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TV3 cast the first stone Ð but other media were just waiting for the off

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Date Published: {J}

It was Uncle Gaybo himself who perfected the art of treating newspapers with utter contempt while at the same time building most of his radio programme around their content – and there’s been a lot of the same sort of thing going on over Brian Lenihan.

The Minister for Finance’s illness was revealed to the nation by TV3 who – for the first time since the station’s inception – were credited by all for breaking the story….but only so they could kick the living daylights out of them for doing so.

And once the shackles were off, it was now open season with speculation on what might happen next for Brian Lenihan – personally and politically – while all the time blaming TV3 for betraying this ‘honour among thieves’ blackout in the first place.

TV3 did wrong and they deserve all of the criticism that comes their way; they’re not really a news organisation anyway, more a platform to rebroadcast ITV programmes padded out with Keith Barry masquerading as Noel Edmonds.

But this was always about who would blink first and TV3 got so excited at having a story that still wasn’t in the public domain that it couldn’t hold it back any longer.

RTE got up on an almighty high horse over the whole thing but David Davin Power was still able to tell the nation that he knew Mr Lenihan’s illness was a very serious one – so let’s not pretend that TV3 were the only ones to heighten public fears on this one.

And after that it was inevitable that the tabloids – and the Mail in particular – would just let this one run and run with little or no thought for Mr Lenihan or his family.

Back in the day, Gaybo used to hammer newspapers for sensationalist stories which he would then read out word for word over the airwaves, before inviting the public to phone in with their comments – this was before text and designated comment lines – so that in airing the story, he brought it to a much wider audience than the paper itself could ever have hoped for.

Not a lot has changed on that front either, because stories ‘liberated’ from newspapers still form the backbone of broadcasting material; occasionally, in fairness, it also works in the other direction.

But the upshot of TV3’s decision to break ranks and reveal all – after cruelly giving the Minister 48 hours to tell his family and friends of his illness – might have ramifications that stretch way beyond who scooped who.

Because it was only by the skin of our teeth that the media escaped a privacy law when the latest legislation on libel was going through the Oireachtas – and now that one of our number cannot behave itself, the rest of us may have to pay the price.

That’s fine if it gives Mr Lenihan and people in a similar situation the space in which to come to terms with their illness, but a privacy rule can have implications in an altogether more sinister way as well.

Bertie Ahern might have used it to stop publicity for his finances; Gardaí in Donegal might have used it to ensure the world didn’t know the dodgy dealing going down in parts of the county; Dublin City Councillors might have been spared the whole ‘cash for rezoning’ debacle – and the list goes on.

But if we’re to avoid the imposition of privacy regulations, we must – as a profession – behave responsibly. And the rest of us are dammed if we’ll pay the price because TV3 doesn’t know how to behave itself.

The question as to whether or not Mr Lenihan’s illness was in the public interest is something of a smoke screen; he knows it is and he would have made an announcement in his own time once the Christmas holiday was over.

It is in the public interest because Mr Lenihan holds the key portfolio in Government at a time when the role of Finance Minister has never been more important, and his ability to do his job will determine public and market confidence in our economic future.

But TV3 cannot hide behind the fig leaf of public interest; it broke the story – and broke ranks – to get one up on RTE. And its cynical ‘ring around’ to the news desk of every national newspaper is proof positive of that.

Brian Lenihan is a decent man who understands more than most the ups and downs of both public life and media at work; he makes himself available for interview whether it’s good or bad news on the menu; he always exchanges pleasantries and I’ve never known him to bear a grudge.

Those who work closest to him say that his greatest strength is his ability to listen and to take considerable amounts of complicated information on board so that he will always make informed decisions on whatever dilemma confronts him.

That’s down to his training as a barrister where he would regularly have to assimilate a complicated brief quickly, and build a convincing case around it in the courtroom – perfect training for the rough and tumble of political debate.

His healthy perspective on life will stand to him in dealing with his illness now and we can only hope that he will remain fit enough to stay on centre stage – because he has demonstrated leadership and vision in his portfolio, even if he was a reluctant incumbent in the first instance.

We certainly need him an awful lot more than we need TV3.

For more, read page 15 of this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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