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Interviewing the Taoiseach, Claire Byrne pushes her own agenda

“Caution must be the watchword here”, we heard on RTE Radio One yesterday morning, as the nation’s beleaguered leader took to the airwaves with RTE’s own Claire Byrne to discuss, amongst other things, the great national re-opening plan.

Reading that opening paragraph, you might think that it was the Taoiseach who told Claire Byrne that caution must be the watchword. It sounds, after all, like something a politician might say. You would, sadly, be wrong. The words were uttered by Byrne, not Martin – and not in the form of a question either.

It was not the only statement given to the nation by Byrne. On balance, if you listen to the interview above (the Covid section starts 12 minutes in) you will find that she actually makes more political statements than the politician she is interviewing does.

The re-opening plan, she tells him, is threatened by the “big dark cloud on the horizon” of the Indian Variant. “Caution must be the watchword”. She casts doubt on the efficacy of the vaccine, repeatedly. She pushes for Mandatory Quarantine to be extended to the UK.

Not once in the interview does this public service broadcaster – paid, remember, €250,000 per year to ask questions on behalf of the public – seek to ask a question on behalf of those people, in their tens of thousands, who have been out of work, or had their businesses closed for a year. At no point does she challenge the Government’s strategy from the point of view of people who want to see the country get back to normal. Martin was consistently pressed instead on the question of whether the country is opening up too soon, and whether he would accept NPHET’s advice if that advice was to close down again.

(He would, apparently, accept that advice. Of course, when you commit to accepting advice, regardless of what that advice is, then it is no longer advice. He might as well admit that NPHET are making and setting Government policy).

An ordinary person, if they simply listened to RTE, would have no reason to believe that anything in Ireland was abnormal. And yet, it is. Consider this image from the US PGA golf tournament, held in South Carolina over the weekend:

In the ordinary course of events, would it not be an obvious question for the Irish media to ask? “Why are large crowds safe at the golf in the USA, when we’re dubious about letting people even play golf by themselves here in Ireland?”

And it is not just in the USA, either. Consider these images from the weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest, held in the Netherlands:

Almost four thousand people, no facemasks, all indoors, singing and shouting their heads off. Is it not obvious to ask why that is safe in the Netherlands, but not in Ireland?

Even if you accept every argument on Covid policy made by the Irish Government, do those two events, held in countries not dissimilar to Ireland, not suggest that perhaps Irish Covid policy has failed? Because at minimum, they suggest that the USA and the Netherlands have managed to get back to normal faster, and more safely, than Ireland has.

This is not some sort of revolutionary thought. The point of a national broadcaster, the reason we pay through the nose to have one, is to hold Irish politicians to account, and challenge the policies that they are enacting. It is supposed to speak up for us, the citizens, and give us a voice.

RTE does not do that. That failure to challenge politicians, or present the case against continued lockdown at all, is artificially propping up support for policies that are having a disastrous impact on whole sectors of the economy, like aviation and hospitality.

RTE is convinced that the problem in Ireland is alternative news outlets like Gript, and people talking on social media. As Ben Scallan reported yesterday, they are now actively lobbying the Government for more cash for themselves, and laws to restrict the activities of people they do not like. The correct course of action, of course, would be the reverse: Defund RTE, and encourage Irish people to start getting their news elsewhere.

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