Category Archives: Comment

Comic Sans

By David Manning

This article was originally published in the Irish Left Review (28/08/08).

Journalists are too often criticised for being pessimistic, lacking balance and failing to take due recognition of good news. One Irish Independent writer referred to this alleged phenomenon as the “doom and gloom blackout of the Irish Times”. Admittedly, few journalists are known for injecting humour into their work, without, that is, compromising the integrity of the analysis. There is though a little acknowledged strain of dark satire coursing through the veins of Irish journalism.

In the last two weeks for instance, Irish Times readers were treated to three examples of contemporary Irish wit – John Waters feigned a poor impression of a climatologist, tax exile Denis O’Brien delivered a sermon on what to do with our tax fund and Desmond Fennell despaired at the imminent loss of the colonies.

In Forecasting based on climate change is delusional’ John Waters sought to distance discussion of this summers persistent wet weather from the broader climatic issue – anthropogenic global warming. He persuades, “the science of forecasting on the basis of climate change is still in its infancy.” It is “so complex and the variables so numerous that the sensible scientists say they just don’t know.” Though he admits “Yes, the earth is warming.” But are there really so many unknowns that we can sensibly abandon science in favour of John Waters’ prediction of continued unpredictability?

The relationship between climate and Global Warming is undoubtedly very complex, however, space travel is complex, nuclear fission is complex – yet we don’t trust non-experts to shape our understanding of them. The raising of arbitrary standards against the science of Global Warming appears to have a direct relationship with the recognised implications of it. It calls for drastic potentially costly change, and that kind of change is vehemently resisted by powerful vested interests. As Stephen Poole noted in his book Unspeak, the very adoption of the term ‘climate change’ was a calculated re-branding of Global Warming, induced in a large part by pressure from major oil producers – enabling greater leeway for ’scepticism’.

The new term elevated two variables into the discourse, while at the same time removing two other important ones. ‘Climate’ opened the door for common confusion with weather, and ‘change’, denoting neither a positive or negative move, with indecision. This permitted far greater, though still misplaced, confidence in anecdotal refutation of scientific theory. The loss of the word ‘global’ was also an important modification in scope, the universal nature of the problem had been removed – and sceptics were free to undermine it by reference to localised ‘inconsistencies’. But no human experience can quantify ‘global’ changes, certainly not over decades and centuries – therefore the need to experiment, to test and develop theories and create models to predict reactions becomes self evident.

As Mark Lynas wrote in the New Scientist ‘if it wasn’t uncertain it wouldn’t be science‘, but uncertainty in science is very different from the uncertainty of Mr. Waters’ predictions. Scientists are agreed that ‘we cannot look at climate forecasts the same way we view weather predictions’. However, since the expectation is for gradual progress in terms of improving climate modelling, policy makers and planners cannot delay action in the hope of a scientific ‘leap’, they must act on the best information available. If the evolving models provide our best understanding of the future, the question is, do we take advantage of the wealth of knowledge coalesced by the scientific community or do we opt for idle speculation.

Denis O’Brien’s sermon on the economy It’s all about restoring our confidence and self-belief was a welcome addition to the debate. His refusal to contribute his fair share of taxes to that fund should in no way preclude him from telling us how to spend it – irony is not a crime. Just as General Augusto Pinochet was free to bore Chilean readers on the injustices he suffered upon his arrest in London for the alleged murders, tortures and disappearances he was responsible for in Chile, and just as Condoleezza Rice was not heckled in the press while travelling round the Caucasus, en route to force a deal to prolong a Middle Eastern occupation, for that ole ‘do as I say, not as I do’ routine – both signing a deal with Poland for a ballistic missile system on the Russia border, and the next day criticising Russia for military escalation in another border state.

An unusual display of doublespeak Denis O’Brien’s offering was nonetheless. He suggests we should concern ourselves with ‘restoring self confidence and belief’ by employing a corporate mentality, a mentality diagnosed as psychopathic by Joel Bakan in The Corporation, in order to ‘boost revenues and reduce costs’. Now when you hear ‘reduce costs’ in the corporate sphere, it invariably means one or all of a few things, reducing wages, cutting staff numbers or moving to Mumbai. The repercussions of the corporate mentality are evidenced seemingly daily, with numerous foreign corporations hauling anchor and setting sail for greener pastures.

O’Brien invokes the workers least popular lesson in doublespeak, the concept of ‘pay increases’ below the rate of inflation. Thus O’Brien both predicts that the value of your house will decrease and then advocates that the value of your pay check should also. So essentially, make us jobless, homeless and then ‘reduce public expenditure’- mass immigration is one way to go about it I guess. But perhaps, the real solution lies not in what he says, but what he doesn’t say. Denis O’Brien has amassed enormous wealth through his business ventures in Ireland, and has expanded his empire globally on the back of those profits, none of which are taxed as he resides overseas – the lesson being – let us cease to plough money into roads, hospitals and schools and lets all move to Malta.

In the Grim reality of why the West’s white race is now a dying breed’ Desmond Fennell warns of the decline of white birth rates in North America. Fennell begins by informing readers that “the news came from the U.S.”, conjuring up images of bygone days when all news didn’t come from the U.S., as if it were messaged from the colonies. He writes, the white westerner “overflowed from Europe to populate much of the world“, suggesting that at one stage Europe was full and its inhabitants were simply forced from a full receptacle into an empty one. A justification, noted by historian Howard Zinn, eagerly employed by early colonial settlers, who declared the Americas a ‘vacuum’, as the natives had failed to ’subdue’ the land. The Americas were of course not empty; it was not an overflow container for unsustainable population growth in Europe. The growth of white America corresponded directly with the often violent decline of non-white America.

The U.S. has been dominated by whites for less than 400 years. Surely the title of his piece should have read, if the author was more honest about his interpretation of the data that the U.S. is returning to non-whiteness. Fennell argues that White’s are a dying breed who are failing to reproduce: “the will to reproduce does not make sense to them“, but with this he underhandedly co-opts the underlying threat that the phrase ‘dying breed’ exacts. The ‘white race’ is the wealthiest, most influential and militarily powerful race in the U.S. If increased affluence, longer lives and military dominance are signs of a dying breed and the ‘white race’ is truly dying, we can be sure of one thing – unlike other less fortunate civilisations, they are being killed with kindness.

While these satires are not simply digested; and while it often takes time and considerable effort to fully realise the complexity at the root of these whimsical jigs, when you do put in the effort, you can be assured a suitable reward. Perhaps for clarity, and to speed up the process, these satirical monologues could be printed in Comic Sans.


1. Details on the uncertainty of climate modeling.

2. Article Get Off the Fence on Global Warming.

3. Letter from Pinochet to the Chilean people describing his ‘ordeal’ while under house arrest in Britain.

4. Sunday Business Post article from 2001 on that strange ‘Telenor’ contribution to Fine Gael

Photo of the Irish Times building in Tara Street taken by Cian Ginty and was originally posted on his blog Blurred Keys.

On the Message Board

An editorial in the Irish Independent’s 4th August 2008 edition titled The €11m ‘gas bill’ made a number of inaccurate and misleading comments about the Corrib gas issue and the Shell2Sea campaign. We wrote in response:

Dear Gerard O’Regan, Frank Coughlan, [Email, 7/08/08]

It is instructive that in the current climate of economic uncertainty the Irish Independent chooses to focus it’s editorials on the cost of sustaining the coercive arm of the state on behalf of a private company against legitimate protest in west Mayo, as opposed the price the Irish tax payer is liable to incur in relinquishing the country’s extremely valuable natural gas resources to foreign multi-nationals, Royal Dutch Shell and it’s partners Statoil and Marathon.

On the one hand, a group of local people and environmental activists are protesting against the construction of a natural gas terminal and high pressure pipeline, in the face of frequently hostile gardai confrontation. On the other hand a foreign multi-national with revenues exceeding that of over 100 of the world’s countries, including Ireland, is finally after more than 20 years preparing to exploit the growing profits to be made from increasing gas prices using the ‘generous’ licensing conditions given up by previous Irish governments, a deal described by former Labour Party leader Dick Spring as “an act of economic treason.” The disparity couldn’t be more unequal. [1]

And in focusing on the cost of policing protests and not for example on the licensing conditions, acknowledged to represent “the most generous fiscal terms in the world, with no royalties, no state participation, and companies can write off their costs 100% up front” the Irish Independent is widening the disparity. The ostensible intention of the prescribed context is to play on readers fears of recession, so as to draw disfavour for what is portrayed as an unwarranted burden on the tax payer. However it also, perhaps inadvertently, disguises the real burden on the tax payer – the hidden cost of essentially ‘giving away’ natural gas resources currently valued at €13 billion, not to mention the potential of the remainder of the Corrib field, estimated at over €50 billion. [2] [3]

The recent editorial ‘The €11m ‘gas bill” states that “the gas from the Corrib field will provide 60pc of the country’s gas requirements for the next 20 years. Perhaps the protesters would prefer if this country continued to buy more than 90pc of its gas from Britain, with the consequent huge price increases that we are about to experience.” [4] However, while the venture may provide some short term security of supply, in contradiction to the above contention, Irish consumers will remain exposed to the huge price increases Britain is likely to face:

“Shell and Statoil are scheduled to begin producing gas from the Corrib field off the west coast in 2009. Bord Gáis has said this does not mean the gas will be cheaper, as the fuel will still be sold at world prices.” [5]

The editorial further states that “The Environmental Agency has endorsed the project”. Yet this tells only part of the story. As far back as 2002 Mr Kevin Moore, a senior planning inspector with An Bord Plaenala, stated:

“From a strategic planning perspective, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of Government policy which seeks to foster balanced regional development, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of minimising environmental impact, this is the wrong site; and consequently, from the perspective of sustainable development, this is the wrong site.” [6]

This authoritative judgment on the projects viability as a sustainable development has been completely dropped from discourse despite the fact it contradicts Shell’s own professed commitment to sustainable development and it’s public call for urgent action on climate change:

“The world must act urgently to stabilize the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and minimize the global impacts of climate change.” [Shell Canada, ‘Business leaders call for climate change action’, 17th November 2005, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] [7]

“Sustainable development is critical to everyone’s future and to our business success” [Jeroen van der Veer, Shell Chief Executive, The Shell Sustainability Report 2007] [8]

Sustainable development for Shell means “a commitment to responsible operations: building our projects, running our facilities and managing our supply chain safely and in ways that reduce their negative environmental and social impacts and create positive benefits” and for Shell “contributing to sustainable development means helping meet the world’s growing energy needs in economically, environmentally and socially responsible ways.” [The Shell Sustainability Report 2007] [9]

It is unsettling that the Irish Independent chooses to subjugate the complete context, one that their readers should be informed of, and instead pursue a course of reporting which serves only to enrich the agenda of a tiny group of Irish elites and foreign multi-nationals – all under the pretences of balance and impartiality.

Reports on the Corrib gas project lack any semblance of balance unless they are also framed by the following questions: How much does the Irish citizen stand to gain from the Corrib gas project? What percentage of the total potential profit does this constitute? and at what environmental cost?

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

David Manning

We have yet to receive any response.

Visit the Message Board for references.

On the Message Board

Including a letter in the Irish Examiner discussing the media reaction to the Lisbon Treaty referendum result, an email to the Irish Times’ Assistant Editor Fintan O’Toole on the same subject, a question for Irish Times correspondent Daniel McLaughlin on the IT’s coverage of the US-Israel/Iran stand-off and another to Gerard Baker who claims in his recent Irish Independent article that Iran poses a ‘nuclear threat’ to Israel.

Will the media get the message?
Irish Examiner, 23 June 2008

IT’S not just the politicians that people did not believe. There ought to be a lesson in the referendum result for the mainstream media.

Despite overwhelmingly biased coverage in favour of a yes vote, including editorials, columnists and strikingly partisan ‘balanced’ reporting, we did not believe you either.

The hard work of the people who campaigned for a no vote was relentlessly misdescribed as the work of lunatic fringe groups. In fact it was a broad alliance of people concerned with the real human costs of this treaty (not Libertas) who managed to get their message across despite the media’s failure to give them equal treatment. Some politicians admonished us for the result — an insult to the thinking voters who expressed their considered opinion. It would be equally insulting if we are to be treated to editorials telling us we didn’t understand what we were doing or that we are ‘ungrateful’ to Europe.

Garrett FitzGerald described the result as evidence of a ‘disconnect’ between government and people. The same applies to the media.

Miriam Cotton
Email to the Irish Times’ Assistant Editor on the Lisbon Treaty:

Dear Fintan O’Toole,

Hope you are well. We are preparing an analysis of media coverage of the Lisbon treaty and are writing to you as part of that exercise to invite your response to the points raised below.

With regard to the predominantly hostile mainstream media reaction to the Lisbon treaty referendum result, is it the case that the media are less concerned with the public’s perceived lack of trust in the political establishment and more concerned with its lack of trust in the unelected business establishment – the mainstream media itself of course being central to that establishment?

The notion that our ‘leaders’ are to be trusted largely unquestioningly on matters of constitutional reform seems to underlie if not dominate the vast majority of coverage of this issue (very little of which could honestly be said to constitute true discussion) – despite the fact the Taoiseach, to give just one example, admitted his own ignorance of the treaty but nevertheless demanded absolute trust from the electorate about its significance and meaning. Meanwhile his predecessor continues to openly mock government institutions.

The hypocrisy of this situation has been evident in UK coverage of our referendum but it is seldom reflected in reporting here. However, where it has been commented on – by yourself for instance – the comments reveal the true nature of what the establishment is trying to persuade us is a ‘crisis’.

Essentially, it seems that that the publics ‘compromise of trust’ has not only been with the political establishment, as in the elected government, but with the unelected establishment, and with it, the mainstream media – who in spite of it’s susceptibility to the PR tactics and finances of the anti-treaty organisation Libertas, managed collectively to promote a resoundingly one sided debate in favour of a ‘Yes’ vote. Is it possible that the public’s response to the establishments conformity on the issue, which might be described as a singular failure to ‘lead and shape public opinion’, is partly a result of a loss of trust in the media itself?

The aggressive media reaction sharply contrasts with the discussion of last year’s Venezuelan vote on constitutional amendments. The media was in jubilant mood when Venezuelans voted, by a small margin, against proposed constitutional changes. In that instance, moreover, journalists, editorials and columnists alike were positively celebrating the fact that Venezuelans were alleged to have voted against their leader and not necessarily against the proposed amendments themselves (though there too, as in our own recent referendum, was distortion of the implications of some of those changes, and significant abstention due to the equally complex and large number of proposed amendments). The Irish media was positively fervent in their respect for what was described at the time as the Venezuelans’ democratic right, to say ‘No’ – whether it was in their interests or not. The Venezuelan result was hailed as a success despite the fact the proposed changes were specifically designed to advance the interests of ordinary people and the Bolivarian revolution which has proved hugely beneficial for them – and, as with Irish views towards Europe, remains popular. Nevertheless, the Irish media congratulated Venezuelans on the very inclination they are now admonishing Irish voters for.

The one point of convergence in coverage which explains the apparent contradiction in reactions is of course an issue that goes to the heart of what drives and motivates the media: ‘what is good for business is good for us and the elite groups we speak for’.

Would you agree that there is something inherently anti-democratic about the entire political establishment (more or less) and the entire ‘free’ press being at odds with the views respectively of a) its electorate and b) as an essentially commercial product, its consumers? Isn’t this so-called political crisis in reality more of an ego crisis for an establishment caught unprepared for a demonstration of democracy which has exposed their patrician attitude to the electorate for what it really is?

Best wishes,

David Manning & Miriam Cotton
Email to the Irish Times’ Daniel McLaughlin Re: US ‘defence shield’

Dear Daniel McLaughlin,

You write in Wednesday’s Irish Times: “critics say would counter a non-existent danger – that of long-range missile attack by Iran” in discussion of US proposals to build part of a £2.2 billion missile ‘defence shield’ near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Which appears to suggest that critics of the US missile system are opposed on the grounds that the system is essentially a waste of money – that it is unnecessary. However, this implies that critics accept, as you appear to, the stated purpose of the scheme as one ‘defense’. On the contrary, critics are opposed on the grounds that the system is first and foremost a first strike capability. The fact it “counters a non-existent threat” is entirely beside the point.

It is incomprehensible that the Irish Times would take the same uncritical stance in the face of Iranian plans for a missile ‘defense’ system in Cuba, despite the fact it could very reasonably be considered a response to the very real and immediate threat of US aggression.

This context of Iranian duplicity and US benevolence runs seamlessly through the pages of Wednesday’s Irish Times (though today is no exception), a similar report on Iran states: “Iran has test fired nine long- and medium-range missiles, including one which it has previously said could reach Israel and US bases in the region…The tests occurred at a time of increased tension between Iran and Israel over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program, which the West fears is aimed at making bombs. Iran says its nuclear program is only for power generation.”

Here to, the fact that Iran is the subject of aggression and thus simply responding in kind is completely obscured. How is it that the Irish Times is willing to yet again allow Washington to set the context for escalations towards another war in the Middle East?

Yours sincerely,

David Manning

1. Czechs agree to host part of US missile defence shield

2. Iran test fires long range missiles

3. National missile defense

4. The installation of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe is, virtually, a declaration of war.

5. Options on the table

Email to the Irish Independent’s Gerard Baker Re: Missile photo fake is latest shot in phoney war on Iran

Dear Gerard Baker,

With regard to your article in the Times, and reproduced in the Irish Independent, could you explain what you mean by ‘nuclear threat’ when you write: “Israel is sufficiently agitated now by the Iranian nuclear threat that it is planning a military strike”?

As far as I am aware (and according to the IAEA and NIE) Iran has no nuclear weapons and indeed, no nuclear weapons program, therefore it seems to me at any rate that they would have severe difficulty in posing a ‘nuclear threat’.

You also write: “Israel cannot carry out an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own. An Israeli strike would require the active co-operation of the US. Israeli F15 and F16 warplanes would not only have to fly and be refuelled in Iraqi airspace — controlled by the Americans — but the whole operation would require logistical support from US bases on the ground in Iraq.”

According to Pakistan Daily, “The US has allowed Israeli jets to use US airbases and fly over Iraqi air space for a likely attack against Iran, Iraqi media say.”

Yours sincerely,

David Manning

1. Missile photo fake is latest shot in phoney war on Iran


2. Israeli jets using Iraq’s airspace


Israel’s Death Wish

By Joe MacAnthony

As described in our interview with Joe MacAnthony, the following article did not appear in the Sunday Independent in 2001.

Joe MacAnthony on the increasing possibility of a region wide war in the Middle East

As funerals ended at the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem for victims of the latest suicide bombing carried out by the extremist Islamic group Hamas, another cemetery on the Jewish state’s border with Lebanon was taking in 300 bodies as part of a ghoulish operation that hints at the expectation of more casualties in Israel’s ongoing conflict with the Palestinians and its other neighbours.

The bodies, neatly named and labelled by district are being re-interred near the village of Amiad after being dug up from two graveyards close to the more frequently shelled settlement of Kiryat Shemona. The cache of bodies consists of Palestinians and Lebanese guerrilla fighters who were killed in bloody border battles and in fights within Israel itself over the past few years.
The army spirited away this impressive array of corpses for use as buried hostages in the bargaining for the bodies of Israelis who have themselves been killed in combat. While the Israelis are currently trying to get back three captured soldiers whom they now believe are dead, the present large-scale move suggests they are preparing for more casualties in the months ahead.

This coffined transfer is only one more indication of just how dark the mood is in present day Israel. The country is now in what an Arab commentator calls ‘the worst pickle of its existence.’ The use of masked policemen yesterday to close down Orient House, the Palestinians only peace driven institution in Jerusalem, shows just how disoriented the Israeli government has become. The Middle Eastern cultural ritual of blow for blow continues to dominate policy even as it threatens to bring the house down in the process.

For the first time in present memory, the Israeli’s famed intelligence community is predicting a region wide war in 2002. Already, the Sharon Government has clashed with Syria, brushed off Egypian mediation and continued interference in Jordan. Now it has warned Lebanon that any further trouble along the border will lead to attacks on Beirut itself. The self defeating consequence of this approach – it usually involves wrecking the power grid, knocking out the water supply and thrashing an already frail road network – can already be seen in the reaction evoked when such attacks occur on the West Bank. It will fuel the Hamas intransigance, further weaken the moral underpinning on which the Israeli state depends and ultimately impel the reluctant Arab leaders of the surrounding states into a common resistance. Thus, we are pushed into self-fulfilment of that prophecy put forward by Israel’s own intelligence service.

There are many reasons why Israel has gotten itself into its present pickle. The primary and fatal mistake has been to mix a specious morality with reason. You cannot sustain a policy that justifies killing children on the West Bank on the one hand while condemning it when the murders occur in Jerusalem. Nor can you support Jewish settlers who seize Arab land on the West Bank while arresting Arabs who appeal peaceably for the return of their land on the other side of the line in Jerusalem.

And nowhere, under no law or circumstance, can you justify officially sponsored assassination. Its effect, given time, will come to haunt every member of the government that stood with it. Already it has blackened the good name of that honourable man, Shimon Peres, and turned him into the Albert Speer of the Sharon government.

Having said that, it remains necessary to offer a qualification. Inside Israel, I have seen and even today marvel at the remorseless and undeterred heroes who want the best not only for their own families but for their neighbours, the Palestinians. There are none braver than the Israeli lawyers, social workers, politicians, – men and women – who continue to work on in the face of terrible hostility to defend the Palestinian community against the continuous inroads on their rights and way of life. But talking softly and reasonably cannot be heard above a clamour like today’s. It takes a long time and periods of silence for the truth to sift through.

Today, every time Sharon sends out the assassination squads or orders the tanks to hurl their shells into Palestinian housing complexes, he has to know that this ritualistic practice of human sacrifice will not only bring death to those he regards as the enemy but also to those he loves. For when he condemns the Hamas extremists to death, he cannot ignore the fact that he is handing over his own Israelis, often women and children, to the same agonising deaths. It makes no sense, this ritual of an eye for an eye, when those who die have no say in the matter, when entire families are wiped out. But now it has a momentum of its own.

It’s enough to make one wish for a Second Coming. Or on a lesser scale, for that mythological figure in Jewish lore – the Just Man – to appear, preferably inside the present government.

Either way, you get the feeling that the tide is running the wrong way. And that sooner rather than later, something terrible is going to give.

The Facilitators

By Joe MacAnthony

As described in our interview with Joe MacAnthony, the following article did not appear in the Sunday Independent in 2001.

Joe Mac Anthony writes of The Facilitators who have the means but not the will to slow and even halt the flow of scandal in this country.

All wrongdoing depends on collusion for the damage it inflicts. The individual can do harm, of course, but it is within a limited compass. An organised group like the unspeakable Gilligan gang can do a lot worse, but even then it remains largely within the borders of the local community. In the end, it is those people whose professional qualifications carry them into every important area of national life and who control the machinery on which white collar crime depends, that carry the greatest menace. If they have a mind to, they can corrupt an entire society.

Having worked for a long time in investigative journalism, much of it abroad and on stories of corruption, I came to see how other countries dealt with the problem. As a general rule, it was easy to discover how serious it was from common talk. People everywhere show little reluctance in identifying those who prostitute themselves or in discussing how much they charge for their services. In poor countries, you even find sympathy and a justification advanced for what happens there. For those at the lower end, it is often seen as the only course to save their families from the possibility of starvation.

No such excuse can be advanced in Ireland. Indeed, what is happening here is unique to my experience. Nowhere else are you likely to come across the same type of endemic corruption and the apparent unwillingness to stop it, as appears to be the position up to now.

The Irish form is, like everywhere else, greed driven. What surprises is the cowardice in the ostensibly respectable middle class community who know very well what has been going on but prefer to keep their mouths shut. It is this blemished stance, which ensures that the pattern of wrongdoing will continue and that the perpetrators are most likely to confound their critics and possibly escape punishment. While it is hard to say which of the greedy or mute factions involved is the worst, the fall out from both provides an undeniably depressing scenario. What we are seeing is a corrosion of ethical standards and a hardening of hearts that were the saving grace of this country in poorer times.

I still retain images from the past of men with little formal education but of sterling character who showed no hesitation in speaking their minds or to whom they said it. And of old people who would step fearlessly into the fray whenever they saw someone abused or endangered.

Michael mac Liammoir, in ‘Enter a Goldfish’ provided an unforgettable example from his childhood in the response of an elderly woman who approached a caged lorry in which Black and Tans had tied a hostage to protect them against attack.

“Well there you’s go, back luck to you’s! It took the Boers to put you’s in khaki and the Germans to put you’s into tanks. But, be Jasus, it took the Irish to put you’s into hen runs!”

One of the Tans fired at her but missed, and she danced triumphantly homewards, singing rebel songs out of tune.

Anybody from earlier days would recognise that heroic figure because examples were legion even up to the sixties. I am not speaking from romantic vision. As a child attending Synge Street, I heard a Brother describe how he saw an older woman throw herself at a fleeing handbag thief and try to rugby tackle him. I leaped up, hand waving, spluttering with excitement. “Please, Brother, that was my mammy!”

When Scarface, the detective, arrested us for playing football on Martin Street, Mrs. Duffy from up the street thrashed the police in court for harassing children. And when the judge tried to quiet her, she turn on him with such ferocity that he shouted above the tirade. “Case dismissed! Case dismissed! Get those people out of here!”

Later, as a skinny twenty years old during an ill-starred career as a tram conductor, an elderly woman got between me and two nasty drunks who were intending to beat me up for missing their stop. She blistered them off the platform. Then went beyond her stop to see that I was left safe and sound.

Whether the incentive was religious, came from a sense of parental dominance, or a spirit of communal responsibility, people clung to the right course, even in days when there was little else to go with it. Today, those same elderly people are subjected to physical attack on the streets or left to die on trolleys because men in three piece suits prefer to flee the country rather than contribute one penny more than they can possibly avoid to the deprived people in the country that provided their treasure.

Those qualities personified in those brave and outspoken people is scarce material today. There is little of it remaining in our politicians and virtually none in what is called our professional classes.

In the 30,000 to 40,000 accountants and solicitors who practice through what can be called the scandalous years, there is not one individual I know of who stepped forward and risked all in offering chapter and verse on bogus accounts, unaudited returns, missing minutes, illegal loans, and doctored bookkeeping.

Those kinds of activities have always been open secrets and readily available to anyone practising accountancy who had a modicum of courage and enough knowledge to ask the right questions. Bogus offshore accounts is a particularly outrageous example of what is known, a fraudulent service actually offered by banks. Over a decade of it happening at least £750,000 was raked off. And not a single man or woman of conscience to come onto the podium to, “I have to speak out. This is what I saw and this is how it was done. ”

The men in the suits would, of course, race forward to explain how nobody was really doing wrong, that procedures were only a little askew. As for outside accountability, that was out of the question. Or as a President of the Leinster Society of Chartered Accountants put it at the height of the uproar in June 1998: “The ICAI should not allow itself to be held up to ransom by anyone due to any of its members that are in breach of ethical or professional conduct.” He believed the profession should deal with its weaknesses without political interference and claimed, ”the profession was completely supportive of openness, transparency and accountability.”

I doubt if those from the old days would have swallowed that. Why? Look at the record. Not just of the accountants but of those other facilitators who practice law. And all from a recent set of Flood tribunal transcripts.

Solicitor Michael O’Hanrahan, of a law firm called Fitzpatrick’s back in 1974 and now called Binchys, who saw a document of a client company displayed in a newspaper which said that politician Councillor Rafael Burke received £15,000 for his planning expertise in relation to rezoning land. Embarrassing stuff. He hotfooted down to the Company’s Office, took possession of the document, hurried back to his office where he destroyed it, though somehow retaining a copy for himself.

When a Garda investigator comes calling, as was bound to happen given the nature of the disclosure, Mr. O’Hanrahan made a statement saying he tore up the document. He failed to mention the retained copy, a vital piece of evidence in any investigation. From that point, Mr. O’Hanrahan’s memory failed him and he cannot now explain why he did what he did. The obvious explanation that it would allow the solicitor to preserve the document while leading the Garda to believe it was destroyed cannot be confirmed because of that memory lapse. But at the very least, Mr. O’Hanrahan’s actions would merit an inquiry.

The destruction of potential evidence is one of many questionable activities the Tribunal has examined in recent days. A trawl through the transcripts dealing with just a handful of companies in the eighties shows, among other things, correspondence being scripted for both sides by the same individual in property deals; a solicitor acknowledging receipt of £1.5 million in a land sale where the money never changed hands: a professional auctioneer providing services to a client in buying land he himself owned. And most bizarre of all, we have another legal professional making a sworn statement expressing ignorance of who ran a company purchasing a £1 million property when the fellow making the statement was, in fact, a principal of that company.

It is easy to travel on from there. The sad thing is that there is hardly point to it, for everything gets worse. A sad trail of accountancy without responsibility, of members of the legal procession who forget they are officers of the Court, and finally, of timid politicians or worse who preside over the wreckage.

With new disclosures about Michael Lowry and Telenor, there is no possibility of closure in the foreseeable future since every hearing to date has only served to seed new investigations. And there is every indication that will happen in this case.

So far, after nearly ten years of disclosures, tens of millions spent and more than nineteen investigations, one man, a retired local government official, is expected to go through a trial. The accountants body, for their part, have produced 2 prima-facie cases for investigation and then parked themselves until the end of the tribunals.
Their serious intent to deal with the disturbing issues brought to the surface in successive tribunals may be judged from the fact that they have not been attending the tribunals or even buying their transcripts. Despite talk of a new approach and of co-operating in introducing a new era in accountability, they don’t seem interested in listening or reading in any detail about what is really going on in these tribunals.

Perhaps they know too well that there is nothing like indifference for defeating change.

Where the Sweeps Millions Go

The disturbing secrets of the world’s most extraordinary lottery

By Joe MacAnthony

First published in 1973, Joe MacAnthony provides the original article that broke the story of the Irish Sweepstakes. Although over 7,000 words the story was ran in it’s entirety due to fears that the close relationship between the Irish Independent’s owners and the organisers of the Sweepstakes would mean a second part would never make it to publication.

Following months of investigation into the Irish Sweepstakes, it can now be established that Irish hospitals are receiving less than 10% of the value of tickets marketed in their name throughout the world by Hospitals Trust (1940) Ltd.

From interviews with the U.S. Postal Department and with police across Canada – where most of the tickets are sold – it seems clear that more than 90% of the value of tickets entered in each draw is being written off, mainly to expenses, at a rate of more than 150,000 pounds a week.

Our investigations show also that the persons legally responsible for managing and controlling the Sweepstakes – The Associated Hospitals Committee – are not fully aware of the true figures involved in the operation of the Sweep.

Nor are Dail deputies – even though it is Dail Eireann which provides the authority by which the Sweepstakes are run.

These disclosures are only part of what must be one of the most extraordinary, yet least publicised, stories in modern Irish history.

For the facts show:

– that the Act which licences the Sweep was so framed as to prevent the Irish public knowing the real amount of money spent in running the scheme.

– that the figures published by Hospitals Trust (1940) Ltd after each sweepstake are considerably less than the true amount involved.

– that the hospitals receive only 75% of the sum described as the Hospital Fund – because the only tax on the Sweep is taken from the hospitals not the organisers.

– that agents of Hospitals Trust Ltd. are engaged in selling tickets abroad at prices far above those sanctioned by the Minister for Justice.

– that leading shareholders in Hospitals Trust Ltd. have also been involved with a bookmaking group in buying up ticket shares which allows them to win their own prizes.

It is also true that while the leading family involved in the Sweep, the McGraths, are increasing their wealth at a rate of 8000 pounds per day, most of those who have retired after giving 25 years service to Hospitals Trust Ltd. are receiving a pension of less than 4 pounds a week.

It was facts like these which led the Readers Digest to describe the Sweep – in the U.S. edition which never circulated in Ireland – as “The Greatest Bleeding Heart Racket in the World.”

Whether it could be so described, or as an act of enlightened philanthropy, there is no doubt that the Sweep has given its promoters enormous wealth and influence in Ireland.

The families of the three men of modest means who promoted the first Sweep in 1930 now could adversely affect the entire Irish economy if they chose to use their personal fortunes built up from profits on successive Sweeps in order to do so.

The owners of the Hospital Trust (1940) have amassed wealth close to 100 million pounds which makes them not only the richest people in Ireland by far but also places them in a bracket with the wealthiest in Europe.

The leading shareholders in the group – The McGraths – have seen assets and earning increase at a rate of more than 3 million pounds per year, which is the same as what the Irish hospitals received from the Sweeps in 1971.

Similarly, the next biggest shareholders – the Duggans and the Freemans – have increased their combined wealth by almost the same amount. Even the smallest group – Mrs. Miriam Rees and Mrs. Yvonne Fogarty are the daughters of a former shareholder – hold assets worth over 2 million pounds while Mrs. Mary McAvin with only 300 shares is also a wealthy woman.

These fortunes were built on an agreement signed by Hospitals Trust Ltd. in 1930 with a group of six Dublin hospitals which allowed the company to promote sweepstakes on the hospitals behalf.

As a result of that agreement, Hospitals Trust Ltd. is now being paid over 300,000 pounds per year as a management fee for promoting the Sweep. Over the last ten years, they have received fees of 3,115,178 pounds.

The promoters also receive a salary in addition to the fee. According to the Readers Digest report, the late Joe McGrath’s salary was 100,000 pounds per year plus generous expenses.

No tax is deducted from the promoters’ revenue in the published accounts of the Sweep. The hospitals – on whose behalf the Sweeps are run – are not so fortunate. Their allocation after each draw is taxed at 25% (in the form of Stamp Duty.)

In the Cambridgeshire draw run last September, for instance, the hospitals share of the proceeds was assessed at 979,084 pounds. The Sweep promoters describe this sum as 25% going to the hospital Fund. In actual fact, the hospitals receive nowhere near this figure. After tax is deducted, the hospitals revenue dropped by 244,777 pound to [183,582] 2/3% of the proceeds.

Even this figure might be regarded as reasonable if it were a true proportion of the actual money spent on Sweep tickets. Again this is not so because the published proceeds do not reflect the real figure involved.

Part of the reason for this lies in the Public Hospitals Act 1933 which governs the running of the Sweeps. Section 2 provides as follows: “When calculating for the purposes of this Act the amount of the money received from the sales of tickets in a sweepstakes, the value of the tickets issued free of charge by way of a reward to a seller of tickets shall be excluded from the calculation and there shall be deducted from the nominal selling price of all other tickets all commissions, prizes and other remuneration given in relation to the selling of such tickets.”

Thus, the number of tickets given by way of reward can be deducted before making up the proceeds which are published by Hospitals Trust Ltd. The Section also excludes from the tally ‘commissions, prizes or other remuneration given in relation to the sale of tickets.” It is described as a limitation on the organisers but it is in fact an open invitation to maintain an expense account which need never be shown to the public.

Because of this, the Sweep promoters operation two sets of expenses, only one of which ever appears in the published balance sheets. And even the published accounts are restricted to Dail deputies and those directly connected with the Sweep.

There are strong indications that the hidden expenses take a hefty slice of the Sweeps revenue. Police officers in Canada, for instance, who have built up an intimate knowledge of the workings of the Sweep through successive raids on its agents, believe that more than a third of the money raised in Montreal, Toronto and other cities there never finds its way back to Ireland.

There are good reasons for believing this is so. For one, the Sweep gives 23% of all tickets as commission in the form of free tickets. Most of these tickets are sold in Canada but the money never returns to the Sweep.

In addition, there are main distributors and sub-distributors who receive payments which the police believe is at least $3 per book of twelve. The Sweep in ticket distribution also operates the largest smuggling ring outside of the Mafia which involves payments to seamen, longshoremen, railway, postal officials and sometimes customs officers, according to a French Canadian police officer in Montreal in a published newspaper report.

Certainly, many people in Canada have done very well out of the Sweep. A police officer told me of a raid he made on the expensive home of a distributor in Quebec. During the raid, he noticed that the house dog had soiled one of the expensive Oriental rugs on the floor. When he mentioned it, the distributor laughed and said: “When he does that, I just roll up the carpet and throw it out. Then I buy another one.”

Another distributor, who was not a main agent, worked as a floor sweeper in Sarnia, Ontario before he died. During his time with the sweep, he made enough to take back more than $10,000 a year to Ireland to deposit in a bank there. The police knew he also used a safety deposit box in a bank across the border in Michigan but they were unable to find out how much was in it.

Another agent in Toronto, who had hundreds of sellers working under him, was making more than $20,000 a year from his activities. Police had found so many examples of this type of prosperity around the country that they could only conclude that a large amount of the money spent in Canada and the U.S. on tickets remained in the hands of the people who sold them and was not going back to Ireland.

At the very least, the commissions to sellers and distributors would represent 25% of money spent on Sweep tickets in Canada or $9 out of a $36 book. But the police also say that there are high smuggling and bribery costs plus tickets sold but not returned to Ireland which send expenses even higher.

As an example, a former head of Montreal’s Morality Squad said the seizures he initiated uncovered more tickets in Canada alone for one Sweep in 1966 than made up the entire proceeds listed for that draw.

In another raid, he found receipts supposedly from Dublin for tickets which had been sold only four days previously and couldn’t have made the round trip in that time. He felt people had a right to receipts from the organization in Dublin and said it was not controllable if sellers and distributors were allowed to write official receipts in its place.

This officer also recalled seizing over 3000 stubs – worth over $10,000- after a tip-off which he believed had come from the agent himself because the man involved did not want to send the money back to Dublin. In another case in London, an aspiring distributor simply posted books of tickets to everyone whose name appeared in the phone book, thus flooding the city with tickets over which nobody had control. The police, after countless phone calls from those who received tickets, finally advised that they be burned as the best way out of the problem. No one could even guess at the amount of money raised on tickets like these which never went back to Dublin.

The looseness, which seems to characterize the operations of the Sweep promoters in Canada, has allowed occasional criminals to creep into the network. The police in Toronto confirm this although they say that most of the organisers have no criminal records and are descended from the original Irish ring of former I.R.A. men who distributed the tickets back in the 1930’s.

The illegality surround the sales of tickets in Canada and some of the dubious operations linked with that sale make Canadian policemen critical of the Irish Commissioner of Police for allowing his name to be associated with the scheme, since each ticket for the draw states it is held under his supervision.

“After all, we know here that the bulk of the money is not going where it should be going.” The head of the Morality Squad in Toronto said. Police in London, Ontario and in the nearby town of Sarnia, expressed the same opinion.

“I was really surprised to see the small amounts going to the hospitals and to the prize fund when I read one of the reports a while back.” A police sergeant who made a large haul in Sarnia on one occasion told me. The man he charged – he was fined $1000 – produced a large wad to pay his fine and invited all the policemen out to lunch afterwards.

A Montreal lieutenant was even more emphatic. “You can’t control an operation like what the Irish Sweep are doing here without a lot of money sticking to people’s fingers. It’s a lot of tripe to say it’s on the up and up. From what I’ve seen, I’d put the money going back to Ireland at around 90 cents out of every three dollars spent on tickets”

Because of the high expense involved in the Canadian operation, counterfoils which come from there are referred to as cut price tickets in the Sweep itself. Even so, the loss in revenue on such tickets does not end there. Further deductions are made in Ireland before all returns from North America reach the Sweep itself.

Although not generally known outside the Hospitals Trust organization, the promoters also maintain what are called transit agents who receive 15 pence per book on tickets arriving at their accommodation addresses in Ireland from outside the country.

It is difficult to understand why the Sweep should pay out commissions to such people when they maintain their own staff to do such work. The money taken from Sweep funds in this way runs into tens of thousands of pounds a year although the public never hears of it.

It is true that some agents like Mitre Sports Goods of Capel Street and Mr. J. Egan of Blackrock do a great deal of work for the more than 15,000 pounds ($45,000) per year they receive.

But it would be worth hearing justification from the promoters for agents in Ireland who get fresh overriding commission on foreign tickets without doing anything beyond providing a convenience address. It would be especially worth hearing about the subject from the mythical Mr. Moran, of Merrion Road (actually Patrick McGrath, the chief executive of the Sweep who was receiving secret commissions.)

The heavy loss of revenue involved in such operations, together with foreign commissions – which, as explained, are not included in published figures for proceeds – eat heavily into the money supposed to go to the hospitals and prize funds. A conservative estimate would place them at around a third of all money spent on tickets abroad.

There is justification for adopting this figure. On the one occasion (in the Stanhope case in the Irish High Court in 1936) when the Sweep were forced to reveal the value of tickets going into the drum for the Grand National Draw in 1932, the value of tickets was 911,853 pounds more than the publish proceeds. These sent expenses up from the publish figure of 8.22 per cent to an actual figure of around 40%. When this figure is added to the second bite at the cherry which the Sweep promoters are allowed of official expenses – over 1 million pounds on the Cambridgeshire alone – then the overall allowance is much higher than that allowed to ordinary lotteries in Ireland.

Under the provisions of the Gaming and Lotteries act 1956, not more than 40% of the total proceeds, including free tickets, are allowed on any lottery. When the Sweep’s published and hidden expenses are added to the prize fund and taxes, there seems no doubt that less than 10% is left over for the hospitals in whose name the scheme is being run.

The Sweep promoters have found ways to maintain such heavy expenses, which have doubled in the past ten years. To do so, however, they appear to be going outside the law which is supposed to control their activities.

Under Section 65 (p.e.) of Public Hospitals Act, 1933, the Sweep is obliged to inform the Minister for Justice of the price being charged to the public for tickets.

Since the price marked on the tickets sanctioned by the Minister is 1 pound, one can assume that this is the figure he allows the tickets to the sold at.

In fact, this is not the price which the Hospitals Trust are charging in North America. According to a document in our possession, they charge $2.75 or 15% more than the legal price which should be $2.40.

In addition, agents in North American add a further 25 cents to make a round figure per ticket of $3 which is far above the prevailing rate for 1 pound sterling.

An example of the Sweeps attitude on this issue is that tickets arriving in their Dublin officer from America are accepted at a legal price of $24.50 per book of 12.

If, however, an innocent subscriber sends in $27.50 for a book, the promoters will not return the extra money but will transfer it to their credit department. It is not known where the money goes from there.

Indeed, it would be extremely difficult for the outsider to find out, for the Sweep does not lodge all its money to the same account. To go further, the promoters do not lodge all the money in the same financial house. As a matter of fact, the companies which receive Sweep lodgements are not even of the same nationality.

The complicated procedure is as follows. On one day, the cash received from abroad goes to the Bank of Ireland. On the following day, the cash received is lodged with an American company. The day after that, the money goes to a British company. This system of alternating lodgements with companies of different nationalities is followed all year round. Thus, any American, British or Irish investigator would have difficulty in assessing the full sums lodged to Sweep accounts.

The amount involved in these lodgements is substantial for the Sweep receives an enormous flow of mail from foreign subscribers. In dealing with it, they are covertly assisted by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs who break international postal law in doing so.

Many of the letters arriving in Ireland for the Sweep are sent to accommodation addresses. Most of these letters are easily distinguishable by the simplicity of their addresses. Some of the addresses do not even exist.

A few years ago, there was considerable panic when a bundle of letters addressed to one of these mythical houses arrived at the Irish Press by mistake. Under postal regulations, agreed by international convention, letters sent to non existent addresses must be returned to the sender. Instead, a postal official was dispatched to pick them up for delivery to the Sweep.

Officials in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs routinely pass many such letters to their real consignee, the Sweep. In some cases, letters are sent to real addresses – a Sweep car collects such letters at certain Dublin hotels every day – where they are passed straight to the Sweep by arrangement.

The flow of illegal mail from North America has received only cursory attention from the postal authorities on the other side of the Atlantic. The last serious crackdown was made by Robert Kennedy as Attorney General in 1962 when he charged that lotteries like the Sweep were an encouragement to organised crime.

Today, the post offices of Canada and the U.S. are more interested from a technical point of view in how the Sweep letters get into North American than in how they get out.

Most of their discoveries have been accidental as when customs officers in San Francisco Airport seized 200 letters from Hamburg suspected of containing pornographic material.

The opened letters were found to contain 50,000 receipts for sweep tickets, all addressed to Californian residents.

Such hauls are exceptional because the Sweep mailing system is highly organised. For instance, in the United States, they class seven states including Arkansas, Michigan, New Mexico and Wyoming as non hostile and post letters to them from Europe, including Ireland.

Continental, British and Irish airmail letters are used in such cases, although the majority are sent in plain envelopes. All letters to Hawaii, for example, go in plain envelopes.

For the 10 states which are hostile, including New York, California and Texas, the letters are actually smuggled into the United States before being posted from cities like New York.

How the Sweep smuggle letters into North America remains of a mystery, although Hospitals Trust Ltd have considerable expertise in the legal movement of cargo at their disposal. At least two of their executives are ex-seaman. Another, Con O’Farrell, is the largest single shareholder in Aer Turas, an air transport company which works out of Dublin Airport. Interestingly, the last extraordinary general meeting of this company was held in the Hospitals Trust Building at Merrion Road.

If there is difficulty in discovering how letters with receipts are smuggled into North America, there is less confusion about how the Sweep tickets themselves reach their destination. Stocks of tickets are moved by sea to Canada and usually off-loaded at a small port on the St. Lawrence Seaway for distribution in the U.S. as well as Canada. Formerly, the Sweep organisers relied heavily on Irish shipping personnel but this practice was stopped after the Irish Elm was seized by U.S. Customs in 1961 when four members of the crew were implicated in smuggling over 1.8 million pounds worth of tickets into Newport, Virginia. Now foreign freighters are used. The last ship accused of carrying Sweep tickets was Icelandic.

Once the cargo reaches port, the tickets are then dispatched by rail to all the main centres of population. Distributors then break them down into smaller lots which go to sub-distributors who pass them on in 20 to 30 books at a time to direct sellers. The tickets are always disguised as other cargo. In the last big seizure in Montreal, they were labelled as table jellies and as product of the United Kingdom.

All these activities of the Sweep – paying heavily for ticket smuggling, charging high prices for tickets, giving non-working commissions to those closely connected with the organization – might be expected to cause some concern to those who are legally responsible for the Sweepstakes.

In fact this is not so. For there is evidence to suggest that the people legally obliged to manage and control the Sweeps don’t even know what is going on, far less control it. Under the 1933 Act, the body which is supposed to control the Sweep is the Associated Hospitals Committee, a group of distinguished medical practitioners and laymen. As the law stands, they hold the real power to run the Sweeps.

Although they gave Hospitals Trust Ltd. permission to promote and organize the Sweep through an agreement signed on June 29, 1930, it remains difficult to understand how they could abrogate their responsibility in law for overseeing all the Sweeps finances.

Yet the Associated Hospitals Committee is little more than a rubber stamp in the running of the Sweep. An example of their role can be seen from the notice summoning them to their last meeting on December 19, 1972. Members of the executive committee were invited to hear a report on the proceeds of the Sweeps Hurdle and to approve the number of prizes.

They were also asked to approve that the horses to be drawn in the last Sweep were the 74 horses entered for that race.

But there was no question of their receiving a report on the millions which circulate between Ireland, Canada and the U.S. in the buying and selling of tickets. All they ever receive in regard to the Sweep’s spending is the same limited report on proceeds which go to all Dail deputies and which exclude, as explained, important commissions.

The Committee could demand details on such matters but they have never chosen to do so as far as can be ascertained. This is probably due to the tradition of not asking questions which developed around the Sweep when it first began back in 1930.

The men who began the Sweep, Joe McGrath and bookmaker Richard Duggan, with the help of Spencer Freeman as organiser were reticent about the manner in which they organised the lottery from the very beginning.

Duggan, who originally conceived the idea, did not even lend his name to the company which organised the first Sweep in November, 1930. Partly because two Sweeps which he organised in 1922 and 1923 – on which the promoters profits were never published – had aroused hostility in the Dail and his presence as an organiser could have raised criticism. Because the first Sweeps were such an enormous success and brought in a good deal of money for Irish hospitals, few people were prepared to question the working methods of the promoters, least of all the Hospitals Committee charged with running the Sweep.

As a result, the promoters received considerable freedom in disposing of the Sweeps revenue in selling tickets. Since they did not have to explain to the Hospitals Committee – their overlords – who was receiving commissions and since the law allowed them to keep such facts concealed from the public, they were only responsible to themselves and their auditors for whom they paid money to although they were required to supply the Minister of Justice with the actual figures involved.

The promoters were already receiving over 200,000 pounds per year for managing the Sweep. Their freedom with expenses allowed them to supplement the income of their families and friends.

Joe McGrath – who had a shrewd political brain – saw that the way to ensure the community did not turn against the Sweep was by bringing prominent people into something of a partnership with the enterprise. In the thirties, deputies like Dan Breen and Senator J.J. Parkinson received commissions as did a former Sinn Fein chief Father Michael O’Flanagan. An ex-chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, a Principal officer of the Department of Justice, a former private secretary to the Minister for Finance and other civil servants also profited from agencies. Even an I.R.A. chief was on the books.

There were others who were closer to the promoters. A relative by marriage of Patrick Duggan was listed as an agent. A Herr Muller of Liechtenstein had an agency worth 9000 pounds a year which was closely supervised by Mr. Spencer Freeman. The biggest agency by far was held by a man very closely tied to Joe McGrath himself. He was Joseph McGarrity, a prominent Irish American republican. Sums of over 250,000 pounds passed into his account between 1933 and 1938.

The huge bonanza which unsupervised commissions brought to those associated with promoting the Sweep was not the only method used to make money from the enterprise.

The bookmaker’s eye of Richard Duggan saw there was a potential goldmine also in buying up shares in tickets drawn on horses in the races used by the Sweeps.

The Sweep promoters had one advantage over other share buyers in this field. They knew the names of those who had drawn tickets before anyone else. A brother of Spencer Freeman – his name was Sidney Freeman – took to travelling to America before each draw took place. Once there, he would receive a coded message from Dublin giving him the names of people who had drawn horses. Freeman, using an attorney called Mahony of 40 Wall street, would offer a fixed sum for a half share in each of the potentially winning tickets.

The system of buying shares in Sweep tickets in this manner is unfailingly successful if correctly operated. The Sweep’s prize structure, broken into blocks of 120,000 pounds, facilitates the buyer. Simply put, if all the horses in a race stand to share prizes of 120,000 pounds, the way to make a profit would be to buy half shares in the most likely prizewinners for less than 60,000 pounds. Skilled bookmakers can and do reduce the numbers of likely winners, and thus reduce their outlay.

Sidney Freeman, like Richard Duggan, was nothing if not skilled. He became a well known figure in New York where he would set up an office in the Ritz Carlton Hotel. On one occasion, he brought the sum of 1 million dollars and eventually made 320 deals for about $700,000. The only horses he refused to touch were 1001 shots.

By 1938, Freeman had run into trouble with the British tax authorities for non-payments of taxes on his sweepstake winnings. Although Freeman was notoriously modest in describing his profits, it is believed he offered the British Revenue 250,000 pounds if they would waive all claims and it is understood that they accepted.

Immediately after Freeman was nailed, the Irish Revenue authorities got an order for the discovery of documents against Hospitals Trust Ltd. But apart from a published notice of this, the subject of their enquiry was never publicised. (As mentioned the ex-chairman of the Revenue Commissions was to receive commissions later.)

Sidney Freeman’s share buying was not his only activity in New York. Freeman also visited those who actually won prizes and told the winners that it would take several months before they would get paid from Dublin. Without giving any reason for the delay in prize distribution (or that his brother was in charge of it) he told winners that he had funds available immediately if they were prepared to pay him a commission of 5%.

Many accepted the offer and thus the plucking of the chickens went as close to the bone as humanly possible. Some must have wondered if there was much point in collecting their prize at all. One American, Charles Kranefuss, of Massachusetts, would have wished he hadn’t. Kranefuss sold a half share in a potentially winning ticket to an unidentified bookmaker for $10,000 in the mid thirties. When the horse won, he paid $75,000 or the half share of his winnings to the bookmaker who then disappeared.

Immediately afterwards, Kranefuss was slapped with a massive tax bill for the whole amount which he had to pay because he couldn’t find the bookie. He thus became penniless within a short time of winning what was then the largest sweepstake prize existing in the world.

If Kranefuss couldn’t hold onto his money, there were others in Ireland who could. With profits accumulating from all their activities, the promoters of the Sweep seeing war clouds on the horizon in 1939, were determined to make sure that nothing would interfere with their earnings.

They persuaded the Government to bring in an Act that would cover their costs if the Sweep ever lost money. In the euphoria which existed about the Sweep at the time, they had no difficulty in getting the law passed as Act No. 15 of 1939

The following year – in April 1940 – the Sweep suddenly lost 61,628 pounds. The Government was treated to the spectacle of the hospitals whom the promoters were supposed to help, suddenly being forced to compensate the promoters for their losses. While the Hospital Fund had to pay the 61,000 pounds, the Government’s response was immediate. Within a month they brought in an Act which repealed the 1939 legislation. In future, the promoters would have to pay their own losses. On the next Sweep in August, 1940, the bottom fell out of the market because of the war and takings fell from the millions of prewar days to less than 100,000 pounds. The promoters fees fell to a few thousand pounds, although commissions and share buying still continued.

Joe McGrath himself bought half shares in tickets from his office in Merrion Road while Spencer Freeman worked with Lord Beaverbrook in the British war effort. The other principal shareholders, the Duggans and Philip O’Reilly, solicitor, helped to keep the engine ticking over.

When the war ended, business picked up again as the North American market re-opened to the Sweep. In 1947, an incident occurred which showed how tough the boss of the Sweep – McGrath could really be. Regarded by those who met him as a bluff charming man, always ready to help a friend, his enemies had cause to rue his long memory. In many respects, he was an Irish Godfather.

Indeed, there is a story told of his meeting leaders of the Mafia in New York in the thirties when they were making efforts to muscle in on the Sweeps activities. McGrath, accompanied by tough ex-I.R.A. gunmen who were his comrades in the Irish War of Independence, was reputed to have made them a stern offer they couldn’t refuse. His connections with the Irish police of New York may also have helped. The mobsters took the hint and never went near the Sweep again. In 1947, McGrath had a different competitor in the shape of the Mexican authorities who announced they would start a sweepstake themselves in North America.

According to the New York Post, the Irish Sweep co-incidentally announced that they were giving up selling tickets in North America because of exchange difficulties.

The gullible Mexicans immediately approached the Sweep and asked would they help them organize their lottery. The Sweep authorities were diffident. They might just do it if the Mexicans solemnly swore not to interfere in their other markets around the world.

Finally, agreement was reached and six Sweep experts were dispatched to Mexico to work on the scheme. Things appeared to go well and the Mexicans were delighted. As the draw time approached, however, their delight turned to anguish and then outrage as the U.S. postal authorities showed an uncommon efficiency in seizing mail for the draw.

They finally exploded when they found that counterfoils and their money was somehow mistakenly being sent to Ireland instead of Mexico city. The draw turned into a shambles and put paid to their hopes of building up an international lottery. McGrath – when questioned by an American reporter on the transatlantic phone – simply shouted that the Mexicans got what they paid for and abruptly ended the conversation. Not only taken for a ride, the Mexicans seemed also to have paid the fare.

Apart from the Mexican incident, the post war years were halcyon days for the Sweep. There was brief embarrassment when, as a U.S. postal inspector recalled, they got a tip off about a conference being held in the Commodore Hotel in New York. When the postal officials investigated, they were told it was a Congress for the Advancement of Celtic Peoples. As they discovered, it was a secret conference to re-organize the Sweep network in the United states. The U.S. postal authorities took a liberal view of the Sweep’s activities. This stemmed from the decision of the Irish American Postmaster General of the thirties, Jim Farley, who announced he was prepared to view the matter of lotteries like the Sweep from a liberal viewpoint.

Farley, after his retirement, was an annual visitor to Dublin and was fond of calling on his old friends at the Sweep on such occasions. For what purpose was never disclosed.

The Farley policy was to cause red faces in the U.S. postal service when Ed Sullivan announced to millions on television that the best place to buy a Sweep ticket was from the clerk on the counter of the Central Post Office in New York.

Such incidents did not unduly disturb the Sweep’s promoters. At home, criticism of the type made at a Church of Ireland Synod in 1938 and by the chief medical officer of Co. Dublin at the same time that our hospitals were no better off than they were before the Sweep, were never again raised. Objections faded as the wealth and influence of Hospitals Trust grew.

The promoters were making enormous sums. Their published fees were climbing (2,752,105 pounds from 1952 to 1962) and they were making big profits from share buying as well (by 1956, their company was buying around 60% of all tickets sold in Ireland and England.) Commissions were also rising as sales rose steadily from 1.5 million to six million pounds through the sixties.

The only difficulty faced by the promoters concerned their own staff. A number of workers employed by the Hospitals Trust Ltd had joined the Workers Union and tried to negotiate on wages and conditions with their employers. Joseph McGrath, a veteran official of Ireland’s 1913 general strike, refused point blank to have his former boss’s union organise Sweep workers. A deputy raised the matter in parliament, pointing out that Hospitals Trust Ltd. by refusing the right of free association were breaking an international agreement to which the Irish Government was a party. The deputy said that Sweep promoters held their job at Government sufferance and that they should force Hospitals Trust Ltd. to comply with their wishes. Then, in 1950, McGrath completely outflanked trade union opposition by recognising a house association within the Sweep and could say that he was not embarrassing the Government in denying his workers the right of association.

The house union, which is not associated with any outside union, soon outnumbered Worker Union members in the Sweep. Part of the reason for this lay in the composition of the work force employed by Hospitals Trust Ltd. In the early years of the Sweep, McGrath had been employing relatives of influential people but there was criticism in parliament and when the permanent Act setting up the Sweep was being discussed and this policy was abandoned.

Instead, the promoters employed middleaged women, many of whom were widows, A remark of McGrath’s – when someone suggested he use machines to speed up processing tickets – that he would prefer to give work to people rather than machines was widely quoted as evidence of his humanity. There is no doubt that humaneness was part of McGrath’s character. But there was innate shrewdness in his actions as well. Strangely, his tactics reflected exactly the three predictions once made by a former Labour Party leader and strong opponent of the sweepstakes idea, Thomas Johnson.

Johnson, watching the ferment gathering over the idea of lotteries said: “The professional promoters are tumbling over themselves to get hold of a charity. They are like the professional beggar who gets hold of the most decrepit child for exciting the charity of the public” – The Sweep promoters were to use blind children before the world’s press to draw tickets from the drum in the first sweep in November 1930.

Johnson also predicted that the Sweep would become a powerful vested interest. As it turned out, the use of influential public figures and their relatives as commission agents did turn the Sweep into a powerful vested interest. Finally, Johnson said that once the sweepstakes created employment it would become virtually impossible to close them down and throw people out of work. This last argument became more powerful when the employees were middle aged women, particularly widows.

Hospitals Trust Ltd. employs around 1000 people on average, of whom less than 100 are men. Most of the women are getting on in years and a number of them could be described as passengers in the enterprise. The pay is higher than average, the women receiving between 18 and 23 pounds per week. The policy behind this system would seem to be a mixture of good public relations and humanitarianism. However, when the women finish working for the Sweep, the humanitarianism ends.

Lower ranking women employees are pensioned off at an average of 3.60 pounds a week. Even with a state pension it would be impossible for them to survive if they had families to support. The promoters took care to ensure that the same problem would not face their own families.

Richard and Patrick Duggan, the most anonymous if the second wealthiest of the promoters families – Patrick sits on the board of 20 companies, – inherited their fathers holdings in Hospitals Trust and both have taken care that death duties will be avoided in the event of their deaths. Their shares are now held mainly by the New Ardee Investment Trust.

In 1962, Joe McGrath began preparing for his own demise by shedding his holdings in favour of his children. A series of companies bearing the name of the McGrath family properties were set up in December of that year. Between them and the McGrath offspring – Patrick, Seumas, Joseph Junior and Mrs. Breide Kelly – the McGraths hold 52.75% of Hospital Trust Ltd. Spencer Freeman has begun the process of transferring his shares also by winding up Ardenode Enterprises and the Freeman Trust which held part of his wealth. His son, Dr. Brian Freeman, who is an executive director of the Sweep, is taking over the holdings which are 18.75% of Hospitals Trust.

The remaining shareholders in Hospital Trust Ltd., include the daughters of the late Philip O’Reilly, an original shareholder from whom they inherited their shares. The woman are Mrs. Miriam Rees of Blackrock and Mrs. Yvonne Fogarty of Dolce, who hold 9.75% shares between them.

The smallest shareholder is Mrs. Mary Macavin, who inherited her 300 shares from John Macavin who was an original shareholder.

The holdings in Hospitals Trust no longer represent the true wealth of what the promoters have built up over the years from the running of the Sweeps.

Their main holding company, owned by Hospitals Trust Ltd, is the Dodder investment Company, which among other assets, holds 25 million pounds worth of Waterford Glass shares. The promoters also have substantial holdings in property – the McGraths own the largest walled estate in Ireland – and in companies like the Irish Glass Bottle Co and the Newbridge Cutlery company which manufactures cutlery. Patrick McGrath is a director of 35 companies.

McGrath’s holdings have become so immense that he has hired a former assistant managing director of Jefferson Smurfit – a company one quarter the size of Waterford Glass – to act as his personal assistant. His salary is in excess of 7000 pounds per year.

The development of financial interests outside the Sweep is partially due to the difficulties arising for an illegal lottery in Northern America in the sixties.

When the decade dawned, the Sweep was enjoying the highest revenues in its history. Share buying was continuing as seen from the letter we reproduce (the telegram from Douglas Stuart was the first indication Mr. Fanning got that he had drawn a horse)

Nevertheless, many American states were discussing ways of starting their own lotteries. In 1964, New Hampshire started its own lottery and soon other states began making plans to follow. The sweep itself tentatively approached the Irish Government about starting its own national lottery after New York passed a bill to organize a similar enterprise in that state in 1967 and which they realised would hit their takings. Objections from pools promoters, but more likely a civil service document critical of the running of the Sweep which was circulated to all Government Ministers in 1966 was probably responsible for the Government turning down the request.

The Sweep revenue has fallen steadily but not heavily since then as more and more states started their own lotteries. The reason why the Sweep now concentrates so heavily on Canada is because the province of Ontario has not provided a more attractive prize than the Sweep’s Super Prize of 200,000 pounds and because sweepstake winnings in Canada are not subject to tax.

As far as hospitals are concerned, the Sweep revenue has decreased in importance over the years. According to the Government Information Bureau, out the hospitals 64 million pounds annual running costs, just over 1 million pounds comes from the Sweeps. A similar amount goes to capital costs.

A department of Health spokesman described the Sweep’s contribution to Hospitals costs today as “insignificant.”

Despite the decreasing value of the Sweep to the hospitals, the influence of the promoters in the community has increased as their wealth accumulated. Even today, at least one of their companies makes financial contributions to all three major political parties thus following the practice of the founder, Joe McGrath in the thirties.

McGrath who died in 1965, did not live to see his successors build up assets on a massive scale as they have done since that time. He would surely have approved.

For the Irish people as a whole, approval might not be so wholehearted once they have discovered what is being practised in the name of their social services around the world as well as at home.

They might, in fact, feel it was time for a change.

The opportunities are there to make moves in this direction for many countries in the world are now successfully running national lotteries which are bringing in useful finance without laying any international stigma on their nation’s name.

If Ireland were to do the same, the people working for Hospitals Trust Ltd could be absorbed in a service that could truly be described as being in the national interest.

Reporting War – Live Debate on War Journalism

View the debate here.

DIT, Aungier St., Dublin
April 9th, 6:15pm

Panel includes:
Pepe Escobar – Asia Times / Real News Network
Dahr Jamail – Independent Journalist
Patrick Smyth – Irish Times Foreign Editor
Joe Zefran – News Editor
Harry Browne – DIT lecturer
Ciaran O’Reilly – Anti-war Activist
Fergal Keane – RTE Journalist

Broadcast live on and

Hello and welcome to this discussion programme which is being hosted by the School of Media at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland. My name is Miriam Cotton and I’m one of the editors of the media monitoring website called MediaBite.

MediaBite is an Irish-based not-for-profit project which sets out to critique mainstream news coverage for what we perceive as a drift towards an increasingly pro-corporate agenda in Irish news reporting – a tendency which we believe often leaves the reading, listening or viewing public with a biased impression of events. We owe our inspiration in large part to the encouragement and support of David Edwards and David Cromwell – editors of the similar UK website Media Lens and who are the authors of the book ‘Guardians of Power’ – an acclaimed analysis of British news media.

In an analysis we published last autumn, we criticised RTE online news reporting for seeming to accept unquestioningly the claims of anonymous US military sources about events in Iraq and, when we challenged them about this, for claiming that the eyewitness accounts of Iraqi people were ‘unreliable’. Eyewitness accounts are ordinarily a valued source for any journalist. What is it, we asked, that has brought us to a situation where journalists can so clearly abandon the principles of balance and fairness which are supposed to apply to their work? Is it now a matter of orthodoxy that the US is an impartial party to what is happening in Iraq? And is that apparent orthodoxy now being applied to US allegations about Iran? It was suggested that we organise a debate to discuss these questions and so here we are.

In a speech he gave in 1998, five years before the invasion of Iraq, Dick Cheney, current Vice President of the United States and President of the US Senate said:

“Oil is unique in that it is so strategic in nature. We’re not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear here. Energy is truly fundamental to the world’s economy. The Gulf War was a reflection of that reality’.”

The US government has since publicly denied that the second invasion of Iraq 12 years after the first Gulf War had anything to do with oil or strategic advantage. And yet there is Mr Cheney on record claiming war in Iraq was about exactly those things.

Aside from some much-vilified columnists, internet bloggers and the alternative news media, we maintain that the majority of mainstream editorials, reports, front page headlines and broadcast news seldom reflects influencing factors and evidence like the statement quoted from Dick Cheney. Facts, figures, witnesses, official documents – any and all kinds of evidence was available to the media that cast serious doubt at least on the official rationale for war – long before the invasion of Iraq commenced – had the media chosen to acknowledge it. We also believe that the media routinely understates or ignores the true scale of public opposition to the war.

With all of the dead of the Iraq conflict –soldiers and civilians alike, the injured, maimed and 4 million displaced people of that country at the front of our minds, these points are the essence of the case we hope to discuss with journalists this evening. We’d like to express our thanks in advance to Harry Browne and the Dublin Institute of Technology, Joe Zefran and RTE – and to Geraldine Cahill and the Real News Network in New York – from where this programme is also being webcast. And special thanks also to our panellists for participating in the discussion – particularly to those who have travelled from other countries to be here.

I’m now handing over to Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times and Real News Network and who has very kindly come from Canada to facilitate the discussion.

On the Message Board

Under the headline ‘There are reasons to vote Obama — just not good ones’ Kevin Myers writes in the Irish Independent:

“Obama sought a programme to withdraw all US troops from Iraq by this March. In other words, no surge, no sweeping victories against al-Qa’ida in Anbar province, no Iraqi National Council of Reawakening; but instead, a timetable of capitulation, defeat and withdrawal, followed by regional catastrophe, starting some time around now.

So, as the US stares into the jaws of victory, he has promised instead to turn it into defeat, and to abandon the successful Iraqi policy of General Petraeus.” [27/02/08]

We wrote to question this assertion of ‘success’ in Iraq:

“While violence has recently begun to reduce, due in part to increased ethnic cleansing and internal and external displacement, it must be noted that this ‘success’ is still comparable to 2005 levels. The ‘success’ of this relative reduction can only be measured in terms of what it is hoped can be achieved, thereby differentiating what you or I might want from what the occupiers and instigators of the escalation in troop numbers want. Certainly the effect of the escalation points towards a successful division of Iraq along religious and ethnic lines, as opposed the establishment of a free and independent state.”

Mr. Myers responded:

Dear David Manning,

Thank you for your detailed letter,

The democratically government of Iraq does not agree with the points you make. Governments make policy, not opinion polls.

We all agree that the invasion was appallingly planned,and there are grounds for saying it was illegal, but that is now history. The US is by UN Resolution accepted as the lawful occupier of Iraq.

I look forward to the day when there are no more US troops in Iraq: but the man more likely to bring that about is John Mccain. It is not Barak Obama.

Again, thank you for your letter.


Kevin Myers

To which we replied:

“Fortunately the Iraqi government doesn’t have to agree with the information I’ve offered, it is verifiable fact whether they accept it or not. The policies you mention are not those of the Iraqi government, they are those of the occupying army – again as you say uninfluenced by Iraqi opinion, but in contradiction to it. My point was not necessarily that the occupiers should withdraw, though I do think this is the case, but that their continued presence prolongs the violence – a fact obscured by discourse routed in uncontextualised themes of “victories”, “surges” and “reawakenings”.

Further, if you accept that the US remains in Iraq under the conditions of international law it has a duty to fulfil all obligations under the charter. And of course the present UN mandate does not comment and has no bearing on prior judgements. Therefore if you accept it as legitimate, then the invasion and initial occupation must be judged by the same criteria – which poses serious questions for the interpretation of present circumstances, not just historical.”

In the March 3rd edition of the Irish Independent Mary Kenny writes under the headline ‘How boy soldier became a deft recruiting officer’ (referring to Prince Harry’s deployment in occupied Afghanistan) that the Afghan conflict was an act of ‘defence’. Ms. Kenny also criticises the short sightedness of peaceniks and hippies, who only ‘enhance the iron dominance of tyrants and oppressors’.

We wrote to question these claims:

“The act of aggression, the initial invasion, that spawned this conflict precluded any future claim to self defence. And this stark fact cannot be obscured by any amount of diversionary comparison with legitimate defence against Nazi aggression. It is this reality that exposes the sad truth behind Harry’s misplaced confidence in his and his army’s stern benevolence… “We Do Bad Things To Bad People.” He is one of those bad people.”

Ms. Kenny responded:

Well, different people will have different views on this.

I don’t include Afghanistan in the “Middle East”, by the way. It’s a complicated issue, but I do think that “defence” against Islamicist forces who HAVE attacked democratic western societies is indeed – defence. NATO clearly takes that view too in regard to the Afghan situation, where so many of the Islamicist training-camps are sited.

Elected politicians (in the NATO countries) have made this decision, not soldiers. In that sense, soldiers are always “pawns”: but they can be admired for doing their duty just the same.

And I certainly wish to be defended from suicide bombers, who have struck very close to my home.

Yours, Mary K

We responded the same day:

Dear Mary Kenny,

It’s a very strange concept of defence where, by the their own admission, the invasions actually increased the threat they were allegedly designed to defend against.

“A report by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre – which includes officials from MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the police – explicitly linked US-led involvement in Iraq with terrorist activity in the UK.” [The Guardian, July 19 2005]

“A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.” [New York Times, 24 September 2006]

“Dr Jonathan Eyal, the director of international security at the Royal United Services Institute, said that the al-Qaeda revival was down to the West’s inability to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and that wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made matters worse.” [The Telegraph, 25/02/2007]

It also seems unfair that you can on one hand take donnish umbrage with the inclusion of Afghanistan under the term Middle East and yet purposefully confuse Al Qaeda with the Afghan people. The Afghan people, and indeed the Afghan government, prior to and since the invasion have never attacked democratic western societies (I doubt you supported a British invasion of the Republic during the troubles) – the bombers were as you know predominantly of Saudi Arabian origin, yet we have witnessed no military aggression there.

I agree, soldiers are for the most part pawns, but it is those soldiers that refuse to do the unconscionable bidding of their corrupt leaders, knowing the likely punishment and ridicule, that deserve to be praised. Rather this than repeat the old lie…’Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori’.

Yours sincerely,

David Manning

On the Message Board

A recent Irish Times opinion article by Theodore Dalrymple, ‘Fanaticism has real consequences for relations with Muslims‘, attempted to rationalise discrimination against Muslims:

“The fundamental problem is this: there is an asymmetry between the good that many moderate Muslims can do for Britain and the harm that a few fanatics can do to it. The one in 1,000 chance that a man is a murderous fanatic is more important to me than the 999 in 1,000 chance that he is not a murderous fanatic; if, that is, he is not especially valuable or indispensable to me in some way.

And the plain fact of the matter is that British society could get by perfectly well without the contribution even of moderate Muslims. The only thing we really want from Muslims is their oil money for bank deposits, to prop up London property prices and to sustain the luxury market. Their cheap labour that we imported in the 1960s in a vain effort to shore up the dying textile industry, which could not find local labour, is now redundant.”

We responded to Mr. Dalrymple’s piece, as did Gabriele Zamparini of ‘The Cat’s Dream‘:

Dear Ms. Kennedy,

Theodore Dalrymple’s piece in today’s Irish Times (via The LA Times), ‘Fanaticism has real consequences for relations with Muslims’, really should have began with “I’m not racist, but…”

His introduction explains that the lack of violence towards British Muslims following the recent terrorist attacks is a result of either Briton’s (but not British Muslims, they are different) tolerance or ‘inability, or unwillingness, to make the effort to defend’ themselves. A morally reprehensible cul-de-sac you would not have thought he could find his way out of. But you’d be wrong.

He continues – ‘we have had Somali, Pakistani, Arab, Jamaican, Algerian and British Muslim terrorists’, in an excellently crafted piece of work, that shrewdly omits unfortunate elements of the story which may have forced him to actually address the question of why Britain is a target. Such as the news that one of the latest terror suspects is an Iraqi doctor.

Media Sceptic, a UK based media monitoring organisation, noted that “Only 0.2% of all “terrorism” in Europe (in 2006) was “Islamist”, according to new figures from Europol.” In other words, it seems that, to use Mr. Dalrymple’s formula, the fundamental problem is that there is an asymmetry between reality and the Europe relayed in this article.

Of course what Mr. Dalrymple could not have been aware of is that being demonised and tarred with the same brush as a violent minority is not something Irish people are unfamiliar with.

Yours sincerely,

David Manning

The Irish Times has also made clear it’s refusal to put the Iranian nuclear ‘stand-off’ in perspective, obediently relaying the West’s (i.e. Washington’s) ‘suspicions’:

“Iran has offered to draw up an “action plan” to address Western suspicions that its nuclear programme is a front to obtain nuclear arms. Tehran says it needs nuclear technology only to generate power.”

We wrote to ask they consider the “possibility they are inadvertently helping to build a false case for another unwarranted and deadly war.”

RTE Radio 1 recently broadcast an interview with George Galloway and Professor Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics and Political Science. However the interview was cut short following Galloway’s departure, though not before he had taken the opportunity to highlight the absurdity of what had gone before. We wrote to the interviewer Derek Davis, also copying the email to Professor Prins:

Dear Derek Davis,

Your interview with Professor Gwyn Prins on Today this morning struck me with the same impression George Galloway verbalised in his ‘brief interlude’; I could imagine a similar discussion took place somewhere in polite English society at the height of the troubles. You simply offered Professor Prins a ‘clear run’ to expound the merits and mistakes of ‘imperialism light’. Yet almost as soon as Mr. Galloway began, you interrupted him with your opinion – stating that Saddam was a ‘blood thirsty barbarian’, and thus had to be removed? That is no doubt the disparity that caused him to discontinue the interview.

In answer to your statement, an uncontroversial one at that, but one that actually implicitly defines your support for the invasion and thus highlights your opinion as that shared by Professor Prins, thus explaining his willingness to ‘engage’ – the US led invasion and occupation has caused far more deaths in the last 4 years than Saddam’s 24 years of rule. Saddam’s killing, as Professor Prins alluded to, was also made possible by tacit and direct Western support. Would you re-evaluate your position in light of this stark fact?

No one questions Saddam’s despotic title, what is validly questioned is the idea that Western imperialists acted with some sort of benign intent, or ‘moral motive’ – which was ‘devalued’ by unfortunate revelations of fabrications and deception. Not once did you posit that the invasion was not just a ‘mistake’ but a crime, as was stated by the UN’s Kofi Annan when he called the invasion ‘illegal’. Nor did you seek to examine the situation from an Iraqi perspective, a point made to you by George Galloway. The vast majority of Iraqi people are opposed to the continued occupation and a similar number support attacks on coalition troops – who are the predominant target of insurgents. Instead you simply offered Professor Prins the opportunity to eloquently hammer out, almost verbatim, the imperialist’s rhetoric.

I accept the Today show is light radio, but if you are going to treat issues such as these like this, perhaps it would be better to forgo the pretence of impartiality.

Yours sincerely,

David Manning

Professor Prins responded in defense of Derek Davis:

Dear Mr Manning

Thank you for taking the trouble to write.

I feel that you are being a little unfair to Mr Davis when you accuse him of unprofessionalism by reason of not opening a wider raft of questions than those which were slated for this interview. Plainly there is a debate to be had about “legality” – it has been had at great length; plainly there are different judgements about the strategic interests of the West (of which Ireland is part) and how best to pursue them; plainly there is – as always – a judgement on greater and lesser evils. Those especially were the delicate matters that I sought to open when the interview continued after Mr Galloway chose to go away. But the agenda for that conversation was none of those: it was about the consequences of the mess made by the stubborn and arrogant Mr Rumsfeld. That is an especially painful subject for thise, like me, who believe that the removal of the Saddam regime was moral (had both ius ad bellum and in bello), legal and made strategic good sense

I would have been perfectly prepared to discuss that in a triangular conversation with Mr Galloway; but he refused to do so and then behaved in the way that you heard. Calling names rarely advances understanding of anything in my experience.

But Mr Davis exposed nothing of his own views – certainly not those which you ascribe to him. He did, however, observe that he (as I also) had a knowledge of irish history when accused of not have such

Yours sincerely


We responded the same day:

Dear Mr. Prins,

Thank you for responding.

Like you I would have welcomed a debate between yourself and Mr. Galloway. Though my concern is that Mr. Davis really did relinquish all claims to professionalism for the reasons I mentioned; also pointed out by Mr. Galloway.

That Mr. Davis can, even with his extensive knowledge of Irish history, allow discussion of an event such as the invasion and occupation of a sovereign country descend in to abstract musings of mending broken china evidences much about the state of informed discussion on Irish radio. A moral case for the removal of Saddam perhaps did exist, but if it did, it existed at a time when the West fully supported the despot – and as you know indirectly encouraged his ‘despotic-ness’. ‘You cannot use deaths which occurred in 1988 as a post-hoc justification for invading in 2003. The only relevant statistic is what was happening in the years immediately preceding the war and on the eve of war, not what had happened fifteen or twenty years before.’ According to Amnesty International Saddam was responsible for ‘scores’ of killings in the years leading up to the invasion – a despicable record, but not a moral case for causing the deaths of over 650,000 people.

I realise too that there was debate over the legality of the war, but this has long since been clarified. There was no legal basis for regime change, therefore the facts were ‘fixed around the policy’ in order for it to appear an act of defence – which I may add was not in accordance with international law and could not have been thought to have been sanctioned by previous UN resolutions.

It was self evident that Mr. Davis fully agreed with the frame imposed by Washington and London, and that the interview sought not to discuss anything outside this illogical frame. This is supported by his interjection to Mr. Galloway’s, perhaps forthright, introduction. This is in direct contradiction to the weight of public opinion in both Ireland and the UK.

I co-edit a media monitoring organisation, would you object to my publishing this correspondence in full?

Yours sincerely,

David Manning

Beyond Advocacy v. Objective Journalism

Who is really objective?
By Robert Jensen

MediaBite’s latest guest contributor is Robert Jensen, Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas, who challenges the notion that journalism which disputes the conventional wisdom should always be labelled as “advocacy” or “activist”, and seen as less trustworthy than traditional mainstream ‘objective’ journalism. He contrasts the journalism and perspective of John Pilger with that of John Burns from the New York Times – the former often disregarded as ‘left wing’ and the latter widely regarded as a trusted and objective mainstream voice.

In a recent discussion with other journalism professors, I suggested that mainstream journalists have failed to grasp the depth of the crises — cultural and political, economic and ecological — that the United States and modern industrial society face, and hence are failing in their fundamental task in a democratic society, the work of monitoring the centers of power.

A colleague acknowledged the importance of such issues, but said that university schools of journalism don’t teach “advocacy journalism” or promote the idea of “the journalist as activist.”

This advocacy/activist tag is often applied to journalists who don’t accept the conventional wisdom of the powerful and dare to challenge the more basic frameworks within which news is reported. The idea seems to be that anyone who doesn’t fall in line with the worldview of the powerful people and institutions in society is not “objective,” and therefore must be motivated not by a principled search for truth but some pre-determined political agenda.

But the crucial distinction is not between “objective” and “advocacy/activist” journalists but (1) between propagandists and journalists, and then (2) between journalists who do the job well and those who do it poorly. If there is a label we might valorize, it should be “independent” — we need journalists who are independent not only from the powerful but also from any political movements.

While this may seem to be a hyper-sensitivity about terminology, an examination of these labels can help us understand both the problems with, and possibilities of, contemporary journalism.

The term advocacy journalism typically is used to describe the use of techniques to promote a specific political or social cause. The term is potentially meaningful only in opposition to a category of journalism that does not engage in advocacy, so-called objective journalism.

This distinction is a focus of attention most intensely in the United States, especially in the last half of the 20th century; use of these terms does not necessarily translate for other political landscapes, though U.S. (and more generally Western) models are becoming dominant. In Western Europe, some newspapers have long identified openly with a political position, even though journalists from those papers are considered professionals not typically engaged in advocacy. For example, in Italy Il Manifesto identifies itself as a communist newspaper philosophically but does not associate with any party and operates as a workers’ cooperative. In the nations of the Third World that became independent since World War II, journalism typically was part of freedom movements inherently in support of liberation from colonialism. Many independent publications retain that opposition to entrenched power, such as The Hindu in India.

The press in the United States, which was distinctly partisan well into the 19th century, developed objectivity norms that now define the practices of corporate-commercial news media. Many journalists found (and find) those norms constraining, and in the political fervor of the 1960s and 1970s, advocacy journalism emerged with counterculture and revolutionary political activity. Other terms used for practice outside the mainstream include alternative, gonzo, or new journalism. Within those forms, journalists may openly identify with a group or movement or remain independent while adopting similar values and political positions.

This advocacy-objectivity dichotomy springs from political theory that asserts a special role for journalists in complex democratic societies. Journalists’ claims to credibility are based in an assertion of neutrality. They argue for public trust by basing their report of facts, analysis, and opinion on rigorous information gathering. Professional self-monitoring produces what journalists consider an unbiased account of reality, rather than a selective account reflecting a guiding political agenda.

At one level, the term advocacy might be useful in distinguishing, for example, journalistic efforts clearly serving a partisan agenda (such as a political party publication) from those officially serving non-partisan ends (such as a commercial newspaper). But the distinction is not really between forms of journalism as much as between persuasion and journalism. Although so-called objective journalism assumes that, as a rule, disinterested observers tend to produce more reliable reports, a publication advocating a cause might have more accurate information and compelling analysis than a non-partisan one. The intentions of those writing and editing the publication are the key distinguishing factor.

More complex is categorizing different approaches to journalism by those not in the direct service of an organization or movement. Can those who advocate a particular philosophical or political perspective — but remain independent of a partisan group — produce journalism that the general public can trust?

An extended example is helpful here. In general usage, freelance reporter John Pilger (Australian born, now living in the United Kingdom) could be considered an advocacy journalist, and New York Times reporter, John Burns, an objective journalist. Both are experienced and hard-working, with a sophisticated grasp of world affairs, and both have reported extensively about Iraq. Pilger primarily writes for newspapers and magazines in England but has a large following in the United States, and he also is a documentary filmmaker. Burns writes almost exclusively for the Times but also gives frequent interviews on television and radio programs about his reporting. Anti-war and anti-empire groups circulate Pilger’s reports and screen his documentaries, but he, like Burns, describes himself as an independent journalist and rejects affiliations with any political groups.

Pilger is, however, openly critical of U.S. and U.K. policies toward Iraq, including unambiguous denunciations of the self-interested motivations and criminal consequences of state policies. His reporting leads him not only to describe these policies but to offer an analysis that directly challenges the framework of the powerful. Burns, in contrast, avoids such assessments, not only in news reports but also in articles labeled analysis . His reporting tends to accept the framework of the powers promoting these policies, and his criticism tends to question their strategy and tactics, not their basic motivations. In some sense, both journalists advocate for a particular view of state power and how it operates in the areas they cover. Both have reputations for accurately reporting; the difference resides in their interpretations. The language of mainstream journalism would see Burns as objective but not Pilger.

The example illustrates the limits of conceptions of journalism as practiced in the media industries, especially those under corporate commercial control. All reporters use a framework of analysis to understand the world and report on it. But reporting containing open references to underlying political assumptions and conclusions seems to engage in advocacy, while the more conventional approach appears neutral. Both are independent, in the sense of not being directed by a party or movement, but neither approach is in fact neutral. One explicitly endorses a political perspective critical of the powerful, while implicitly reinforcing the political perspective of the elite.

Accounts of the world, including journalistic ones, must begin from some assumptions about the way the world works. None is neutral. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can know or trust about the world, or that journalists can’t offer us reliable information. It simply means that those who report from the conventional wisdom are not exempt from the questions about perspective.

Readers should keep that in mind. So should journalists.


4th July 2007

Robert Jensen is Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Formerly a journalist himself, Jensen is a regular contributor to the Znet Commentaries and has published a number of books including “Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity” (City Lights, 2004) and “Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream” (Peter Lang, 2001). His latest book is concerned with pornography “Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity” (South End Press, 2007).

More about Robert Jensen here: