Donaldson outline the DUP position there, it's very hard to be optimistic that we are facing anything other than a disastrous No vote and chaos from Tuesday on, isn't that right?"

Aine Lawlor's gloomy approach left both Charlie Flanagan and Lisa Chambers with no space in which to welcome Donaldson's olive branch.

MONDAY. Desperate to get May through the vote on Tuesday, the British government claims the EU was offering "legal changes" to the backstop.

Far from staying silent and fudging this for the sake of peace, as Bertie Ahern or Micheal Martin would have done, Leo Varadkar remains focused on not losing face: "It does not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, or undermine the backstop or its application."

In sum, he preferred to risk Theresa May's defeat than offer the DUP the cover of even a verbal fig leaf.

TUESDAY. On Morning Ireland, before the May vote, Jeffrey Donaldson cautiously welcomes the EU proposals, but the subtext clearly signals that he would like a deal.

Later that day, in the Dail, Aristotle would have given Micheal Martin full marks for laying bare the lack of logic in Leo Varadkar's "not-an-inch" backstop position.

"Essentially, people are arguing about how temporary is something that we all agree should be temporary."

Martin did not have to spell out that if everybody agreed the backstop was temporary, why didn't the Taoiseach make sure the EU offer was good enough to help the DUP vote for May - as it wanted to do?

Again the media missed Leo Varadkar's striking lack of political pragmatism. Tweaking the backstop sufficiently to strike a deal is like making a proper apology: to be acceptable it has to hurt you a bit.

But Leo Varadkar doesn't like to be hurt the least bit. He would rather risk running the country off the cliff than lose face.

WEDNESDAY. In an insightful interview with Ivan Yates for The Tonight Show, Bertie Ahern convincingly argues the DUP had wanted a deal - and calls for fewer verbal sticks and more verbal carrots when talking to our English neighbours.

THURSDAY. Leo Varadkar looks good at the White House. But looking good is not the same as doing good, which often conflicts with looking good.

Next week, I believe the DUP will help Theresa May swim ashore.

If so, it will happen without Leo Varadkar ever having reached out a helping hand in case he looked weak.

Luckily, we didn't send a Leo Varadkar to London to negotiate the Treaty. How can he claim Michael Collins as his hero? Collins was not afraid to look weak if it advanced the peace and prosperity of his country.

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