The cru­cial role of spin in the Mo­ri­arty out­come

Bray People - - OPINION - AI­DAN O’CON­NOR

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.

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