Bertie paid more than Bush, but both governments hit a new low

NEWS coverage of the departure of Steve Staunton as manager of Ireland’s soccer team was quite a spectacle. RTÉ was scathing about the supposedly “shambolic” way in which things were handled at the end.

Late on Tuesday night there were only unconfirmed reports that the manager had been removed.

It reminded me of a Rose of Tralee selection in the early 1990s. The programme ran overtime and the photographer for a Dublin daily got calls to be ready to get a picture of the winner off without delay as they were holding the front page. They were in danger of missing the trains and the papers would have to be sent out in lorries with all the extra expense that this would entail.

Following the selection there was a delay because the winner’s grandmother was in the audience and someone decided to bring her on stage. This took extra precious minutes by which time the hassled photographer was virtually hysterical.

“Smile, granny,” he snapped. “For f**k sake smile!” Whether granny smiled or not, his colleagues cracked up.

On Tuesday night the front pages were similarly being held for the Staunton story. The night editors were probably clamouring for the story. The delay was the FAI’s revenge on the media. People have committed murder and rape and not been subjected to the kind of abuse that Staunton got from some of the media.

“All public figures have their good and bad days with the media, and vice versa,” President Mary McAleese told a reception at Áras an Uactaráin next day. “Frankly, these tensions are perfectly normal; they are part of the necessary checks and balances in any democratic society. Neither side of the equation is infallible; every one of us is human. My experience is that mostly these tensions are good.”

The High Court ordered that Geraldine Kennedy and Colm Keena must effectively divulge their source for the story that Bertie Ahern accepted payments from people. Did the Irish people have a right to know about his past behaviour? After all, he had strongly denounced Charlie Haughey for taking money from friends.

Should the judiciary be allowed to suppress that story indefinitely? Remember it was already almost 15 years old. Surely it was in the national interest that the people had a right to know with a general election approaching. The contemptible arrogance of this Taoiseach and his Government shows no bounds, even in the light of that exposé. The mind boggles at what it might be like if the spotlight had not been turned on such conduct. Everybody else is being asked to show restraint, but Bertie Ahern took a €38,000 pay hike this week.

His €310,000 salary is now about 10 times the average industrial wage of the people for whom he is supposed to be working. By comparison, President George W Bush’s salary is €279,741 to lead a country of more than 300 million people. Bertie actually gets four times more than what France, with its 64 million people, pays President Nicholas Sarkozy.

This craziness extends right through the Government into the civil service. People who would be dismissed in any properly run private company are being rewarded for gross incompetence.

Our Government is plumbing the depths of an all-time low.

The whole thing highlights the role that the media should be playing, but the press is under enormous pressure, even in the so-called Land of the Free.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh spoke at Trinity College on Wednesday night. At the outset he observed that press freedom is protected by the US constitution. But much of what he said highlighted the dreadful failings of the American media in relation to Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and now possibly Iran. He warned that the Bush White House was spoiling for another war, this time in Iran, even though it could lead to catastrophic conflict between Muslims and the west.

Hersh is the reporter who broke the story in 1969 about the My Lai massacre in which American soldiers murdered more than 500 people, mostly women and children. Nobody spent even a year in jail for those murders.

Hersh also exposed the American abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. He talked about that on Wednesday night in terms of unspeakable torture, but George Bush and company have been redefining torture in a way that is hauntingly reminiscent of what happened in Northern Ireland following internment in 1971.

Judges squabbled then over whether such barbaric behaviour should be considered torture or just degrading and inhuman treatment. What happened at Abu Ghraib was worse than what was done in the North. Yet we know only too well the price of what happened in the North over the following 30 years.

What will the cost for the Americans be in terms of the enemies they have made and the damage they have done to their own people who are returning home screwed up by their own depravity?

Instead of finishing the job in Afghanistan, they moved into Iraq and now Bush wants to attack Iran. Hersh believes Iran is going to be the real beneficiary of the trouble in Iraq.

While he was speaking at Trinity College, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was testifying before a Congressional committee where she was asked about the case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who was seized at JFK airport in New York while in transit from Tunisia to Ottawa in September 2002.

ARAR was secretly deported to Syria, where he was jailed for 10 months, held in solitary confinement and tortured before he was released. He had no terrorist links.

The Canadian federal police (RCMP) had wrongly informed the Americans that Arar was a suspected extremist. It was a case of mistaken identity. Of course, that in no way justifies the Americans flouting their own constitution, his human rights and any semblance of due process.

Canada held a public inquiry into the Arar case. The presiding judge, who was highly critical of the RCMP, recommended the Canadian government pay compensation. Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced earlier this year that Arar would receive $10.5m in compensation for pain and suffering, and a further $2m to cover his legal fees.

But Arar’s case was dismissed in the US. The judge said he could not declare that Arar’s extraordinary rendition was illegal because it could “have most serious of consequence to our foreign relations or national security, or both”. The implications of that ruling are that anything goes now in the name of national security.

“We do not think that this case was handled as it should have been,” Rice told the Congressional hearing on Wednesday. “We do absolutely not wish to transfer anyone to any place in which they might be tortured.” But there was no apology.

“We have told the Canadian government that we did not think this was handled particularly well in terms of our own relationship and that we will try to do better in the future,” Rice said.

Isn’t that reassuring? In the light of the global lunacy, the need for an effective media becomes all the more apparent.

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