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Minister’s criticisms wide of the mark

News

SAYING HIS PIECE  Minister Michael Ring waiting to speak to RTÉ from the count centre in the TF Royal Hotel in Castlebar. He was critical of elements of both local and national media after his election. Pic: Michael Mc Laughlin

Comment

Edwin McGreal

Not long after being officially declared elected at last week’s count, Michael Ring used the opportunity to cut loose at the media.
He was critical of ‘some of the local newspapers in my local area’ and also critical of RTÉ.
“I was delighted to increase my vote by 3,000. It wasn’t simple I have to say; all the protesters came out and some of the local newspapers in my local area didn’t help me. For three weeks in a row they ran negative stories,” he told Anton McNulty of The Mayo News.
Though he did not specify a newspaper, I’m quite confident the target of his comments was this newspaper.
The reason for that is quite simple: he told me this personally in the run-up to the election, in no uncertain terms. He was furious with The Mayo News, feeling he was under attack from the paper. He would not entertain any arguments to the contrary.
It was not the first time there had been a similar exchange between us in recent years.
“I was surprised by the fantastic Fine Gael vote and how we turned it around,” he told Anton McNulty. “We had the national media and the local media and everyone against this government since Christmas. They never stopped on the government and never recognised what we had done but finding fault into relation to what we hadn’t done.
“I never heard one positive bit of stuff about what is being delivered in every corner of this county. We had two major companies in this county – Meissner [Filtration Products], who are going to bring major investment, and Allergan, who are after putting a €700 million investment into it – and yet they picked on small things,” he said.

Response
We feel we have to respond and refute the accusations made by the minister.
The Mayo News has essentially been accused of having an agenda against the minister and his party in the run-up to the election.
That simply does not tally when you examine our paper’s coverage in that time period.
The negative stories that he mentioned to me were The Mayo News’s coverage of a protest against cuts in services at the MacBride Home in Westport and our coverage of the ongoing issue of pyrite affecting over 100 houses in Erris.
Both stories were news stories worth reporting, and stories in which the people involved directed their criticisms at the Government rather than at Michael Ring personally.
But the minister does appear to take any criticism of the Government quite personally.
In the same period of time, Minister Ring was given considerable space in this newspaper’s pages, an examination of which certainly does not stack up with his claims of a negative agenda.
In the four papers in the run-up to the election, The Mayo News carried five stories about funding announcements by the minister. We covered the row between Michael Ring and Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary over rural funding and printed the minister’s responses to criticisms by his constituency rival.
In our preview supplement, there was praise for the minister in pieces written by this reporter and by reporter Willie McHugh.
Furthermore, our front-page stories on the day the election was called and on the Tuesday before the election included comments we sought from Michael Ring on why he would argue Fine Gael should be returned to Government and what the party has done for Mayo. We afforded Fianna Fáil the same opportunity, through Dara Calleary in the first instance and Lisa Chambers in the second, to counter.
We also gave the minister, like all other candidates, the opportunity to speak on various projects and issues in Mayo. Like the other candidates, he was also given questions for our candidate profile pieces.
In the week of the election, we gave two pages over to the official opening of a new wing at Allergan, and the minister was quoted extensively.
All this coverage was, we would argue, merited. But to say ‘I never heard one positive bit of stuff about what is being delivered in every corner of this county’ is incredibly misleading and plainly wrong.
Sadly, it is a reality of modern life that people think you are either with them or against them. They fail to see the need to hold a centre line, to be fair and balanced, to objectively report the good and the bad.
We have a job to do, to provide trusted content for our readers who we hope can see that we put their interests first. We won’t apologise for that.
We won’t apologise for covering stories like the MacBride home cuts and the pyrite issue in Erris.
It is not our job to deify or crucify anyone. It is our job to report without fear or favour.
Michael Ring should know that a government will always be in the firing line. He was long enough firing bullets himself when in opposition from 1994 to 2011. Without media scrutiny of those elected to govern us, where would we be?

Hard worker
Right across his long term as a TD, and even before then as a town and county councillor, Michael Ring has always been a very hard-working politician who has constantly strived to do his level best for Mayo.
He is a man who has delivered countless projects in the county. A search of The Mayo News in recent years will reveal that so many projects delivered were reported in these pages, despite what he might argue.
No doubt Mayo is a better place because of his work, and his record is undoubtedly strong.
But it is very debatable whether Mayo is a better place due to the various governments over the years. This newspaper has always, and will continue to shine a light on any imbalanced regional development, on any lack of fairness towards anyone in this county. We will not apologise for demanding fair play for Mayo and the west.
It is right and proper that we hold any government – including the one of which Minister Ring was part – to account when the need arises, as it often does.
If people in power are happy with the media, there is probably something wrong. It could mean that the people in power are not being adequately scrutinised.
Maybe this part of Michael Ring – the siege mentality, the relentless thirst to deliver for his constituents, to prove himself – is part of what makes him so good at what he does well.
Because, make no mistake, he has been one of the best politicians that Mayo has ever had.
He’ll often pull out all the stops to show support. When The Mayo News held its Neill O’Neill Creativity Awards last year, he dropped everything at short notice to be there, and he gave a wonderful speech.
Perhaps he is just edgy because it is election time, but the minister is around long enough to know the media has a job to do and that sometimes coverage will be favourable and sometimes, if the situation demands, it will not be.
The Mayo News will always strive to be fair and balanced and to hold to account those in power, of which Minister Ring is only one individual. We would be letting down our readers if we didn’t do that.
Our approach will be the same regardless of who is in government. And we’ve no doubt that should he find himself on the opposition benches again, no one will be more passionate and more forensic in holding the Government to account than Michael Ring.