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Cowengate: Government Claims the GUBU Mantle

Grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented” was how former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Charles J Haughey described the discovery of a murderer hiding in the Attorney General’s apartment in 1982. Since then, the acronym has been used to describe scandals in Irish political life. Times may have changed since The Boss grasped power, but politics are much the same.

Brian Cowen is now our glorious leader and under his leadership, the Government has reeled from pit to post with the effectiveness of a drunken bullock. The Irish economy is crashing down around our ears with levies imposed on public sector workers, massive layoffs, huge deficits and soaring national debt. The Finance Minister, Brian “I didn’t read that part of the report” Lenihan, is producing his third budget of 2009 to be announced on 9 April. The nation is holding its breath, waiting for the axe to fall and simultaneously hoping that third time is the charm for Lemonade Lenihan.

The excitement on the Irish front this week pertains to the latest misstep of the beleaguered Irish Government. “Cowengate” or #picturegate is the latest scandal that might qualify as GUBU. To the amusement of the nation, a prankster broke into Royal Hibernian Academy gallery and the National Gallery of Ireland and hung up two nude portraits of the Taoiseach.

The general reaction of the public was ask on radio shows “[whether] the picture was well hung.” It was treated as the prank that it was. There was a single report in the Sunday Tribune.

Then national broadcaster, RTE, got in on the act and broadcast this news bulletin containing the story.

Everybody knows that we could do with a bit of a laugh – half the country has lost their jobs and the other half is losing half their income on taxes.

Then it happened. Michael Kennedy of Fianna Fáil, contacted RTE director general Cathal Goan and complained about bias and partisanship and said “serious questions about the agenda at play in the RTÉ newsroom”. Clearly, Kennedy is an ass and Goan should have told him to stuff it, but instead RTE relinquished its last smidgen of credibility and apologised.

Let me reiterate that. The national broadcaster apologised to the Government for covering a news story.

The broadcaster received a number of complaints about the item on Monday’s 9pm television news, including one from the Taoiseach’s office. RTÉ had deemed the report to be inappropriate before complaints were received, a spokeswoman said last night. Consequently the report did not run on subsequent bulletins and was taken down from the RTÉ website, she said.

Here is the apology:

An impartial news broadcast on a publicly funded channel requires censorship and apologies? Difficult to believe, since we allegedly live in a democracy, but it happened. The freedom of the press was curtailed.

This is the same government who claimed that dissent was unpatriotic.

This is the same national broadcaster who requested Oliver Callan to ease up criticisms of Cowen on the satirical Nob Nation

RTE has asked satirist Oliver Callan, of Nob Nation, to “go easy” on the Taoiseach stating that his increasingly controversial portrayal of Brian Cowen as a drunken buffoon “might be perceived to be a bit personal at this stage”.

… Supporters of Mr. Cowen are known to be upset at the Nob Nation portrayal of him as a hard-drinking and sometimes crude politician surrounded by Cabinet members who are also frequently portrayed in a similar manner.

Rumours regarding Mr. Cowen, by the way, are confirmed by the patrons of Doheny and Nesbitt’s pub near Government buildings.

Today, in the continuing farce, the police were sent to the Today FM radio station where contact details for the the artist and other sensitive information were requested. The D’Arcy show producer, Will Hanafin, was told that “the powers that be want action taken”. At least one broadcaster in this country has the ethics to stand up to government bullying. Today FM refused to release any information without a warrant.

Mr Hanafin told The Irish Times he was “totally shocked” to be confronted by a garda. He said in “no circumstances could this be considered an appropriate use of Garda resources. It seems to me that the powers that be have lost their sense of humour.”

Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan criticised the Garda move. “At a time when the majority of gangland murders remain unsolved, to have gardaí spending their time investigating what amounted to a practical joke that offended the Taoiseach’s ego is a scandalous waste of resources,” he said.

“Today FM has clearly come under pressure to hand over e-mails about this matter, while RTÉ News has obviously been browbeaten into a grovelling apology. The way this matter has been handled is more reminiscent of Russia in the 1930s than Ireland in 2009,” said Mr Flanagan.

The police are questioning the artist in connection with three charges: “incitement to hatred, indecency, and criminal damage for hammering a nail into a wall of the National Gallery” – trumped up charges to say the very least.

This affair is either a very subtle execution of a “wag the dog” PR brainchild to divert public opinion away from the economic crisis or a monumental overreaction to a practical joke. My guess is the latter and as such it is the manifestation of disease in the body politic.

Somebody call a surgeon.

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