Friday 25 May 2018

Official Ireland at its worst

Eamonn Sweeney

Sometimes you'd just despair. You really would. I had to check the date on the top of the paper last weekend to make sure it wasn't April 1 when I saw that Pat Kenny was complaining that people who think RTE 'stars' are on outlandish money have the wrong end of the stick altogether. It's underpaid they are.

Kenny, who earned or rather was paid €960,956 in 2008 and €630,000 last year, moaned, "I often wonder why there isn't the same fuss over the salaries paid to footballers like John O'Shea, earning more in three weeks than Marian Finucane earns in a year. There is a double standard there. These people put themselves on the line, they entertain the nation week in, week out and yet they are paid a trivial amount compared to footballers."

This statement is well worth examining. For a start, it's that rarest of things, an interesting statement by Pat Kenny. It's interesting, for starters, because of the implication that RTE is the Manchester United of the broadcasting world. Hmmm, let's consider that for a second.

All over the world youngsters with prodigious talent dream of playing for Manchester United and the handful of other clubs in that class. The goal is an almost impossible one to achieve. Yet a minuscule percentage of these talented kids do manage to make it. The crème de la crème end up at Old Trafford, the Bernabeu, the Nou Camp and the San Siro. To get to Old Trafford, they have come all the way from Holland, France, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Serbia, Mexico, South Korea, Portugal and, as it happens, Waterford.

To get to RTE, Pat Kenny had to travel from one part of Dublin to another part of Dublin.

It goes without saying that the elite of world broadcasting do not grow up dreaming of working for RTE. Most of them haven't even heard of RTE. So the appropriate comparison for the national broadcaster is not with Manchester United but with Bohemians. And even that is probably unfair to Bohs, who after all have some competition at the top of the League of Ireland. RTE are more like a club in a league where there is scarcely any competition at all. They may well be Athlone Town or Salthill Devon. But let's be generous about this and let them be Galway United. In which case, using his own yardstick, Pat should be happy enough with a grand or so a week.

To make it at Manchester United, John O'Shea had to leave home and travel abroad at the age of 17. To make it in RTE, Pat Kenny had to travel the well-worn path which leads from the gates of UCD to those less than a mile away in Montrose. John O'Shea's professional career will come to an end, if he's lucky, in his mid 30s. An RTE 'celebrity' will generally be allowed to continue on well into their dotage.

And, of course, there is another reason why people are more exercised about Pat Kenny's wages, and let's face it it's himself he's really talking about not Marian Finucane, than they are about John O'Shea's. John O'Shea's wages have nothing to do with most of us. But we have to make a contribution to Pat Kenny's whether we like it or not, the mere possession of a television forcing us to fork out the licence fee to RTE even if we spend most of our time watching other stations. When Manchester United send an inspector to my door demanding money because I bought a football for the kids, then I'll start worrying about what John O'Shea earns.

And what's with this 'put themselves on the line' nonsense? There are few people in this society who put themselves on the line less than Pat Kenny and his ilk. Overpaid, underworked, absurdly cossetted, guaranteed a hefty pension and lengthy holidays, they enjoy a life which the average worker can only dream of. And they are under very little pressure while they do so. No-one watches or listens to an RTE chat show with the same level of intensity that they bring to looking at a big match. Pat's shows are the equivalent of clouds drifting across the sky or a fire crackling away in the corner. Habit and routine makes it comforting to know they're there but their quotidian nature means nobody gets too excited by them.

You could think of a hundred, maybe a thousand, memorable sporting moments before you could think of one involving Pat Kenny. If John O'Shea makes a mistake, it's replayed over and over again and analysed to death. If Pat Kenny makes a mistake, who can tell?

After all, for several years he presided over a Late Late Show which suffered critical opprobrium. Had John O'Shea put in a few years of work like that, he'd be earning his living at Rochdale. If O'Shea slips up, he will instantly be embarrassed by an opponent. If Pat Kenny isn't at the top of his game while he's interviewing the author of a self-help book or reading details of this week's competition, nobody will care. If he doesn't fall asleep at the mike, topple out of his chair or imply that Dawn French is a fat pig, he's put in an acceptable shift by RTE's lights.

Perhaps the most important difference between the wages earned by John O'Shea and Pat Kenny is that Manchester United pay the Waterford man the money they do because if they didn't, he would move to another club which would. The reason RTE wages piss people off is because they seem to have no connection with commercial reality.

If RTE simply refused to meet Pat Kenny's absurd financial demands, nobody else would. Foreign stations are not queuing up to poach RTE's prima donnas. RTE paid them big money for the same reason that our TDs overpaid themselves, because that's the way the racket worked. The proof of this is that the state broadcaster have just cut Kenny's wages by a third. And what did he do? Nothing. They could half them again and he'd have to lump it. He'd still be overpaid.

RTE presenters are a series of clones. Replace one of them with another and it makes little difference to the viewing figures. People watch the station out of habit and expect little from it. They save their passion, their dreams and their admiration for sport and music, family and nature. Does it matter what Pat Kenny says? I think it does because inherent in his silly statement is the assumption that what he and Marian Finucane do is of great importance and renders the work of John O'Shea and sportsmen like him trivial by comparison.

In reality, the opposite is the case. Pat Kenny, self-important, self-pitying and self-indulgent, is a perfect exemplar of the attitude which has landed us in the current national mess. He is Official Ireland at its very worst. John O'Shea is a lad from Waterford who has made the big time solely by virtue of his natural talent and hard work.

Sport matters. Five minutes of Ireland's performance in Paris was worth all the hours of The Front Line put together. The best television on RTE this year was provided by hurlers and Gaelic footballers who get paid nothing at all, while pulling bigger audiences than Mr €960,956 a year. Now that's a real injustice. Meanwhile, Pat whinges on about not being appreciated.

Entertaining the nation, my arse.

Sunday Independent

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