From Irish Political Review: October 2006
The latest Irish Times Coup d'Etat
The recent attempt to undermine the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern with some spurious revelations about alleged handouts from businessmen is the latest in a long line of attempts by The Irish Times to undermine the State. The first was in the 1920s when William Redmond, the son of John Redmond, intended an alliance with Fianna Fail. R.M. Smyllie, who later became Editor of the newspaper, plied John Jinks TD, one of Redmond's supporters, with drink ensuring that he would be unable to vote for an alternative to the Cumman na nGaedhal government.
It was The Irish Times, which destroyed Redmond's party because it had the temerity to consider an alliance with Fianna Fail. The Redmonds were decent people who were dupes of British Imperialism. When they had served their purpose they were discarded.
And this is not the first time that The Irish Times has attempted to undermine Bertie Ahern. Nor is it the first time that Geraldine Kennedy, the current Editor of The Irish Times has had a hand in events.
In 1994 an Irish Times front-page story ensured that Bertie Ahern would not succeed Albert Reynolds.
The best account of this whole issue is in Fergus Finlay's book Snakes And Ladders. A report from Geraldine Kennedy in The Irish Times was the catalyst that led to the collapse of negotiations between Fianna Fail and Labour.
The extraordinary circumstances of the collapse of the Fianna Fail/Labour Coalition need to be re-visited.
Finlay, who was Dick Spring's advisor, explains quite well why the then Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fail, Albert Reynolds had to resign. It seems that Reynolds was a compulsive risk taker. This turned out to be a tremendous asset in the Anglo-Irish negotiations. He successfully faced down John Major when the latter tried to renegotiate the Joint Framework document.
The issue that brought down the Reynold's government concerned the Attorney General. Despite the mess in which Harry Whelehan had landed the Government in the "X case", Reynolds was determined to promote him to President of the High Court. Spring opposed this vigorously and relations were further soured when it was discovered that the Attorney General's office had sat on an extradition demand for seven months. The warrant from Northern Ireland was for the notorious paedophile, Father Brendan Smyth.
Reynolds agreed with Spring's suggestion that the Attorney General should write a report explaining himself. Whelehan's response was to arrange for Matt Russell, the civil servant who had been dealing with the case, to send a short note to the Taoiseach.
Although Spring was very unhappy with Whelehan's arrogance, he allowed Reynolds go ahead with the appointment rather than precipitate a General Election. It then emerged that the reasons given for the delay in the extradition were spurious when details of another case, the Duggan case, became known. Isn't it amazing how things 'emerge' when Fianna Fail is in power?
But by this stage Whelehan had already been appointed. Against Finlay's advice, Spring agreed to Reynolds making a speech criticising Whelehan as a means to preserve the Government.
However, there were a few more twists in this saga. It then emerged that Reynolds knew about the Duggan Case before he went ahead with the appointment of Whelehan. This forced the FF leader's resignation.
Since the dispute was not over a policy issue, the coalition looked as if it was going to continue with Ahern replacing Reynolds as Taoiseach.
It was at this point that Geraldine Kennedy of The Irish Times revealed that other Fianna Fail members of the Government also knew about the Duggan Case before Reynolds went ahead with the Whelehan appointment.
Unfortunately, Spring, backed by his parliamentary party, mounted his high horse and decided that Ahern et al were unfit for office: a position that with the passing of the years seems even more ridiculous now than it was then.
The implication of the Labour position was that the previous two years in Government had been a mistake despite all its achievements. Labour returned to the arms of Fine Gael in the manner of a prodigal son who had realised the error of its ways. It had re-discovered its destiny of being the junior partner of Fine Gael. Needless to say the Irish people gave Labour a vote in the following General Election commensurate with the modest role it had consigned for itself.
Pat Rabbitte has continued that tradition and has succeeded in rescuing Fine Gael from oblivion.
The National Interest
So much for the Labour Party! But the replacement of Reynolds by Bruton at a key stage in the Anglo-Irish negations was not in the National interest. Indeed it could be said that having a Redmondite Taoiseach was in the British interest.
On his retirement from the editorship of The Irish Times, Conor Brady was asked if he had any regrets over the last sixteen years. This is what he said:
"I suppose there are a lot of things really. A newspaper is a very imperfect thing. I think maybe we were a bit hard on Albert Reynolds. We got into an adversarial position with Albert Reynolds for a number of reasons that I don't really want to get into. But he's a man who made a significant impact and probably at the time, the paper didn't give him enough credit for it" (Sunday Tribune, 4.8.02).
But Brady is not the only one with regrets. Vincent Browne, a former Fine Gael supporter, made a bid to save the Fianna Fail/Labour Coalition following the publication of Geraldine Kennedy's story. Here is what Finlay says about the incident in his book:
"Later after the suspension of talks hit the lunchtime news, I got a call from a very agitated Vincent Browne. He spent an hour on the phone, for reasons I've never understood, trying to convince me that there was nothing new in Geraldine Kennedy's story, that Maire Geoghegan Quinn had said it all in the Dail debate on the crisis a couple of weeks earlier….
"Afterwards, I went and got hold of Maire Geoghegan Quinn's speech, and read it again. She had indeed dropped heavily coded hints of prior knowledge of the Duggan case, but in a way that couldn't possibly have made sense until you knew the true position" (Page 272, Snakes And Ladders, Fergus Finlay).
In recent times Vincent Browne has written some very good articles questioning the uncritical acceptance of IRA responsibility for the Northern Bank robbery. He is the exception. In general the media act like a herd and deliver the line that they are fed.
There must be many in Fianna Fail who resent the malignant influence of the Irish media which has become unrepresentative of Irish life. Following the retirement of Charlie McCreevy from the Finance Ministry he took the opportunity to reminisce about Irish politics on RTE and it was almost interesting. It would have been more than "almost interesting" if the interviewer Sean O Rourke had asked some obvious questions.
In the course of the interview the former Fianna Fail Finance Minister regretted the collapse of the Fianna Fail/Labour Coalition in 1994. He said the reason was "outside influences". But the RTE interviewer didn't bother asking what those "outside influences" were.
Could it be that there are people in 'the know' in the Irish media and political establishment that have a bad conscience and do not wish to be manipulated again?
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