“A brief encounter that said it all”

It is rare that a newspaper headline cannot be bettered, but the title of a front page story in this weekend’s Sunday Independent summed up the article so perfectly that no other words seem appropriate. First, the back story:

The previous week, the Independent ran with a story about Bertie Ahern and a suitcase full of money. You may have heard about it. When Bertie alleged that the story was a smear, part of a pre-election dirty tricks campaign by the opposition, Enda Kenny ran a mile from it. Nothing to do with me, he swore. This left the Independent looking like the bad guys, something which peeved them, given that they had been under the impression that FG would row in behind the story. So annoyed were they that they devoted several stories (the Sindo likes its hacks to retalliate en masse) in their 22nd April edition to assertions that Enda knew all about it, but ran away from the story because he didn’t have the bottle for the fight, nor the courage to be a bad guy. The whole suitcase story strikes me as a storm in a teacup, the Sindo’s reaction another example of its entertaining tendency to lash out like an upset teen when its collective pride is wounded. What is interesting from a Paper Round perspective is the front page story on the matter by editor Aengus Faning. Fanning usually only appears on his paper’s front page when he’s making apologies, so this article is an indicator of just how cheesed off he was with Enda. The story is a fascinating vignette, offering a tidy encapsulation of how news is made and influence peddled in Ireland.

“PADDY Cole and I sat outside Insomnia coffee house in Ballsbridge in the sparkling April sunshine shortly after midday on Saturday week last, when a chance encounter took place that has direct relevance to the dirty tricks controversy.
We were talking about music, and life, when Fine Gael candidate Lucinda Creighton, on the Dublin South East canvass, came up to say hello to Paddy.
I was pleased to be introduced to the delightful Lucinda, an able and ambitious politician, and even more pleased when she told us that Enda Kenny would be along within 10 minutes.
I decided to wait for Enda, and made arrangements for the Fine Gael leader to be photographed with Lucinda on the hustings.
I was hoping to get an on-the-record quote from Enda on the stamp duty issue, and also on Jody Corcoran’s story describing Garda Martin Fallon’s extraordinary description of Bertie, Celia and the briefcase.
Enda duly joined us, whereupon Paddy went inside to buy a coffee for him. Without prompting, Enda raised the matter of the Jody Corcoran story, saying “this is going to be big”.
He described how he had met Garda Fallon “at the door of Leinster House” on that remarkable day seven years ago, how Fallon was looking for Jim Higgins, and how they both heard Fallon’s story in an interview room in Leinster House.
Enda’s attitude to the story was very ‘gung-ho’ and neither by word nor body language did he betray any reservations about our intention to run it, or about Fine Gael’s part in making it public.
He declined, however, to give me an on-the-record comment on the Garda Fallon story, whereupon I moved on to the issue of stamp duty”

The rest of the story is a howl of betrayal at Kenny’s mendacity in not remaining as ‘gung-ho’ on the Fallon story as he was that lovely afternoon in Ballsbridge. That politicians often speak out of both sides of their mouths is a lesson that Mr. Fanning, a veteran journalist and editor, appears to have learned only in the past week. Still, what an idyllic vision of the editor’s life he provides. You need only sit, in sparkling sunshine, outside a café in a leafy suburb discussing Music and Life, and the news comes to you. A “delightful, able and ambitious??? young political hopeful comes to pay homage. You’re in a good mood, so you decide to give her some free publicity – only a few words are needed and the photo op is set up (I like to imagine this being done with a brisk clap of the hands, in the manner of a Mafia Don ordering a waiter in his bistro to set his “associates” up with a table and a good bottle of chianti). Really, it’s fine, no need for thanks. Grateful, she returns with the leader of the country’s opposition who is very excited about a story you’re going to run. While you have him, you raise the issue of Stamp Duty, which has been something of an obsession with you recently. He promises to give you a little something in the way of a quote later on. Such a lovely, civilised way to deal with matters of public interest. It’s a shame the whole thing was ruined by that ingrate Kenny. Someone needs to take that boy aside and explain the rules to him. Needless to say, your paper will not be at home to him for some time to come. Your in-house intellectual giant, Eoghan Harris, later gives the game away somewhat by spluttering angrily at the cheek of Fine Gael in thinking that they could “plant??? the story on you, but the real affront is that they succeeded in planting it, and then didn’t act in the manner that behooves gentlemen. You write the incident up and run it on page one with the unintentionally telling title “A brief encounter that said it all”. Still, it was a nice day, until the….unpleasantness. The Lucinda Creighton photo turns out to be lovely. You give it a quarter of a page. It’s good to be an editor.


  • chekov says:

    I suspect that you’ve got this the wrong way around. This is how I interpreted the startling front page of last Sunday.

    Let’s remember that Jody Corcoran heard the story in 2001, so the sindo had no need for FG to give them the story – they already had it. Furthermore, from Aengus Fanning’s front page article, it was clear that Enda Kenny had learned of the sindo’s intention to run the story only after they had taken the decision – unless Fanning was lying, the decision to run the story was taken by the sindo and then communicated to FG.

    Let’s also remember that the sindo has been targetting bertie for a long time now. In particular, in recent months they have been continually attacking him over stamp duty. Plus, they had succeeded in turning the election campaign into a competition between the parties over stamp duty reform – it has been the only actual policy issue from the election campaign to have grabbed the headlines. The opposition were still in a position where they had effectively outbid FF for O’Reilly’s vote on Stamp duty – they had a promised timescale for reform, Bertie has still promised nothing.

    Then, suddenly, a dramatic change of course for the sindo. Suddenly Bertie is the champion of stamp duty reform, despiting not shifting an inch, while Enda Kenny is the devil’s spawn. Meanwhile, over in the observer, Henry MacDonald announces that all the INM titles will declare for FF in the upcoming election. A complete and utter volte-face by the sindo in particular.

    I see it happening like this. The sindo decided a long time back that Bertie didn’t jump to their tune swiftly enough and have been attacking him regularly (that much is beyond doubt). They decided to use their scandalous story about the bag of money, that they had been storing up for just the right occasion, just before an election, with a shadow of suspicion already lingering over bertie.

    They let FG know about this, just so they can have them ready to follow through once it breaks. Enda Kenny, gives them an oul’ wink and thinks to himself, “isn’t it great that I have O’Reilly’s attack dogs onside now – they can win the campaign for me! I just sit back and stay cool – easy.” Again, this is essentially what Fanning described in his article.

    Immediately after publication it emerged that FF had an eye on this garda and knew that he had a grudge, or could be portrayed as having a grudge, against Bertie. This gets back to FG very quickly through the grapevine and Kenny et al run for cover. Once again, that pretty much appears to be clear.

    But what happened next? This is speculation, but I can easily imagine the following sequence of events:

    Bertie gets on the blower to tone. “Have you heard about an old law that we have called seditious libel? Or maybe we’ll only able to establish criminal libel – that should be easy enough to prove in this case. I’m thinking of getting a warrant to go through O’Reilly towers with a fine toothcomb and seeing if I can find any evidence of a coordinate campaign against the government. Oh, by the way, who are you guys going to back in this election?”

    The biggest reason why I think it probably happened that way is that I doubt very much that the sindo or FG knew about the fallons’ history with Bertie. If they had, they would never have run such a wildly unlikely tale (“I’m just leaving this bag full of cash here for you to mind, mr. strange garda”).

    The most devious, the most cunning, etc…

  • “PADDY Cole and I sat outside Insomnia coffee house in Ballsbridge in the sparkling April sunshine shortly after midday on Saturday week last.”

    I got sick after this part.

  • Fergal Crehan says:

    It was the bit about discussing music and life that caused my own gorge to rise.

    By the way, the unison website is extraordinarily badly organised. The sheaf of pieces (Jesus, it seemed like about a dozen) on this story were variously scattered in the news, politics, features, opinion and analysis sections. No “related links” at the bottom to show you where the rest of the coverage might be found. Par for the course for the Paper That Doesn’t Want You To Look At The Internet.

  • EWI says:

    Let’s also remember that the sindo has been targetting bertie for a long time now.

    Not to mention last week’s “Bertie’s dad the killer” headline.

  • omaniblog says:

    Greetings. This is my first time reading this blog. And I’ve been captured by this post. To me it doesn’t matter which interpretation is most accurate, what I love is the writing, the balance between introduction, comment, specualaton and re-printing what was in the newspaper. The vigour of the comment from Chekov excited me. I enjoy this sort of stuff.
    Thank you. I must read more.

    ps I am not a plant.

  • auds says:

    Fabulous post.

    I often wonder if the Sindo writers are aware that real people will be reading the tripe they write. I have been known to enjoy an Eoghan Harris rant from time to time but I can’t excuse him.

    Maybe it’s the abundance of blond tresses in the Sindo (from the drying locks of Fanning, to the oh-so-natural-Peter-Mark looks of the young and oh-so-hip Carrie Bradshaw “journalists”) but there’s a major lack of angst among them. They’ve yet to grasp that readers of the paper will have to read the shite they write about and the de rigeur turgid personal details slipped in with the delicacy of an anvil. And they’re not even the tiniest bit embarassed.

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