Slugger approach to political debates lauded in The Irish Times

Over the past few months Slugger’s attention has been looking towards the South. At the moment there are some really interesting policy debates going on in Dublin and there is (in my opinion) a radical shift in the political dynamic happening. It has always been my view that our unique approach can really add to this debate.

In the hurley/burley of political debate, sometimes it can get a bit fraught and it is easy to descend into abuse. We always take pride in our “play the ball, not the man rule” and endeavour to ensure this is adhered to by everybody.

So, it is excellent to see that Noel Whelan in the Irish Times has promoted our approach to political debates in his recent Irish Times column on the recent attacks on President Higgins as he writes;

Thirteen years ago, when the Northern Ireland blogger Mick Fealty first launched the news and opinion site, he introduced one rigid rule for posts and comments. He sums it up as “play the ball not the man”.

More courteous
In 2002 online comment was more courteous. Notwithstanding the ongoing peace negotiations, Northern Ireland politics was still brutish and divisive. Fealty saw the need to ensure that while contributors could and would be encouraged to engage in robust debate on the issues, he and his moderators would not permit personal attacks. They maintain and monitor that policy to date, which is why Slugger has developed a reputation for hosting a mostly intelligent dialogue on a range of controversial and important issues in Irish and British politics.

A “play the ball, rather than the man (or woman)” rule would be a good starting point for greater civility in our wider public discourse. Our politics is likely to be even more volatile as the election approaches. The potential for an even more abusive political atmosphere is therefore greater.

A real respect for the views of others and for their right to express those views would also go along way towards more informed and more effective politics.



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  • Robin Keogh

    I agree with the above, whelan is no friend of us Sinners but he is right about trying to maintain some level of decency in political debate. However, himself and others in the media have a part to play in this. Sensationalist half-truth biased stories in the media will do nothing to help keep things on a civil plane. I note the Irish Independent has had to apologize to Gerry Adams again in the last few days. I am sure he is not the only politician due an apology from the many pen hooligans in the employ of INM.Hopefully they can soon learn to play the ball themselves.

  • Superfluous

    I don’t know why we thought copying the Americans with televised debates was a good idea – it’s a further personification of politics – dumbing the whole thing down to a battle of egos. We’re basically pushing thinkers out, in place of pretty looking demagogues and populists. You can’t properly get to the root of complex social issues in a 5 minute slot and it takes an army of researchers and oration coaches in the background training the politician to attempt to do this. So we don’t even get a true representation of the individual leader – just a stage full of actors.

  • Robin Keogh

    Absolutely, and whats more alarming about these debates in my view (and we see this a lot in the states) the TV companies can edit the visuals in a way that makes their chosen candidate appear grander, or brighter or more appealing in any number of ways. For me at least I would much prefer an audience free zone with a simple set in a studio where candidates thrash out agreed subjects and given substantial minutes to do so. Not all candidates need to be on at exactly the same time, it can be mixed around over a period of weeks to lend balance.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Superfluous, I imagine you already know about Edward Bernays. The ninth and tenth paragraphs of the “Organising Chaos” chapter of his book “Propaganda” are very much to the point here. He talks about manipulation of the news and the use of “inflation of personality” as being absolutely essential to an ordered society. You can find it at:

  • sean treacy

    I think Whelan must have been away for his tea when Gerry Adams was ever mentioned on Slugger because it it is second only to the Sindo in Adams bashing and the sites owner is the worst culprit in this “man playing”.

  • Robin Keogh

    Whelan has a hatred for Gerry that almost tops Micks so there is no surprise really that he finds the site cosey. I have admit i have become a bit of a slugger drone and found myself defending it recently

  • aber1991

    I agree with the policy of “play the ball not the man.”

    Unfortunately, Mick Fealty does not always enforce his own rules. While he himself has never been abusive towards me, many posters have. I have been accused of being a “troll” by that Chris some-or-other and also by a few other posters. I have been insulted by posters – that Chris again, that Morpheus, mac tire and carl marks.
    Why can posters not behave? Why do so many have to use vulgar language? Why do so many supporters of integrated education feel it necessary to insult the opponents of integrated education? Why do so many posters feel free to accuse others of talking rubbish, etc?

    On Holy Saturday of 1991, a journalist called “Eoghan Harris” on RTE radio quoted his mother’s advice “You do not have to like a person to be courteous to him.” It is rather a pity that Eoghan Harris often forgets his mother’s advice as he has frequently given offence to the victims of Protestant tyranny. It is also a great pity that Mick Fealty does not enforce his own excellent policy.

  • Practically_Family

    Sometime the man and the ball are one and the same.

    Take Ed Milliband, it’s impossible to make an objective analysis of how he affects UK politics without making personal comment. He, the man, is “the issue”.

    For various different reasons this applies to several notable figures in the NI political arena.

  • “Over the past few months Slugger’s attention has been looking towards the South”
    Really, David? Because the posts don’t support that claim. Have you any evidence?
    Oh, you mean your attention…
    As someone once said, what do you mean ‘we’, kemo sabe?

  • Morpheus

    With your constant attacks on the entire Protestant community you perfectly highlight the flaw with the ‘play the ball, not the man’ approach. Just as it is unacceptable to play the man it should also unacceptable to run on the field and boot everyone who is not on your ‘team’ with offensive generalisations and lazy stereotypes

  • Kevin Breslin

    Why are the mods here using the borderline sexist “playing the man” rather than the gender neutral “ad hominum” ?

    Have I played the ball or the person on that one?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Personality politics is on ball, but where I draw the line. Bringing Ed’s dad Ralph or even David Cameron’s lost child, or Nick Clegg’s wife into the debate for instance is “playing the man” irrelevant to whatever any one of them is doing as a politician

  • aber1991

    I do not attack the entire Protestant community. I certainly attack most of them. In election after election, they voted sectarian tyrants into power. In 1992 the White South Africans voted to end White Privilege in their country. The Ulster Protestants never voted to end Protestant privilege in Northern Ireland. Equality for Catholics had to be imposed on them by the UK governments and, sometimes, by the UK Parliament – and there still has not been a complete end to Protestant privilege.

  • $136050377

    David can we please have a reprint of your article ( hagiography) in support of the Late Great JacK Lynch.
    Bankrupter of Ireland.
    many thanks.

  • $136050377

    First time I’ll ever vote you up.

  • mickfealty

    Good work there Mr Keogh! [And really, I do spend most of my time thinking about things other than Mr A]. See my own take on the Ball not man rule here:

  • mickfealty

    I think paying attention to the business of politics might pay off better Robin. As I once wrote in my one and only contribution to the Sindo back in Sept 2004 (

    Vincent Browne cites government spending plans that often go substantially unquestioned. He points to the extraordinary inflation of the original Luas budget from an initial estimate of ?165m to a final total of ?800m, which was not the subject of public controversy until the week it launched.

    Ultimately, journalism needs to pull away from the film romance of Woodward and Bernstein, and accept the perhaps duller reality that not every politician is on the make. The overtly cynical approach leaves the public increasingly dissatisfied not simply with politics but also with the media itself.

  • mickfealty

    See my later post for the evolution from “one state of affairs to the other the other state of affairs..”

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s ‘ad hominem’; but you’re right, it is gender neutral.

    Hominem is the accusative form of homo, which means person (or man in the sense of human)