Tag Archives: Irish Independent

In today’s Irish Independent.

Pictures from yesterday’s Independent News and Media-organised Brexit Breakfast at Trinity College Dublin…

Including INM Editor-in-Chief Stephen Rae and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (bottom right).

In today’s Irish Times.

Pictures from an Irish Times Live event at the newspaper’s office on Tara Street last night…

Including Fine Gael TDs Ciaran Cannon and Hildegarde Naughton (left) and Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan speaking with Irish Times journalist Hugh Linehan.

Oh.

Earlier: “The Taoiseach Has Said He Wanted To Get The Media To Run Fewer Negative Stories”

The Daily News

Yesterday’s Irish Independent; Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

On Monday.

The Irish Independent reported that Kevin O’Connell, the legal adviser to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement who shredded documents pertaining to trial of the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank Sean Fitzpatrick – an action that contributed to its collapse – had sent emails to the Department of Jobs in 2011 complaining of a lack of resources and experience.

Journalist Niall O’Connor reported that these emails were only forwarded to the Government last month.

MrO’Connor also reported that “a report into the shortcomings of the case will confirm that Mr O’Connell has been moved out of the now under-fire corporate watchdog”.

Former Minister for Jobs Mary Mitchell O’Connor ordered this report shortly after the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank Sean Fitzpatrick was acquitted.

Further to this…

This afternoon.

During Leaders’ Questions.

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy raised the Irish Independent story and responses that she and fellow Social Democrat TD Roisin Shortall received from the Department of Jobs.

Catherine Murphy: “Taoiseach, yesterday’s Irish Independent raised significant questions regarding the ODCE [Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement] and their handling of the Sean Fitzpatrick trial which was the longest running criminal trial in the history of the State. The public reaction to the case was a feeling of being utterly left down. People read what happened in the courts, rightly or wrongly, and as another case of people with friends in high places and the sense of punishment only being for the little people.”

“In a week where the public debate rages regarding the operation of the courts and the judiciary, it must be said that cases such as the Fitzpatrick case have a significant impact on public confidence in a system as a whole.

I want to raise with you what appears to be significant conflict in the information provided to both myself and the Irish Independent by the Department recently, when compared to information provided to my colleague Deputy Roisin Shortall in November 2015.

“Yesterday the revelations in the Irish Independent seemed to suggest that the ODCE effectively misled the Department of Enterprise and therefore, Government too, regarding their ability, or lack of ability to effectively investigate the Fitzpatrick case and provide the DPP with the evidence required to prosecute.

“On the 31st of May this year, I received a reply from the then Minister for Jobs [Richard Bruton]. That reply assured me that, in 2011, the Secretary General of two departments, in Justice and Enterprise, had met the ODCE officials and offered extra resources if needed for investigation.

The reply went on to say that the ODCE had claimed that they had no need for any extra resources. The reply clearly says that it was emphasised at the meeting that any requests for resources would be responded to positively. The reply confirms that the ODCE stressed they were satisfied with the resources that were available to them.

“Yet, in the reply to my colleague Deputy Shortall, in November 2015, it was claimed that the ODCE had flagged the need for further resources within their office, subsequent replies relating to that question indicate that there was a significant delay in meeting those resource requests – that’s obviously a significant issue in its own right.

The Irish Independent claims that the email sent internally from Mr O’Connell, in 2011, about concerns regarding the lack of resources within the ODCE to pursue the Fitzpatrick investigation were only forwarded to the Department of Jobs within the last few weeks and we need to know if that’s true. We know that Mr O’Connell had, during the course of the investigation, shredded key documents and had also engaged in coaching witnesses and that ultimately, and that and other issues, ultimately led to the controversial collapse of the case.

“The questions I want to ask are: Can you explain the conflict between the Department of Jobs’ reply in May of this year to me and the same Department’s reply to my colleague Deputy Shortall in November of 2015.

Does the Taoiseach worry that the ODCE may have concealed vital information from the outset, regarding their ability to pursue the Fitzpatrick investigation and does the Taoiseach believe the Government was misled by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement?

Leo Varadkar: “Thank you, deputy, I haven’t seen the report, it hasn’t gone to Cabinet. It hasn’t been published yet. I understand that parts of it may have appeared in a newspaper but I don’t know to what extent they are in truth or they are the full truth. And the report now has gone to the Attorney General and the Attorney General has to consider whether it needs to be redacted because, of course, individuals appear in the report and then may need to have their good name protected.”

“But once the Attorney General has dealt with the report, we will then publish an [inaudible] permission to do so and we’ll publish it with the response. At that point, I think it will be possible for the Tanaiste to answer your questions in more detail.

“What I can say is that the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement, the ODCE, has got additional resources the last year and, indeed, the office has got several additional staff and I think too often in this country, a lack of resources is used as an excuse for poor performance which is why so often additional resources don’t make any difference in terms of outcomes and performance.

“And what I’ve read in the papers is that, you know, documents were shredded that shouldn’t have been shredded and witnesses were coached that shouldn’t have been coached. I don’t know how a lack of resources causes someone to shred a document they shouldn’t have or to find the time to coach a witness they shouldn’t have coached so I think we need more and more as Government opposition not to allow people to hide behind the excuse of resources, it isn’t always the reason as to why everything goes wrong. Often, it’s not the reason at all.

“As a Government and as a Taoiseach, I’ve expressed my view very clearly that I don’t think that our capacity to respond white collar crime and corporate fraud is adequate and for that reason I’ve asked Minister Fitzgerald and Minister Flanagan to work together with their departments to develop a package of measures to go to Cabinet by the end of September which will enable us to strengthen and deepen our response to white collar crime, to corporate fraud and I think that’s necessary, I think people demand it and I think if we’ve any chance in restoring confidence in the State’s ability to deal with such issues, we need to do exactly that.”

Murphy: “Taoiseach, I know the report is gone to, I mean, is gone to the AG. It wasn’t the question I asked. I asked the question in relation to a conflict between two questions, the same, broad question that was proposed to the same department where we got two different replies, two different responses.

“In 2013, the department were made aware that the documents were shredded, 2013. And that was just before the trial commenced. And I’m sure that same information would have gone to the DPP and would we have had the longest running criminal trial in the history of the State if they had that information?

I asked you very specific information. The question, when it was posed in 2013, we were told that, the reply that I got was, if resources were requested they would be provided. Well now compare that to the reply that Deputy Shortall got, when she posed the question in 2013, and had to follow it up with other questions in relation to how many staff were there, when it was going to be augmented? It took a very long time, in fact I think it took before last year before they had their whole complement of staff, so that’s two years. Now, I asked you very specific questions in relation to how you can resolve that conflict. That’s an issue in its own right irrespective of a report going to the AG where you have a department that tells you two different things, both of them can’t be right because they’re the opposite end of the spectrum. Could you please address that issue and do you have confidence or do you believe that you were misled by the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement?

Varadkar:I don’t have an answer to that question. I haven’t any dealings yet with the Officer of Director of Corporate Enforcement. So, I can’t say they misled me because certainly I’ve had no dealings with them as Taoiseach, over the past [inaudible] days and I didn’t have in my previous weeks either so I don’t believe they misled me but if you’ve a question, ask them to the line minister, I imagine he’ll do that in the normal way…”

 

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From yesterday’s Irish Independent

You may recall a post yesterday by Saoirse McGarrigle about the victims of paedophile Bill Kenneally – an accountant from a well-known Fianna Fáil family and basketball coach in Waterford – who want a Commission of Investigation.

They believe senior gardai, members of Fianna Fáil, members of the Catholic Church and staff at the South Eastern Health Board failed to act when told about the abuse.

Kenneally was convicted earlier this year, after victim Jason Clancy came forward in 2012, but Gardaí knew about the abuse as far back as 1985.

Kenneally’s uncle was the late TD Bill Kenneally, who died in 2009, and who was succeeded by his son Brendan Kenneally.

Brendan Kenneally was told about the abuse by a Waterford woman in 2002 but he didn’t tell gardai. Instead, he spoke to another uncle and local priest – and current chairman of the board of management at Holy Cross National School in Tramore, Co Waterford – Monsignor John Shine –  and arranged counselling for Bill Kenneally.

Brendan Kenneally did not report the matter to the gardaí.

The article by Ms McGarrigle, a broadcast journalist with South East Radio, followed a piece in the Sunday Independent by Damien Tiernan, of RTE.

Further to this, the Irish Independent yesterday ran a story about Kenneally’s victims calling for a commission of investigation with a double byline containing the names Conor Feehan and Saoirse McGarrigle – even though the newspaper didn’t print the copy McGarrigle submitted.

In addition, the article included a picture of Brendan Kenneally with the caption:

“Brendan Kenneally is reportedly no longer a Fianna Fáil member.”

Further to this…

Last night, Ms McGarrigle tweeted:

Brendan Kenneally is still a member of Fianna Fáil – in fact he’s Hon Sec of the Thomas Clarke Cumann.

There you go now.

Saoirse McGarrigle can be followed on Twitter here

Previously: Protected For 30 Years

Pic: Gemma O’Doherty

UPDATE:

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Monsignor John Shine

In today’s Irish Mirror, Ms McGarrigle reports:

Victims of paedophile Bill Kenneally are calling for a parish priest to resign as chair of a primary school board of management.

Monsignor John Shine is an uncle of Bill Kenneally and heads up the Holy Cross National School in Tramore, Co Waterford.

…Holy Cross principal John Kindlon said he could not comment on the situation as he is directly employed by the board of management which is chaired by Monsignor Shine.

Contacted by this newspaper the priest refused to discuss the issue.

He added: “No I won’t talk to you. I’m having my lunch.”

Victims of paedophile Bill Kenneally call for a parish priest to resign as chair of a primary school board of management (Irish Mirror)

Pic: Holy Cross

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-11-37-03

It’s not just wellies and muddy furrows you know.

Sinn Féin, on Facebook, writes:

The Irish Independent at Ploughing16 hosted a ‘Farmer’s makeover’. They’ve now removed all footage of the event from their website and YouTube account.

Watch as one of the ‘Farmer’s makeover’ participants criticises the Independent’s coverage of Sinn Féin and the microphone is immediately grabbed from his hand and sound is switched off…

Previously: RTE, Sinn Fein And Insidious Propaganda

maryboyle

independent

From top: Gemma O’Doherty’s documentary, Mary Boyle: The Untold Story; Independent.ie logo.

Gemma O’Doherty posted her documentary Mary Boyle: The Untold Story on YouTube on July 4 – about the disappearance of six-year-old twin Mary Boyle in Donegal in 1977.

The documentary, which has been viewed more than 160,000 times, features interviews with retired sergeant Martin Collins and retired detective sergeant Aidan Murray, in which they allege political interference in the investigation into Mary’s disappearance.

It’s been recently reported in the Independent that both men have since denied there was political interference.

Ms O’Doherty, in an interview with Ocean FM yesterday, said, once the documentary was posted online, the two men were very happy with the documentary; she hasn’t been contacted by either of the men and that she finds the reports to be “very sinister”.

The documentary has been the subject of several critical stories in the Independent, where Ms O’Doherty worked as a journalist before she was fired after calling to the home of the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to question him about quashed penalty points.

And yet it is the paper’s recent coverage of Mary Boyle’s fate, much like the recent ‘revelations’ concerning Philip Cairns case, that have sown the most confusion.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016 (morning): Irish Independent reports on a report by the Irish Daily Star that, in the next few weeks, the Garda cold case unit will launch a “fresh investigation” into the disappearance of Mary Boyle, “with all evidence and suspects to be reexamined”.

Following the investigation, which is expected to last six months, a report will be given to the Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan.

It’s reported:

“‘The first thing that will happen is that the team will go to Donegal (where Mary disappeared) to get a feel for the area,’ a source told [the] newspaper. The source also revealed that the detectives would draw up a list of all serving and retired gardai that investigated Mary’s disappearance in 1977. The source said that the new cold case team would have no pre-conceived ideas of who was or wasn’t a suspect and that all evidence would be followed.”

The report mentions former Irish Independent journalist Gemma O’Doherty’s documentary about Mary’s disappearance – without naming Ms O’Doherty.

It’s reported:

“After a documentary into the investigation earlier this month called Mary Boyle: The Untold Story, there were claims of political interference by two former gardai involved in the case. Retired sergeant Martin Collins claimed a political figure rang gardai at the height of the probe and said: ‘The gist was that none of a particular family should be made suspect for Mary’s interference’.

“Former detective Aidan Murray told the documentary he believed he was close to getting a suspect to confess to murdering Mary but was told to ‘ease-off’ on the suspect by a senior officer. Mary’s twin sister Ann said she believes Mary was being sexually abused and was killed to cover ‘the secret’.”

In addition, it’s reported:

“Six-year-old Mary Boyle had been at her grandparents’ house in Cashelard, a remote and boggy townland outside Ballyshannon, where the extended family had lunch. Her uncle, Gerry Gallagher, was the last person to see her alive after she walked back to her grandparent’s house but never made it there.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2016 (evening): Independent.ie reports that the gardaí have confirmed that cold case detectives are reviewing the Mary Boyle case.

However, they also report

“In a statement given to independent.ie this evening, Garda HQ said a review is underway into the disappearance of Mary. This evening gardaí dismissed reports that a new investigation is underway, saying the case has never been closed… However the statement said it is being reviewed.”

The statement is reported as saying:

“The disappearance of Mary Boyle is under active investigation as it has been since Mary disappeared and that investigation will continue. Any new information that is reported to An Garda Síochána, in relation to an ongoing investigation, will be investigated accordingly.

“As well as the investigation at the time there have been two reviews by An Garda Síochána into Mary’s disappearance. The latest began in 2011 and is being undertaken by a Review Team from the Northern Region.

“The Review team has to date conducted a significant investigation that has involved interviewing a wide range of people and undertaking a number of searches with the assistance of forensic and geology experts. Its investigation is ongoing.

“The Serious Crime Review team has recently been tasked to review the case. The Serious Crime Review Team (SCRT) was established in August 2007 to review of unresolved homicides and other serious crimes within the State.

“The primary purpose of a review is to assist Senior Investigation Officers who are investigating a serious crime by identifying new and potential investigative opportunities. Members of the SCRT are trained in homicide investigation and in the reviewing of unresolved homicides.

“The SCRT comes under the command of the Assistant Commissioner, National Support Services and the Office of the Detective Chief Superintendent, National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The head of the Serious Crime Review Team is Detective Superintendent Walter O’Sullivan.”

Friday, July 14, 2016: The Irish Independent reports on an Irish Daily Star report that says a 73-year-old fisherman PJ Coughlan claims he saw ‘a red Volkswagen Beetle speeding away from the area that Mary went missing ten minutes before he saw Mary’s uncle Gerry frantically searching for her’.

Mr Coughlan is quoted as saying: “I believe I saw her being driven away in a car. There’s no doubt in my mind she was lifted.”

It’s reported that:

“Coughlan was the first person at the Garda station in Ballyshannon in 1977 to report Mary’s disappearance. He said he told gardai about the car but he claimed that this wasn’t recorded because the gardai already had a suspect. Meanwhile, Detective Superintendent Walter O’Sullivan has confirmed that the cold case investigation into Mary’s disappearance will be launched in the next few weeks and will last up to six months.”

In addition, it’s reported that Mary’s sister Ann Doherty has complained to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission over “gardai leaking information about the new investigation to the Irish Daily Star before she was notified.”

The article also includes a statement from Ann Doherty’s solicitor, Darragh Mackin which states:

“It is deeply troubling, that a decision was taken to provide such a development in an exclusive to a national newspaper, before conveying same to our client. Our Client, Ms Doherty has still not been contacted by An Garda Siochana to confirm the contents of the article and therefore we are not in a position to confirm the accuracy of whether or not there is in fact a fresh probe into the disappearance of Mary Boyle, on foot of the recently published documentary.”

Saturday, July 15, 2016: The Irish Independent reports that gardai have started to search a bog – that was previously searched – in Donegal “as a fresh investigation is underway into the disappearance of six-year-old Mary Boyle”. It’s reported that the bog is being drained.

The article repeats the claims of political interference made by two gardai in the documentary Mary Boyle: The Untold Story – again, without naming Gemma O’Doherty as having made the documentary.

Saturday, July 15, 2016 (later in the day):  The Irish Independent reports that “an excavation” has been started on land near where Mary Boyle went missing.

Monday, July 18, 2016: The Irish Independent reports that Fianna Fáil councillor Sean McEniff has released a statement.

The statement is quoted as saying:

“Mr McEniff emphatically and unconditionally denies that he was the politician who allegedly contacted the Gardai in Ballyshannon at the time of the disappearance of Mary Boyle.

“He has no knowledge of such a call other than what he has heard recently on what was contained in the video “Mary Boyle, The Untold Story”.”

“Mr McEniff is satisfied that the two former Gardai interviewed as part of the video have recently clarified that at the time of the disappearance or in the investigation that followed neither were aware of any such alleged phonecall and that there was no impediment from their superiors in the investigation as a result.”

It’s further reported:

“Mr McEniff also asserted his right to a good name and said he has taken legal advice in relation to what he says are defamatory comments ‘made both directly and by innuendo’.”

“The statement says he will also ‘take such steps as are necessary to protect his reputation’. He alleges that comments and statements made in relation to the issue are false, malicious and damaging to him. The statement also says Mr McEniff will make no further public statements in relation to the issue and all further related issues will be dealt with through his solicitors.”

The article names Gemma O’Doherty as the creator of the documentary.

It also states that McEniff, who has been a Donegal County Councillor for more than 40 years, supports the call for a Commission of Investigation into Mary Boyle’s case.

Sunday, August 14, 2016: The Sunday Independent reports that retired detective sergeant Aidan Murray, who was in Ms O’Doherty’s documentary, denies claims of political interference in the investigation into the disappearance of Mary Boyle.

It’s reported:

“Retired detective sergeant Aidan Murray, who featured in Mary Boyle: The Untold Story, has claimed the programme was ‘selective’ and ‘misleading’ in how it presented his interview.”

“In a sworn statement to a solicitor, Mr Murray said that at no stage during his investigation into the disappearance of the little girl in Donegal was he subjected to ‘interference’ or ‘pressure’.”

“He said his two senior officers, a superintendent and an inspector, were ‘honourable and professional men’ and ‘at no point attempted to influence’ him in the conduct of the investigation.”

“He alleged that the documentary had ‘taken a number of my comments out of context and creates the wrong impression’.”

“Mr Murray’s comments echo those of his former colleague, retired sergeant Martin Collins, who also featured in the documentary, Mary Boyle: The Untold Story. Speaking to his local newspaper in Donegal, Mr Collins also denied any political interference.’”

In addition, it’s reported:

“In the statement, which he made last week, Mr Murray said: ‘I was not aware of any alleged phone call at the time and I subsequently heard the rumour many months later at a garda conference.’ He said: ‘The reason Inspector Daly asked me to pause the interview was because of his genuine concern for the mental health of the person being interviewed. It was not for any other reason.’”

“Mr Murray alleged that the Mary Boyle documentary was ‘selectively edited to suggest that this was because of political interference. This is absolutely incorrect.’”

Monday, August 15, 2016: The Irish Independent repeats sections of the Sunday Independent report in relation to Mr Murray but includes that, “Mr Murray says Fianna Fáil councillor Sean McEniff ‘did not make any phone or contact the gardai in relation to the investigation’.”

The article also includes sections of Mr McEniff’s statement of July where he denied contacting the gardaí in Ballyshannon at the time of Mary’s disappearance.

It further includes a line about retired Sgt Collins, saying “[Collings] emphatically told a local Donegal newspaper that there had been no political or garda cover-up.”

Further to the reports above, Ms O’Doherty did an interview with Ocean FM yesterday.

During the interview, Ms O’Doherty said:

“I have to say that it’s very alarming. Aidan Murray has not contacted me about this, nor asked me to retract anything that he said in my documentary and nor will I be retracting anything.

“Aidan Murray is very clear, in the documentary when he said, in his own words, that certain people were not allowed to be interviewed, as a result of the politician’s phone call. He said that, I didn’t, it came out of his own mouth. You cannot really un-say what you have said.

“…We did actually record them twice because I was involved with UTV Northern Ireland, making a documentary, and the two men travelled over to Lough Erne Resort and we did interview there.

“Now, we decided we weren’t going to go ahead with UTV, for a number of reasons, so this was something that they did at their own free will. And, you know, I know that after the documentary was aired, on July the 4th, they expressed profound happiness about it.

“Margo spoke to both of them, Margo O’Donnell and she said that they were overjoyed. And I spoke to them and I know that that was their sense as well. So, I haven’t heard from them in relation to this sudden retraction but I do find it very sinister.”

Meanwhile, Mary Boyle: The Untold Story will be screened in Eoin’s Bar on Clanbrassil Street in Dundalk, Co. Louth tonight,  followed by a Q&A with Ms O’Doherty and Margo O’Donnell.

It will begin at 8pm and admission is free.

Producer of Mary Boyle documentary describes statement as ‘sinister’ (Ocean FM)

Watch Mary Boyle: The Untold Story here

Thanks Rory

independent

Today’s Independent.ie

Further to the conviction of Marta Herda for murder yesterday.

Dancost writes:

Hillary accepts the nomination stateside and ‘Repeal the 8th’ seems to be scrawled on every second wall in Dublin. And a female journalist writing for the Irish Independent pens anarticle on the ever changing wardrobe of Marta Herda during her murder trial:

‘Some days she carried not one but two statement leather handbags as she began to find her fashion feet.

Herda also began wearing a pair of trendy dark glasses – by the end of the trial, she could have passed for one of the legal secretaries sitting in on her trial.

One could never imagine that the well-groomed, harmless-looking woman was actually accused of murder.’

Struggling to remember the last time I saw an article written about the fashion choices of man on trial for murder. Holding the cause back a bit eh?

How Herda Sharpened her Look During Murder Trial (Irish Independent(

john-mcguinness-public-accounts-committee-4-752x501

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness

Mr McGuinness continues to claim he did no wrong in secretly meeting Callinan and not telling anybody about it until now. Yet the Fianna Fáil TD accepts his information may have helped the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation into whistleblower allegations. His excuses for not coming forward before are less than convincing.

Is his decision to divulge the information now related to him not being reappointed as chairman of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee and being notably left off Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s frontbench?

Whatever about his role as a TD – only the voters of Carlow-Kilkenny can pass judgment on that – Mr McGuinness was negligent in his duty as chairman of the Dáil’s most powerful committee, which is supposed to be the taxpayers’ watchdog.

The public deserved better from the holder of that role. And these matters are more important than John McGuinness’s ego and attention-seeking antics.

Right so.

From an editorial in today’s Irish Independent.

McGuinness negligent as chairman of Dáil PAC (Irish Independent)

Previously: Better Late Than Never

‘We Are Part Of The Cover-Up’

Did The Editor Have His Points Quashed?

90390660Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 13.52.17kevin2

From top: RTÉ; today’s Irish Independent; Kevin Rafter

The main story in this morning’s Irish Independent, by Fionnan Sheahan and Kevin Doyle, is headlined ‘Revealed: Sinn Féin’s bid to intimidate RTÉ’.

It is based on an academic paper by Associate Professor of Political Communication Kevin Rafter, of Dublin City University, who looked at RTÉ’s coverage of the 2011 general election.

The Irish Independent article states:

A study of coverage in the 2011 general election shows Sinn Féin and the Labour Party got too much attention from RTÉ.

However, an internal RTÉ review found there had been “a campaign orchestrated by Sinn Féin supporters” to complain about time allocations to their party and candidates.

In addition:

…Gerry Adams’s party is now trying to bully RTÉ into giving it more favourable treatment in the General Election. Even RTÉ’s best-known current affairs broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan is being attacked on the internet by Sinn Féin supporters.

In relation to Sinn Féin’s ‘bid to intimidate RTÉ’, the Irish Independent refers to a story in An Phoblacht published two days ago, and tweets sent to RTÉ presenter Miriam O’Callaghan about the fact that her brother Jim O’Callaghan is a Fianna Fáil candidate.

In reference to the An Phoblacht article, Mr Sheahan reports:

The party is complaining about RTÉ featuring its stance on the abolition of the Special Criminal Court last week.

“RTÉ News is being challenged by Sinn Féin about why its choosing of news stories with a slant against the party is being unfairly used to slash its election coverage,” the party said in its propaganda newspaper, ‘An Phoblacht’.

In addition, in a separate opinion piece by Mr Sheahan, he claims:

The Shinnerbots have been busy over recent days as the party has claimed it is being silenced by RTÉ. Supporters are sharing and reacting to their campaign claiming victimhood.

… Regulating the Airwaves: How Political Balance is Achieved in Practice in Election News Coverage also reveals an insidious campaign by Sinn Féin supporters to bully RTÉ into giving their candidates more airtime.

…The “orchestrated campaign” clearly worked.

So Sinn Féin is at it again.

Mr Rafter’s paper – Regulating the Airwaves: How Political Balance is Achieved in Practice in Election News Coverage – does state that an internal RTÉ review found there had been “a campaign orchestrated by Sinn Féin supporters”.

However the paper includes no details of the  campaign.

It simply refers to a note about ‘a campaign’ by Sinn Féin in an RTÉ review and even refers to it as being ‘a low level campaign by Sinn Féin supporters’.

Further to this…

New laws, enacted in 2009, meant that the regulation of both public and private broadcasters were to be regulated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

However, Mr Rafter noted:

The BAI’s Code on Election Coverage did not contain any practical guidelines on how broadcasters were to ensure their election coverage was fair, objective and impartial. The document noted that it was ‘a matter for individual broadcasters to decide the most effective way to reflect all the interests involved in an election…’.

As such, broadcasters were left to their own devices in implementing campaign communication regulations. Moreover, the BAI did not actively monitor coverage for compliance. Members of the public with a grievance were facilitated through the normal broadcast complaints system overseen by the BAI, which essentially meant complaints could not be adjudicated upon during the election period.

Either way, in light of this legal change, Mr Rafter looked at the impact of these regulations on RTÉ and its coverage of the Irish general election in 2011 in three specific areas – RTÉ’s election news coverage, its political advertising and its leader debates.

To carry out his investigation, Mr Rafter focused on minutes of internal meetings at RTÉ during the campaign period and other documentation, including minutes of RTÉ’s Steering Committee – made up of senior managers from across RTÉ and whose purpose was to contribute ‘to the goal of objective, impartial and fair coverage by RTÉ of the election campaign and count programming’.

The committee also liaised with political parties.

In relation to members of the SC meeting with representatives of the main political parties – Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin – to discuss the leader debates, Mr Rafter states:

“Formal representations throughout the campaign were viewed as relatively low with individual programmes receiving what was described as the ‘usual amount of representations from the parties about perceived inadequacies in RTE´s coverage’. There were, however, repeated references to complaints from Sinn Féin supporters. At the conclusion of the election, an internal review noted that that there had been ‘a campaign orchestrated by Sinn Féin supporters’. Many of these complaints were about time allocations to parties and candidates. It was adjudged that there was ‘a low level campaign by Sinn Féin supporters’ who claimed their party was under-represented based on its standing in public opinion polls. This bias claim was, however, not borne out by internal data compiled by RTE during the campaign…”

It is this paragraph that is the basis for this morning’s Irish Independent story.

However, a closer look at Mr Rafter’s analysis shows a much more interesting story – how RTÉ struggled to give a fair amount of time to small parties and Independent candidates.

Mr Rafter explains that, traditionally, RTÉ allocated air time to different parties during a general election campaign based on the first preference votes each party won in the previous general election – with some flexibility extended when there were changes in public opinion or the emergence of new parties.

However, RTÉ was ‘unable to take account of the dramatic shifts in public opinion’ – shown in the table below – in the run-up to the 2011 general election:

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 12.27.00

Mr Rafter explained that, in November 2010, a list of 12 questions were distributed in an RTÉ staff memo outlining what aspects should be considered in regards to coverage.

But, Mr Rafter said:

“In truth, the unwieldy 12-point list offered little clarification. There was an absence of weighting criteria to specify the relative importance of each point in determining on-air coverage allocations. As the general election campaign drew closer, there was further internal discussion about the distribution of on-air time among the political parties. What is evident from minutes of these discussions is acceptance that the changed political landscape since 2007 meant the traditional policy based on the previous general election results was unsustainable.”

In January 2011, RTÉ then ‘privately examined’ several different ways of calculating a way of allocating on-air time and even engaged in ‘confidential discussions’ with ‘a number of academics to examine how RTE should deal with coverage allocation’.

Following these private discussions, there was a preference for the following four factors to be considered: first preference votes in the 2007 election; percentage of seats held by the party at the calling of the election in 2011; an estimate of the number of candidates nominated by each party in 2011; and an average of (a) average opinion poll results from 2007 to 2011, (b) percentage of first preference vote in the 2009 European elections and (c) percentage of first preference vote in the 2009 local elections.

But, Mr Rafter noted, while several different options were considered:

‘When the calculations were undertaken, however, the coverage allocation outcomes per party were in fact relatively similar.’

In particular there was a problem with the fourth factor, in regards to polls, given that smaller parties were not included in national polls.

Mr Rafter stated:

“This weakness was acknowledged with a proposal that category four for smaller parties would be calculated only on local and European results in 2009. The wider issue of basing coverage allocations in a national parliamentary election on the results from second-order electoral contests, where results can vary with ‘very little at stake’, does not appear to have been considered.”

Mr Rafter also stated that, in addition to these discussions being held in private, the BAI was not consulted about them.

Mr Rafter said that while RTÉ claimed to endeavour for its political party coverage not to ‘be reduced to a stopwatch exercise’ it was, in fact, ‘very much driven by time allocations’.

In a bid to monitor its coverage, RTÉ employed a researcher for the duration of the election to prepare reports on the proportion of on-air time given to candidates and parties – including the following table:

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Mr Rafter explained:

“The data in Table 2 are drawn from the results of RTE’s own monitoring of its programme coverage during the 2011 election campaign. The data are cumulative, so for example, the figures on 8 February include all programme coverage from the start of monitoring on 1 February up until 8 February.”

From the outset of the election campaign internal concerns were expressed in RTE about the proportion of coverage being given to independent candidates and those representing smaller parties. Examples of recorded comments include the following: ‘It was emphasised that all programmes must work towards getting the proportion of attention given to independents and smaller parties up to acceptable levels’, ‘…some concerns at the need to significantly increase the level of attention to others/smaller parties’, ‘Once again programme makers were asked to use every available opportunity to include others/smaller parties as the guideline for their proportion of attention was difficult to achieve’, ‘Concerns continue to be raised about the excessive level of attention to Labour and the under-attention for independents and others.’

Specifically, RTÉ’s review of its coverage – at the midpoint of the election – found the following:

Fianna Fáil was in the 30-31 per cent range when the guidelines stated FF should receive 31 per cent.

Fine Gael was in the 25-27 per cent range when the guidelines stated FG should receive 27 per cent.

Labour was in the 20-25 per cent range when the guidelines stated Labour should receive 13 per cent.

Sinn Féin was in the 9-12 per cent range when the guidelines stated SF should receive 7 per cent.

Green Party was in the 5-8 per cent range when the guidelines stated it should receive 5 per cent.

Others/independents were in the 3-8 per cent range when guidelines stated they should receive 18 per cent.

Mr Rafter noted from the minutes of RTÉ’s Steering Committee, that:

“Specific suggestions to address the problem included devoting more time to smaller parties and independents on afternoon television programmes and on Late Debate, a late night radio programme. The fact that these slots in the programme schedules attracted relatively modest audiences vis-a-vis appearances on prime time news and current affairs programmes was not mentioned.”

In addition, after the 2011 election, it was noted in minutes of the RTE Steering Committee from March 2011 that, ‘as with previous elections the level of attention given to independents remains problematic’.

Mr Rafter explained that RTE proffered different reasons for the imbalance of its coverage:

“Several justifications were postulated within RTE in the aftermath of the general election to explain the imbalance in coverage across the various political groupings. Sensitivity relating to coverage of independent candidates was evident.”

Justifications – perhaps better described as excuses – included the fact that ‘independents with little or no track record find it difficult to get on radio or television’: ‘the role of political parties in government forming’; and the strength of established parties ‘given that elections are largely fought through political parties and track records are important in determining attention this is inevitable’.”

“The post-election rationale, however, contrasts sharply with the ongoing internal concern repeatedly expressed during the campaign itself and does little to explain why the evident coverage variations were not more seriously addressed in programme output during the campaign itself.

“This outcome hardly meets the BAI’s requirement to deal with election coverage issues at an early stage. Moreover, once decisions were taken internally within RTE, the provision of information to all interested parties, including it is assumed voters, was not a priority.”

Regulating the Airwaves: How Political Balance is Achieved in Practice in Election News Coverage (Irish Political Studies)

Revealed: Sinn Féin’s bid to intimidate RTÉ (Irish Independent)

Revealed: Sinn Féin’s ‘orchestrated campaign’ of intimidation against RTÉ (Fionnan Sheahan, Irish Independent)

How bullying RTÉ worked for Sinn Féin at the last election, so the party is at it again (Fionnan Sheahan, Irish Independent)