The crucial role of spin in the Moriarty outcome
AFTER 14 years of hearing evidence, after spending millions of taxpayers’ euros and a report that runs to over 2,000 pages, the Moriarty report has been effectively reduced to one thing: spin. We either believe Lowry, Dunne and O’Brien, or we believe the tribunal chairman.
Therein lies the crux of the debate. Spin and those behind it, spindoctors, are contentious subjects in this country. The moment we hear the very term, ‘spin’, our in-built antennae of suspicion pop up. We have become an inherently suspicious people, and it’s perfectly understandable given all that has happened in the world of business and politics in recent years.
There are still a few things in this life that you never, ever admit to doing in Ireland. We might like to believe that we have become an all-embracing, liberal and free country, but that’s not the truth. But you may as well admit to being Gadaffi’s side-kick as admitting you’re a spindoctor. I know because I was one for a while. It’s something you’re branded with for the rest of your life.
One thing's for sure: Lowry, Dunne and O’Brien saw from the off that spin would play a crucial role once the Moriarty report was published. Unlike a criminal court, the tribunal would ultimately come down to a swearing match; one side saying one thing and the other side saying something compeltely different.
In a criminal court, the standard of proof is extremely high. A criminal conclusion can only be reached when the facts supporting that case are proved beyond reasonable doubt. In the case of Moriarty, it is no more than the opinion of a High Court Judge, as significant and all as that may be. But nobody could ever be found guilty, the conclusions were reached on the balance of probability and nobody can or will go the jail.
When it came to putting their cases forward, Lowry, Dunne and O’Brien have won the match, hands down. It’s clear they were ready and willing to go on the offensive once the report was published, rubbishing and ridiculing any and every finding that Moriarty made against them.
On the tribunal side, we have heard nothing. The report was published and we, the public, are expected to toddle off and read over 2,000 pages if we want to understand what went on all those years ago. Lest anybody thinks that spin isn’t playing a role in this controversy, just consider this: the entire saga has almost been whittled down to a meeting between O’Brien and Lowry in a pub after a match.
Mr Justice Moriarty is of the clear belief that a Government minister received wads of money from a businessman who was awarded a lucrative licence by the department that the same minister presided over of totally. Lowry and O’Brien are of a different view. Nothing more than a conversation took place – a conversation that had nothing to do with the licence and in any event, conversations between businessmen and ministers are common and harmless occurrences.
And anyway, how could Moriarty come to a conclusion about that conversation when he wasn’t there? The two men believe that the Judge was wrong to have elevated himself to the position of the Fly on the Wall. Bottom line, they claim Moriarty had a thesis from the very beginning and spent 14 years gathering material to support it.
Perhaps the greatest weakness in the Moriarty report does not lie in its content. Instead, it’s the absence of spin or explanation. What we are missing in all of this is somebody to explain in simple language what the main findings of the tribunal actually were. You can call this spin or you can call it putting information in the public domain.
Regardless, the public are left with a 2,400 page report with nobody to whittle it down to a few key points – just like the other side did in their repeated reference to a pub conversation. In the very same week as the Moriarty tribunal was published, the media have latched on to another spindoctor story, shining a light on Mark Kennelly, Enda Kenny’s Special Advisor who once spun Michal Lowry while he was a minister during the Rainbow Coalition Government.
I know Mark Kennelly, and he’s pretty good at what he does. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be where is today. And we all know by now that Enda Kenny doesn’t suffer fools lightly. Kennelly, as chef-de-cabinet, was instrumental in Kenny’s heave survival and his master’s ultimate rise to power. Politics is a big and often complicated business. It’s just not as simple as a government minister turning up for work every morning in a department and leaving again that evening. The range of complex issues need to be ripped asunder and presented to the public in a way the public can understand and appreciate. The public have a right to know what’s going on. If it takes a spindoctor to do that, then so be it.
It doesn’t necessarily mean the message is purposely skewed of ‘ doctored’ along the way. In all walks of public administration, let the public have the information. Allow them the right to judge whether or not the information is tarnished by spin.
Where we should never find ourselves is in a position with no information or explanation, just reams of paper and unexplained reports that are so long and drawn-out, nobody is ever going to read them - just like the one published last week. It’s just another reason to make us even more cynical.
In a criminal court the standard of proof needs to be extremely high...In the case of Moriarty, it is no more than the opinion of a High Court judge
Mr. Justice Michael Moriarty arriving at Dublin Castle during the Tribunal. The public are left with a 2,400 page report with nobody to whittle it down to a few key points.