I have heard more than one unkind soul mutter in recent months that the Irish Times is slowly evolving into the house journal of Sinn Fein while others of a more cynical mind suggest that any softness shown towards the Provos in that organ is more a case of opportunistic expediency, i.e. covering the collective ass in case editor Kevin O’Sullivan might soon have to deal with Tanaiste Adams, or even Taoiseach Adams. If so then they are in good company as the good folk in RTE can attest.
The evidence of recent weeks though suggests otherwise, and that like most of the Irish media, when it comes to an issue to beat Mr Adams with that doesn’t seem to imperil the blessed peace process, like the disappearance of a widowed mother-of-ten, the Irish Times can give as good as anyone. The Mairia Cahill scandal coverage showed us that.
But what are we to make of the contrasting stories that appeared last Thursday and Friday analysing the results of an Irish Times/IpsosMRBI opinion poll on whether support for Sinn Fein was affected one way or the other by the Mairia Cahill sexual abuse scandal.
The first story, filed nearly at midnight on the Thursday, carried a headline and an opening paragraph that said support for Gerry Adams had declined while SF had failed to score an expected rise in support at the expense of Fine Gael and Labour. That story carried no byline. But the message was clear: Mairia Cahill had damaged Sinn Fein.
By the following day however all had changed. ‘Cahill controversy has little impact on SF support’, trumpeted the headline over a story written by Stephen Collins, the paper’s political editor and date stamped at 03.00 a.m. on the Friday, less than four hours after the first story appeared.
Collins went on explain that while the Mairia Cahill scandal had “some impact”, a majority of people said that it would not affect the way they would vote.
So there you are, Sinn Fein, You can breathe easily now.
So how does one explain the difference between the two stories? It is of course perfectly possible that Stephen Collins took a fresh look at the numbers and came up with a different conclusion than his anonymous colleague did a few hours earlier.
The other explanation is that once the first story appeared on the paper’s website the phones between Sinn Fein’s Dail offices or wherever their PR people hang out at that time of night and the Irish Times’ office were red hot.
That, of course, would be a very cynical conclusion to arrive at and as regular readers of this blog know well, thebrokenelbow.com doesn’t deal in cynicism. Does it?
Here’s the first story:
Irish Times/IpsosMRBI poll: support for Gerry Adams declines in wake of his response to Mairia Cahill allegations
Sinn Féin’s failure to make ground at the expense of the Government parties during the recent furore over water charges can be attributed to the party’s handling of allegations of rape and cover-up made by Mairia Cahill. Public support for the party fell by two points at a time when it should have risen and satisfaction with the performance of Gerry Adams, who directly challenged Ms Cahill’s version of events, fell by nine points.
A worrying aspect of this controversy, from Sinn Féin’s point of view, is that one-third of those questioned in the latest Irish Times/ IpsosMRBI opinion poll are less likely to vote for the party because of the way the Cahill case was handled. The strongest negative reaction came from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael supporters. But one in ten Sinn Féin followers also expressed reservations. Instead of consolidating recent gains, a loss of public trust caused a surge of support towards Independents and Others.
The damaging public reaction to Ms Cahill’s shabby treatment probably reflects the nature of the offence; its immediacy and the self-serving quality of the denials. By contrast, the questioning of Mr Adams some months ago in relation to the decades-old murder of Jean McConville had no impact on party support. But the justifications offered by Mr Adams and Sinn Féin in the Cahill case – and the handing of sexual crimes involving other IRA members – chimed in the public mind with previous Catholic Church scandals. In those instances, the effects were both corrosive and persistent.
Sinn Féin has its troubles, but water charges are likely to cause a serious drag on Government support as it prepares for an election. Fewer than 50 per cent of householders have indicated a willingness to pay the charge, in spite of a series of reductions introduced by the Government parties and a capping of the charge for a number of years. One-third of those questioned said they will not pay and resistance is most entrenched in Leinster and Munster.
Those who say they “can’t pay” inflate the figure for those who insist that they “won’t pay” in this exercise. Nearly 70 per cent of top earners are willing to fund water and sewage services, compared to 40 per cent at the lowest income level. Eleven per cent of households remain undecided. The financial viability of Irish Water and its ability to meet EU rules regarding Government subsidies could be threatened if this level of resistance persisted for a number of years.
Participation in public protests has been high, but there is obvious concern in relation to militant action. While one-quarter regarded a protest involving Tánaiste Joan Burton at Jobstown as peaceful, some 60 per cent did not. Women, in particular, took a negative view of what happened during the protest.