Tuesday, March 13, 2012

No Minister - There Must be an Enquiry into the Frontline

Atticus Finch, that wisest of men, tells Scout at one stage that sometimes, to understand a man, you have to walk around in his skin a little, to try to see the world as he sees it.

As the RTÉ-twitter row bubbles along – it is a mistake to call it Gallaghergate because Seán Gallagher is only a bit player in this; the totality of the story is greater – it is interesting to flush bias from the system by changing the names of the characters.

So let’s imagine that the Presidential Election had gone differently. Let’s presume that Gallagher had never taken off, and that the original front-runner had not been derailed. We then have a Frontline where David Norris is four days from the Park, and the rest are doing their best to nobble him.

Let’s say the story that broke in the summer, about David Norris’s non-mainsteam attitude to under-age sex has broken the weekend before the Fronline, and the waters have become choppy for the front-runner. Norris must face the music on the Frontline on Monday evening with the entire show on the line.

During the Frontline, Norris is under attack from Martin McGuinness, who is unhappy with Norris’s response to an interview with Helen Lucy Burke some years ago in Magill – about the time Seán Gallagher was passing around the hat for Fianna Fáil, as it happens. McGuinness sensationally alleges that Norris has written a letter of clemency on behalf of his former partner over allegations of statutory rape.

Norris is flustered, just as he was in the summer. Although a Senator, he is not match for McGuinness the cut and thrust of big time politics and is floundering badly.

And then a tweet appears from the McGuinness4Pres account, alleging the man at the centre of the Israeli trial will be at a press conference tomorrow. Reader, do you think The Frontline would have broadcast that tweet as they did the Gallagher one? Just like that?

All this hinges around whether or not the Frontline editorial team knew that the McGuinness4Pres account was not an official Sinn Féin account. It’s rather hard to believe that, so deep into the election campaign, they didn’t know what the official Sinn Féin account was.

Think about the David Norris scenario outlined above. The only difference is the order in which facts were revealed. Last Easter, David Norris was the nation’s darling. If the story had broken later than it did, maybe he would have held on to win the Park in the end.

But if the story had broken later, and his house was caving around his ears, would RTÉ have polished him off the way they polished off Gallagher if the circumstances were the same, as outline above? There is a defence of RTÉ story saying that it wasn’t the story but Gallagher’s reaction to the story that did for him. Norris’s reaction would have been no better.

It’s important to distance Gallagher from this. It’s not about Gallagher. Gallagher is an opportunist who almost pulled off the biggest coup of his entrepreneurial career, by offering the people what they wanted even though he was running for a job that couldn’t possibly deliver on that want.

What this scandal is about is how elections are run, and whether or not Ireland is a democracy or an oligarchy, where the state broadcaster plays its vital role in ensuring that only the right kind of people are elected.

The editorial team of the Frontline decided the last election. That is a power that they are not entitled to hold, and that is why there should be an inquiry into what happened, in order to ensure that it does not happen again. Why Minister Rabbitte can’t see that is a mystery, but then the Pat Rabbitte that is driven around in his ministerial Merc is quite a different bunny from the fire and brimstone prophet of the opposition benches. God help Ireland.