Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Inside Politics - Willie O'Dea and the Original Sin(do)

Dan Sullivan has posed a couple of very pointed and searchign questions about Willie O'Dea's second career (that of a newspaper hack) on his blog. He says they have been unanswered by Willie's own profession (his fellow journalists, of course). The following is a long quote from Dan's website. Now read on ...

"Unanswered (question) because it seems no one in the Dead Tree Press is asking them.

I was drawn a fortnight ago to the Minister of Defence Willie O’Dea's entry in the register of Oireachtas members interest. The minister as many people will know has a weekly column in the Sunday Independent. Now, politicians writing the occasional column or making the odd television appearances is not uncommon nor should it be discouraged. However, a weekly column is a platform for promotion of his electoral chances much like any other piece of advertising and it suggests employment. So why is there no reference to this engagement in his return.

The absence to any reference to his column begs the following questions.

Is the minister actually employed on contract my Independent News and Media and is he paid the going rate for this column? – and why is this not listed on his return?

If not then does he pay a market rate for the advertising space he is being given to convey his political message to the public each week?

If not then this space is being given as a gift from Independent New and Media to the minister and why was it not noted as such on his return?

Those are the only real options.

A senior minister takes up an offer of assistance from a major commercial organisation. An offer that will assist his re-election chances and he then doesn’t declare it in his entry of the register of Oireachtas members’ interests. You would think that this would be headline news, right? Well, while we’ve had the usual prurient interest in who owns how many houses and perhaps the exotic shareholders of some Oireachtas members, there are been no mention of this cosy relationship."

Willie does seem to have a special status with the Sindo, one that has been ongoing as long as I have been in journalism. Ministers (or to be accurate, their civil servants) write op-ed pieces for newspapers all the time. No money ever passes hand.

But Willie's scribing for the Sindo is a horse of a different colour. He writes a column so regularly for them that for a while we had high hopes that Aengus Fanning would recruit him as one the famous 03 team.

Anyway, his people told me last night that Willie gets no payment for his weekly column (I hadn't realised it was so regular). Which is fine. But if he's writing a weekly column, he shouldn't be doing it for free. That's not a good precedent for our profession.

If he wants, he can donate the fee to charity. And it's arguable that the column (a regular free platform for Willie's world view) could and should be declared to SIPO.


Eoin Brazil said...

So doesn't this come in as some kind of benefit in kind or at the very least as Daniel puts it in his post shouldn't the declarations help us the general public to "Expose the links to and influences from organisations on our paid public representatives.".

We are as ever behind the times in Ireland, as over in the UK they've had public funding for mySociety (a successful project run by the UK Citizens Online Democracy charity.), this in turn runs the website www.theyworkforyou.com where not only member's interests can be tracked but also how they vote and what they say and it even includes their expenses! For example, take a look at Tony Blair's page with all the relevant details.

The real killer, the absolute nail in the coffin, its open source software. Its available here for download, use, modification (see the license), etc so the real question is now, if this technology is now in essence free, why as one of the leading digital economies of the European Union are we not able to simply modify a free bit of software and track our own TDs as easily as they do in the UK???

Dan Sullivan said...

I'm wondering if the local press have followed this up at all.

Thing is if he had simply declared it on the Dail register who would have thought anything of it. He could be taking the money and giving it to charity and what of it. I take it as a sign of the scant respect that many of our public reps of all parties give to such forms. I was really stunned by Maurice Ahern's form for the 2004 locals in which his spending was under €800 and included no expenditure on posters!

Anonymous said...

Why is it Harry that no journo outdide the Sunday Indo will comment on the attacks on Bert since Christmas , coming to a new low last Sunday with was a bizzare story even for them.
Is the fact that that Willies pieces not one of which provided a"watercooler moment" are so much more worthy of debate.

Dan Sullivan said...

Why is it that people who defend Bert have to do it anonymously? What are you scared of?

Anonymous said...

I am a FF member,out most evenings knocking at doots ,everyone in my locality knows where I am coming from,because of coverage in local media, a lot of of the people I do buss. with also are aware of my membership,but as I have no intention of standing in any election I do not need a high profile.
Even if I give a name You have no idea if it is my actual true one.The first thing a lot of geeks do is google u, track down an Ip address or e-mail,no one needs that grief.
For all I know Dan you could be a 12 year old girl,the dear leader or a wannabe journo.
Now instead of calling people names ,could u answer the main piont of why in the week where Jim Higgins and Enda colluded with the media in what is no more than pub talk did u feel O Dea is a more worthy topic of debate

Eoin Brazil said...

Anonymous - you are a true FFer !

Mr Anonymous, if you're too afraid to pin your colours to the mast you shouldn't be posting any kind of comments. If you click on my profile, you do get my age and my info and I'm no kid.

Not trying to be partisan but you, Mr / Mrs / Miss / Kid Anonymous are a typical of the pro Government respondants on the Internet. Why are you afraid to simply pin your name to your opinions ?

Simply spinning this post from the issue of Willie and his column to another topic is just off thread and in most forums would have had you deleted. If you want to post anonymous, it is your choice but at least maintain the topic of the thread and actually discuss and debate Harry's article rather than running off on a tangent.

I'm still waiting to hear a government response to why we shouldn't implement a nice system like theyworkforyou which would really empower us poor pleebs to keep a track of all politicians regardless of party.

Dan Sullivan said...

Who did I call names? And it's not alone geeks that can use the old google. I raised the topic of Willie's declaration about 2 weeks ago not this week. You can read my blog and posts on irishelection.com to confirm it.

As for being a 12 year old girl, you must have some fierce bearded ladies where you are. I'll have to make a note to avoid it, wherever it is.

Have a good weekend on the canvass and remember it's not your face they're closing the door in, it is just your party.

Harry McGee said...

Dan, you have been called many things in your time... bug a 12 year old girl!
When electoral and ethics legislation was introduced over a decade ago to curb spending and donations (and also to make it all more transparent) the web was hardly in the protozoa stage of evolution.
Yep, I think Willie should (1) charge for and (2) declare his weekly column in the Sunday Indo.
But it brings us onto a wider question - what value do you put on a candidate's website (in terms of publicising his or her name) or on their videos or on their blogs.
Look at how integral the web was to Howard Dean's primary campaign, or how it has become central to the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Obama Barak.

Newspapers here will realise too that they will be read (and interacted with) more often on screen than in paper form in the future. Politicians and political parties will realise that the best forum for advertising their wares will be online. Look at the impact of the punchy political parodies that many Irish blogs and sites have been featuring and which have been emailed to thousands of friends and colleagues.
I suppose the basic queston is: when Willie starts blogging will he have to declare?

Dan Sullivan said...

No Willie column this week, I wonder why.