Eamonn Kelly: Sleepily Comfortable And Casually Condescending


Clockwise From top left: Prime Time’s David McCullagh and Miriam O’Callaghan; Aine Lawlor of The Week in Politics; Bryan Dobson of Morning Ireland;: Eamonn Kelly

The RTÉ One Prime Time programme on the rise of nationalism in Ireland (Thursday,  June 25) seemed, from the off, to have another agenda. Two separate issues were collapsed into one, as if they were synonymous.

David McCullagh in his introduction said that similar nationalist groups across Europe “tend to share a deep suspicion of the political establishment and an implacable opposition to emigration.”

This had the effect of casting both issues as being tied at the hip. But many people, who could not in any way be described as racist, are often suspicious of Ireland’s political establishment, and often with good reason.

Nevertheless, the insinuation was woven through the report, and had the effect of suggesting that those working-class people featured in the programme, speaking out for social justice, may be proto racists.

The people featured were mostly working-class people, with working-class accents, concerned with social housing. Everyone knows that working-class accents are the speech patterns of the “other” in Ireland, particularly in Dublin.

In the privatisation of housing under Fine Gael, social housing was neglected in favour of the market, and homelessness soared.

But the victims were mainly those working-class people who traditionally depended on social housing, and are depending on it even more now when two wages can’t afford to buy one house. Those same people who are unable to avail of the pricey educational advantages that middle-class Ireland routinely enjoys and regards as “normal”.

The spin put on this programme, which was ostensibly concerned with Gemma O’Doherty’s and John Waters’ often hare-brained and dangerous escapades, seemed more like political sleight of hand, designed to tarnish those social activists who are neither racist nor hard leftists, but who are interested in social equality and who are often rightly suspicious of Ireland’s political establishment.

To suggest that anyone who is suspicious of a political establishment such as the one led by Fine Gale during austerity, are somehow proto or even covert racists, is really little more than a slippery bit of class politics designed to tarnish opposition to Ireland’s right-wing political establishment.

Sowing Division

The result of Fine Gael housing policy was that there was competition for housing between immigrants and working-class people, setting in train an unfair competition for limited resources. The price of failure in this competition to gain accommodation was homelessness.

But the set of circumstances that caused the conflict arose directly from Fine Gael housing policy, as was repeatedly shown and argued by Fr Peter McVerry.

To imply, as the Prime Time programme did, that those desperate people, placed in such a conflictual set of circumstances imposed upon them by a right-wing political establishment, are somehow proto racists, is a mean and underhanded trick of political spin.

The insinuation also has the effect of protecting the interests of the political establishment that the RTÉ journalists themselves are clearly part of.

Given middle-class suspicion of working-class people, and the routine middle-class prejudices on display by, for instance, Josepha Madigan’s NIMBY activities, it is almost comical that middle-class prejudice towards working-class people should be manipulated in this way to suggest that working-class people are prejudiced against immigrants.

Abstract Austerity

Only a few days earlier, another RTE journalist, Áine Lawlor, made the case on her TV show that austerity had been good for Ireland.

When Áine Lawlor’s views on austerity met with opposition from people interested in social equality, her RTÉ colleagues came out in support of her position.

But these RTÉ personalities are all well paid professionals. Austerity cost them nothing. In fact, austerity often provided the raw material for many of their stories. But none of them were personally bitten by austerity. To them, austerity is an abstraction. It’s just background noise.

But for people on housing lists and hospital waiting lists and working in jobs that don’t pay a living wage and don’t deliver enough to buy or even rent a place in the premium rental market encouraged by FFFG housing policy, austerity is a daily suffering grind. It’s not abstract. It’s real and it’s dirty and it hurts.

And by all accounts there is more of it coming down the line, since the parties who delivered the last tranche of austerity are now back in power in a combination/partnership that no one expected or voted for.

In fact, people were assured by Micheál Martin that Fianna Fail would not enter into coalition with Fine Gael.

This means the new taoiseach has already broken a campaign promise, and he’s still only a wet weekend in the job.

Disappointing Journalism

To be told by the public service broadcaster that those who oppose the current right-wing political establishment, share traits with European racists, seems like a deliberate attempt to deceive the viewer, or to dampen potential dissent.

If this is the standard of journalism in RTÉ we are in real trouble. Because there are those of us who actually look to the established media to behave like “real” journalists, since they are the established face of the profession.

But far from serving the public interest, as real journalists are expected to do, this kind of lazy, politically compromised journalism risks making cynics of us all.

Such journalism gives the impression that the established journalists and the political establishment that they purport to hold to account are all really in the same social club.

Though I am not a journalist by profession, but an arts practitioner, I hold to the ideals of objective journalism, and write from that perspective to the best of my ability.

I am not affiliated with any one party or cause, apart from a general interest in social justice and a particular interest in untangling spun political narratives such as the one described above.

The idea of a journalist not holding to those ideals of objective journalism makes no sense to me, since this would have the effect of abandoning the unique perspective that journalism affords, that space where independent opinion may be expressed.

But this is precisely what these high-ranking RTÉ journalists seem to be doing. In the process of promoting the policies of the political establishment they purport to be holding to account, they are rendering their own professions meaningless.


As if to add insult to injury, when Micheál Martin finally ascended to the office of taoiseach, Brian Dobson on RTÉ wondered might the new coalition be described as “centre left”.

Really? I’d regard myself as centre-left. But if Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are centre-left that makes me Che Guevara. I guess that’s the idea. Shove everyone over in the bed, right-wing becomes “normal” and everyone else is a radical.

It is difficult to decide whether this is disinformation – deliberately designed to deceive – or misinformation: mistakenly delivered, where the journalists themselves are being deceived with disinformation.

Though that’s hardly possible, since it would mean that the RTÉ journalists are lacking in the basics of political science.

Whatever the mechanics, this carefully judged encroachment also came across like information spun in the apparent service of right-wing parties attempting to supplant those parties of the left and policies of the left that many voters, calling for change, favoured in the last election.

Perhaps it’s just institutional complacency.

Certainly, the photograph of Miriam O’Callaghan and David McCullagh (top) that goes with the Prime Time programme on the RTÉ player seems like a study in complacency.

Both look kind of sleepily comfortable and casually condescending, their expressions perfectly encapsulating the sense of unaccountable privilege that appears to inform their journalistic choices.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet


Who are ‘the new nationalists’ ? (Prime Time)

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31 thoughts on “Eamonn Kelly: Sleepily Comfortable And Casually Condescending

  1. Mig Eater

    With respect to the author – thanks for sharing.

    I think we have long established that RTE is full of condescending personalities who are assigned the role of journalists – not just the aforementioned but Brendan O’Connor, Olivia O’Leary, Marian Finucane…. the gender-neutral Karens of the media, all.

    Neither is this an RTE-only thing. The Irish Times for example is riddled with the lecturing to us stupid people about every topic.

    The question is why RTE and Irish Times hire and promote from such a small pool of people from the sea of diversity. It CANNOT be because “they’re the best person for the job”.

    And when they’re not hectoring us though official channels, there they all are on Twitter continuing the puke-promptingly pathetic warm-armpitting of the views of each other.

    PS: Miriam O’Callaghan needs to pay a PR agent to manage her thoughts and concerns as much as Paddy Cosgrove or Donald Trump does…

  2. GiggidyGoo

    They don’t even try to hide it these days. I wonder how Miriam will react to Jimbo’s failure to get the call-up. (He might get a Super Junior role – who knows?)

  3. Kolmo

    Fair article. The conflation of social justice/dignity with the ugly death-cult of the Europe-wide moronic flag waving racists is an effective way of colouring opinions of the chattering classes and maintains the bottom-line of those who benefit from the undeniable dysfunction.

  4. Cian

    How do you define a party as “left” or “right”? What happens if a part has some policies that are right and others that are left? Are they centre?

    If we just look at housing. if a government provides social housing isn’t it left-leaning?
    On the other hand, if the actual procurement of that home is buying from a private builder – that is right-leaning. But does this right-leaning cancel out the social aspect of the housing?

    Government A: councils build social housing: left
    Government B: social housing bought from private builders: right + left = centre
    Government C: no social housing available: right

    1. SOQ

      Well that is the whole point now isn’t it? What is regarded as nationalists are economically quite left wing- this was a comment made recently about France’s National Rally party.
      The far right and the far left are actually in competition for the same demographic and if it as claimed that over 50% of new social houses are going to non nationals then its only a matter of time before the nationalists get elected at council level.

    2. :-Joe

      You’re basing a whole complex set of positions held by an individual or group that make up their political ideology on only one policy with your example of housing.

      Here’s a fairly accurate but basic and quick explanation on the origin of left vs right and the political idealogical spectrum…

      A few mistakes about their overall positions on the spectrum, it’s always debatable though..

      :-J – https://www.privacytools.io

      1. SOQ

        Good vid there Joe although I would question if the now Left are anywhere near as progressive as they claim to be. Where I see the shift is actually what it means to be liberal.

        The left/liberal was a traditional match but this constant witch-hunting of people who do not adhere to the now Left’s world view is extremely regressive- and oppressive.

      2. Cian

        Exactly. I was simplifying it to a single topic to show how difficult it is to decide left/right. If you extend it to every aspect of government then there are 1000s of left-leaning policies and 1000s of right-leaning policies.

        Eamonn is cherry picking certain FF/FG polices that are right-wing and ignoring all the left-wing policies.

        FF or FG have run the country for 100 years; everything good or bad about Ireland is as a result of one or the other. We live in a country were the government spends over two thirds of expenditure on Social Welfare and Healthcare! How can you call Ireland right-wing?

        1. GiggidyGoo

          “everything good or bad about Ireland is as a result of one or the other” – “as a result of one or the other” ?
          Well that was the best attempt at the morphing process I’ve seen so far in all fairness.

          1. Cian

            It isn’t morphing.
            “one OR the other”.

            as in either FF OR FG have been the main government party since 1932.

          2. GiggidyGoo

            Not what you’ve written, which was “everything good or bad about Ireland is as a result of one or the other” . That is a fair stretch from saying that “everything good or bad about Ireland is as a result of one or the other being the main Government party since 1932”
            What you’re omitting is the influence of other parties, independents etc. had in Government to change the mindset of FFG, as well as the influence the opposition parties such as Labour, SF, SD etc.
            Maybe, for clarify, you might consider rewriting the phrase as
            “everything good or bad about Ireland is as a result of one or the other being held to account by opposition parties, as well as the influence of an all-Ireland Party’s historic contribution to the peace process”….and maybe add a few more things that contributed – like Tony Gregory, like Labour, like Lowrey.

            Your one-liner gives the impression that only FF or FG were solely instrumental in how this State evolved. They weren’t.

          3. Cian

            Fair enough – I should have included the influence of the other coalition parties/independents too. And the (lesser) influence of the opposition. And the influence of the vocal public. And the influence of the EEC/EU. And the influence of 700 years of British rule. And probably a load of other stuff that had an influence. But at the end of the day, all government policy for 90 years has had either a FF or FG stamp of approval.

            Anyway, my original point was that we need to accept both the good and the bad.

    3. :-Joe

      After considering the amount of times I’ve seen you blindly defending the F-f/g duopoly and establishment status quo… I’m kind of astonished that you are even asking this question.. but it goes some way to explaining things more clearly..

      I think you’re view of politics is probably very narrow. Something like F-f/g will protect you and everything else is chaotic and dangerous and could lead to recreating communist soviet union or maoist china.

      Also you’re probably one of those automatically anti-SF by association of whatever ideology has been drilled into your brain too… Is that right and would you admit it if true?.. Just guestimating…

      :-J – https://www.privacytools.io

      1. Cian

        defending the F-f/g duopoly and establishment status quo
        Wait a minute. People talk about Ireland like it is some third world hole.

        It’s not. It is consistently towards the top of most polls – GDP per capita, Social support, life expectancy, Equality, generosity, (lack of) corruption, press freedom, political freedom, etc, etc

        Yes, we can improve things. we can aim higher. But the constant bashing of the State is unfair.

        I don’t blindly defend the government. I defend the unfair accusations against the State. Hell, I’ve defended (unfair accusations against) FF and SF too – but people don’t seem to remember that.

        I don’t like SF policies, they have been too light on detail or just crazy. Although, to be fair to them, the quality has improved in recent years – I liked their €2000 beer voucher idea.
        I am anti-terrorism, anti-IRA, and as long as SF refuse to acknowledge that the IRA committed atrocities I simply will not vote for them. But that is an age thing; SF support is mainly in the under 40s – a double whammy of economically disadvantaged from the last crisis and none of whom would remember the Troubles ;)

        1. GiggidyGoo

          €2000 beer voucher? That would have been a great idea. But sure add another ‘0’ for effect eh? Point I made at the start of our last foray proven.

          1. Cian

            Thanks!. a typo.
            For clarity it was more than beer. it was (if I remember) €200 for adults; €100 for kids; to be spent in hotels, restaurants and pubs.

  5. Cian

    The photograph of Miriam O’Callaghan and David McCullagh Eamonn Kelly (top) that goes with the Prime Time programme on the RTE player article seems like a study in complacency.

    [He] looks kind of sleepily comfortable and casually condescending, his expressions perfectly encapsulating the sense of unaccountable privilege that appears to inform his artistic and playwright choices.

    1. :-Joe

      I diasagree, he was right the first time…

      Although, like your comment here it could be seen as a cheap shot based on appearence ..

      If you’ve ever watched that program more than a couple of times he’s completely on the money.

      A bunch of lazy entitled establishment state supporting overpaid media wasters… Masquerading as pseudo-journalists and it’s so obvious they don’t care.

      I guess I could be biased by my agreement with his opinions in the article above and the history of his analysis on other articles before.

      The photo of him looks completely ordinary or normal etc.

      Good lad Cian, it’s no surpise that you would be first defending the state media propaganda apparatus.. & where’s Gob_r ?… 1..2..3..4..5…

      :-J – https://www.privacytools.io

          1. GiggidyGoo

            Terrible you have to clarify what you mean – Joe wrote “Although, like your comment here it could be seen as a cheap shot based on appearence” to which you replied “It was a cheap shot based on appearance.” No clarification until you had to.

  6. diddy

    women activists are the most potent. those women in mulhuddart have a point. all working people are being squeezed

  7. IBEC uber alles

    Very well written piece, as usual. RTE has become a spin machine for the ruling classes, forming an incestuous little clique along with academics, politicians and business bosses. Barry Cowen was asked a question this morning, on Morning Ireland, about greyhound welfare and funding, to which there was only one answer. Biffo Beag is a former track manager and greyhound owner so presumably knows more than most about the fate of slow greyhounds. though the interviewer showed no further interest. The anti-coursing section of the Greens will not be happy.

  8. Gabby

    Television reviewing of documentary programmes can look closely at tone, framing, repetition of footage, choice of dubbed-in mood music, camera shot angles, context or lack of context, use of soundbites, contrasting viewpoints or lack thereof – among other details.
    Let’s have lots of close television criticism, especially the techniques of documentaries.

    1. SOQ

      The digging out of one woman’s Facebook posts (or whatever) was a cheap shot. Her motives probably did include something she regrets but that does not mean those women do not have a valid protest reason.

      The criteria of need is not good enough. Otherwise every family who jets in from wherever bumps all else down the queue. There is no racism involved- although, just like the Irish, babies do not make themselves.

      Himself and I have been trying for years. So far all we have is a half savannah cat who never shuts up and a half collie/corgi dog who can tell the time.

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