Willie’s ouster: Was it a twick or Tweet?
There will be a lot of commentary about how Dan Boyle’s two blogs on his Twitter site on Wednesday night did for Willie O’Dea. Though new media enthusiasts will always point trimphantly to how some miracle was achieved Facebook or Twitter or whatever, all it is is a pretty basic form of communication, with its own benefits but also with its own limits.
The reason why it took on such resonance was that Boyle was departing from the official party line. If Twitter didn’t exist I am sure he would have found some other means (a blog, an email to a journalist, a phone call or a text) to vent his displeasure.
It’s the message and not the medium that counts. And Boyle’s message provided a couple of uncomfortable home truths for the Green Pary and also for Fianna Fail. The charade of a confidence motion in the Dáil on Wednesday was a disaster for both parties.
Indeed, the approach of both parties this week (and even in the past two weeks) to Willigate was a shambles.
The Government didn’t cop on to the potential damage it could have caused.
Sure, the story was ignored. Everybody missed a trick on it. But when it returned to the heart of the agenda, there was no use fobbing people off asking silly diversionary questions about why has everybody ignored it for two months.
The trouble for Willie also spelled a clear and present danger for both parties in Government.
The clear evidence is that both were in denial about it and completely ignored its combustive nature until it was too late.
On Monday, the line of both Government parties was this. It was all disposed off in a court case two months ago. The matter is closed. They were also giving the (wrong) impression that the High Court had accepted and approved O’Dea’s explanation that his swearing of the false affidavit was innocent. It had done nothing of the kind. The phrase was part of the settlement arrived at between his lawyers and Maurce Quinlivan’s lawyers. O’Dea was over a barrel and had to pay a substantial sum of money to Quinlivan for slandering him. His lawyers did well to get that “off the hook” phrase included.
O’Dea had three problems. He had made a false and malicious allegation against Quinlivan that he was a criminal and was involved in brothel-keeping. He swore an affidavit denying it. He apologised in Court because he had to but never apologised for the slur in public, indeed continued to repeat it even in his statemetn on Wednesday.
The Litany of things Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his Ministers and his handlers did wrong.
1. They didn’t realise the magnitude of the problem until it was too late
2. They didn’t do proper research into the background of the case
3. They resorted wholly on a line in a settlement between two parties in a court case as if it gave Willie O’Dea a clean bill of health. It didn’t. He had made an appalling slur. He had still lied on oath.
4. The defence of Willie throughout the week should have included an acknowledgement that what Willie had done was wrong and Cowen should have at the very least slapped him on the wrist.
5. Nobody vetted O’Dea’s original statement to see if it would ease matters or throw more fat onto the fire. It did the latter of course.
5. Cowen’s strategy of ordering an early no confidence debate backfired.
6. Cowen’s own speech was terrible. No apology. No acknowledgment of any wrongdoing. An attack on Fine Gael. Totally misjudged the mood. He also allowedO’Dea to make a speech that was obscenely out of kilter with what was required.
7. Allowing Dermot Ahern to make nasty jibes and heckles and chortle his way through the whole debate also went down terribly.
What Willie did Wrong
1. He was caught bang to rights and should have been contrite from the start. Instead, he set off as if he were the victim and he was wronged. His Sunday Independent article was a disgrace and his two statements were self-serving.
2. His aggressive performances in the Dail.
3. His singular failure to apologise fully for accusing a candidate of being a criminal brothel-keeper.
4. His portrayal of himself as a victim.
5. His allegation in the Dail that the guards told him. That opened up another can of worms for him.
What the Greens did wrong
1. Following he Fianna Fail party line early in the week without teasing out the impliction of the story.
2. Not thinking its approach through. The party needed to say in public that Willie O’Dea had behaved badly but that on balance it believed him that he did not swear a false affidavit deliberately. It was a serious matter but not a resigning issue.
3. Eamon Ryan’s performance in the confidence debate in the Dail. He rushed in at the last minute, after giving the chief whip Pat Carey a double hernia. It became clear from early on that he had no script. Instead he gave a halting speech that looked like it had been dictated to him by Fianna Fail. He could have put the whole thing into context, setting out the Greens uncomfortable position with O’Dea’s behaviour, while giving him the benefit of the doubt.
4. The terrible optics of the party reversing its position within 24 hours and trying to justify it all under the heading of ‘newly discovered facts’.