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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 10, 2009 @ 10:32 pm

    The Frontline Heckler

    Harry McGee


    I wrote the story on Alan O’Brien’s dramatic outburst against Pat Kenny on RTE’s Frontline last night. When I checked late last night, the Tweeters and bloggers were also quick of the mark and out in force.

    The first sight readers of the paper saw of the story was this morning or at 1am if they read it online. But the point is that that it was written up in six minutes, quicker than your average blog. I had time only to tap the stuff out, certainly little time to reflect on the quality of the intervention.

    When I was thinking about it afterwards, what impressed me was that O’Brien had not used bad language during the course of his intervention, though the decibel levels reached Motorhead levels on a couple of occasions.

    He seems a fascinating character. He was the guy who intervened in the ICTU public march last Friday to rail against David Begg. He also showed up to challenge the champion of atheism Richard Dawkins.

    When our stories go online, there is a link to allow people to correspond with the reporter. I got a lot of responses today. Most of them were strongly supportive of O’Brien who they said had a point.  The gist was that high-profile and high-earning  RTE presenters like Kenny and Joe Duffy and Marian Finucane do not have the moral authority to talk about those on social welfare.

    O’Brien is likely to become a bit of a folk hero following last night’s heckle, a little similar to the guy who threw an egg at John Prescott during the 2001 elections in Britian and ended up at the wrong end of a right hook from the then deputy prime minister.

    One small footnote. RTE presenters pay is a legitimate issue for debate on programmes at the national broadcaster but it’s treated a little the elephant in the room (I hate that expression but just can’t think of any other at the moment). I also believe that the production team was caught wrong-footed. It took a while for everybody to realise he was directing his attack at Kenny and it would have looked terrible to have cut him off immediately once that realisation was made. But then neither his energy levels or his voice levels abated and when it was only when it it kept on going on and on that the decision was finally taken to pull the plug.

    It was highly embarrassing for Kenny obviously. But whatever you think about his salary levels,  I thought he dealt with it as well and professinoally as he could  (and perhaps the only way that he could). By contrast, whatever about Jack O’Connor’s gaffe last week, he should not have described the comment as “crap”.

    • Michael says:

      I only caught the clip on this website. Are those who are impressed impressed by the point he made or by the angry and disruptive way in which he made it?

      It seemed to me that the point he made could have been made in 15-20 seconds without the need to shout or be expelled from the studio. But perhaps the heckler and his supporters feel that now is a time to express their anger forcefully. Whatever the case, I’m sure the incident will boost viewer numbers for future editions of Frontline.

    • Tom Ennis says:

      I actually think his point is nonsense. By extension- does anyone who earns more than social welfare recipients have no right to comment on them? Perhaps he meant only those who make significantly more but even then, the average industrial wage is at least three times the dole which is surely still pretty significant. Should your doctor only advise you to quit smoking if he was an ex-smoker himself?

    • Liam says:

      I saw the Youtube clip of it and he was a bit all over the place bringing up Pat’s land dispute etc. A simple question with a pregnant pause would have hit home better imo, or the Paxman approach to maximise the airtime. The “RTE” licence fee is a joke in this day and age and it’s a shame that low-earners have to pay it to keep a gilded luvvies elite in the style to which they have been accustomed. It would be great to see a boycott of it

    • Jane says:

      Pat Kenny is fair game. He puts himself forward publicly as a rational reasonable Irish commentator while also clearly believing he is worth some humongous amount of taxpayer’s money. He has not been graceful about his pay situation, nor does he create a pretty picture going to law about land around his house and other matters. His reaction to Jack O’Connor’s fairly harmless remark was the real Pat. Humility and community spirit are not characteristics that spring to mind.

      The heckler makes valid points about a number of public people. And why not? He goes on a bit, but sometimes he needs to so that people realise how serious he is. We, as a nation, have a habit of not seeing what is in front of us or hearing what is said to us if it isn’t a view we have heard before. That may be one of the reasons we are in the mess we are now. We could use a few more hecklers.

    • robespierre says:

      Pat Kenny hires himself out to RTE through his company. As such he should have to comply with conflict-of-interest legislation like any other private contractor providing professional services to a state body.

      He and other commentators do have direct conflicts of interest. Other commentators do not as they are not being paid out of the public purse.

      There are huge issues at the moment with RTE’s impartiality in “setting” a neutral news agenda. I believe they have crossed the Rubicon and are now firmly in the Government camp and “on message”. Incidentally, the license fee is part of the budgeting process – funny that isn’t it.

      TV3 and its parent are also wiping the floor with RTE three days a week. It’s incredible that The Apprentice is getting more viewers than the staid 9 o’clock news bulletin but I know why. Apart from its Reality TV aspect it is about doing something in a difficult market and the challenges this year have been more demanding in many cases than most set by the BBC equivalent.

    • Joseph says:

      This is the same guy that was having a pop at the union leaders (Begg et al) who were walking at the front of the march last Friday. He was ‘led away’ then too. A colourful character.

      I saw this programme and saw Ms/Miss/Mrs Hanafin talking about welfare cuts – she seemed to only want to talk about child benefit (which sounds like bad news for the other benefit payments, when a minister deliberately avoids talking about them).

      Point 1) I’m amazed that someone (Pat Kenny) who is paid in excess of €600k a year can’t summon up some more incisive questions than he did (does he always give people such an easy ride on this so-called ‘hard-hitting’ current affairs show? It’s the first time I’ve watched it and I thought he was pathetic. Like a mediocre chat show host – which he is – trying to play Jeremy Paxman/hardball journalist….. and failing badly.). I had to laugh when I saw the words ‘talent’ and ‘Pat Kenny’ in the same sentence.

      Point 2) We are 3 weeks away from what is probably the most important budget in the history of our State and we have a government minister coming on the TV telling us that “no decisions have been made yet” (and that was repeated by Brian Cowen yesterday).

      Now correct me if I’m wrong but if it were true that no decisions have been made yet, then the best-case scenario is that they are incompetent (they should be fine-tuning things 3 weeks away from the budget, not still deciding what they are going to do).

      If it is not true and they have decided what they are doing, then she misled us. Part of coming onto the TV for a minister is the whole idea of ‘being accountable to the electorate’ and that wasn’t really my idea of accountability.

      It beggars belief that any government can be 3 weeks away from a budget like this and tell us “they don’t know what they’re doing yet”.

      I don’t think child benefit should be cut for anyone but higher rate taxpayers (and it should be removed for them). I don’t think that unemployment benefit should be cut. I do think that mortgage interest supplement should be extended to EVERY person with a mortgage who has been made unemployed through no fault of their own and rent supplement should not be cut further.

      There are lots of applications for this mortgage supplement being turned down every day on very spurious grounds (“ah sure, they couldn’t really afford the mortgage when they took it out 5 years ago so application refused”.)

      All this BS about the better off being already taxed to the hilt and that Lenihan can only cut benefits and public sector pay instead of raising taxes is just that – BS. Ireland is the lowest taxation regime in Europe and if you don’t believe me, go and have a dig around the archives of irisheconomy.ie and you will find the hard data/facts.

      The government are spinning us about not being able to raise taxes. There is a much bigger agenda going on here….. and it’s only partly to do with protecting the wealthy elite cronies.

      The real agenda is to ‘remove the floor’ and bring down the cost of labour at the bottom so that the ‘differentials’ above also come down. This is FF’s idea of a ‘strategy’ for recovery. They think that causing lots of human misery (though not to themselves or their buddies) is the only way to make Ireland look competitive again. This is neo-liberalism/right wing economics at its worst – bring down people’s incomes but not the prices they are paying for everything.

      Don’t be surprised to see unemployment benefit cut in this budget then the minimum wage to be brought down next year (then unemployment benefit to be cut again – accompanied by enforced wage cuts in the public and private sectors). They will probably dress it up a bit by maybe giving less in child benefit to higher rate taxpayers and tell us they are ‘hitting’ them too. I know people who claim more in private pension premiums tax relief than some people get in unemployment benefit (and they’re usually the first people in the queue wanting the unemployed scalped).

      When I put what Hanafin had to say through the BS filter, I also thought that she was saying that younger/single people (the most mobile people) would be hit hardest this budget (as if they haven’t already been hit this year). This will be done under the guise of ‘protectiong the most vulnerable families’. The reality is that the government want younger single people to leave the country. They are less easy to put the fear of God into and make pliable and if they can get loads to leave it will make the unemployment figures look better.

      If you disagree with me then tell me I’m wrong ………. but I don’t reckon I am. We will only just be seeing the start of it with this budget.

      The amount of spin that is going on by the government at the moment is the greatest I have ever seen and that alone has to start ringing some alarm bells. If we don’t react to what’s coming at us over the next few weeks then we are going to get shafted. Well and truly shafted.

      The irony for Pat Kenny must be that privatising RTE must have crossed the government’s mind as it would raise quite a few bob. He would find himself out of a job pretty quickly, replaced by a younger, cheaper ‘talent’.

    • kate scott says:

      Well wouldn’t you know. Out come the begrudgers. Doubtless they are all too ‘honourable’ to ever accept such a salary were it offered!

      Pat Kenny is an admirable professional, unlike so many others in RTE. He is always on top of the brief; asks forensic questions without fear or favour, but at the same time is courteous to all-comers.

      God forbid we should have people of merit and dignity like Pat Kenny facilitating one of the most ignorant countries in the world with the opportunity to THINK and investigate the Kafkaesque mess that is FF and their limo-men cronies on semi-state bodies and quangos.

      I don’t believe anybody is worth the salaries RTE pays BUT, that is not the fault of the recipient.

    • The first sight readers of the paper saw of the story was this morning or at 1am if they read it online.

      Not quite, Harry. The first appearance of this gentleman online here was on the soaraway Screenwriter blog at 12.43 that morning (the date stamp is still an hour fast)


      He did have second billing to Benicio del Toro, mind.

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