Monday, December 19, 2016

The Sporting Year in Review

2016 was a good year in Irish sport. There’s no getting around it. Both soccer teams progressed from their respective groups in the European Championships. The Olympians came back from Brazil, unlike all of the administrators, and some of those Olympians even came back with medals.

Rather than falling to pieces after the end of the golden generation, the rugby team has gone from strength to strength. And the hurling and football Championships remained the heartbeat of the sporting year. Nothing here not to like.

The story was abroad that the winning of three All-Irelands in four years would confirm Dublin’s status as one of the all-time great teams has come to pass. For all the talk of the advantages enjoyed by Dublin - home advantage in every game, pots of money, apparently limitless resources – those advantages were enjoyed by every Dublin team before them, and they did not bring home the same amount of the bacon. The biggest advantage twenty-first century Dublin enjoys is the shameful and embarrassing current standard of Leinster football, but it’s arguable whether or not that really is an advantage in this Qualifier era.

Dublin were truly tested in the drawn and replayed All-Ireland Finals and proved themselves true Champions in that replay. Everything that had gone wrong in the drawn game was righted in the replay. All Jim Gavin’s switches worked, and Dublin are clearly the best team in the land. More luck to them.

Tipperary struck a blow against Kilkenny’s hurling hegemony in a strangely subdued final. It is a tribute to Kilkenny that the withstood the Premier tide as long as they did, showing that incredible defiance that has been Brian Cody’s hallmark during his long reign.

Yet for all that, hurling needs new teams. Maybe Waterford will break through. Clare will certainly find out if it was all poor Davy’s fault after all, while Cork remain in the wilderness, the most telling summer absence since Kerry’s missing decade of the ‘eighties and ‘nineties.

In the wider GAA world, the President of the Association made a remarkable speech about flags and anthems, but the lead on that story was surprisingly missed by most of the media. Surely the real story of Ó Fearrghail’s speech was not the substance – or lack thereof – of what he said, but the fact that getting strong booze out in Abu Dhabi must be far easier than previously reported. Only the foxy devil itself could be behind such bizarre remarks.

The biggest disappointment of the year was the news of Newstalk’s losing of live radio broadcast rights to GAA matches for five years. Newstalk revolutionised radio GAA coverage in this country. Newstalk revolutionised GAA coverage by giving players enough time to settle, to build trust and rapport with the interviewer and then say what they really thought, instead of trapping them in the to-and-fro of dated platitudinous nonsense that is still the house style of the national broadcaster.

But it was in the live coverage Newstalk came into its own. Firstly, it used younger analysts, who were more in touch with the modern game. Secondly, it used two color analysts during the game itself, and a pitchside reporter as well. When it worked well, it worked brilliantly – it was like standing at a game behind two really knowledgeable and articulate ex-players, and learning so much just from listening to them. And when it didn’t work well, it was still excellent.

And now that’s all gone. The media reaction has been to condemn the decision but we aren’t quite getting the full picture here either. Newstalk are strapped for cash and may have offered the GAA a figure that was just too low for them to take seriously. Who knows? The loss is on both sides, perhaps.

In rugby, mouths are watering in anticipation of a Six Nations that precedes a Lions Tour. Ireland and England are joint favourites – or should be, certainly – with the delicious prospect of a Grand Slam game at Lansdowne Road the day after St Patrick’s Day. Or Ireland could screw it up against the porridge-munchers in Edinburgh. God knows it’s happened before.

The prospect of a Lions Tour must be bitter-sweet this time around. The Barbarians were wiped out more or less instantly by professionalism, while the Lions turned into something of a juggernaut. But professionalism has no room for the very concept of a Lions Tour, and the thing is further bedevilled by the growing absence of hosts.

Full test tours to Australia only started in the late ‘eighties, while South Africa was still boycotted over apartheid, and the Australians have never taken to the idea. South Africa is coming into a period of considerable political uncertainly and may not be able to host its tour in 2021. What, then, would be the point in continuing the Lions if only New Zealand were there to host them? Let’s hope they go out with a bang. Nothing lasts forever, and the Lions were the stuff that dreams are made of, once upon a time.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dáil Privilege - Was Alan Farrell Acting Alone?

Peadar Toibín, Sinn Féin TD for Meath West, raised an interesting question on Saturday with Claire Byrne yesterday. Is it entirely a coincidence that Alan Farrell, Fine Gael TD for Dublin Fingal, may or may not have tested the limits of Dáil privilege at the same time that a case on that very topic is before the courts?

The panel discussion didn’t stay on that topic, as the panelists were there to bury Gerry Adams and not to discuss wider issues of freedom of speech and media ownership. Let’s hope some other media is a little more curious about the nature of coincidence.

Especially in the light of an interview given by Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty to Richard Crowley on the News at One on Friday. Doherty contradicted herself in less than a minute on whether or not she had spoken to Farrell in the course of the interview. The relevant section starts at 11 minutes and forty-five seconds into a fourteen-minute, two-second piece:

CROWLEY: Was it wise of Alan Farrell to drag in Mr Ellis and Mr Ferris into this?

DOHERTY: Do you know actually, I haven’t spoken to him all week, but I think given the chatter that was going on inside Leinster House all week and the names of what are parliamentary colleagues I think he was attempting to allow them the opportunity, the same opportunity as Gerry Adams –

CROWLEY: Do you think? Do you think?

DOHERTY: Well, I’m assuming that’s what his intentions were.

CROWLEY: He didn’t speak to you beforehand about it, did he?

DOHERTY: Unfortunately, I wasn’t in that day. I put my back out this week so I was off that week –

CROWLEY: He didn’t speak to you on the phone then, as the Chief Whip, before he raised that in the Dáil?

DOHERTY: Not beforehand we didn’t speak, no, but obviously we have spoken since.

So, Doherty has either obviously spoken to Deputy Farrell since, or else she hasn’t spoken to him all week. It plainly can’t be both, and it is very much in the public interest to find out which.

Because it is very much in the public interest to find out who, if anyone, put Deputy Farrell up to this, or if this idea is a solo run on his part.

Deputy Toibín suggested on Saturday with Claire Byrne that Deputy Farrell was put up to it by Niall O’Connor, political correspondent of the Irish Independent. O’Connor was also a guest on Saturday with Claire Byrne and he vehemently denied the suggestion, saying that while certainly he had been seen talking with Deputy Farrell during the week, it was about some fun run in Malahide that O’Connor was going to cover for the Evening Herald, also part of the Independent Group.

We can only take O’Connor’s work on that. For all that, readers are warned not to be surprised if a policy of de Farrello nihil nisi bonum – of Farrell, nothing but good – is instituted among the Independent Group. Over the next number of months Deputy Farrell may appear kissing babies, weeping over refugees and mentioned as shoo-in for a top cabinet job once Enda finally shuffles off within the pages of the many papers of the Denis O’Brien media empire, or on the airwaves of its broadcasting arm, Newstalk and Today FM.

Because the co-incidences are mounting here. It is an extra-ordinary coincidence that:

  • Out of the 4,000-odd people killed as a result of the Troubles in the North, the Brian Stack murder is now of greater parliamentary concern than the 3,999 others;
  • That the limits of Dáil privilege are tested to their breaking point at the same time as a case on that very issue is before the courts, taken by the publisher of the Irish Independent, Denis O’Brien.

The majority, if not the totality, of op-ed pieces in the papers condemn Adams as operating to a different standard as every other Dáil leader. But of course he is, because he comes from a very different place to the rest of Dáil. The whole purpose of the peace process was to involve Adams and others like him in regular politics, and drawing a line under the past is a necessary part of that, just as it has been in all post-conflict situations all over the world.

It is extra-ordinarily craven, pathetic and embarrassing for the political establishment to be so short-sighted about Adams’ role in the past forty years of Irish history, to the extent of risking the peace for doubtful short-term gain. Because the peace is at risk.

Adams only looks a hawk south of the border. He is very much a dove on the other side and, while the southern media might dream of day talking social justice with Eoin Ó Broin and Louise O’Reilly, they are naïve in the extreme if they think the hawks have all flown away in the North, and if there aren’t one or two waiting for Adams and McGuinness to move on and ask people if Bobby Sands died in vain.

Part of this naivety stems from a new, partitionist mentality in the south that is not only quite happy with a divided Ireland but want no part of those troublesome, scared-of-the-future, stuck-in-the-past Nordies.

But leaving aside the aspirations and speaking only of practicalities, the peace is as impactful on the Republic of Ireland as Brexit. A land border is a land border and if things kick off again in the North they will kick off in the South just as sure as Denis O’Brien likes suing newspapers.

And because of that Deputy Doherty should tell us exactly what is going on with Alan Farrell and who, if anyone, is pulling his stings. Because one day that puppet-master might pull the wrong string, and whole damn place is drenched in the blood of innocents once more.