Monthly Archives: July 2009

What happened to Liam’s pot of gold?

“Liam Carroll, the reclusive property developer and serial investor, has taken up to €1bn in cash from his property empire by securitising his future rental income.” [Tom McEnaney, Irish Independent, March 06 2008]

“TODAY developer Liam Carroll will discover if six of his companies, and by extension his property empire, will be granted court protection.” [Irish Independent, July 28 2009]

The Irish Times – Our Strict Father

[A slipshod look at the IT’s approach to Lisbon Mark II]

The linguist George Lakoff poses the thesis that the differences between idealised conservative and liberal mindsets can be understood in terms of how each prioritises “conceptual metaphors for morality in our conceptual systems” – for example, the prioritising of retribution over restitution.

The self professed bastion of liberal moral accounting in Ireland, the Irish Times, tends to complicate Lakoff’s thesis. On the one hand, it’s left of centre commentators and reporters often produce compelling criticism of issues of “poverty and displaced groups or marginalised people,” however at the very same time, reporting of the often corrupt “relationship between politics, business” and the media itself can often appear to be somewhat overlooked, or at least toned down by some spurious mitigating factor.

As Frank Connolly noted in interview with MediaBite on his attempts to cover corruption while at the Sunday Business Post, “immediately you could sense a friction there.“

I (we) would argue that despite contributions from the likes of John Gibbons, Lara Marlowe and Fintan O’Toole, representation on behalf of the establishment is by and large the dominant theme at the Times. Take for instance, the Irish Times’ editorial approach to discussion of the proposed 2nd referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, one of the Irish Times’ major campaigning issues of the last few years.

From the outset, the editorial writer makes clear this is a one way communication – voters are “being given a second chance” to make the ‘right’ choice. And for those that gave the incorrect answer to the important question first time round, there is also a casual reprimand – “Voters have had many reasons to think long and hard.” A clear manifestation of Geraldine Kennedy’s strikingly paternalistic plan “to lead and shape public opinion.” After all, according to Lakoff, “the father’s primary duty is to tell his children what is right and wrong, punish them when they do wrong.”

With Lakoff’s Strict Father Model (the conservative) “life is seen as fundamentally difficult and the world as fundamentally dangerous. Evil is conceptualized as a force in the world, and it is the father’s job to support his family and protect it from evils — both external and internal.”

And so the Irish Times’ opens the discussion by setting the scene: “A STARK, FRIGHTENING reality exists.” The writer clearly failing to uphold the same rules of engagement she or he is about to lay out: “[politicians must] resist any temptation to exploit the situation [the current economic and political landscape].”

In order to emphasise exactly what “second chance” is now being offered the editorial writer warns of the need to remain at the ‘heart of Europe’, evoking “a common metaphor, shared by conservatives and liberals alike — the Nation-as-Family metaphor, in which the nation is seen as a family, the government as a parent and the citizens as children”:

“The defining issue for Lisbon, second time round, is whether Ireland wants to stand financially isolated or part of a strong and supportive European Union.”

Lakoff writes: “The father embodies the values needed to make one’s way in the world and to support a family: he is morally strong, self-disciplined, frugal, temperate, and restrained. He sets an example by holding himself to high standards. He insists on his moral authority and commands obedience.” Here too, the writer attempts to assert the high moral ground:

“[Farmers and trade union] demands contributed to negative sentiment and added to public confusion about what, precisely, the treaty involved. A week before polling day, some 60 per cent of those surveyed either did not know or were only vaguely aware of the issues.”

Yet this was the very week the Irish Times and its competitors went into confusion overdrive. The following are the headlines of all the articles discussing the treaty from the Irish Times opinion page in the 5 days leading up to the referendum:

The imperative is a Yes vote

Voters are well enough informed to make decision [by Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill is chairman of the Referendum Commission]

Indefensible ‘defence’ dimension demands a No vote

Yes vote required to prevent Ireland’s isolation and a loss of jobs

If you care about climate change, vote Yes to Lisbon

A question of influence [“After seven years of hard bargaining this Lisbon compromise would be very difficult to renegotiate after a No vote”]

In absence of trust, coherence is all the more crucial [“A reasonable set of answers to some questions would have seen the treaty Yes campaign coast home”]

Europe deserves a better treaty than this [Jens-Peter Bonde from Denmark is a long-time critic of the European project]

A No vote will damage the EU and also hurt us economically

Vote No for Fear. Vote Yes for Hope. The choice is ours

No vote would precipitate a major European crisis

No better deal if we reject treaty

Are we out of our minds? [“ARE WE out of our collective minds? We are not going to win our money on “the horses” if we say No to the Lisbon Treaty.”]

As a nation we have simply too much to lose by voting No to the Lisbon Treaty

Support for No vote shows lack of faith in politicians

Gulf between leaders, voters frames treaty [“the increased muscle a Yes vote would give the Government within the EU system”]

Voting No would plunge us into uncertainty and crisis

Of the 17 articles, 14 could accurately be described as ‘Yes’, 2 as ‘No’ and 1 neither ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Of the 14 ‘Yes’ articles, a substantial proportion of the authors portray a ‘No’ vote as being potentially catastrophic, using terms such as ‘crisis’ and ‘much to lose’ – it can be seen that as the day of the referendum approaches the headlines and articles become noticeably more desperate.

The following are the headlines of all the articles discussing the treaty from the Irish Independent opinion and analysis page in the 5 days leading up to the referendum:

Damn, no secular takeover after all [“So, despite the fact that there’ll be no legalisation of drugs, prostitution, abortion or euthanasia, and no conscription into a European Army or relinquishing of our tax laws, I’ll still be voting “yes” next Thursday. Boring, but true. The Devil would not approve.”]

We need to think of consequences [“The notion that the people of Europe would applaud an Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty is dangerous nonsense and it is revealed as a lie by reports of widespread concern in the EU at the news that the rejection lobby appears to hold the lead.”]

Defeat from the jaws of victory [“Yes is the only answer to Thursday’s question”]

Chill wind from dole queues [“Those who would reject the Lisbon Treaty and blithely launch our country into a period of further uncertainty and confusion would dismiss such appeals as scaremongering and bullying.”]

There is nothing to fear in a Yes vote

A ‘Yes’ vote is the best way to keep our economy competitive

This is the only way to ensure we have a say in our future [“By voting ‘No’ we will emphasise the huge issue involved in the constitutional change.”]

Time we idealistic ‘Yes’ voters started to feel the love [“many on the ‘No’ side are arguing from self-interest.”]

Add your voice to the chorus for Europe and drown out nay-sayers [“Good For Ireland, Good For Europe.”]

A word to the wise from one Abraham Lincoln [“When the Irish go to the polls they will in a real sense be carrying with them the 450 million disenfranchised Europeans who have no vote.”]

Playing Mr Nice Guy won’t secure Yes vote, Brian

Sinn Fein at the heart of the anti-Lisbon lunatic menagerie

Decision will be far-reaching [“The latter choice would present the EU with a crisis.”]

Brian baffles foreign media pack with late charm assault [“What had the Europeans ever done for us, they demanded. If Brian had known his Monty Python he could have replied, “the aqueducts, the roads, education, wine, sanitation . . .” Instead, he was on his best behaviour. “If I ask ye nicely will it make a difference?” he enquired.”]

Be wary of the unelected and their hidden agenda [“Any citizen contemplating a ‘No’ vote would want to think long and hard about the damage that would do to our international reputation as a positive, forward-looking European country.”]

Bad news is just the job for ‘Yes’ campaign

‘Yes’ camp’s empty Eurobabble should be met by a simple ‘No’

Why ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ voters are in a class of their own [“but one thing is clear: the establishment is at odds with the population and this tells us more about Ireland today than it does about Europe tomorrow.”]

Of the 18 articles, 14 could accurately be described as ‘Yes’, 3 as ‘No’ and 1 neither ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Of the 14 ‘Yes’ articles, most if not all use openly derogatory terms to describe ‘No’ campaigners, such as ‘lunatic menagerie’.

It’s safe to say this gives a good indication of the “sustained PR barrage” we are likely to be subjected to “from now until October.”

“The Government must turn the Irish people’s fear of an uncertain economic future to their advantage by blending that fear with the hope membership in good stead of a stronger EU might give them.” [Stephen KinsellaThe Irish Times]

Stephen Kinsella is my new hero.

Snip, Snip, Snip

It’s official, the barrage of PR and spin referred to by Stephen Kinsella below has finally, and quite brilliantly morphed what was a crisis caused by establishment greed and corruption into a crisis of public service expenditure.

The banking boogiemen have slinked off into the shadows, the developers are negotiating the terms of their departure from public life and the politicians who oversaw it are now mixing business with pleasure in Honduras.

And all this despite journalists ogling the publicly subsidised enormous dangling bonuses of Goldman Sachs employees.

The Irish Times, always ahead of the curve sums up the extent of our new ‘challenge‘:

“SO NOW we know the real extent of the problem and the gravity of the steps required to remedy it. It is overwhelming.”

The publication of the McCarthy report represents a turning point in the discussion, as others have already pointed out. The debate has been unalterably changed, cuts are on the menu. Sorry, savings are on the menu.

“any realistic menu of savings has to include some cuts in social welfare” Noel Whelan

“The report’s focus on health, education and social welfare makes it easy to portray McCarthy and his colleagues as hardliners, but his opponents must make it clear where savings can be made.” Mark Hennessy

For way too long now I’ve been under the misimpression that ‘saving’ meant something like:

[n]  an act of economizing; reduction in cost; “it was a small economy to walk to work every day”; “there was a saving of 50 cents”

Apparently though, ‘saving’ means getting rid of things you need, and then pretending you never needed them in the first place.

“‘Bord Snip’ reveals €5.3bn savings plan” RTE

“Body tasked with finding €4bn savings to target social welfare and public sector” Shane Coleman

Stephen Kinsella, lecturer in economics, Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick, explains to wide eyed Irish Times readers the powerlessness of the Government to implement these much needed savings. Limited by means of only PR and “sustained spin”, due to the current unpopularity of “physical coercion” (except in the north west), the Government “is likely to refuse to implement many of the McCarthy Reports’ more radical suggestions, leaving the decision at budget time between some combination of increased taxes and increased borrowing, rather than really deep cuts in public expenditure.”

The audience for this kind of ‘analysis’ is dwindling day by day.

From the album…

‘Silencing Dissent’ by Hugh Frazer, former director of Combat Poverty Agency

Published with permission of the Irish Examiner

By Hugh Frazer

WEDNESDAY, July 1, 2009, marked the abolition of the Combat Poverty Agency as an independent state agency, even though poverty continues to be one of the major challenges facing our society.  After 23 years of considerable achievement, during which the agency has moved poverty to the centre of political debate, the agency has been “merged” with the Department of Social and Family Affairs’ Office for Social Inclusion to form a new division in that department.

The question is whether this is a genuine effort to strengthen the
institutional framework for tackling poverty — or the silencing of an
important independent voice on issues of poverty.  Encouragingly, the minister has stressed that her intention is to create “a new strengthened division” which will “provide a stronger voice for those affected by poverty and social inclusion issues”. However, in reality it is hard not to be more pessimistic.  The agency appears to have been the victim of two things. First, there have always been some elements within the political and administrative system who have been uncomfortable with the agency’s independent role and wanted to control it. Secondly, the agency has been caught up in a wider systematic political effort to silence or marginalise independent and critical voices on issues of human rights, racism, poverty and inequality.

From my experience as the agency’s director from 1987 to 2001 I know there were several times in the past when the agency’s independent role was under attack from conservative and cautious elements within the political and administrative system. They have regularly tried to limit its freedom to provide an alternative source of policy advice and, when necessary, to challenge existing policy frameworks. Happily, successive ministers for social welfare demonstrated the political maturity and self-confidence to value alternative sources of advice, even if that advice was not always comfortable or convenient.  They understood that healthy democracies encourage open and informed public debate on issues of
social justice. 

So why did this change? In retrospect there were a number of warning signs. In 2006 the department blocked the preparation and publication of a book to mark the agency’s 20th anniversary which would have drawn lessons from the previous 20 years about how best to tackle poverty. Such a book would have highlighted its many policy successes and helped to set a new direction for the future.  Then in 2007 the department blocked the appointment of a new director when the former director moved on to a new job, thus weakening its leadership and ability to resist abolition.

Thirdly, the department instituted a review of the agency which was
essentially an internal civil service review with very limited external consultation and in which agency representation and input was carefully regulated and controlled. The outcome is no surprise.  Of course there is an argument that the existing institutional arrangements for mainstreaming anti-poverty work within the policy system did need to be reformed. The department’s office for social inclusion had largely failed to have the impact within the administrative system that many of us hoped for. Its contribution to coordinating and driving forward efforts to tackle poverty across the whole civil service have been quite limited. Equally, the agency was not being listened to as closely as it might have been and had become somewhat marginalised within the policy-making system.   Undoubtedly the influx of experienced CPA staff into the department will greatly increase the expertise, commitment and energy within the system to address issues of poverty and social exclusion.

In certain circumstances — and if there is really dynamic political leadership — this could result in a more thorough and strategic approach to tackling poverty and social exclusion than is currently evident.  However, the initial signs are not encouraging. The creation of the new division has been a very closed process.   My own experience is that there has been a reluctance to meet with concerned and interested outside experts and stakeholders to hear their views on what is needed. Furthermore, the merger of CPA and OSI seems to have been driven by the department’s agenda, with agency staff being frozen out from the two senior posts in the new division. My own contacts with many Agency staff in recent months have revealed very widespread unhappiness with how the merger has been handled.

Although legally the merger has now happened, it is still not clear exactly what the new division’s role will be or how it will operate. Thus there is still a possibility that the minister’s and secretary general of the department’s assurances that the new division will have some real substance could be fulfilled. If this it to be the case, certain things things in particular are essential:

*The new division must maintain an explicit focus on poverty and keep the word poverty in its title.
*It must support the effective implementation of existing policies and strategies on poverty.
*It should have a forward-looking remit aimed at identifying new
challenges and proposing new policies and strategies.
*It should publish its research and policy recommendations.
*It should be publicly accountable and report annually on the
implementation of its strategic plan, including to the Oireachtas
Committee on Social and Family Affairs.
*An advisory committee of stakeholders and experts active in the area of poverty and social inclusion (and including people experiencing poverty) should be established to oversee the work of the division and advise the minister on its role.
*It should have the power to systematically monitor and report on the performance of all Government departments and agencies in tackling and preventing poverty and social exclusion and to critique existing policies (economic, environmental, employment, and immigration as well as social policies) from an anti-poverty perspective.
*It should have the ability to recruit staff with appropriate expertise on
issues of poverty and social exclusion from outside the civil service when required.
*It should maintain and develop the Combat Poverty Agency’s leading role in the development of EU policies to tackle poverty and social exclusion.

In the end the new division will be judged by what it does. Thus we will begin to know whether the assurances about giving a stronger voice to poverty issues have any substance if the new division:

*Publishes a rigorous assessment of the distributional impact of the
impending cutbacks and their impact on people living in poverty.
*Puts the issue of inequality at the heart of all its work on poverty and emphasises the need to address the continuing structural inequalities in Irish society and opposes efforts to blame people for their poverty and to differentiate between the deserving and undeserving poor.
*Recommends more ambitious goals for the elimination of child poverty and develops a much more comprehensive strategy than currently exists;.
*Regularly monitors and reports on the extent to which economic and taxation policies are reducing or adding to poverty and social exclusion.
*Provides rigorous analysis and makes clear recommendations on how to ensure that social inclusion and environmental/green policies are
mutually reinforcing.

Even if the merger of CPA and OSI does lead to more effective and
dynamic leadership and coordination on poverty issues within the administrative system it will be at a high price.  It is extremely unlikely that the agency’s key role in stimulating and informing a widespread public debate on these issues will be maintained now that it is firmly situated within Ireland’s rather cautious and conservative administrative system.
Also, it is hard to imagine it being encouraged to step outside the
accepted policy-making frameworks and, when necessary, to make
considered criticisms of the status quo.  Indeed there is now much evidence of a systematic effort to close down, control or emasculate and control authoritative and independent voices on issues of social justice and thus to marginalise dissent. 

For instance, the Equality Authority has been so systematically undermined and its budget so severely cut that its outstanding chief executive, Niall Crowley, resigned.   The Irish Human Rights
Commission has had its budget slashed. The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism has, like the CPA, been “merged” into its parent department.  Community groups receiving
Government funding have been instructed not to network with other community groups and thus build up a collective voice on issues.
Cutting funding to organisations who cause embarrassment or who challenge the status quo — and including clauses in funding contracts, or employment contracts, which prevent organisations or individuals from speaking out is on the increase.

The Charities Act won’t allow new organisations which state that one of their aims is to advocate in relation to human rights to be registered as a charity. All in all there is a consistent effort to suppress the voices of those who advocate on behalf of the marginalised. Thus it is hard not to interpret the silencing of the CPA as part of this wider effort at political control.
However, in spite of this, the agency’s voice will not be silenced. Too many people have contributed to and have been empowered by the agency’s work over the past 23 years for this to happen. The recent launch by Is Féidir Linn, of A Vision for an Inclusive, Equal, Sustainable Ireland to an enthusiastic response at a conference in conjunction with the Community Platform demonstrates the real desire for change that is emerging in civil society.  Thus the spirit and ethos of the agency will be carried on into the
future by everyone who wants to build a more equal and sustainable
Ireland free of poverty and social exclusion.
Hugh Frazer is a former director of the Combat Poverty Agency (1987-2001) and is currently adjunct Professor at NUI Maynooth and
Coordinator of the EU’s Network of Independent Experts on Social Inclusion.

‘A contrived silence, a censorship by omission’ John Pilger on Honduras

A fascinating interview with John Pilger by Amy Goodman of ‘Democracy Now!’ Among other subjects and situations he discusses, Pilger compares the coverage of the Iranian election with that of the military coup in Honduras exposing the hypocrisies and contradictions in mainstream media’s reporting of both situations. 

At the time of writing the transcript of the interview with Pilger  is still in need of a little editing, but the video, at same link, at 59 mins is good.  Pilger gets to the heart of the question of why it is that so many on the liberal left can be whipped up to such fervour against the Iranian government, who for all their undoubted faults are nevertheless far less culpable when it comes to crimes against humanity as compared to many other governments including the United States itself.  

Over the last week or two we have seen a military coup in Honduras and the kidnapping of 21 peace activists inlcuding a Nobel Laureate and a former US Congresswoman bringing desperately needed medicines and toys to Gaza.  The media response to the latter situation has been something akin to bored indifference.   On the other hand 2 Irish aid workers are kidnapped in Sudan and the media is up on its hind legs with concern.  The difference between the Honduran/Iranian coverage and that of the Sudanese/Israeli kidnappings?   It all depends on what the US view is, basically. 

We analysed the media coverage of Ahmadenijad while he was on a trip to the United Nations a year ago.  Our Media Shot included a contribution from Noam Chomsky who delineated the gross injustice and hypocrisy of US foreign policy towards Iran. Looks like the important facts and true history of relations between US/Iran, US/Honduras, US/Iraq, US/ Chile US/Take your pick from about 70 odd countries over the last century – are about to disappear down the memory hole again.

Facebook losing face?

A new group has been started on facebook whose objectives are to make them modify their editorial/moderation style.  If even just a few of the problems in the list copied and pasted below are true, then it does raise serious questions about exactly what facebook is and why it would not extend normal internet etiquette and custom to its users.  Here are the gripes:

>>> Join this group if you think that The Facebook Administration’s increasing use of it’s “right” to disable the profiles/accounts of Facebook Users without any explanation is just STUPID and UNACCEPTABLE. <<<

Facebook is shutting down profiles/accounts of users who are exhibiting any behavior it finds remotely “suspicious”. As a result, Facebook users are increasingly reporting that their profiles/accounts have been disabled/deleted by the Facebook Administration without warning or reason. It’s now commonplace for Facebook profiles/accounts to be temporarily and permanently disabled for legitimately sending messages, adding friends, sending group invites, using nicknames and poking.

Facebook enforces limits in order to prevent certain actions that can be considered abusive. Profiles/accounts will be disabled for persistent and rapid use of a certain feature. UNFORTUNATLY, for “security reasons”, Facebook REFUSES to tell us what these limits are!

Being stopped from using Facebook for reasons we have no knowledge of is WRONG. Being stopped from using Facebook without being given the opportunity to discuss the reason(s) concerned, or to extract ones personal information, photos, etc, is WRONG. For some people, being locked out of Facebook, whether temporary or permanently, is a disaster socially. It is as if their email accounts, friends, rolodexes and photo albums have been stolen from them.

As WE THE USERS make Facebook possible:
1. WE DEMAND Facebook clarifies the exact difference between spamming and being social.
2. WE DEMAND Facebook stops disabling/deleting our profiles/accounts without a clear appeals policy in place.
3. WE DEMAND Facebook stops disabling/deleting our profiles/accounts without clear warnings prior to each act it deems “suspicious”.
4. WE DEMAND Facebook stops disabling/deleting our profiles/accounts without clear protocols in place for Users to extract personal information from disabled profiles/accounts.


All in all, not very encouraging, on the face of it.

Indemnity is the order of the day

What is the use of it, Vincent Browne, if when tackling politicians head on – as you did on so many fronts with Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan on your programme on TV3 last night – you nevertheless refuse/omit to raise the greatest economic scandal of our times with him: the giving away of our desperately needed gas and oil resources? Considering the dire state of the eoncomy and the impact it is having on hundreds of thousands of people, it’s beyond comprehension that you should leave this issue unaddressed. 

Given the excerable documentary made by your colleague at TV3, Paul Williams, which the channel have yet to apologise for, many are speculating that you have been forbidden by TV3 from covering the Corrib Gas issue on your programme. 

 Silence is the media’s most lethal weapon and they have used it again and again to play their part in bringing us the uniquely corrupt, greedy and incompetent style of government and society with which we are endlessly afflicted.  The media only ever find their courage after the fact – when the damage is done and the once powerful safely emasculated and often dead. Indemity is the buzzword of the day: for vicious child sex abusers, for Shell, for corrupt bankers, for genuinely failed politicians like Bertie Ahern, for the property developers who have destroyed our economy – and for the media, who shield themselves behind mountains of pompous posturing about ‘balance’ to disguise their cowardice and complicity.  A plague on all your houses.

Miriam Cotton

Terry Prone Watch

The ubiquitous Terry Prone is, in the opinion of this blogger, quite frankly something of a menace in Irish public life.   Readers of this blog post are invited to share examples of Prone’s outrageous spinning for all things Fianna Fail and right wing. 

Having devoted much of her PR career to trying to put something resembling panache into Fianna Fail’s high rollers (a desperate, desperate job to be sure) she seems nowadays to be bending herself to spinning the economic crisis.  It might not matter so much if tv panel show producers and newspaper editors could get the idea into their heads that it’s possible to broadcast a programme or print a newspaper without there having to be something said or written by Terry Prone in them. 

When it comes to the dark arts of spin-doctoring there is no better woman for the job.  An article of Frank Connolly’s about TP once referred to her as ‘The High Priestess of Spin’.  Examples of her wily working ways abound but as good a place as any to begin the job of shining a spotlight on Terry Prone would be with the upset one of her recent Irish Examiner columns has cased to people with cancer.  The article basically recommended to cancer patients that they ought to face up to the fact they are going to die, that optimisim in the face of the disease was misplaced and that they might as well forego all the treatments and medications.  Wouldn’t Mary Harney and all her private health care chums be delighted if these ideas took off? 

From Prone’s own point of view, the column was undoubtedly a PR disaster visited on herself – a slipping of the ‘bubbly’, ‘chatty’, ‘chirrupy, self confident’ mask she usually wears to disguise the rather nasty meaness of her objectives. On this occasion, however,  there they were in plain view for all the world to see.  This much appears to have been acknowledged because the column is no longer available in the Examiner’s archives and cannot be found on Google – not even on Prone’s own website. 

 The following comment on the letter (see link above) by Margaret Browne from Killeagh in Co Cork has been sent to the Examiner letters page but whether it will be published or not is anyone’s guess:

Dear Sir
I write in response Margaret Browne’s letter in today’s Examiner about the heartlessness of Terry Prone’s recent article on the subject of cancer. As a keen observer of Terry Prone’s columns, may I offer the following thought to Margaret Browne and others who may have been similarly offended?  For a long time I have had the conviction that the clue to reading Terry Prone is first of all to ask yourself what she is spinning this week, because if you look carefully, behind all the bon mots, bonhomie and funny stories, she is always spinning something.   On this occasion I believe she was advocating the idea that, rather than having expectations of cancer care services ‘ordinary people’ could regard themselves as better human beings if they quietly laid down and died. This is not the first time she has attempted this theme.  Not very long ago, also in her column in the Examiner,  Terry Prone decried the patients and others who phone Joe Duffy to describe their experiences of the health service  – and ridiculed Mr Duffy, his listeners and his programme for enabling such public expressions of despair and concern.  All this, you see, at a time when the government and Mary Harney in particular are coming under fire for the parlous state of the health service, into which billions of taxpayers’ euro have been poured to the benefit of private business ‘investors’ – with no concomitant improvement in the quality of service.  If anything things are getting worse.  As a PR professional, Ms Prone has earned a handsome living advising Fianna Fail governments on how to sell unpopular policies and equally unpopular politicians.  If she has not quite managed the feat of persuading us that these pigs ears have been made into silk purses, then she must resort to the other side of public relations: shaping the attitudes of the population at large.  In this last respect, Terry Prone is a tireless and subtle warrior for the neo-conservative, irresponsible and uncaring policies that have destroyed the country.  The plight of cancer patients is a powerful phenomenon and one which has regularly brought successive health ministers into disrepute for doing everything and anything bar the needful to improve standards of care.  It is into the heart of this particular scourge of health policy, I believe, that Terry Prone is aiming her spears.  We should keep an eye out for them. 
Yours sincerely
Miriam Cotton               

Prone has been working overtime to sell the idea that the best people don’t complain or go public about anything.  She would like, it seems, to narcotise the entire country into obedient submission in these times of threatened cuts, unemployment, strikes and civil disquiet.  Here she is again advocating the shy person as a much maligned but better example of the species and spinning their advantages over the more outspoken among us.   It must surely raise more than a few laughs to see Prone advertising herself as ‘a card-carrying member of the shy brigade’.   I’m confounded by these particular assertions:

This country is predjudiced against shy people. It wants everybody to be open, upbeat, part of a group, awash in self-esteem and bubbling with chatty, chirrupy self confidence.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything less true said of Irish people.  The fact is we are typically and lamentably reluctant to assert ourselves – and more likely to be uncomfortable around people who do .  A point not lost on Brian Lenihan who was able to go abroad in recent weeks and boast that in any other country the fiscal measures he had just introduced would have led to rioting.  Terry Prone is ever on hand to play her part in making sure that things stay that way.

Miriam Cotton