Saturday, December 02, 2006

12.29am Saturday, December 2

First of all, thanks for the comments (shorter paras and spaces between noted). Maybe it was my naivete but before I posted my first (test) blog I spent a while looking through to try to get a sense of who was writing, what they were writing.

It was like looking at the sky on a clear night - an overwhelming infinity of stars. And I thought that tip-toing into a blog would be like shouting into that kind of void.

There are a couple of political sites and politically inclined web sites in Ireland - most of them are good and constantly good. Lots of blogs too. But few by journalists. I suppose the best known is that of the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson.

Because I write for a living, the thought of sitting down at in-between moments to serve up even more words to screen, gives you a slight sense of foreboding. There are a couple of fairly obvious traits that many blogs share. The first is that they tend to be very first-person oriented. Secondly, for a journalist, you tend to mull over our copy (for accuracy and for style) even when you are turning it around. This format is way more informal. I for one feel a reluctance to embrace the notion that my stuff will be published as soon as it is written.

There was an absorbing interview with Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate in the Guardian media section last Monday. It's at,,1957600,00.html
The argument he made was compelling. It is one we have heard before, but, coming from him, it glowed with authority. In essence, he was saying newspapers are on the way out. They will not be able to live with the instant and organic nature of internet journalism. Print articles are immutable and final, whereas on the web they are part of a conversation.

Here is a snatch of Weisberg's fascinaing take on the phenomenon.
He says: "Anyone who really wants to participate in that conversation has to have a presence on the web now - not necessarily a blog, but they have to have a website or write for an online publication. Within half an hour of posting a piece on Slate, I get a direct, often hostile and personal, response from readers.

"That's part of what I think has been so frustrating for the columnists on the New York Times, like Thomas Friedman, Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd, who are online but are behind a 'pay-wall' - you have to be a subscriber to the paper or subscribe separately to the website before you can get them. That effectively cuts them out of the political conversation."

Surely that is every journalist's nightmare, a pedants' charter? He disagrees. "It's great. I think part of the reason anyone goes into journalism is to get a response to what they write. The fact that it's frequently very negative is the least important part of it. You get habituated to the instantaneity."

Fianna Fail held its annual Cairde Fail dinner dance in the tundra territory of City West tonight (Friday Dec 1). It's one of those things that as a political correspondent you feel you have to go to but you're always amazed at the turnout. It was Hill 16 with tables. I have written before in the Irish Examiner about Fianna Fail being a cult but this dinner is not quite like the Ard Fheis, because many of the tables are taken up by corporates paying their political dues (what was the tag line from the ad for Trócaire - Give a little, it will help a lot).

Bertie gave a speech which I missed. It had actually had funny moments, which for Bertie is almost miraculous. BERTIE SHOCKER - TAOISEACH CRACKS A JOKE THAT'S FUNNY.


He had a cut at the media, and the 42 journalists on the political gallery (I didn't know there were so many of us there). I believe he came out with the notion that we come in to work, get a couple of knocking quotes, take a couple of pot-shots at the political target du jour and we're all done and dusted after a couple of hours, ready to hold forth at at Doheny and Nesbitts or some other drinking establishment.

We may be accused of a lot of things - beng manipulative, sly, janus-faced, cynical, cruel etc. But unfortunately we have yet to master the skill of automatic and instantaneous reports jst yet. We may not put in so many hours as Bertie (120 per week, or is it 130, according to himself). But we work long long days, which isn't helped by the knack of the political class to releasing the juicier stuff at a convenient time like 7.30pm at night.

Anyway, some guy stood up to announce the raffle. We want a silent collection, he implored to the faithful. This of course is a fundraiser. And how much does the party make from it? God knows! The ethics and standards legislation that came in in the mid 1990s seemed foolproof. But the drafters were fiendshly clever.

They set limits for personal and corporate/company loans that seemed comparatively low, some E600 for a personal one, and E1,270 for a corporate. If your donation exceeded the limit, it had to be declared. Ok, so it stopped the big E100,000 donations from big business. But nstead of getting a couple of big wads of greenbacks, the parties got loads of little ones, all below the limit.

When you look at the official declaratons, you are always struck at how few donations there are. But then you are missing the hundreds of smaller ones that flew under the radar of declaration. In the States, everything has to be declared from the $500,000 corporate donaton to the ten bucks given by a widow. But here, we still have no idea how much parties raise, especially FF whose glut of publicity over the next six months suggests it has been funded by hundreds of similar silent collectons.

5pm - Government releases White Paper on its projections for the performance of the Exchequer for this year. The figures are stunning. A €2 billion surplus. Everything has been above projection, especially stamp duty and capital gains tax. Doesn't it make Brian Cowen look great. There he was at the Budget last year, predicting a deficit of €2.9 million. And hasn't the genius produced figures that are an amazing €5 billion better than that.

Wait a minute. A €5 billion difference. How could they have got their projections so badly wrong? Why didn't they do their sums better? Hasn't someone told them the economy has been doing really well and we're all drinking lattes these days? Why didn't they consult Fergus Gibson, who would have told them that Venus descending over Mars is bling time?

Well, there was a method to their bad maths (I know, it's not a very good pun). If you look back over the four year's of this Government's term, you can always rely on the Department of Finance for making the Minister look good. That's done by predicting a sizeable deficit each year. And then, lo and behold, the Minister announced at the end of the year that he's marshalled the economy so well, and being so faithful to his true love, Prudence, that we're not in deficit after all, but, gosh, we are swimming in it. Last year, they said we'd have a deficit of €2.8 billion and - yes - we cancelled it out and then some. And in 2004, and in 2003, and in 2002 also.

To me, there is a degree of politicisation here that's unhealthy. If you set your targets really modestly and conservatively, you are going to surpass them easily. The political effect of that is that the Miniser looks good; really good; master-of-the-universe good. And we're all fooled by it. Wait for the headlines in Saturday's papers which will read along these lines: Brian's war chest, Brian's budget bonanza, cut in top rate of interest rates on Wednesday.

a.m. I took the day off because I was giving a short speech on the Freedom of Information Act in a city centre hotel as part of a seminar. Emily O'Reilly, the Informaton Commissioner, spoke earlier. Had a right go at the Fianna Fail members of the backbench Finance Committee who seemed to back proposals to drop some of the many non-disclosure clauses in legislation (that makes a body or information exempt from the FOI Act) but then did a mealy-mouthed U-turn when the party bosses imposed the whip.
Raced through my own script because they were seriously behind time. I thought I had a couple of half-decent lines. Because I was talking at the speed of a racing commentator galloping along with the horses on the final furlong, I think that comic timing was a bit of an issue and my witty bits bellyflopped.

6pm. Launch of the Green Party's Book 'A Journey to Change'. It marks the 25th anniversary of the party. It was held in the Central Hotel where the first ever meeting took place. I wrote the preface and John Bowman, who launched it, praised my piece. Too much actually. Of course, I was dying to get a name check for him. But when he mentioned my piece for about the sixth time, even I was getting embarrassed. I read the piece again a little later to rediscover my outrageous talent. It's a piece I'm proud of, I must admit, but it's not world beating. And much of it leans heavily for its detail from Dan Boyle's fine account of the party.

The party's six TDs are all dapper enough in their own way, though only Trevor Sargent and Dan Boyle, stick rigidly to the Dail uniform of suit and tie. The launch reminded you of what a roots party the Greens still is. Lots of tweed, and fleeces, and tousled hair. It would be unimaginable to have young kids at a do by another party. But a scatter of very young children played happily on the floor while the speeches were being made. The adults were as oblivious of them as they were of the adults. It made for a nice change. Reminded you of how family unfriendly so much of social life (ie restaurants and pubs) is in Ireland.


Ciarán said...


Good to see you engaging with the blogosphere.

Did anyone at the press tables buy a raffle ticket at City West, or more importantly, did anyone win anything?


Markham said...


Just found the blog - reading from Argentina at the moment - and have only read one post, but it´s nice to see such an informal inside view on Irish politics aired.

I share your views on the Greens, for my money the most personable politicians to deal with on the Irish political scene (after a few months on a news desk in Dublin), and also the most seemingly honest (or else the best at masking their sinister agenda - seems to me they have little to hide, everyone knows it´s muesli and sandals..)

Welcome to the boggersphere.


Copernicus said...

Very useful insights that might not necessarily have found a place in daily political correspondence, so the blogging is well worthwhile.

If (as seems likely) you're blogging through Safari browser on a Mac, you'd be well advised to download Firefox instead. That way you'll have access to the editing buttons in the blogger wordprocessor.

It makes it simple to include clickable links and indent quotes and all that.

Ian Kilroy said...

Great blog Harry. I’ll keep reading.

Interesting your observations about online journalism. However, I think the death of print journalism is hardly imminent. New forms of media rarely obliterate older forms. We still listen to the wireless – albeit over the web these days.

I think it’s more likely newspaper content will change, as well as develop symbiotic relationships with their online presences. The Daily Digest will keep its branch office in the real world, although its Second Life edition will grow fatter with every passing year.