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Dodging the question – but not the bullets

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Twenty years ago, you could always spot the politician who had been through the media interview bootcamp known as the Bunny Carr media charm school.

The reference to Bunny Carr (an RTE television personality many moons ago) was to the communications company he founded, Carr Communications.

The particular methods were perfected by the husband and wife team of Tom Savage and Terry Prone when doing media training with politicians.

The style became parodied by a stock response to a tricky or sticky question: “I’m very glad you asked me that question.” Of course, the question would never be answered.

A generation of politicians, many of them in Fianna Fáil, privately swore by the training they received to deal with those clever jumped-up cynical know-it-all presenters.

Over the years, Ministers and their opposition markers have become very adept at not answering question on live television or radio, or using a formula of words prepared by handlers. Any brief for any senior politician will anticipate every difficult issue and question that will come up and will also brief on what the appropriate response will be.

Politicians avoid answering the direct question by answering a completely different question uninvited.

No matter what question they have been asked they will respond with an equally uninvited summary (and not a short one) of all the achievements of the administration since coming into office.

In the fast-moving world we live in politicians know that the clock is their friend not their enemy. The slots allotted to live interviews have shortened. So a canny politicians can give long and convoluted answers (and for some bizarre reason Alan Shatter comes to mind) and effectively run down the clock.

Another thing a politician can rely on is that journalists are human beings and not of the chess grandmaster variety. So they will ask the hard question, mar dhea, and then not really listen to the response given by the politician. So instead of picking up on an inconsistency or flaw or absence, they will blithely move on to the next question having failed to elicit the required information.

And the last I’ll allude to is a relatively new media phenomenon: the doorstep interview.

This has emerged really only in the last 15 years, since the advent of local and independent radio.

They were originally designed to give radio journalists an opportunity to get a short sound-byte from a leading politician that they could use for their hourly bulletins.

But now they have become the main form of interview for politicians, most notably Taoisigh.

They usually take place before or after a formal event and allow journalists to ask questions of the politician. Each journalist is allowed one question. If the answer is not satisfactory, there is no chance of a follow-up. The next journalist will be more interested in their own question than in following up.

The upshot is that it allows a politician to pick and choose. If he or she doesn’t like the question, they can quickly answer it with some platitude and then move onto the next question.

On the face of it, it seems democratic. All the journalists get a chance to ask a question. But in reality it is the exact opposite. A skilled politician can play the crowd and can tell them as little or as much as he or she wants. For a reporter it is a deeply frustrating experience to walk away from such interviews knowing that you haven’t even scratched the surface.

For more from Harry McGee and his insights into the Garda Taping issue see this week’s Connacht Tribune

Connacht Tribune

Greens set the bar high on seats for next local elections

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Eamon Ryan...brave ambitions.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

There we all were thinking the Greens were going to repeat what happened a decade ago and lose most, or all, of their seats in the next election. But then Eamon Ryan told the party’s annual convention last weekend that he wanted the party to grow and increase seats.

He even put a target on it – to double its number of council seats from 50 to 100 at the next local elections in 2024.

It’s a brave claim and there will be some that say the only target we see is the one on Eamon Ryan’s back.

We all know the fate of smaller parties in government in Ireland. And none should know it better than the Greens. They won six seats in 2007 and lost them all in 2011.

Of course, there were extenuating circumstances. They were unlucky enough to be tacked onto a Fianna Fáil party which had pumped up the economy to bulbous levels in the decade before they went into coalition together.

The only party to buck the trend for a smaller party coming out of coalition was the Progressive Democrats in 2002. However, that was only a reprieve; they were s annihilated in the following election in 2007.

Ryan’s argument is that there is always a percentage of the population who will back Green first and it is growing. That is true. But the reality is it’s not ten per cent of the population yet – it is closer to five. And that five per cent is concentrated in middle class urban areas.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Only sure thing in politics is nothing stays the same

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Galway in the 1950’s – how different is this to today.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

In less than a month’s time we will witness a first in Irish politics – the first instance of a Government which rotates its Taoiseach half way through the term.

It was due to happen on December 15, but it has been pushed back to allow Micheál Martin have his last hurrah – a final Summit in Brussels.

Then Leo Varakdar will come back for his second go – and if the Government lasts a full term, Varadkar’s two stints in the job will use about amount to one full term of five years.

It’s not the first time that a shared Taoiseach has been floated. Dick Spring suggested it to John Bruton in 1994. There was talk of Eamon Gilmore doing it with Enda Kenny before the 2011 general election. Enda Kenny suggested it to Micheál Martin in 2016.

Now it’s happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we will see it in the Irish political context – because the political landscape has altered irrevocably.

A majority of voters in Ireland identified with one tribe or another during most of the 20th century. Memories of the revolution and civil war were still fresh. The parties both represented different sections of society (although there were big swatches of common ground). Ireland was rural, isolated, Catholic, conservative. Even in the 1980s, the two big parties still pulled 80 per cent plus of the vote.

We have a WhatsApp group from my class in the Jes in the 1980s. One of the lads recently posted an aerial photography of Galway taken in the the late 1950s. The city of Galway was nothing more than small town.

Shantalla was a new estate on the far outskirts. There was no Cathedral. Taylor’s Hill was hitting open countryside once you got past St Mary’s Terrace. There were open fields leading from Sea Road down to the shore.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Tackling shadowy spectre of gambling at long last

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Salthill's entertainment hot spot of the 1960s and 70s, Seapoint.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The Salthill seafront was about a ten-minute walk from where we lived in Glenard when I was growing up. I can’t remember exactly when I started going to the amusement arcades but I was probably about 14.

At the time there were three or four along the so-called Golden Mile – Salthill Amusements near Western House; Claude Tofts casino in the middle of the drag, and the Silver Dollar, which was just before you turned for the Sacre Coeur Hotel. And then there was Seapoint.

The main attractions for us initially were the snooker tables upstairs in Salthill amusements, the roller disco on the Silver Dollar, and the teenage discos in the Captain’s Deck in Leisureland.

Mostly it was playing the video games – Space Invaders; Asteroids and Pacman. Yet no matter how absorbed you were with the games  you could not help noticing the other half of the arcade.

On that side there were battalions of one-armed bandits and poker machines. This was the early 1980s and I think it was about 10p a go. I think if you got one cherry on the right you won about 20p, and the amount of winnings went up especially if you got three bars in a row.

I’m not saying I never gambled on those machines. I did, although not too often. I remember having one big payout – I think it might have been £20. I was able to buy a ticket for the Dexy’s Midnight Runners concert in Seapoint.

It was July. Gino was actually number one in the charts that very week and all the Northerners were down in Salthill to escape the Orange marches.

We hung around the amusements a bit as teenagers. After a while, you began to recognise the regulars, the daily penitents. They would come in every afternoon and evening and spend hours sitting on a high school with a bucket of coins beside them, playing either the one-armed bandits or the poker machines.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

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