2011-06-01 WikiLeaks: The Ireland Cables | Daily Roundup of Coverage in the Irish Independent | Day Two

This post is a roundup of reports on the Irish Cables by the Irish Independent. For Day One, see here.

In a commendable move, Day Two of the Ireland Cables has for the most part been made available on the Irish Independent's website. This marks a turnaround on yesterday's coverage, which was only available in the print edition, limiting the audience to those in Ireland.

The coverage for the day was dominated by a frontpage story announcing that "The Ireland Cables reveal how the Americans view our political elite." Inside, on pages 26-27 and 30-31, we were given a selection of pull-out quotes from the cables, where each of the documents was whittled down to a few words describing some or other Irish politician. No context was given. Two other stories ran over what the cables had to say about Bertie Aherne (ex-Fianna Fail Taoiseach) and Brian Cowen (his successor as Fianna Fail's head and Taoiseach until February this year).

At no point do any of these stories progress beyond summarizing the rather unexceptional character assessments of Irish leaders by American diplomats in Ireland. It is difficult to discern why any of these opinions are newsworthy, unless we are to note how they cater to a strange sort of narcissism in the national psyche that the United States is paying attention to Irish politicians at all. Indeed, this seems to be the explicit rationale behind these stories: the very fact that American diplomats have opinions about Irish politicians is underscored repeatedly, and we are treated to detailed descriptions of the way in which these pieces of gossip were shared within the American diplomatic community. When we learn that Hillary Clinton was kept abreast of Ireland's expenses scandals, it is the bare fact of the U.S. Secretary of State being privy to these highly public details in Irish news that justifies the article.

Another article relates how the embassy informed Washington in 2007, during the then Taoiseach's highly public episode with the Mahon Tribunal, that "almost no-one believes Ahern took bribes for personal gain." This, we learn, was based on the sound premise that "his frugal lifestyle is apparent to all." Perhaps the best inference we can make from this information is that then ambassador Thomas Foley had not been reading the Irish Independent, but this conclusion is not drawn in the report.

We develop away from gossip about Irish politicians to gossip from Irish politicians. Ahern, we learn, spoke ill of Putin once. This was out of character for him. A large column of page 31 is given over to a description of the ambassador's 2009 April Fool's cable. The cable is included for amusement's sake, but the intimate description of its content means that it is the cable the Independent has let us see the most of thus far, such is the selectivity with which the paper reports on the other documents. This report is not available online.

Some interesting facts concerning the peace process in Northern Ireland are introduced. A secret hardball bargaining position adopted by Ahern to induce the DUP to implement the Good Friday Agreement appears to have shocked the embassy staff. Ahern had threatened to reinstitute Ireland's constitutional claim to the six counties in the North. Another cable, we learn, tells us that there was internal distress within the Sinn Fein party at a breakaway Republican paramilitary threat to the life of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

An assortment of other stories offer us insights into minor political episodes in Irish party politics. Two stories on page 28 illuminate Fianna Fail's political theatre. The delayed resignation of the disgraced Minister Ivor Callely ruined a carefully staged budget plan introduction, we learn from ambassador James Kenny. Elsewhere, Fianna Fail's electoral ambitions in 2007 exerted influence over government fishing quota policies.

There are two pieces on Declan Ganley, the controversial entrepreneur and leader of Libertas - the anti-Lisbon Treaty group. One of the pieces is on the opaque funding behind the Libertas group, and the other details how Ganley sought to have the Taoiseach's address to the U.S. Congress postponed in order to minimize its (probably negligible) effects on the Lisbon referendum in 2008.

The Lisbon Treaty is a discernable theme in the coverage today. One report tells us that the American embassy was aware of diplomatic ill-will towards Ireland in the wake of the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the Irish population in 2008. This confirms common wisdom at the time and since.

Of more interest is the report on the US embassy's cable about the 2008 No vote in that referendum. The report trades on how the cable reveals negative opinions about Brian Cowen in the wake of the failed referendum. The more interesting point about the cable, which we are unable to read in full as of yet, is that the attitude towards the popular will demonstrated by the Irish political elite - and by the EU political establishment - is shared by the American embassy staff. We learn that the NO vote of the Irish population was Cowen's "remarkable failure" - an opinion which could only make sense if Irish popular opinion was there only to be swayed one way or another by cynical PR operations.

This cynicism in our political elite is tackled directly in a report on how Labour leader (and now Tainiste) Eamon Gilmore privately endorsed the idea of a repeat Lisbon referendum, but publicly engaged in theatrics about how the Irish people had spoken, and that the Lisbon Treaty was dead. This report, more than any of the others, taps into what has become a theme in Cablegate thus far - a pattern whereby partisan disagreement is an elaborate masquerade for the benefit of the public, and how political classes around the world share more with each other than with their publics, often differing very little across party lines. The recent adoption by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition of Fianna Fail positions on Ireland's EU/IMF bailout bears this out rather starkly.

In anticipation of the change of government, American diplomats had been soliciting the good favour of key members of Fine Gael and Labour while they were in opposition, we learn from another report. This is another issue on which it would be interesting to have a more broad study of the Irish cables: whether American diplomatic influence over the Irish political sphere is so wide as to "stack the deck" - ensuring that no party that could be elected will ever depart from certain American interests. As reported here on WL Central, previous cables showed that the embassy sought to ensure that, lest there ever be a change of government, Fine Gael would be favourable to the Shannon Airport military stopover policy. All evidence is that they were successful in doing so.

Finally, an editorial piece by Fionnan Sheehan, on page 34, contains some good analysis of the wider import of the Irish Wikileaks news. In particular, Sheehan comments on the Shannon airport issue, and relates this to last week's Obama visit, during which Taoiseach Enda Kenny reversed the government's stated position on the military stopover. We are given some tantalising indications that there is more in the cables about this issue, but beyond a few choice quotes, we do not learn much more. It is to be hoped that the Independent sees fit to give the Shannon airport issue some in-depth treatment in the next few days.

Tomorrow, the focus will be on the economic and banking crisis in Ireland. WL Central will continue summary coverage of the Independent's stories on the cables.

The Independent ?

I reluctantly bought the Irish Independent yesterday. I never buy it as the paper is a tabloid dressed up as a broadsheet dealing in sensationalism and gossip more than serious journalism. It came as no surprise that the cables the independent chose to cover were mostly about personality politics and who said what. Its shallow and disappointing and trivialises the whole release. The Irish media are in general politically conservative and its no surprise that there has been so little coverage of the cables here. I hope Wikileaks will respond to the Independents refusal to publish the cables online by releasing them early.

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