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Burton’s spat with Dr Jennings has a Mayo angle

On the Edge

Áine Ryan

TÁNAIATE Joan Burton may have been brought up on the right side of the Liffey, but even today’s Inchicore, in Dublin 8, is a world apart from D4’s Ballsbridge. Or Donnybrook and Montrose for that matter.
While the media made a big deal over her run-in with RTÉ Morning Ireland’s Dr Gavin Jennings last week, the actual exchange doesn’t make any sense to me.
The spat unfolded after Morning Ireland (aka‘Mourning Ireland’ or ‘Misery Montrose’) had decamped to the garden county of Wicklow for the Labour Party’s seasonal think-in.
Just before the end of the programme Ms Burton, who is also Minister for Social Protection, gave an interview during which Dr Gavin grilled her like a terrier about which cutbacks the Government planned to reverse in the October Budget.    
“What about the back to school allowance? Will you reverse the cut to the back to school allowance?”, the presenter asked.
He doggedly continued and when she diverted her answer to an already flagged increase in the child benefit allowance, Jennings quipped: “Yes, but with respect a child benefit increase to every child, to every family in the country, is not a targeted increase.
“What benefit cuts I have asked you about, are you going to reverse?”
It was then Burton made her rather bizarre response:
“Gavin, can I just say to you. I think that’s quite an extraordinary statement by RTÉ that child benefit doesn’t benefit families with children.”
“I don’t know what world RTÉ inhabits, perhaps, in Dublin 4.”
While Joan’s defence mechanisms were shabby enough for a deputy chief of a country, the issue about ‘what world RTÉ inhabits’ and other national media is a moot one. And one that will become more and more relevant in the hysteria leading up to the next General Election.
There is probably some Master’s or Phd thesis sitting on the edge of a dusty shelf somewhere which analyses the socio-economic and geographic profiles of the top 50 people who influence Irish society through their media appearances. I bet, at least, two-thirds of them live (or have second homes: penthouse apartments or seafront villas) at addresses in Dublin Four along the leafy roads of Foxrock to Monkstown, Dunlaoghaire to Dalkey and maybe, in some cases, just beyond the ‘Dort’ line (as Ross O’Carroll Kelly would say) in the undulating hills around Greystones and Wicklow town.
(Just to keep the record straight, Gavin Jennings informed the Tánaiste after their on-air kerfuffle that he is a resident of County Meath.)

Group think
BUT, just like the fall-out from Prime Time’s fatal errors in the ‘Mission to Prey’ programme exposed a couple of years ago, a culture of ‘group think’ can grow insidiously into the way reality is reported and broadcasted. (That is probably what our Joan was intimating but her timing didn’t really make sense.)
So, as our local politicians cosy up to journalists in the coming months, let us be very vigilant and scrutinise the reality of their announcements. When they claim that unemployment has dropped significantly, ask for a breakdown of the statistics they are using. No massaging of figures. They must exclude all those young people forced to emigrate in the last decade and all those highly-qualified graduates who are employed on intern programmes, which usually leave them with a paltry extra €50 per week.  

Honest answers
ASK Enda Kenny where are the Opensparkz and Northgate jobs announced for Castlebar, his home patch, over two years ago?
Ask Michelle Mulherin if Ballina, the north Mayo capital, is still one of the top unemployment black spots in the county? Ask Minister of State Michael Ring why Belmullet’s community development project, Iorrais le Chéile, was closed down?
There are plenty of further questions people would like to ask of Mayo’s four Government TD’s.   
It might be worth asking all of them how the county coffers, and its citizens, will benefit from the Corrib Gas project, now that the employment boom from it is over in Erris?
When they have answered those questions honestly, they can smile into the cameras and raise as many green flags or open as many bottle banks as they want.