What does Bertie think of “Joint Stewardship”?

Talk of the current ‘Plan B’ for Northern Ireland, by which both Britain and Ireland will take joint authority in the state has been hot and heavy since yesterday, when Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair laid out their plan for a return to devolution. In it the final part, which will come into effect if no agreement is made by November 24th, it says that both Governments will present details of the dual-rule in a summit in December 2006.

Obviously any interference by the Republic of Ireland will come to the dismay of Unionists; this is the thing they are trying to protect the six counties from at all times. While the threat to Sinn Fein is less obvious it should be noted that they too stand to lose, power and money that is. From a British point of view, and this is meant in the nicest of terms, Irish input is a thing of more positivity than negativity as recent years have shown.

One side of the tale that is harder to define, however, is the Irish one. Ahern is sure to have a fair idea of what joint-stewardship will mean should it come into effect; will it be the Sunningdale Agreement all over again and if so has the political tide moved enough since the 70′s for it to be deemed acceptable in Unionist circles? Will this next step be met with protests, strikes and even violence? Perhaps it won’t even be visable or significant. Some, probably including the DUP believe it to be a bluff and that such a change could not happen, especially considering the changes made to the Irish constitution in light of the Good Friday Agreement.

Assuming joint authority is more than a bluff you have to wonder what the Irish Government feels about it. Some Unionists are likely to picture the cabinet licking their lips at the prospect, seeing the input as step 1 in a modern land grab for the North. Thinking logically about it they are probably going to be less optimistic. They are sure to face some roadbumps and anger and given that they refuse to allow MLA’s to attend the Dáil because of the anger it would cause in Northern Ireland they are unlikely to want to be seen as the part-rulers of a country that for the majority doesn’t want them.

It’s hard to see devolution back on the tracks before the end of November and frankly it would be better to stick to the deadline under any circumstances than to change it again so perhaps by December we will have a better idea of what is in store for Northern Ireland and how Bertie Ahern feels about it.

Take care of what you have before you ask for more

In today’s Irish Times Michael McLoughlin of Youth Work Ireland and Childrens Rights Alliance puts forward the case for lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 (subs req). The argument is not new and is a valid point to make; people at 16 are often just as politically aware as their seniors and while many laws will not affect them directly they will have a serious impact on their immediate future in the relatively short term.

The problem is that young people eligable to vote today have only a fleeting interest in politics; while there are many impressively wise 18, 19 and 20 year olds capable of highbrow political discourse the rest fail to see the point. That is not a failing on their part, it is a failing on the part of the politicians themselves.

For too long now political parties up and down the country have failed to reach out to young people. One example is the idealogical gap between the radical Ógra parties and their official incarnations which is absurd; often they lure young people in with Socialist and extremist ideal when the main party believes nothing of the sort.

Irish politics lacks the urgency it needs to garner interest but more importantly there are no mainstream politicians fighting for, or even speaking to, young people; first time housing, education, foreign affairs, climate change and social issues like equality all inspire young people in this country but no one in office or opposition seems keen to truely go out on a limb for them.

We are living in one of the most politically charged times in decades; people are talking about Iran, Iraq, Northern Ireland, the next superpower of China, Global warming, the imperialism of America, the pro’s and con’s of a Rising celebration and so on; why must us young people be forced to conduct this huge debate amongst ourselves?

There is frankly no point in adding another couple of thousand voters to the register if our politicians are going to continue ignoring them; they must learn to speak frankly, unpatronisingly and honestly to the youth of today or else lose them tomorrow. If they do manage to attract the interest of young people again perhaps one goodwill gesture to seal the deal would be to allow anyone able to vote the freedom to run for election too.

When all that happens maybe then the country will be ready for a lower voting age.

The death of a controversial man is also the death of his controversy

In Catholicism the last rites are a precursor to death; a sick or dying member of the faithful is anointed with a blessing to free them from their sins and prepare them for their meeting with God. This country’s unwritten rule of not speaking ill of the dead is to some degree an extension of that; Ireland, still carrying the baggage of its religious upbringing believes that those who have died have been absolved and so have no ills to speak of. Another more understandable and admirable explanation of the rule is as a mark of respect to the deceased’s family for whom the situation is difficult enough.

When a public figure dies, however, this rule can prove itself to be a roadblock to discussion; someone who lived a controversial life cannot be fully understood unless their ills as well as their glories are accounted for. The public and political debate that has followed on from the recent death of Charles J. Haughey has shown that this unwritten rule still has its place in our country and the former Taoiseach’s passing has become a prime example of the fact that the quickest way to the public’s heart is through our graveyards.

The life of Haughey, especially in recent years, has been a great source of contention and controversy. His death, on the other hand was met with a respectful refrain, with ‘now is not the time’ being the mantra of politicians and media alike. GUBU, the Arms Crisis, the tapping of journalists phones and his curious financial dealings were treated as footnotes to a career filled with economic reforms, aid for Irish artists and contributions to the elderly of the state; that is if they were mentioned at all.

As time now passes on his death it is becoming increasingly apparent that the right time for an honest assessment is not something we are likely to find. Politicians remain unwilling to raise the issue for fear of the backlash; to be seen to be taking advantage of death for political reasons is not worth it, especially when there are no votes to be made in the process. The media has been respectfully careful too but any attempts it may make at discussing the career of Charles Haughey in its entirety are likely to be seen as cynical.

We are now undergoing a process of denial and ignorance as a gloss gets painted over important incidents in our political past; a sort of whitewash that obscures the blemishes and accents the triumphs. Just like the death of Liam Lawlor, a man equally vilified by his opponents for often similar reasons, what once was disgust has transformed itself to unqualified respect; they may take into account the ‘wrongs’ but they only do so in order to outweigh them with the largely incomparable ‘rights’. Where people once cried corruption they now say the man was nothing more than a “chancer”, an “auld rogue” and perhaps even a victim. Of course in his death Lawlor did become the victim of a horrific accident as well as a vicious and poorly informed news story, which may be part of the reason why the discussion afterwards was so cautious.

Since Haughey’s burial the tributes have continued and the attempts to somehow remember a man from an era of Irish politics we could probably do with forgetting have been set in motion; a statue at the IFSC, the renaming of the Port Tunnel or a tribute for him within the Irish art community have all been fielded. While many of these ideas are unlikely to become any more than idle banter the fact that they are even being considered says that the process of contemplation and discussion on one of modern Ireland’s most controversial figures has already been bypassed. The public has all but forgotten the wrongs and it does not seem to want to be reminded of them; unsurprisingly Charles J. Haughey has managed to escape yet another potential crisis in his career.

Those turning 18 in time for the next general election will have only been 4 when Haughey retired from politics and their memories of the man are sure to be inexorably linked to the word ‘tribunal’; with the gloss firmly in place those 4 years old today will probably be forgiven for seeing Haughey as an iconic statesman of the highest calibre by the time they reach voting age. Perhaps at that stage, however, it will finally be the time and place to talk honestly about the man.

Saving Gaelic

The continued rise of the Welsh language in Wales bodes well for Ireland in its fight to preserve the national language. It often seems like an impossible task but the signs are there that with the right action Gaelic can survive, and thrive for many years to come.

Critics question the reasoning behind saving the language; what is the point? Is it to hold onto some nationalist ideal of auld Oireland? Is it an attempt to stick to the British who once tried so hard to stamp it out?

The fact is that Irish has not been this country’s primary language for many, many lifetimes. The fact is also that without our proficiency for English the Celtic Tiger would never have come about.
It would be truely pointless to resurrect something just because it was a part of the island 1,000 years ago. The thing is that saving Irish is not about the romantic old country or proving our former enemies wrong, the topic will always transend the politicisation that people continually try to force on it.

The Irish language is part of that culture, less than ever but still a factor. Gaelic, like every language in the world was formed around its surroundings and people; its formations and expressions are unique and designed specifically for people on this island. To dismiss it as a romantic notion is peculiar; why is it romantic or unrealistic to want to maintain something that helps express the way of this nation? Our language may not have had its day for some time but it has always been there and it is not something we should give up because it just isn’t practical any more. Forget about DeValera and his ideal of the perfect country, with that image truely scrapped there is still a relevance for the language.
Politicising the issue is ignorant. Speaking Irish is not exclusive to Nationalists, Republicans or even Irish people, as John Waters’ excellent piece in the Irish Times today (subs required) notes. He raises the point that Irish was hindered by a shame factor; as to speak Irish once suggested you were poor. Now the shame factor will help to save it as people of non-Irish descent become fluent embarresing the rest of us to act.

The rise of Gaelscoil’s is another tool to reverse the shame of speaking Irish into something positive. An increasing amount of children from non-Gaelteacht areas are becoming fluent in Irish at an early age; they’re not doing it to make a political point or enrich their patriotism. For someone proud of the country they were born in it is quite embaresing to listen to a small boy converse in Irish when you find reading their entry-level books impossible.

I have found myself in this situation recently and it made me realise that I am part of the problem facing our language. I don’t think that Irish will ever replace English, and it probably shouldn’t but why can’t we be bilingual? In a world that really is getting smaller why is it such a bad thing to hold onto something unique? Some will call it a waste of time, I wouldn’t be so negative.

Changes need to be made to save Irish, but it seems as though there is a growing appatite amongst the public for it at the very least. Let’s just hope that the political responce is genuine and not a distraction… for a start they could get an honest reading of Irish fluency in the country; asking on the Census if you can speak Irish is like saying can you use a computer; depending on your point of view it could mean a basic understanding of the task, an ability to get by when necissary or an in-depth knowledge of the task at hand.

Site Update: Comments

Just a quick update; I finally managed to fix the comments issue mentioned before; the font size in the comments box is now reasonably sized (unless you use IE, in which case it’s generously sized).

I’m probably going to put a clearer link to getfirefox.com, the reason being that the sidebars look horrible in IE; I’ve no idea how to fix it and frankly I’m not that pushed… you should all be using Firefox by now anyway!

I will be testing it in Opera, Safari and IE7 once I get the chance; anyone using any of those three please let me know how the font sizes in the two sidebars look (for example each link on the right should just take up one line, in my IE many take up two)

Our print media needs to get moving

Irish media as a whole could never be referred to as trend-setting; DTT is only warming up the engines, DAB the same. It does seem at times that the whole thing is clinging onto the past, the golden era of the traditional media, perhaps. Being optimistic about it though, all we really need are a few organisational changes in different places and things should run relatively smoothly, albeit behind the majority of Europe.

The same cannot be said for the print media, however. Let’s not get into the argument that print is doomed, it’s not. Journalists will keep on working with bloggers and citizen journalists having little negative effect, if anything a positive one; print media will keep defying the internet (and the growth of ebooks etc.) because people will always, at least in our lifetime, have a preference for something tangible and solid to hold, fold and read. Saying that, the inevitably secure future for print across the world has not stopped innovation; The Guardian has embraced blogging and other online content as an appendage to its core print run. The Times in London is doing the same, going so far as to launch a TV channel online. They have also launched a podcast on the back of The Guardian’s hyper-successful Ricky Gervais show.

Ireland’s equivalents have not been so forthcoming, however. The Irish Times is still a subscription site; perhaps it has been extremely lucrative for them but it seems to hold a very closed mindset, one that is not ready for new ideas. The Irish Independent is normally free, but they managed to take a step back and limit some of their content (Kevin Myers’ column) so that those interested would be forced to buy the print version. The Sunday Tribune seems to do the same for their prized possession, Ross O’Carroll Kelly. The Sunday Business Post doesn’t limit content but the website design is quite poor, the archive site is probably one of the least user-friendly sites of a professional organisation I have seen in recent years.

All in all, the best our newspapers can produce is an online version of the print newspaper. There’s on exclusive online content, no online writers, no videos or podcasts, hyperlinked articles, no blogs. Nothing new or original.
Perhaps it is based on the fact that Television has to evolve; the EU has set a deadline (kind of) and Ireland can’t be the only EU country to be stuck on analogue in 2012. The same applies for radio; even with no analogue switch-over present DAB offers so much more possibilities and freedoms, including extra space to broadcast on; that is something irresistible to the radio industry.

All the four newspapers I mentioned have ads on their website; perhaps they haven’t realised how much money these can make, with the right pitch and the right content. Must-see or must-hear content, additional articles (or extended versions of pieces in the print newspaper), and better interaction through blogs would all bring in the crowds and bump up the page impressions. While the benefits of online content aren’t as apparent as with DTT and DAB the internet too offers much greater freedom and space to do anything, and it’s not like they’re expensive; The Guardian seems to be doing pretty well in financial terms even though it is free to read online (after a free registration) and has tons of online-only content.

Perhaps the real reason is that the Irish print media is still trying to get out of battle-mode with the internet; remember when it was going to kill off the newspaper? I have enough reason (and faith) to believe that online developments in Ireland’s newspapers are on their way but I don’t know how long it will take. I also don’t know if Irish newspapers will try something new and original, something completely innovative or just copy what has happened in the UK (once it’s proven to work efficiently).

Dáil seat visualiser

Damien put the idea out there and Keith has quickly responded; check out this superb Dáil seat visualiser which has a record of the composition of the Irish government from the 1st Dáil of 1918 to today’s 29th incarnation.

A great little resource for anyone interested or involved in Irish politics; the way it’s laid out lets you flick through each Government so you can see how the parties have grown and shrunk (and sometimes back again) in an instant. For example, with minimum effort I can now confirm that the last single party majority seen in Ireland was in 1977/21st Dáil, held by Fianna Fáil, or you can point out that Labour’s strongest position was in the 1992/27th Dáil in which they bagged 33 seats; 11 more than their previous best of 22 in 1965/18th Dáil (which they coincidently currently stand at).

Well done Keith, and nice idea Damien; possibly something Irish Election could put into their site; actually a blog-friendly version would be terrific if possible, so people could put it in their sidebars etc. (way out of my abilities, though)

RTÉ apply for DAB licence

It was only a matter of time, given the relevant success of the DAB trials earlier this year;

From RTÉ.ie:
RTÉ has today announced that it will seek a licence to begin a DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) radio service on the east coast from Dublin to Louth later this year.

The announcement follows a successful six-month trial of DAB along the east coast involving RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ 2fm, RTÉ Radió na Gaeltachta, RTÉ lyric fm, Today fm and WRN.

The new digital radio service will mean that RTÉ can provide listeners with a greater choice of programming.

RTÉ plans to engage with the wider radio industry for nationwide DAB rollout once the new service is fully operational.

Commenting, Adrian Moynes, Managing Director of RTÉ Radio, said: “There is an opportunity for the radio industry as a whole to bring the benefits of digital radio to listeners. RTÉ will be working to involve all stakeholders – policy makers, regulators, commercial broadcasters and retailers – in the development of the future of radio on this island.”

What the service will consist of is still unknown; I had been hoping to work on this topic for the Sunday Business Post, and had made contacts with the relevant people in RTÉ, unfortunately after a muddle and a mix-up that fell through, although I’d imagine this is only the beginning of RTÉ’s DAB plans.

Dunphy packs it in at Newstalk

The news has done the rounds already (even Aprés Match gave it a mention) but Eamon Dunphy has announced his decision to part ways with Dublin’s Newstalk 106 at the end of his contract.

From OHC PR:
Eamon Dunphy to leave Newstalk

Broadcaster and Journalist Eamon Dunphy announced today that he is leaving Newstalk 106. He has decided not to exercise the option of another year on his contact with the station where he has presented The Breakfast Show for the past two years.

In a statement issued today he said:

“Because of my increased commitment to RTE Television Sports Soccer coverage I have decided not to exercise the option of another year on my contract with Newstalk 106.”

“Over the past two years I have enjoyed the challenge of helping to create the credible morning programme that Newstalk now has. I was fortunate to have worked with an outstanding team and I wish them and the station every success in the future.” 

While this would be relatively interesting news under normal circumstances the story gains an added twist in the context of Newstalk’s impending switch to a quasi-national licence; something that Dunphy was to be an important figurehead for.

The rumours say that he was looking for more money, and his excuse of an “increased commitment to RTE Television Sports” is hard to understand, considering that his regular involvement is on a very irregular basis, with only World and European Cup’s providing brief moments of increased demand.

Over on boards.ie the possible replacements are being fielded; David McWilliams gains an honourable mention due to his strong history with the show (but is unlikely due to the subsequent ugly break up two years ago), George Hook has expressed an interest in morning times too (although he’s likely to be kept where he is in order to challenge The Last Word nationally as well as he has locally) and finally Marian Finucane, ex-RTÉ Radio One superstar has been thrown into the mix, probably the safest bet if they want a familiar face (although that doesn’t mean she’ll be easy to sign up).

Interesting times ahead for Newstalk, they have plenty of time to replace Dunphy before the national launch, although I’m sure they would have rather avoided it at such a hectic time.

Magnet Entertainment Polish Package (SBP – 18th June 2006)

Just a small piece in this week’s Sunday Business Post;

Magnet Entertainment is to launch Ireland’s first triple-play package tailored for the Polish community. Magnet Entertainment Poland will consist of a phone line, 2Mb broadband connection and a nine channel digital TV package which includes Poland’s TV Polonia, TVP Kultura and TVP3. The package will retail at €54 a month with phone minute add-ons offering cheaper calls to Poland.

“We’re targeting the Polish community just like any other part of the population,” said Charlie Ardagh, marketing and sales director for the company. “We just tweaked the offer a little bit to suit Polish subscribers, just like we might up the broadband speed for those looking to do extra online.”

Ardagh also hopes to expand on the package over time to offer additional Polish content and phone packages.

“We’re also looking at broadcasting some other eastern European channels – ideally we would like to have something for everybody, for example we’re currently pursuing content for the Chinese community too.”

We’re in an interesting situation in Ireland now; never before have we had ethnic minority groups at this high level and never have companies here had to respond quite as much to the change. It’s an interesting part of multicultural Ireland and probably something that will normalise over time, but it really is amazing to see companies like Vodafone seek sales assistants with Polish as a first or second language, let alone create special offers for the existing community.
Catherine O’Mahony’s main feature on the topic, of which my piece is an aside, is very interesting and well worth a read.
See the Portfolio section for a scan of the article or read the actual article here.