In some ways, you have to feel very sorry for Fianna Fáil’s MEP Billy Kelleher. When he voted, as a TD, to abolish the offence of blasphemy, he probably thought he was increasing his own freedom of speech. What he didn’t realise was that the offence of blasphemy in Ireland was only abolished for mocking and criticising incorporeal and invisible deities, like Jesus Christ, Buddha, or Allah. If you criticise one of the Gods who walk amongst us, you can still be thrown to the masses on account of your villainy. And let’s be honest, criticising RTE’s Tony Connelly a day or two before Brexit in today’s Ireland is about as close as you can get to somebody mocking Jesus Christ on Christmas eve in the presence of an Archbishop in the 1950s:
“RTÉ Europe Editor Tony Connelly has accepted an apology from Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher after the politician suggested the broadcaster’s licence fee should be cut over its “pitiful” coverage of EU affairs.
Mr Kelleher’s attack, made on Twitter on Wednesday ahead of MEPs in Brussels overwhelmingly endorsing the Brexit withdrawal agreement which allows the UK to leave the EU on Friday, provoked a widespread backlash online.
Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin distanced himself from the comments and heaped praise on Mr Connelly, who has been internationally recognised for his reporting and analysis on Brexit.
In his tweet, Mr Kelleher said he met Mr Connolly in the European Parliament and “exchanged polite words about the hugely significant vote that was happening later”.
The MEP went on to claim RTÉ is “pitiful on EU matters of public interest” and suggested “a reduction” in the €160 licence fee.”
As befitting someone of his dignity and grace, Mr. Connelly has graciously accepted the apology from Kelleher for his horrendously offensive words, which may have given the Irish public the perception that RTE’s coverage of the European Union was less than perfect.
Was he right, though?
There’s no doubt that Connelly has been one of the most consistently hard-working journalists on Brexit specifically, breaking story after story during the torturous negotiations that are culminating in Britain’s departure from the EU this evening. Part of the reason, for that, to be fair, is that the Irish Government had a policy of leaking as much as possible during those negotiations, in an attempt to undermine the British position, but that doesn’t take away from Connelly’s achievements, which were significant.
But that wasn’t Kelleher’s point. Bryan MacDonald, an Irish journalist working in Russia, makes the point Kellegher was probably trying to make:
Really? Why? RTE’s EU coverage is dreadful. They essentially don’t cover continental European news at all. Even though it’s far more relevant to Ireland than what happens in US/UK. How many Irish people can name the German opposition leader? Or leaders of EU parliament?
— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) January 29, 2020
For a country that claims, so often, to be “at the heart of Europe”, the Irish state broadcaster really doesn’t pay any attention to what’s happening in Europe at all. France has been engulfed by protests for about two years now, and they basically never merit a mention. There were important elections in Italy a week ago, and the average Irish person will not have heard about them. If you’re reading this article, you probably have some interest in current affairs, so here’s a basic enough question: Who’s the leader of the German opposition?
RTE spends vast resources covering American politics, even though the stated position of the Irish political and media establishment is that we should be closer to Berlin than Boston.
Was Kelleher really making such an offensive point?
In any case, it doesn’t matter now. He’s apologised, and his apology has been accepted. The fact that he had absolutely nothing to apologise for is secondary, and unimportant.
In Ireland, there are always some people who you may not criticise. Laws might change, and the names of those people might change, but the fundamental nature of the Irish establishment will never change.
They’re the most insecure people on the planet.