The Minister for Justice is sometimes accused of not being able to control himself.
Here, in the midst of a Seanad Debate, he veers off topic in order to unburden himself on the question of the press, in general, and Fintan O’Toole and Vincent Brown in particular.
Special note: Spot Martin Mansergh trying to staunch the flow, and failing.
We join the house debating a question of whether the courts should be allowed to specify where apologies for newspapers ought to be located. But the mention of Fintan O’Toole, like a red rag, starts Hard Charger McDowell off. Woe betide those who stand in his way.
Mr. M. McDowell: The Senator took issue with Fintan O’Toole’s article some time ago on the proceedings of this House. I am in the extraordinary position that Fintan O’Toole, for once in his life, agrees with my position on these matters. This gives me an uneasy feeling, not least because I remember on one occasion in the same column he vituperated against me for deceiving, lying and all the rest because I had said he was hostile to the concept of property — he said this was a malicious invention on my part. I took this on board and thought he was slightly to the right of where I thought he was coming from until some time later he let his guard down on the Vincent Browne programme and admitted he had been a Marxist at an earlier stage in his life. This was the Fintan O’Toole I recalled. However, whereas he was allowed to define himself and his position, I was not.
One must have a thick skin in politics. Day in, day out, I am likened to a Nazi by the Irish media. If it is not in one newspaper, it is in another — that I speak in a German accent.
Mr. Norris: It is the goose-stepping that does it.
Mr. M. McDowell: I goose-step around the place and do all of these things. All of this is written by people who have, apart from access to columns, little or no talent in life, apart from inhabiting houses of poor design quality and so on. I think it was in a controversy between Denis Franks and Ulick O’Connor that one of them likened the other to a sparrow picking at the droppings behind the dray horse of Irish literature. I often think that if some of the people who write these columns had to fend for themselves in the real world — if they had to manage a small section of a company or sell their opinions in competition with others, or if their slot came up for tender every so often or they did not have an inside line of access to the editors or proprietors of newspapers — they would not be touched by anybody. They are profoundly boring people in many respects.
Mr. Cummins: Is the Minister painting them all with the same brush?
Mr. M. McDowell: No, I am referring to some of them. When they write that I am a Nazi, a fascist or this, that or the other, it is puerile. I am a liberal and a republican politician. I have stood up for liberal values more coherently than most of them. They like to go back to some kind of student, undergraduate mental approach to politics, where they liken me to some kind of fascist person. They should show me anything I have done that is fascist.
I noted recently that Vincent Browne announced that the referendum on citizenship was a racist referendum. How foolish can anybody be? How utterly devoid of common sense could any commentary be that would describe as racist a referendum on the question that Ireland should bring its citizenship laws into line with those of other countries in the European Union? This is described as racism in Ireland. These are the people who fill our newspapers.
We should not be distracted by columnists who normally get things wrong. With regard to the referendum, I remember one contributor to The Irish Times announcing——
Dr. Mansergh: The Minister is talking to one or two ex-columnists.
M. McDowell: One author in The Irish Times announced they had not yet met somebody who intended to vote in favour of the referendum and that it would be trounced by a margin of at least three to one. It makes one wonder in what society they move. If they have not met 80% of the population, it makes one wonder what effete little lives some of them must live.
I have said that much.
Mr. Norris: The Minister got it off his chest. Well done. Does he feel better?
Mr. M. McDowell: I feel much better.