Tag Archives: Matt Cooper

This afternoon.

National Concert Hall, Dublin 2

Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates officially unveiled as the new anchormen of the Tonight Show, the replacement for Tonight with Vincent Browne.

A ‘double header’ at 11pm Monday to Friday and Mario Rosenstock will “also join the pair every Thursday”.

Female host (out of picture).

Fight!

Any excuse.

The Best Bits That Came From TV3’s New Season Launch (MediaHQ)

TV3 launches New Season line-up with new shows, big name signings, major sports events, exclusive drama commissions (IFTN)

Pic via Daragh Brophy and MediaHQ

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 13.31.15

Brendan Ogle outside Apollo House on January 12

You may recall RTÉ One’s report from Monday, by John Kilraine – about the former headquarters of the Unite trade union, on Merrion Square in Dublin, which has been vacant for three years.

It was reported:

“…a trust connected to the trade union Unite applied to be exempted from social housing for a development at its former headquarters…while one of its top officials was planning the occupation of Apollo House…”.

The report went on to say Brendan Ogle, of Unite and the Home Sweet Home movement, gained access to Apollo House a day after Unite’s application for a Social Housing Exemption Cert was granted by Dublin City Council.

Mr Ogle subsequently wrote a lengthy post on Facebook concerning the RTÉ report.

Further to this…

Yesterday evening, Mr Ogle spoke to Matt Cooper on Today FM about the matter, during which a statement from RTE was read out.

A transcript of the interview:

Matt Cooper: “Brendan Ogle, Home Sweet Home organiser, also the Unite trade union’s education and policy officer has joined us in studio today. Jimmy Kelly, the regional organiser, of course, was with us on yesterday’s programme to respond to the story which RTE broke yesterday about the former Unite headquarters in Merrion Square being vacant for the last three years. Leading to questions as to why it could not have been used as a venue to look after the homeless people rather than occupying Apollo House in Dublin city centre. Brendan Ogle, can you understand why people would ask that, and regard it as a legitimate question?”

Brendan Ogle: “No.”

Cooper: “Why not?”

Ogle: “I can’t understand why a workers’ organisation and volunteers and members of it, which is an non-profit organisation, a friendly society organisation, comes under attack for helping homeless people. I can’t understand it.”

Cooper: “Attack. Why do you say attack?”

Ogle: “Well, because, this is not journalism. We were approached by RTE at lunchtime, Saturday afternoon. I was approached, notwithstanding the fact I had nothing to do with property. I don’t even own one, nevermind having anything to do with it. And it was a very complex question. And Jimmy Kelly, who you’ve just mentioned – the leader of Unite in Ireland – sought, until today, until Tuesday, to provide RTE will full facts. Bearing in mind, Matt, that it was Saturday afternoon, if we’d got contacted on Monday, or even on Friday, we might have been able to do something.”

Cooper: “Sorry, had you not anticipated at any stage, over the last month or so, that somebody might come along and say to you, ‘hang on a second, you’re very involved in this campaign, you’re leading it down in Apollo House and, as it happens, you have a large building in Merrion Square which has been vacant for three years. If you’re concerned about the homeless, why didn’t you actually use that as a venue to house people?”

Ogle: “No, I didn’t anticipate it. I anticipated that elements of the media were up to no good when they were standing outside the gates of Apollo House, offering homeless people, going in and out, money to tell stories about what was going on in there. That was going on the whole time. So I appreciate…”

Cooper: “I have to say, I know nothing about that…I don’t know which organisations may have done that.”

Ogle: “Absolutely, and actually it wasn’t RTE either, it was print outlets. But I watched it, and I watched it on several occasions. So I anticipated a dirty tricks campaign because any time anybody stands up and puts there head above the parapet, be it the union or be it me or be it a long list of other people in this country – and stands up for people who need help – then agendas quickly set in…”

Cooper: “Hang on, why is it, no, no, no, hold on a second, why is it a dirty trick to ask what many people regard as a legitimate question as to why you did not use the property in Merrion Square?”

Ogle: “Well, first of all, it’s not a legitimate question because we went into Apollo House, very clearly stating – first of all, we were asked could we get into Apollo House by the artists. We’ve stated that, on the record, a number of times. So that loop was left out of the questions. Second of all, we went into Apollo House because it was a Nama property. We already own, and I’m not going to discuss it again – I will if you want, if you’ve the time – but the point about it is: it was a Nama property. As it turns out we were quite entitled to look for time to look into this. When we looked for time to look into it, we discovered that the so-called obligations do not apply at all because there’s only four units planned in Merrion Square. And [former environment minister] Alan Kelly changed the requirements to nine. So we can’t give someone .04 of a unit. And then we discovered today – and John Kilraine could have been told this, if he’d waited till… well I could have said I don’t know why the story was broken yesterday. I know exactly why the story was broken yesterday…”

Cooper: “Well, you assume you know why, you don’t actually know directly. Let’s be fair now…”

Ogle: “I’m suggesting, okay, I’m suggesting and I fully, genuinely and sincerely believe – the story was broke yesterday to damage me, to damage Unite trade union, so the facts that we discovered today would come out after the damage was done. I’m suggesting that, I sincerely, honestly and earnestly believe that to be the case. And what we have discovered is that, three years ago, Unite trade union spoke to a number of groups working with homelessness – which wasn’t as bad then as it is now, but was on the way – and invited them to look at Merrion Square and see was it appropriate for housing emergency accommodation. And one of the groups, the others can identify themselves, but one of the groups that will be happy to identify themselves was Focus Ireland, who came into Merrion Square three years ago, looked at it, looked at the state of the building and decided that, for emergency accommodation for the services they provide homeless people that that was not a suitable location – notwithstanding any planning problems. And we have worked very, very well in Home Sweet Home, we have…”

Cooper: “Hang on, why didn’t you know that or Jimmy Kelly knew that? Who, in Unite, actually spoke with Focus Ireland and why did they not tell you that?”

Ogle: “Well, first of all, Matt. Staff, as you know here, come and go and move through situations and we looked for time of RTE to give a full, detailed response to those questions. If the question had come on a working day, we could have done it quicker. It came on a Saturday afternoon, very bizarre altogether. Saturday afternoon? We looked for Tuesday, I don’t think it was unreasonable, there’s no reason why RTE couldn’t have waited until Tuesday and it took us time to do a search of our records, of our archives, or our emails, and of our systems. We’re not in that building anymore, Matt. We’ve got rid of that building. Our headquarters by the way…”

Cooper: “Have you got rid of it? You still own it, don’t you?”

Ogle: “It’s held by a trust and I think it’s on the market. My headquarters, Matt, and all the years I’ve sat with you in this building and in your previous building, in Abbey Street, you were over there once too, my headquarters is in Abbey Street..”

Cooper: “Yes.”

Ogle: “It’s always been in Abbey Street and what we are saying, putting on the record today, we’ve issued a statement at 5pm is that Unite trade union did that with charities working in the NGO sector. Focus Ireland, I believe, will confirm that – that could have been confirmed, had RTE simply waited until today. But there was a rush to judgment. There was an agenda set, in my honestly and earnestly held opinion and it’s unbecoming journalism and it’s unbecoming of the national broadcaster.”

Cooper: “Ok, but even if Focus Ireland didn’t want to use it, and I’ll come back and I’m going to ask the question: a lot of people would have said, if Focus Ireland had gone into Apollo House, they would have said that wasn’t suitable either. Now, you decided to takeover Apollo House, make it suitable, and the question is, if your issue was looking after homeless people, instead of occupying a building belonging to somebody else, why did you not use a building to which you had access?”

Ogle: “Our issue wasn’t looking after homeless people. Our issue was forcing the Government to fulfil its obligation to look after homeless people. The role, the job of looking after homeless people does not fall on Brendan Ogle’s office, on Jimmy Kelly’s office and Jim Sheridan’s house and Glen Hansard’s wardrobe – it falls on the Government. And the Government have a land bank called Nama and Apollo House was full of Nama. By the way, Apollo House, Matt, would accommodate ten times’ the number of homeless people and an awful lot quicker. We were able to kit it out in a day and a half. That could never have been done in any other building of a similar size and no other building of a similar size was available anyway.”

Cooper: “Nama, though, has offered many properties to various local councils around the country, including Dublin City Council and the various councils have rejected many of those particular properties. So, Nama has actually tried to give properties – is that not an issue? So, why takeover a Nama commercial building for this particular purpose?”

Ogle: “Well, Nama has offered buildings that local authorities have thought to be unsuitable and Nama has refused to offer other buildings that local authorities have sought – these are two arms of the State. Hold on, Matt, now. These are two arms of the State who are talking to each other against a background of at least 7,000 officially homeless people. Now, can I just make this point, Matt, because I don’t know how long we’ve got. I’m happy to stay here all night. But can I make this point: what is so wrong about people giving up their Christmas, using their energy, their activism and their resources – there was no homeless person who died on the streets of Dublin this Christmas, none. There was a fantastic atmosphere in Apollo House, it has put an historic spotlight on this emergency…”

Cooper: “But hold on a second, Brendan, that wasn’t all down to you…in fairness…”

Ogle: “No, no…”

Cooper: “I’m not criticising your bona fides in relation to this, right. But there’s the work of the likes of the Simon Community, the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland, the work by Dublin City Council as well – in putting new facilities in place. There are an awful lot of people, even before you came along…”

Ogle: “Absolutely…”

Cooper: “With the Home Sweet Home campaign who have been trying their damnedest…”

Ogle: “Absolutely, and Matt, you’ve never heard me and nobody has ever heard me saying a bad word against any of those people. And despite their best efforts, despite their very best efforts, homelessness continues to skyrocket, we’ve got over 7,000 people, we’ve got Santa Claus coming to hotels and a lot of those people have discussed it with Home Sweet Home and discussed it with me, and discussed it with other people over the last few weeks. This has helped those people and those agencies make the case: what is so objectionable about that?”

Cooper: “Ok, but isn’t Nama’s remit, as set down by legislation, to get as much money back as possible for the State?”

Ogle: “No, it’s not. Section 14 of the Nama Act 2009 provides a remit for Nama to be aware of their social responsibilities. Home Sweet Home have written to the Minister for Finance on this issue, asking to act on it. He sent a holding response two and a half weeks ago – saying he would send a more detailed response which still is not forthcoming. Matt, we do not accept, Home Sweet Home do not accept, and Unite trade union do not accept that Nama is fulfilling the social responsibility ascribed to it, under Section 14 of the 2009 act.”

Cooper: “But, on your website, that you set up, and it’s a pretty basic website, Home Sweet Home, you don’t mention…Nama at all…”

Ogle: “I didn’t set it up..”

Cooper: “Ok, well somebody from Home Sweet Home set up this. It’s a website setting out your objectives under homelessness now. And Nama is actually not mentioned there.”

Ogle: “Well, Nama has been central, Matt. That’s why we wrote a five-page letter to [Minister for Finance] Michael Noonan. When Unite were approached by the artists – so when everybody is attacking Unite, a union that has put more resources into campaigning on water, on change and on homelessness than any other union in Ireland in the last number of years – which seems to be scaring the wits of some people – let me finish, Matt. When…”

Talk over each other

Ogle: “When I got approached by the artists, I got asked to procure, if possible, a Nama building. The Home Sweet Home is specific to forcing the Government. Matt, we can all do our best, the citizens of Ireland, for many, many years have been doing their best to address the homelessness situation in many, many ways. The charities you’ve named have as well. It’s the Government that needs to be forced to do it and Nama was the vehicle. And John Kilraine knows that.”

Cooper: “Ok, we have a statement from RTE because you [Brendan Ogle] have a fairly extensive Facebook post about this…”

Ogle: “I have..”

Cooper: “It says:

‘While we welcome feedback and have processes in place to facilitate feedback and official complaints, we strongly condemn personal attacks on our journalists and presenters. RTE stands by yesterday’s report and its reporting of the Apollo House story which we are satisfied has been fair and accurate’.

Ogle: “Well I will let the listeners and the viewers of RTE judge whether a report that was rushed out – without giving us the two days, two working days is all we requested – and which now turns out we had offered the building to Focus Ireland and other NGOs which can identify themselves and it didn’t meet with Alan Kelly’s provisions in any case. Of course RTE are going to defend their man. I think it’s an appalling standard of journalism and, to be honest with you, it’s something, through the water campaign, we’ve learned to expect from RTE.”

Listen back in full here

Yesterday: The Man In The Van

Previously: The Myth Of The Sinister Fringe

Sam Boal/Rollingnews

90423606Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 13.26.49

From top: Console CEO Paul Kelly and the charity’s former patron Mary McAleese in 2011; The panel on TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne last night

Last night.

On Tonight with Vincent Browne, hosted by Matt Cooper, the panel discussed the payments made to Console CEO Paul Kelly, his wife Patricia and son Tim – as recently reported by RTE Investigates.

The panel included Fine Gael Senator Michael Conway, Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins; interim CEO of Console David Hall; and columnist with the Irish Independent Colette Browne.

Matt Cooper: “Did this come out of nowhere, is this only something that’s happened in recent times? Or for how long have people in authority been aware that there’s a problem?”

David Hall: “You know my function, when we came in, was to carry out this review and as I said to everyone concerned at the time, only the truth will be expressed from mine and those involved’s perspective. The review and the analysis of the HSE began in April 2015. The first interim report was given on the 1st of July, 2015. These are the documents I’ve seen and I have. The…”

Cooper:A year ago?

Hall: “A year ago. The ninth…”

Cooper:Money was still being given to Console, Console was still actually taking money from the public, was getting money from the State, for a year after the HSE knew there was a big problem here?”

Hall:Yes. The ninth version of this report was given to the board in March of this year.”

Cooper: “The ninth?

Hall:The ninth version and there is one more version I believe which is being tided up and is the final version not yet released by the HSE. The last version I have, and the one I relied upon in court today, with Justice Gilligan was version number nine. 176 pages. Actually, and this might sound a bit odd to say this but it’s a brilliant report. The people who conducted, this actually makes the situation ten times worse than you would imagine. The quality and the content of that report would be, for its investigative manners and information that it garnished, is brilliant.”

Watch back in full here

Previously: No Consolation

NeilFrancis-94-gallery_55930955_nigel_owens_get[Neil Francis, top and Nigel Owens, above]

 

Neil Francis appeared on Today FM’s The Last Word with Matt Cooper this evening to explain his comments regarding gay people and sports. They were joined by Nigel Owens, the first openly gay international rugby referee.

Matt Cooper:“I’ve know Neil Francis for over 20 years. I’ve worked with him at the Sunday Tribune, when I was the editor there. He was rugby columnist from 1996 onwards, and when I came here in 2003 to present the Last Word he’d already been contributing as a rugby analyst and he’s continued to do so over the last 11 years, as one of our main rugby analysts.
Yesterday, Neil was on another radio station, he was on Newstalk. As part of a panel discussion he was discussing an article, an excellent article that Joe Brolly wrote for yesterday’s Mail on Sunday about homosexuality and sport. He made a number of comments which you have have seen in various reports today, you may have seen on various websites, which were in my view highly offensive and downright stupid.
Some of the comments are like this, about people who are gay and play sport, ‘What are their interests? Have you ever sat down with homosexual people and asked them what their interests are? Very often they have no interest in any kind of sport. That’s my experience from sitting down with them. I’ve done it on a regular basis.’ Here’s another one, ‘You do a survey of the hairdressing industry and find out how many heterosexuals work in that. There are a wide range of people who are homosexual, the environment that they’re in isn’t something they are interested in. Do you know what I’m saying?’ and another one ‘it’s all based …. it’s not a generalisation. In every sphere of life, every year that you meet a gay man or gay people in a social environment, they’ve very little interest in sport. I don’t have an interest in ballet.’
He was also asked about Michael Sam, a gay American Footballer, a college student who’s about to be drafted, who recently came out. He said, ‘I noticed him because he was very flamboyant, a bit of a showman.’ He equated Sam’s ‘coming out’ with ‘Jimi Hendrix talking about Janis Joplin’s death as a great career move.’
Before I talk to Neil Francis, I want to play a bit of audio for you. This is a man called Dale Hansen from News 8 in Texas, who made a comment, made a little speech on television the other day about Michael Sam, and his potential in the draft. [Watch here]

Cooper: “That was Dale Hansen, of News 8, talking in Texas about Michael Sam. Neil Francis good evening to you.”

Francis:
“Hi Matt.”

Cooper: “Neil, you’ve taken a lot of criticism over the last 24 hours. You’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what you said. What is your position now?”

Francis: “Well, I, when I got home I had a listen to the interview again, and I must say it was, it didn’t sound at all like me in a sense. A lot of people who listened to it sort of said ‘that’s not your form, and I realised I was in a kind of, a field of landmines, and I stood on one or two. And, some of the points I was trying to make were, I suppose, very clumsily made, and my language and the analogies I was trying to make were quite poor, and quite poorly expressed, and it’s just unusua for me not to be able to articulate myself but on this instance I was unable to do so.
So, listening to what I said last night, OK on reflection, I probably said some of the wrong things, and the things were extremely clumsy, and in this instance, on reflection, I would like to withdraw those comments and apologise profusely and unreservedly for any issues that might have offended anyone who might have heard them or who felt offence from what I said.”

Cooper:
“Nigel Owens, good evening to you.”

Nigel Owens: “Good evening.”

Cooper: “You’ve heard about what Neil Francis said, I’m aware, you heard him there apologise, is that god enough for you?”

Owens: “Yes, it’s good that he’s been able to go back and reflect on what he said. We all make mistakes in our lives. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve made mistakes on the field, and apologies are fine as long as those apologies are genuine and from the heart, and I certainly hope that Neil’s apologies are genuine and are from the heart and not something that he’s been pressurised into with all the outpouring that has come from all walks of life. Irish player, Welsh players, people all over twitter and stuff the last 24 hours, Facebook, you know have been condemning his words. If his apologies are genuine then it is good to hear him apologise. I don’t know Neil personally, I’ve never met him, I know of him. I can’t say what the man is like because I don’t know. If they are genuine then it’s good to hear that

[talk over each other].

Cooper: “Nigel, Neil’s just after saying that he did meet you but you obviously didn’t make enough of an impression when you met him.”

Owens: “Well, I’ll remember you next time, that’s for sure!”

Cooper: “Can I ask you Neil: this is a genuine apology that you’re giving?”

Francis: “It is. I mean people know who I am, I say what I mean. I wouldn’t say this unless I meant it.”

Cooper: “Back to you Nigel. You wanted to come in again there.”

Owens: “No, this is what I think, you know. I’ve had people in this situation before saying things and they didn’t mean it that way, and that’s where we have, especially someone with Neil’s stature, and the responsibility that he has, about wearing that green jersey 15- 20 years ago,the responsibility he has and the influence also you must remember.
I think we just have to sometimes think long and hard before we say things because when we give things out there… everyone has his opinion and is entitled to his own opinion, and that should always be respected, but when that opinion is given out there and it’s the wrong opinion, you know I’ve sat down with people from sport who are gay, who are not out and who are out and I don’t know who Neil has sat down and spoken to but certainly they’re not the people I have sat down and spoken to, and I know a lot of gay people in rugby from the professional end to the community end of the game, and I know many more who haven’t had the courage yet, for whatever reason, to come out or don’t want to come out and that has to be respected aswell. It is their choice.
I think this is a message for everybody out there to think sometimes, sometimes after we’ve said it we realise what we said and the context it’s been taken in. It is a message learned for people here. Make sure you think thoroughly about what you’re saying and get your facts right asel you know.”

Cooper: “Neil, one of the reaons why i was so shocked and offended by what you said yesterday when I read the transcripts and when I listened back today was, I remember our time in the Sunday Tribune, that you assisted a rugby player who actually decided to come out, by writing his story in the Sunday Tribune with him at the time.”

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MattRodPY[Pyongyang in North Korea, top, and Matt Cooper and Dennis Rodman, above]

Matt Cooper talked to Fintan O’Toole on Today FM’s The Last Word, following his trip this week to Pyongyang in North Korea with US basketball player, Dennis Rodman.

Mr Rodman organised a basketball game between North Korean players and former NBA players for the state’s leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday on Wednesday.

Mr Cooper was there as part of a documentary team but also has plans to write a book on the event.

The match was originally sponsored by Paddy Power. However the bookmakers withdrew their support following the reported killing of Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Song-taek, before Christmas. Although they withdrew their support, they honoured their ‘contractual obligations’ and financed the film crew which is making the documentary called ‘The Big Bang In Pyongyang’.

From de chat:

Fintan O’Toole: “Were you worried that there was a danger of you being sucked into a kind of trivialisation of the regime because the story is so colourful and, in some ways funny, that perhaps there’s some kind of fear that it distorts the seriousness of the underlying condition of things in North Korea.”

Matt Cooper: “Yeah, there’s no doubting the dreadfulness of what has happened in North Korea for generations now at this stage. The famine that you mentioned back in the 1990s, it’s reckoned that as many as two million people may have died as a result of bizarre and flawed economic policies and then you have the situation as well, whereby North Korea has managed to get aid on a number of occasions by effectively bluffing about its nuclear capacity but also developing nuclear capacity which is a threat, in particular to its neighbours in South Korea but it’s something that also worries Japan greatly as well, and even its closest ally China, is somewhat concerned by the way that North Korea behaves. There have been threats to the United States as well but nobody believes that the North Koreans are remotely close to being in a position to where they could actually send a nuclear weapon to the United States or could fire it at the United States. So, in those circumstances, yeah, I mean a basketball game looks like an exceptionally stupid way of actually trying to mend diplomatic bridges. But there is precedence in this regard, going back to how the relationship between China and the United States opened up back in the 1970s and so-called ping pong diplomacy. And the first visit by President Richard Nixon to China, back in the 1970s, came as a result of the goodwill created by a table tennis match, about six months earlier. Now, whether this is going to create any goodwill between North Korea and the United States in this basketball game is a moot point. But it should be remembered, Rodman is far from being the first American in recent years, to have travelled from the United States. Former President Bill Clinton went to Pyongyang in 2009. He was seeking the release of a couple of American journalists who were being held but he was there. A year ago, Sergey Brin, of Google, was a very high-profile visitor to Pyongyang and there was little enough said about that. The Philharmonic Orchestra, from New York, has also played in Pyongyang over the last five years. So, I think Rodman and his people were a little bit miffed to feel that they were being singled out for treatment that had not been meted out to others in previous years, and perhaps more significant people, who had travelled into North Korea. But the problem for Rodman is that the behaviour of Kim Jong-un over the last year has been exceptionally eratic and culminating of course last month, in the what’s been described as the purging of his uncle Sang, who was regarded as his regent after his father died. His purging was done. But in a step, a step that was quiet chilling as well as being extraordinary, first of all, his pictures were removed from all previous state publications and then it was announced that he had been executed and the statement of execution was absolutely chilling in the language that was used.”

O’Toole: “You were at the game obviously which was the centre-piece of this whole visit. It seems, from what he can gather, to have been a tardy, staged event with 40,000 people singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Kim.”

Cooper: “Led by Dennis Rodman, which was cringe-inducing to watch.”

O’Toole: “I mean just tell us about that, what was it like to be there?”

Cooper: “It was an extraordinary atmosphere in the sense that, before the game, it was almost deathly quiet and then Kim arrived with his wife, and even that was significant because there had been rumours that she may have been purged as well. But she was certainly very much alive and there, at the game on Wednesday. And the crowed erupted in a way that you would rarely see. It was spontaneous, and it did seem to be an outpouring of emotion, it was quite extraordinary to see the enthusiasm with which they cheered and clapped. But, that said, it reminded me almost of, I was thinking, would this ever happen in Ireland, we would never greet our political leaders in the way that this dictator was being greeted. But then I developed a flashback to when Pope John Paul II came to Ireland in 1979, it was almost that exact same outpouring of emotion and pure joy to see somebody come amongst their midst. And that was the sort of reaction that they had to him, that went on for a little while. Then, at the end, when he got back up to go as well, there was cheering and chanting and it seemed genuine, it seemed, and this is one of the things, it seems that the population is so brainwashed by the cult of the leadership, over the last couple of generations, that this seems to be utterly spontaneous and utterly genuine, in a way that they actually behave towards him. So, it was a difficult situation I think for some of the American players. I know, from having spent time with them that they were uncomfortable with some of the publicity and the build-up to the match and they were uncomfortable with the circumstances in which they were there. And, but at the same time, they just got involved and played the basketball match with the other basketball players. It was a very, very odd, odd situation. But, perhaps no more odd than some other choreographed things we’ve seen in other places.”

O’Toole: “Did you manage to meet Kim Jong-un yourself?”

Cooper: “No. I was sitting reasonably close to him, I would have been within about 20 feet of him, two rows back, but he certainly doesn’t meet with the media, no. He wasn’t. And there were also restrictions placed on our camera crew as well. They were allowed certain positions on one side of the court but they were placed so that they couldn’t turn and point the camera at Kim, so they actually never got to see him during the actual game. And then when he met with the team, afterwards, outside in the corridor, they were refused access to that as well. But there was about 10 minutes on state television last night of the match, highlights of Kim greeting the players and greeting people and that was rather extraordinary propaganda to watch, and the way it was packaged.”

O’Toole: “Were you able to talk freely at all or to move freely at all? To get your own sense of what life is like for ordinary North Koreans?”

Cooper: “No. I was accompanied at all times. Any time, even from the time I entered the lobby in the hotel, when I came down from my room, we weren’t allowed out on our own, we weren’t allowed out on foot, we had to drive everywhere, to all the places we were brought. I mean that’s something that we had anticipated, we knew there was no chance that we were actually going to get out and about and get away from our minders throughout the week. That was one of the conditions unfortunately we knew we’d have to operate under. But..”

O’Toole: “What about basic communication. Were you able to make phonecalls outside the country? Were you able to go on the internet? How does that work?”

Cooper: “We were able to, yes. Much to my surprise , we were given internet access. We negotiated internet access and got it after two days. Our mobile phones didn’t work, there was no wifi in the hotel. But we were able to plug in a laptop to actually find out what was going on back home. And I was actually able to ring home and talk daily to my wife, to fill her in on how things were going. But we were working under the assumption that the phones were tapped and that we were being watched at all times.”

O’Toole: “What’s your sense? I know it’s very difficult, over four days, in those restrictive conditions to get a really accurate sense of what’s going on. But you would have some journalistic feel for it. And I suppose one of the mysteries about North Korea is trying to judge the extent of people behave as they do and you were describing as kind of spontaneous cheering of the Great Leader. But do you think they behave the way they do because they’re simply terrified , and they know the costs of not doing it, or is there also an element of people being brainwashed, many people have grown up knowing nothing else but this family, that they genuinely do believe that these are the people to whom they owe their survival.”

Cooper: “I suspect, at this stage, it’s the latter, because it has been going on so long. And, certainly from what I have read before I came out here, in the many books that I read to try and get a better feeling of what things were like in North Korea. It has been, it’s certainly fear and terror were the ways the regime established its control but, over time, certainly for those who were perhaps among the better off they know of nothing else. They don’t understand anything else. So they just sort of, automatically, buy into it. We didn’t get any sense, we got some sense, perhaps of some embarrassment over some of unfinished buildings. There’s one extraordinary hotel that was built in the shape of, believe it or not, a rocket – which is the tallest building in Pyongyang which has been under construction for over 10 years at this stage and still has not been finished off. And, every time we tried to ask questions about that, there was almost a mumble and then a silence, rather than any explanation as to why this wasn’t been actually been shown to us, amongst the various monuments. They seem to have spent this extraordinary amount of money building all sorts of extraordinary monuments to the regime and it’s all pervasive, for one thing, for example, there’s no advertising of any description, throughout the city. However, there’s propaganda because you see pictures of the leader, and his predecessors, on almost every single building. You see all these remarkable paintings of, which are normally of snow-capped mountains and Kim Jung-on standing on a grassy verge at the top of the, you know where the snow is melted and the flowers bursting forward and these are all symbols of the better society and what is overwhelmingly a very grey and dull-looking place.”

Listen in full here.

And admit that the waters around you have grown.

Gabriel Byrne (top) was on Today FM’s The Last Word with Matt Cooper broadcast from New York earlier this evening.

The actor, who is based in New York, spoke about The Gathering 2013.

“What I tried to do, as cultural ambassador, was to try to build a bridge between Ireland and America. And you ask, you know, you talk about The Gathering, well I, I’ve spoken to people about The Gathering and I’m afraid I don’t share the same optimism that people have about it. This is just my opinion. I have to say that I wish everybody connected with The Gathering the very, I really, really hope it works. But here it is from an Irish-American perspective.

‘I was talking the other day to a group of people. One of them was an illegal immigrant. His father died, he couldn’t get home. He feels abandoned by the Irish Government. He feels an alien. He can’t go back. Then I talked to two kids – a girl and a boy, who were forced to emigrate because there’s no jobs and they blame the incompetence and the, one of them said, the gangsterism of government for the fact that they were forced to emigrate.

And he said ‘now we’re being asked to come back? We’re being asked to come back to help the economy. We were forced out because we had no job’.

‘And then you talk to older people, Irish-American people here and they say ‘We are sick to death of this because the only time the diaspora, or the Irish-Americans are ever mentioned is as tourists and how can we get these people here to boost our tourism and how can we get people back here so that we can shake them down for a few quid.

“Well, one guy I know who’s a plumber in Philadelphia said to me ‘Do they not understand that there’s a huge recession here. I’m a plumber and I can’t afford to get on a plane and bring my family back to see a game of hurling in Belmullet or wherever it is’. He said ‘It is a huge ask to say to people ‘put your money aside, buy five plane tickets, come back, get involved in our local egg and spoon race and help our economy’.

“One guy said to me ‘I’m sick to death of being seen as a tourist’. And one of the problems that I found when I was Cultural Ambassador here was the diaspora have a very powerful, spiritual connection to the island of Ireland. I remember when I was growing up in Dublin, those buses would pull up, and those people in Burberry coats would be laughed at because we’d be saying ‘ah here come the yanks, looking for their roots’.

“Well as far as I’m concerned one of the most sacred things you can do is look for your roots. If your grandfather left, great-grandfather left during the famine, that is a very sacred journey that you make back there. But we laughed at them.”
‘Now, the diaspora have that powerful connection to Ireland. Sometimes it’s a bit, you know, hokery-pokery, but there’s not the equivalent from there to here. Most people don’t give a shit about the diaspora over there except to shake them down for a few quid.

And when (Enda) Kenny was talking about in that, I found, slightly offensive speech, where he said (puts on fake Irish accent) ‘Yeah, we’ll all get together now and we’ll all have a great time and sure we’ll get them back here and yiz are all great and keep the flag flying and, you know, the economy and we’re all great now and that’s fantastic and I’m off now, off to something else’.

“Well that was not received well here because people are sick to death of being asked to help out in what they regard as a scam. One guy said to me ‘this is a scam’. And, he said ‘I don’t need an invitation to go back to visit my own country. How dare they say to me ‘oh, come back and visit’.

‘So, anyway, I wish The Gathering the very, very best of luck but they have to understand that the bridge between the diaspora and the people of Ireland is broken. And I tried to fix that for two years and it’s still broken. And unless you understand what it is that the diaspora feel about Ireland and the fact that, once your people have emigrated, you don’t really care where they’re gone to, unless they’re your kids, then emigration takes on a very, very different emotional sense for you.’

Listen here (part 3)

(Steve Carty) (The Gathering)

Thanks Eoin