Some see difficulties accessing report as clever media strategy
Report’s unwieldy format could be seen as a master class in ‘dark arts of spin’
Enda Kenny: got his “spake” in first without his detractors being in a position to challenge his version of events. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
The Fennelly report arrived into Government Buildings on Monday night. It was 280 pages but it did not arrive as hard copy. It came as a USB key fob with a very large PDF file attached. When it came to publishing the report less than 24 hours later the format it had arrived in became a bit of an issue and led to difficulties for hundreds who unsuccessfully tried to access the report online.
Some, including Opposition figures, saw this unwieldy format as one of the ingredients in a clever media management strategy that allowed Taoiseach Enda Kenny get his “spake” in first without his detractors being in a position to challenge his version of events for many hours afterwards. Essentially the Taoiseach’s line that he had been vindicated topped the news agenda for most of the day.
Government figures have argued that the way in which it happened just came down to timing; that there was no political calculation or chicanery behind it.
Others differed. “It was a master class in the dark arts of spin,” said an experienced media adviser. “The way it was timed and the way it was released allowed the Government to control the agenda from start to finish.”
The sequence of events was that only one copy of the report was published on a key fob and that was sent to Merrion Street on Monday evening. The Taoiseach had not read the report that night but had read the 280 pages by the following morning.
On the same night, Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton was given a “status update” by Martin Fraser, the secretary general of the Government. The next morning the Taoiseach and Tánaiste had a brief conversation and he intimated that report would be published as soon as it was cleared by the office of the Attorney General.
In separate media comments both indicated it could be published later that day.
Kenny was able to convey his line that he expected to be vindicated. In a doorstep interview, he said: “The central charge made against me – of breaking the law and sacking the Garda commissioner – I’ve rejected that always and still do...I look forward to publication of the report.”
Burton received a hard copy at about 12.30pm that day. By that stage it was evident that the file was very big (the document had essentially been scanned) and that it was difficult to open and read electronically.
The report was finally published at about 5.30pm on the Government website, merrionstreet.ie. Simultaneously, a press release was issued from the Taoiseach’s office with the line the Fennelly Commission had not concluded he had sacked the commissioner.
However, it wasn’t that simultaneous. Those trying to access the report on the website could not, and the site could not cope with the volume of people trying to access it. Sometime later the political blogger Gavin Sheridan used software to post a file of the report that was much smaller and searchable. The question was why did the Government with all its resources not make the report easier to access online?
The Taoiseach gave only one substantial interview to Bryan Dobson on RTÉ News at 6pm. However, it occurred so quickly after the release that nobody had had a chance to read the entirety of the report or its details.
Dobson is one of the best political interviewers in the business and he did the best possible job in the circumstances. But as he himself said he had had little time to identify the key passages, including those Kenny himself had neglected to mention in his press release – those criticisms of his actions during the controversy – and also those criticisms of Attorney General Máire Whelan.
As the media adviser said of the interview: “He [Kenny] had fulfilled his duty and could not be accused of not doing a serious interview. Essentially, because of the timing, with one bound he was free.”