TERRY PRONE: Fine Gael official’s expression of apology was far from unreserved

So there’s this little oul’ wan on the beach, it being summer when the event happens. She is elderly and small, so it is perfectly fair to describe her as a little oul’ wan. 

Kate O'Connell TD gathered & printed a series of tweets by Barry Walsh which were derogatory to women & presented them to the parliamentary party.

She is also a grandmother, accompanied, on this visit to the strand, by her toddler grandson, who is, perhaps, two years of age.

No other members of the family are present.

The two of them are gathering shells and making sandcastles near the edge of the sea, happy out, when the next thing, along comes a freak wave which sweeps the grandchild out of her arms and disappears him into the ocean.

The grandmother is distraught. She screams and weeps and begs God to be merciful. She imagines what the parents of the toddler will say when she returns without him.

She prays from the depths of her despair and terror and — lo and behold — another freak wave deposits the grandchild right back on the beach in front of her.

She clutches him, examines him and finds that other than profound dampness, the kid is pretty much as he was before he went swimming.

The grandmother, holding his little body close to hers, looks skyward and speaks.

“He had a hat,” she tells the almighty.

I mention the little oul’ wan because she has something in common with the guy who resigned from the Fine Gael national executive just before the weekend.

The little oul’ wan did not know how to express unreserved gratitude. The former Fine Gael national executive guy — Barry Walsh — doesn’t know how to express an unreserved apology.

Now, there’s a place for the reserved apology. I could send you a letter apologising for rear-ending your car while noting I was a bit distracted because the building next to us blew up at that moment, and anyway your car was such a banger that if I did any damage to it, nobody would be able to distinguish my damage from the rest.

That would be a reserved apology: Expressing sorrow, but hedging the apologiser’s bets at the same time.

But that’s not what the FG man believed he was offering. He stated that he was unreservedly apologising, so it’s fair to parse his expression of contrition just a little.

First point to make is that, under pressure, people retreat in a weird way to what they’ve learned from media.

So you have people, as they resign, burbling on about spending more time with the children they never bothered with up to now, and you get relentless publicity hounds asking that the privacy they would hardly know if it came up to them and introduced itself now be respected by media.

Mr Walsh, first of all, announced that his apology was unreserved, presumably without thinking about the phrase much, because he had a shedload of reservations coming down the track, the first of which was that he had suffered “trial by media”.

Now, there may be a place for this phrase, but in all my years advising people who are either in public life or who get briefly projected into public life, I have never witnessed its use in a way that advanced the case of the person using it.

Inevitably, if you’re at the front end of a news story, media will test out your veracity and perhaps investigate your past performance Possibly, they will come to a consensus that you are crazy, crooked or criminal.

But defamation law tends to prevent them stating any one of these verdicts. Recent pick up from social media of allegations of sexual and other misconduct are exceptions to this rule, but that doesn’t apply in this instance.

In the curious case of Mr Walsh, the accused (himself) presented exhibits A, B and C to media. Indeed, because he went on social media, he presented these exhibits to anybody who wanted to look at them.

So lots of people saw him describing as a killer a woman who had publicly stated that she’d had an abortion, and describing several other women as bitches.

It was Kate O’Connell TD who harvested up exhibits A, B and C and presented printed out versions of them to the parliamentary party, whence, as is the natural course of events, they leaked to media.

Media didn’t accuse Mr Walsh of anything he could disprove.

He’d signed his electronic name to his offerings. Describing himself as having undergone a trial by media, accordingly, is a bit of a stretch.

The next reservation he put into his apology is a variant on Michael Colgan’s one about blurring the line between friendship and professional relationships.

Implication: “My friends have no problem taking vulgar sexual abuse from me, so I figured what’s sauce for the friends, is sauce for the staff.”

Mr Walsh’s version is that he always liked a bit of robust political jousting, himself. Lots of us do. We don’t extend the definition to calling people at the other end of our lance killers or bitches.

But — be clear — if that’s the way Mr Walsh thinks, that’s the way he thinks. All we’re doing today is identifying the reservations in his unreserved apology.

Next up is the “distraction” reservation. This is another of those cliches learned off media and regurgitated without thought by those caught with their hand in the till or in other inappropriate places.

They present their resignations as noble-minded exercises in the prevention of them becoming a distraction from the sterling work their government, organisation or commercial firm is doing.

The reader, they hope, will infer that the offender could have stayed in role and fought the accusation, but their noblesse obliged them to remove themselves. Nonsense.

The last element in this particular apology is the indication that the people who have suffered most over this “trial by media” are the man’s family.

Again, the hidden inference is that he’s a big boy and could take it, but is apologising in order to take away the misery inflicted on his family.

Which does rather miss the point that nobody — not even Kate O’Connell, who wouldn’t be Mr Walsh’s greatest fan — has said anything about him alleging some evil secret.

All anybody has said, in effect, is “Look, see what this guy has said. Is it

acceptable? I don’t think so.”

They have, in other words, brought his own statements, his own Tweets, to a wider currency. Now, either he thought Fine Gael would like them, which argues a mild lack of judgment, or he thought they wouldn’t. Either way, his family don’t seem to have been his top priority when he took to Twitter jousting.

I’ve no doubt Mr Walsh is sorry.

He has lost something that was reputedly precious to him. When his party undertakes its disciplinary procedure, he may respond to it with an unreserved apology.

But when he gets around to it, he should know that what he’s done so far is a country mile away from that.



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