Media itched with good reason for Enda to call election

Kenny insists it will be a spring vote and now nothing of any note will happen until then

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: his every utterance and dramatic pause was inevitably analysed for signs that they contained an election timing strategy hidden within. Photograph:   Gareth Chaney Collins

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: his every utterance and dramatic pause was inevitably analysed for signs that they contained an election timing strategy hidden within. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The media has been itching for a general election in November, not caring who sees it scratch.

“Extraordinary media frenzy about election timing – creating their own furore and rudely harassing Ministers. It’s shallow and boring,” tweeted former Fine Gael minister Gemma Hussey.

Shallow and boring! Since when has that ever stopped us before, etc.

One rationale for the alleged frenzy is simple. The prospect of a Christmas marred by a depression spiral of pre-election “build-up” is too painful for most newsrooms to contemplate. The idea that headlines will still be frozen in speculation mode come January is enough to send anyone over the edge – or into the clutches of Renua, which is much the same.

When it comes to democracy, the most important thing for any politician to do is keep journalists happy and get on with it. So once the surprise hope of a November election was dangled, Enda Kenny’s every utterance and dramatic pause was inevitably analysed for signs that they contained an election timing strategy hidden within.

Take, for example, the Taoiseach’s appearance on RTÉ One’s The Week in Politics. “I haven’t changed my mind,” he began enigmatically. (As we did not know his mind, we could not know the thoughts that spew from his unchanged one.)

“I’ve been very consistent in anything I’ve said about this. My intention is to have the general election in the spring of 2016 and I see no reason to change that.”

But Kenny blinked several times during this answer. Clearly, it was a valiant non-denial denial in which the missing word at the end of the sentence was “yet”.

Wishful thinking says election postermania will be upon us by the end of the month, with those half-smiling, half- grimacing “Elect me!” faces keeping us appropriately horrified either side of Halloween. Logic, in light of Kenny’s repeated “spring” assertions, now says otherwise. Bookies who wrongly predicted the colour of Michael Noonan’s Budget day tie look solid in their faith in February.

Speaking of the Minister for Finance, he was back in Radio 1 yesterday for RTÉ’s post-Budget phone-in, patiently answering questions from the electorate on Today with Seán O’Rourke.

It’s been a mixed year for Noonan in the O’Rourke studio. An ultra-polite exchange in September was notable mostly for the fact that Noonan insisted: “When the circumstances change, I change my mind.” Here, he was paraphrasing a line often attributed, with scant evidence, to 20th century economist John Maynard Keynes. It is beloved of politicians, including those, like Noonan, not known for their love of Keynesianism.

Noonan left out the “What do you do, sir?” snark that ends the quote, but his tone was quite different in April, when O’Rourke’s inquiries as to why the Department of Finance had not been more upfront about its Siteserv concerns, elicited a testy response that culminated with the immortal words: “Get off the stage, get off the stage.”

Noonan attempted to deflect the O’Rourke grill by countering that RTÉ wasn’t so wonderful at disclosure (though what this had to do with its journalists or Siteserv was a mystery).

“You’re sitting on reports for 12 months that you haven’t published yet,” he complained. It turned out he meant the NewERA cost analysis of RTÉ operations and an Indecon report on the advertising market, neither of which were for RTÉ to publish, and both of which had in fact already been published by Alex White’s Department of Communications.

That same day, it was suggested that tensions between Noonan and RTÉ would somehow be a factor in a delay to the Coalition’s oft-stated plan to introduce legislation that would give the television licence fee collection agent, An Post, access to the customer data of pay-TV companies. An Post would remain in the dark unless RTÉ behaved itself, officially by cutting costs again.

The legislation, still a believe-it-when- you-see-it-prospect, was designed to recover some of the €30 million lost annually to evasion and was itself floated only after more serious reform of media funding was abandoned.

The Cabinet, White revealed in April, has had “robust” discussions on the subject of the media. In this instance it seems to curiously part company on whether it is sensible to uphold the current law or whether this should be conditional on RTÉ’s good behaviour.

It’s one manifestation of a valid reason why it would be better for an election to take place this instant: until it does, a policy paralysis that extends far beyond the licence fee will hold sway. Shallow and boring are just two words for it.

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