Michael D is in Áras thanks to a mistake
LEST we forget, ‘mistakes’ made by RTÉ helped Michael D Higgins beat Independent candidate Seán Gallagher who was comfortably ahead of him in opinion polls going into the crucial televised debate. Gallagher never recovered his pole position after the RTÉ debacle just four days before the presidential election.
A tweet making scurrilous allegations about Gallagher from a Twitter account purportedly operated by Martin McGuinness was treated like the gospel on The Frontline debate. The tweet said a man alleged to have given a cheque to Gallagher for a Fianna Fáil fundraiser would be presented at a press conference the next day.
The Twitter account was fake. Fake views, if you will. The next morning, the Today With Pat Kenny RTÉ radio programme exacerbated the unfairness, according to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. It also found ‘serious and significant editorial failings’ during a debate of ‘utmost public importance and interest’.
RTÉ settled Gallagher’s legal action for a substantial sum last year without having to disclose exactly what happened. No heads rolled and there were no obvious consequences for the kamikaze crash of public service broadcasting. There was no evidence of any conspiracy, although RTÉ brought in new guidelines for journalists, programme-making and social media after the shambles.
I had a problem with the weasel words of some senior journalists, presenters and producers who publicly ‘regretted’ that ‘mistakes’ were made. Later, some of them told me privately they were relieved Higgins won the election. One prominent broadcaster asked: ‘What would we have done if Gallagher had won the election?’ Did he mean that ‘the ends justified the means’?
Bookies currently see Michael D as almost unassailable at 1 to 5 and Gallagher as second favourite at 5 to 1 to win the election on October 26.
Meanwhile, protest candidate Norma Burke satirically mocked the process before councillors at Dublin City Hall on Thursday evening. But I’m more irritated by others churning out policy documents and making speeches about issues they would be forbidden from commenting about, never mind acting on, if elected.
Whoever is elected will do and say exactly what the Government approves and the same Government will choose to where, and when, they travel abroad.
Bottom line is this: the next President, like their predecessors, will be more of a lapdog than a watchdog doing obedience training with Government handlers.
A cautionary note to Dr Leo Varadkar: Italy’s current interior minister, Matteo Salvini, followed fellow Looney Tunes populist Donald Trump and gave the anti-vaccination movement a nod. Salvini said vaccines are dangerous and overturned a law requiring Italian children to be immunised.
Salvini dismissed the established wisdom that vaccination, antisepsis and anaesthesia are universally regarded as the greatest achievements of scientific medicine – and that immunisation has saved millions, if not billions, of lives.
Public pressure forced Salvini to row back on his order last week.