HIggins: Politicians must stand up to poorly informed and regular attacks…

I have a confession to make. As a class of people I like politicians, regardless of party. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Michael D Higgins at the BIPA. He’s at the senior end of his career, so has a certain rather useful perspective to share on life as a public representative. Today’s Irish Times covers his contribution in the Dail Committee on the Constitution debate:

“Really bad programmes like The Frontline , presented by Pat Kenny, are ones which really degrade politics altogether. You assemble an audience . . . you insist that you’re going to go from one to the other, not allowing anybody to finish.

“And then you turn to the camera, and say ‘that is all we have time for, I’m afraid’.”

Mr Higgins said when he was first elected to the Dáil in 1981, a serious political reporter or commentator would have been acquainted with political philosophy and history, but “that is rather gone now”.

He said most commentators now ceased working sometime between lunchtime on Wednesday and Thursday morning, after that it was “a matter of gathering gossip for the Sunday papers”.

Mr Higgins called on all those who stood for election to “have more bottle” and stand up to poorly informed and regular attacks on politicians.

Frontline is gripping, but it can also be a cross between Joe Duffy’s phone in on speed and a Russian courtroom. And this is absolutely bang on too:

Referring to clientelism, he said some TDs would always be “insecure enough” to go around knocking on doors asking people if they had a problem, “when they should be spending time with their loved ones”.

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  • RobertNoonan

    Michael D wrote a great book on Education some years ago well worth reading

  • jtwo

    The Tribune TV critic accurately described The Frontline as “shooting bastards in a barrel.”

  • Munsterview

    Michael D like myself learned politics in a different era and we both have outlived our usefulness !

    It is no longer about Sound Politics but rather, Sound Bites!

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Fealty is of course right to point out that old Leftie Michael D Higgins is indeed an honourable politician. I have also met him and ound him extremely civilised.
    But alas “Frontline” with its “text us your half assed views” is not much different from Slugger O’Toole.
    Part of the general dumbing down of Politics.
    Its odd that Mr Fealty can only accept that journalists arent really that special when listening to Michael D.
    Can it really have escaped so many journalists attention that a House of Commons investigation this week has revealed the illegal extent to which journos to to get a story.
    Perhaps it is part of the wider freemasonry of journalism (a phrase for which I am indebted to Mr Walker) that this expose of the underbelly of journalists and journalism should not get much coverage from er….journalists.

    Yet I suspect if politicians at Stormont were tapping the phones of journalists we could not move for the righteous indignation of the Fourth Estate.

  • Chuck Loyola

    Was your chat as Gaeilge Mick? Just interested.

  • LabourNIman

    FitzjamesHorse – very good post and i completely agree

  • FTH

    Or could this lack of coverage be because this latest scandal is lapping at David Cameron’s feet.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    the collusion of journalists (with honourable exceptions) will ensure Cameron does not get his feet wet.
    Labour NIMan,
    yes can you imagine how many different threads there would be on Slugger if Robbo and Martin were tapping the phones of our local journalists. Even Jesus and Gerry Adams only got four indignant threads.

  • Munsterview

    Fitz JH……. not really following it, which of the two came out ahead ?

  • Alias

    Slugger would be one of the small number of honourable execeptions to the rule (even if it is technically new media) that the media are puppets of the state. It’s when there are no threads in this blog that hold the state to account that you need to engage in such anxiety, and not when there are.

  • Mick Fealty




    We try not pull our punches, but I don’t believe in hitting unfairly, or with due regard to proprieties.

    If you think we’ve not gone hard on the Coulson stuff you should browse our back catalogue on the matter:



  • allias

    I think you are being a little generous there about slugger, in my judgment slugger has given cameron a completely free ride. Indeed to date the bloggersphere has been very weak when it comes to holding the tories to account. Take Mick’s pal Guido, the two front pages of his ‘blog’ have nothing about this issue but plenty attacking labour.

    What Camerons media bag man and the Murdoch outfit have been up to is outrageous and is an attack on all our democratic rights. They have lied cheated and committed criminal offences but hey you would not know this by reading sluggers blogs.

    Think about the stick brown got for employing that Damien fellow and rightly so. Cameron has so much shit surrounding him it is hardly surprising he walks around with a johnny on his head, besides his press bagman his money man is also a crook who refuses to pay UK tax, but Cameron demands he has a say in how we are all governed.

    Again slugger has not a word to say, better to attack soft targets with less power ah.


  • Mick Fealty


    I hope you are suitably embarrassed when you read those links.

    When this story broke last summer we were all over it, and in the kind of detail that was not available beyond the Guardian. There was a craven silence, even from some Labour front benchers, but not I think you will find from us.

    You may not have been reading Slugger at that particular, but you ought to be on surer ground before you go throwing big haymakers like that.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Fealty,
    I was actually talking about THIS WEEKS news.
    My point is that Journalists (with honourable exceptions) are relunctant to hold Journalists to account.

  • Mick Fealty

    Are we talking about the select committee report? Much of what’s in there we covered last Summer.

    I’m sure I owed it something more than the several Tweets I did at midnight on Tuesday/Wednesday; ie the moment the embargo was lifted by the committee was lifted.

    At the least, I might have avoided some of misplaced remarks on this thread.

    But I took the view that we had already mapped the extent of that extensive breach of ethics. Not least in transcribing McElvoys defensive remarks.

    At the heel of the hunt I agree with you about journalist not criticising journalists. They do in private, but that’s not condusive to informing the public nor driving up standards.

  • DerTer

    Michael D is, as so often, on the button; his contribution to the Dáil Committee on the Constitution was radical as well as interesting. What fascinates me indeed is how a radical like him has been such an enthusiastic participant in democratic politics – he always seems just one step away from saying ‘stuff this for a waste of time’, but never does! I suppose his approx equivalent in British politics has been Tony Benn, but Been does go on a bit. Perhaps Michael Foot is a better comparison.
    My only criticism of Michael D arises from the last election. I was driving into Galway city (queueing is a better description) and had plenty of time to study all the election posters, and was shocked to see that not only had he had his hair cut but he had actually combed it as well for the poster photo.
    As regards Frontline, I watched the first programme and haven’t been back since. It was utter madness to replace the tried and tested formula that made RTÉ’s Questions & Answers (and continues to make the BBC’s Question Time, on which Q & A was modelled) such a success. John Bowman was of course a great loss to Q & A, but to permit (as it seems to me) Pat Kenny’s ego to kill it off completely was unforgiveable.

  • Henry94


    I have a confession to make. As a class of people I like politicians, regardless of party.

    They are very likable as individuals of course. That’s why they win popularity contests. Unfortunately it doesn’t make them good at running things.

    You wouldn’t want the guy who sold you a car designing your next one.

  • Mick F

    I’m not embarrassed at all, perhaps instead of attempting to dig yourself out of a hole by sleight of hand, you might deal with my main point about giving Cameron and co a free ride leading in to the general election.

    You have chosen your horse and you are doing all you can to see the vacuous wretch gets to the finishing line first, never mind Cameron has been on the wrong side of all the big issues from voting for the Iraq war, arguing for massive cuts which will target those least able to afford them, inheritance tax and almost managing to get the Tory party bogged down in Ireland. The list is bloody endless.

    Last July does not cut it with me, Gerry Adams would have been proud of your attempting to pull that stroke. The fact that Coulson and Cameron are still at it approximately eight months later, and you have not said a word this week, just about shows how far you have fallen since you got involved with that disreputable bunch of Tory opportunists, who linger about the palace of Westminster in the hope of a few scaps falling from the leader of the oppositions table.

    Still, I suppose there had to be one person within the UK who believes politicians are likably individuals.

  • Mick Fealty

    Yes Mick. You have me banged to rights. That was what I should have been writing about on Wednesday, when in fact I was penning this little piece of pro Cameron propaganda:

    “Yet now it is the Tory back benchers’ turn to contemplate the possibility of failure, after four years of hope. A shared hatred of Gordon Brown may be what binds many in the Tory blogosphere together into a single band. But that may not be enough to win the swing voters of middle England back. The party now needs to give people an excuse to switch from the brooding devil they know, to one they still, after four years, don’t.

    “Or, as Michael Portillo argues, they may just have to hope that something disastrous turns up to tip Mr Brown unceremoniously out of his eyrie in Number Ten. If that is the plan, then it’s a rather unappealing – not to mention an unpatriotic – one. That’s pretty much what I suggested this time last year, only back then I thought Labour would give up without a fight.”

    Or yesterday’s:

    “Either way, it’s not good for the Tories. If they were setting up half baked policies, then it suggests they’ve not been building capacity in advance of going into government at the toughest time in the last thirty years. If they’ve been knocking them down out of fear of what the headline writers, then they have a problem of quite another order. If the Tories are still puzzled by why the Rawnsley story hasn’t flown, then they are mixing up the issues of character and temperament.

    “Thanks to several dozen dog whistle storms generated from the Tory blogosphere we now know all about Gordon Brown’s flaky temperament, his ill fitting holiday clothes and a myriad other things that don’t matter a damn to a country in crisis and skirting close (the UK’s not there quite yet lads) to bankruptcy. Character is about something other than how you dress. It has much to do with reliability, consistency and honesty.”

    Just because I treat politicians of all stripes fairly does not make me a supporter. I can live with people’s perceptions that I am one, but not the building of false histories.

  • Mick F

    OK I will concede that point, (Blaaaaaaa) your getting there, your soon have the SWP on the knocker wanting to sign you up. (Something I would not wish on my worst enemy, although I am not sure about Rory 😉

    About fairness and politics, me thinks a bit of the oxymoron, still my comment could have been worse, in the first draft I laid 500,000 plus dead Iraqi’s at your feet.

    Take care