An Irish woman's social, political and domestic commentary
Friday, March 26, 2004  

Fine Gael and Independent Newspapers

Former Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach John Bruton gave evidence at the Moriarty Tribunal this week. At the Tribunal he described a meeting he had with "Sir" Anthony O'Reilly, chairman of the powerful Independent Newspapers. For foreign readers he's also a former chairman of Heinz. In 1996 O'Reilly requested a meeting with Brutal when both were holidaying in West Cork. At the meeting O'Reilly complained bitterly about several slights against his companies by the coalition government. Heinz were trying to build some factory. Chorus, a TV wireless cable company in which O'Reilly was involved was in difficulties because illegal deflectors were providing tv channels to locals; his mining company Arcon need planning permission for a mine in the midlands and...the consortium he was associated with didn't get the 2nd GSM licence which was awarded to Denis O'Brien instead.

Brutal agreed to look into the matter and two months later his programme manager Sean Donlon met senior executives from Independent Newspapers. At that meeting the executives threatened Donlon that if the matters were not resolved to their satisfaction the coalition 'would lose INP as friends'. The government did not accede to O'Reilly's various demands and within months were facing the most extraordinary onslaught from the Independent group of newspapers which have a huge domination in the Irish market. They include the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, Evening Herald, Daily Star, Sunday Tribune and more regional ones. The attacks were generally very personal and adopted a sneering tone towards particular individuals. Finally on polling day in 1997 the Indo published an editorial on their front page (unprecedented: never before had they put an editorial on the front page) urging people to vote for FF and the PDs. Faced with this kind of attack the coalition was duly voted out and FF have been in since.
Two interesting things to note since.

Firstly, the campaign was remarkably effective because to this day most people speak about Fine Gael in the same sneering tones which the Independent adopted at that time. You have to remember that the government at that time was actually pretty good. There was growth in the economy and with the sole exception of Lowry there were no personal scandals, so the attacks had to be personal and convince the public that the government were incompetent and inefficient. This is the view that people to this day have of FG.

Secondly, the Independent is still at it. They were furious with this government when they failed to stop the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) selling the rights to Ireland's soccer games to Sky thus depriving the aforementioned Chorus from showing the matches. The NEXT week, there was a huge huge headline "Promises, promises" on the front page on the Indo outlining the failure of the FF/PDs government to live up to various campaign commitments, and from that moment on the Indo has consistently attacked this government. Chorus has since gone bust. Last week Aengus Fanning, editor of the SINDO did a soft soft full page interview with Enda Kenny, current leader of Fine Gael. Perhaps the wheel has turned. Great if FG benefit this time, but how sinister that the commercial interests of the Indo are so blatantly pursued in their editorial.

Reinactment of Brutal's evidence here. (Vincent Browne show on RTE - click on Tuesday and forward into 24:00)

posted by Sarah | 21:10 0 comments
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