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Dublin Bay South: the media set the posh against the privileged

Bye-elections are a curious beast, not least because with just one electoral area, and therefore a smallish number of candidates, the focus of politicos becomes hyper-intense. 

There’s gangs of them digging for gold, or even votes, in the leafy streets of Dublin Bay South at the moment. Ministers are pictured getting down with the party juniors on the mean boulevards of Rathgar to eke out a few more number ones for their candidate.

The media are very excited about this particular exercise in democracy, partly because it’s a distraction to their endless boot-licking of the government’s disastrous handling of Covid-19, but also because one of their favourite people ever is in the running, and – joy oh joy – looks like winning the damn thing.

It’s no secret that most Irish journalists lean to the liberal-left, but many of them also consider themselves a little too genteel for groupings like People Before Profit, even though the luminaries in those outfits actually tend to be equally posh and privately-educated enough to tell the proletariat what’s good for them.

Irish journalists prefer Labour, no longer the party of James Connolly (whose grave-spinning must now be exerting serious centrifugal force) but rather that of Sandymount socialism. They’re right at home with those who talk up Greta Thunberg and Thomas Piketty while driving Land Rovers and shopping in Brown Thomas.

Living like Fine Gaelers without the guilt, or something like that.

And while they prefer Labour, as John McGuirk pointed out yesterday, they absolutely love Ivana Bacik, who is their BFF forever. She’s been a part of the establishment foisting change-that’s-good-for-them on the Irish people for so long that she surely deserves a chance to rule.

So in the past three weeks, even as the lockdown lingers on like a bad smell and house prices are spelling doom for young families, we’ve had this ridiculous and entirely bogus spate of articles in the establishment media about the bye-election.

It’s Geoghegan versus Bacik, the posh against the privileged, even though the rest of the country can’t tell which is which. It’s ludicrous and laughable and fake.

Can we get real for a minute? They are both posh and privileged which is why they are running in Dublin Bay South. And they are both part of the political establishment which obsesses about rainbow crossings while people are dying of cancer because the lockdown has meant they couldn’t access a medical specialist.

We’re reduced to the ridiculous sight of the pro-Geoghegan media spatting with the pro-Bacik media about which of these two luvvies has the bigger gaf, or which of them attended the most expensive private school, or which of them inherited the most from their fabulously well-connected families, or other such nonsense.

Then there’s the usual suspects, still sounding like something you’d find in a student newspaper, loike, who think Bacik should get it because she’s a woman (or a cisgender woman, or identifies as a woman, or uses ‘she’ pronouns, or whatever nonsense you’re having yourself today) and went to Trinners.

Much of the coverage has been nauseating and not a little pathetic, to be honest.

But it does speak to the power the media have in shaping election outcomes. They decided that this was a Geoghegan v Bacik rumble and that was it. That was then used to set the narrative for the bye-election  – and  more seriously – to crowd other contenders out of the debate.

It’s always going to be strictly a battle against the biggest parties when the media cut everyone else out of the picture. And whatever about the newspapers deciding their favourite candidate, it’s especially egregious for the national public broadcaster to do so.

Fine Gael made a fuss this week about a RTE documentary featuring Ivana Bacik being shown the week of the election. But surely the far-greater outrage was that the tax-payer funded broadcaster took it upon themselves to decide who would and wouldn’t be heard.

Maireád Tóibín of Aontú threatened legal action against RTÉ because she was excluded from Dublin Bay South by-election TV and radio debates by the station. The head honchos at the station – the RTÉ’s Elections Steering Group – decided the televised debate would be restricted to the ‘front -runners’ Geoghegan and Bacik in additon to the candidates from Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats and People Before Profit.

The radio debate, on The Claire Byrne show, would be confined to just five candidates, and would not include the Soc Dems or PBP.

Mairéad Tóibín pointed out that she was currently polling ahead of the People Before Profit candidate, but her protests fell on deaf ears in RTÉ (more of the ‘we’ll decide what’s good for the plebs to hear’ attitude, there’s definitely a pattern here.)

RTÉ say that a debate with all candidates (listed below) would be unwieldy, but that’s nonsense. Why not have two debates in that case, with candidates appearing in alphabetical order, or according to polling, or some other basis. National airtime, something every taxpayer is forced to contribute to, should be equally available to anyone who throws their hat in the ring. Otherwise RTÉ, with by far the biggest reach of any media platform, is simply compounding and perpetuating the advantages of the bigger parties  – who are also massively funded by the taxpayer, by the way.

That Aontú have managed to pull themselves up to 3 or 4% in opinion polls despite being excluded from the coverage that is granted to similar sized parties like PBP or the Social Democrats is admirable. The fact that they, and Independent TDs like Mattie McGrath and Carol Nolan, continue to get elected is testament to the desire for something different in the Irish voter.

In Dublin Bay South, it looks like voters are set to return more of the same in this lame battle between the posh and the privileged. But those with their eye on the long game know that change can build both ways.

Voters go to the polls in Dublin Bay South tomorrow, Thursday, June 8th.  The candidates are:




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