FERGUS FINLAY: RTÉ’s future is safe in the hands of honest and skilled Tom Savage

SINCE we’re all going to vote on Thursday (I hope), this is my last chance to write about the referendum. Before I do, I can’t resist saying something about the Tom Savage conspiracy.

What conspiracy, you may ask? Well, there’s this rather odd thing going on at the moment that looks a lot like a conspiracy between some members of the Oireachtas and some members of the media. The odd thing about this conspiracy (among unlikely bedfellows) is that it’s a conspiracy to suggest that Tom Savage is involved in a conspiracy.

A conspiracy about a conspiracy, conducted by means of innuendo and inference. None of us know what Tom Savage has done wrong, but all of us are left with the impression that there’s something dodgy about his behaviour.

One of the really odd things about the whole affair is that it all started because he gave straightforward answers to questions from a Sunday Independent journalist. He was asked who had made the decisions in relation to the Prime Time Investigates programme that did a gross injustice to Fr Kevin Reynolds, and he said that it was Ed Mulhall. Ed Mulhall had previously confirmed this to the RTÉ Board, of which Tom Savage is chair.

Ever since, this has been portrayed as a deliberate attempt by Tom Savage to shaft Ed Mulhall, and even as part of some wider, unspecified conspiracy. Most of this characterisation has been done by other journalists in the Sunday Independent — not the one who asked the questions in the first place.

Years ago, I got into terrible trouble when I said, in answer to questions from a respected journalist, that an Anglo-Irish peace process without the involvement of Provisional Sinn Féin, as they then were, wouldn’t be worth a penny candle. I was immediately labelled, by the Sunday Independent among others, as a Provo fellow traveller, and was accused all over the place of undermining the peace process itself. My discomfiture wasn’t helped by the sympathy of a senior civil servant who told me “now you see what happens when you tell the truth”.

In all the years I’ve known Tom Savage, I’ve never known him to do a dishonourable thing. I knew him by reputation first, and then when he worked for Albert Reynolds. In those days, I would have been the sort of person who would be regarded with deep suspicion by anyone in Albert’s circle, and I surely reciprocated those feelings. But the more I got to know him, the more I became aware of someone who was intrinsically incapable of dishonesty.

The idea that Tom Savage would, or could, be involved in a conflict of interest between his role as chairman of the Communications Clinic and chairman of RTÉ is actually laughable. Even if he wanted to, the very fact that his business is so out in the open would make it impossible for him to be underhand without being found out.

Incidentally, lest I be accused of a conflict of interest myself, I am of course a colleague in this paper of Terry Prone, and, I hope, a friend. Moreover, I’ve used the services of the Communications Clinic a number of times. They helped the mother of a disabled child to tell her story. They helped someone who had been unfairly passed over for promotion to perform brilliantly at interview. They helped several people I’ve worked with to find the way to express the challenges they were facing. They always sigh deeply when I ask for the help. And they’ve never charged.

The bottom line, though, is this. It’s hard to imagine anyone better for the job that needs to be done in RTÉ than Tom Savage. Yes, RTÉ needs to be challenged. But it also needs to be defended. One terrible error should not be allowed to destroy years of impeccable, courageous, and honest broadcasting. That’s what RTÉ represents — it’s in our interests, in the most fundamental way imaginable, that RTÉ has a strong and gutsy future. With Tom Savage, that future is in safe, honest and skilled hands.

But what about the future of our currency? That’s in your hands next Thursday. How you vote could have the most extraordinary repercussions.

But maybe not in the way we’ve been led to believe. Most people, it seems to me, no longer believe (if they ever did) the more fanciful claims made on either side of this debate. People haven’t bought the notion that a yes vote will help us to rebuild the economy overnight and create the thousands of jobs we need. Neither have they swallowed the line that a no vote will in some sense contribute to an end of our austerity.

Our electorate is sophisticated. We can read between the lines of these arguments, and we have figured out for ourselves that this is a debate about the future of our currency. Our currency used to be the pound, and then it was the punt. Whenever the currency was under severe pressure in those days, people followed the debates very closely indeed.

That’s why the single most compelling argument I’ve heard throughout the referendum campaign has been the shocked reaction of people I’ve met to the TV coverage of what’s happening in Greece. In particular, the scenes of people queuing up in their own banks in Athens to try to withdraw their own money have convinced people that we cannot allow that level of uncertainty to hang over the currency on which we depend for our everyday transactions.

ONE of the best articles I’ve read about the uncertainty in the euro is in an online publication called slate.com, to which I was recently introduced. Slate.com is owned by the Washington Post, and its views on the euro aren’t informed by any of the arguments that have featured here in the last month or so. Its analysis is refreshing because it’s clear, accessible and written in English. There isn’t an ESFS or and ESM in sight.

The article describes the creation of the euro as “a courageous and unique experiment” whose future is now in doubt — to the possible disadvantage of the entire world economy. And the authors are in no doubt about what caused the crisis. In their summary, they say this: “The euro system was designed to deliver prosperity and stability for all. It has clearly failed for some countries, and it may fail for many. Severe mismanagement by European politicians has caused damage that will last for decades.”

We know what that mismanagement meant to us. Some of our most senior politicians had access to cheap money for years, and abused it. They bought votes with it, they incentivised get-rich-quick schemes for bankers and builders, they built nothing sustainable and they left nothing behind, just a mountain of debt that we can never pay.

If the currency collapses, that mountain of debt could simply bury us. That’s why we all know now that voting yes on Thursday may not guarantee a bright future. But voting no will guarantee a bleak one. We’re going to need to take our courage in our hands, and vote yes to help to save our currency.


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