From left: Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín, Communications Director at the IRFU Stephen McNamara, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, Barrister and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan and specialist in cross-border co-operation Caitríona Mullan before going on RTE Radio One’s Marian Finucane show on Sunday, February 26
In The Sunday Times.
Stephen O’Brien reported that Ed McCann, INM group managing editor, Fionnan Sheahan, editor of the Irish Independent, and Cormac Bourke, editor of the Sunday Independent, had met with RTE’s head of radio Jim Jennings on March 3 to raise concerns about what they perceived to be an anti-INM agenda in RTE.
The meeting followed a Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ Radio One on Sunday, February 26.
During that show, the panel was: Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín, Communications Director at the Irish Rugby Football Union Stephen McNamara, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, Barrister and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan and Caitríona Mullan, chair of the International Centre for Local and Regional Development.
Amongst other things, the panel talked about the recent newspaper coverage of Fine Gael TDs Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney and the future leadership of Fine Gael.
In addition, Mr Tóibín alleged that Niall O’Connor, political correspondent of the Irish Independent, encouraged Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell to name Sinn Féin TDs Dessie Ellis and Martin Ferris in the Dáil while he made a statement about the 1983 murder of prison officer Brian Stack on December 7 last.
A spokesman for INM later contacted the show, and Ms Finucane read out a statement denying the claim.
In The Sunday Times article, Mr O’Brien reported:
A source familiar with the March 3 meeting said INM went in “with all guns blazing” and claimed RTE admitted “they got it wrong on the show that morning”.
A transcript of some of what was said during that particular show…
Stephen McNamara: “I suppose the coverage in relation to it is extensive and, you know, if you do love politics then, you’re going to feast on the newspapers for today and the next couple of weeks. I think, sort of, for the lay person, maybe, who’s looking at it and I think that is definitely what people want: is to know more about the policies than the personalities and I think, during the week, what struck me about it is that we were starting to go down maybe the wrong road in relation to, you know, the background of the people and their family make-up and things like that.”
“And that’s actually something that troubled me from early on this week where we had, where we had sort of partners being mentioned and words like ‘attractive wife’ and things like that were starting to come in. So I think that was one area that troubled me during the week.
“I think the Sundays, there’s a huge amount to read in relation to it, in relation to the policies, I think it would be great to get back to that because there’s actually an awful lot of really good stuff happening in this country at the moment. You know – the number of cranes around the skyline…”
Marian Finucane: “They’re growing…they’re having babies again.”
Finucane: “Noel, you were very annoyed about that coverage in the [Irish] Independent during the week?”
Noel Whelan: “Well, I have a very simple view that who somebody is, married or in a relationship, or whether they’re in relationship or not, is entirely irrelevant to the question of their capacity to do their job. In all professions, occasionally, the partner will be more prominent in the office or more prominent at, you know, work-related events than others. But, frankly, I think it’s largely irrelevant. I did feel that there was a sense that it was bubbling, not…what struck me was there was no political reportage from political reporters that this was an issue within Fine Gael, you know, in a Fine Gael contest.”
“It was simply the media and opinion, photographic editing and otherwise, the Independent newspapers, in particular, speaking to troll it effectively as an issue. I think the fact that it has been called out will play some part in pushing it back against. I wouldn’t be surprised if it reemerges later in the campaign.”
Finucane: “Yeah, Michael McDowell is writing on the back page of the [Sunday] Business Post and he says ‘I would not be so cynical as to suggest…’ and he goes on to say ‘a linkage between the new coolness to Leo and his apparent support for the INM pensioners. Leo went public about his discussions with the AG and the Pensions Board chairman to see if he could intervene on the side of the pensioners in their High Court litigation with INM in early December’ and he had said beforehand that you were the darling of the media, kind of up to that, and you got very, very positive coverage. Two questions: How did you feel when you saw that coverage during the week? And what do you think of that suggestion?”
Leo Varadkar: “Well, I think what Michael McDowell’s suggestion there is that because I took a position, supporting the pensioners and staff in Independent News and Media that maybe people higher up in Independent News and Media, you know, took exception at that. And that that might be the source of some of the negative coverage. I’ve actually no reason to believe that. You know? So, I don’t believe that’s the case. But that’s certainly one of the ideas and stories being put around the bubble if you like at the moment.”
“On the more personal issue, I think if you’re in politics you have to have a thick skin. I put posters of my face on poles, I knock on people’s doors uninvited, so you do have to accept a certain degree of attention to your life that you wouldn’t have if you were a private citizen. But, for me, my plan and my view is that: my private life and my family life are not going to be an issue in this campaign or any political campaign I’m involved in. And I really hope nobody else makes an issue of it either.”
Peadar Tóibín: “Yeah, we have an oligopoly in the media in this country. We have a newspaper group that owns nearly 50% of the print media in the State and owns two radio stations. I’ve spoken to journalists off the record and they have agreed with me in my analysis of that affect over the rest of the political debate but they won’t call them out because some day they will need Independent News and Media to pay their mortgages…”
Finucane: “Very likely…”
Tóibín: “Etc, so, that’s one thing. Secondly, politicians typically won’t call out Independent News and Media on these issues because they know that, well, they’ve, they worry, at least, that they will be dealt with in a more abrasive fashion in those newspapers in the future. I think what’s happened in the last number of weeks with regards the focus on the personal lives of the people running in the election is disgusting to be honest. I think it’s absolutely shocking that that would happen…”
Whelan: “Irrespective of who the politicians or the parties were, I just felt the concept of a newspaper trying to set the agenda about what the issues would be in a leadership campaign, in the initially subtle and then unsubtle way, in which the Independent newspapers were doing… and I’m conscious. I mean, I write for The Irish Times, they don’t tell me what to write. And if they did, I wouldn’t write for The Irish Times. But I am conscious that if you begin to comment on what any other media organisation is doing: particularly by one which buys ink in barrels to the extent of the Independent newspapers does. Then you always run the risk of putting yourself in the firing line. And I appreciate that’s sometimes the difficulty Leo and other politicians involved in these kinds of contests may feel they are in, that they can’t actually necessarily throw light on these issues because it’ll only compound the extent to which they become the focus of negative publicity.”
Listen back in full here
Previously: Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink