O’Dea saga provides interesting lessons

Off the fence
O’Dea saga provides interesting lessons

Edwin McGreal

‘What goes around comes around’, said Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes on The Week in Politics on Sunday night. Hayes clearly was relishing the fall of former Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea after the controversy over comments about Limerick Sinn Féin councillor Maurice Quinlivan.
‘In politics, as in life, what goes around, comes around. He’s a formidable opponent but he’s also a dirty opponent. He plays dirty on the pitch, unlike many other ministers. The reality is that over the past 20 years or so he has been putting out smears, half-truths about people and surprise, surprise he has got to be hoisted on his own petard now.’
Notwithstanding Deputy Hayes’ political pointscoring, Willie O’Dea’ ‘style’ of politics is certainly of the abrasive sort. That his Fianna Fáil colleague and mid-west neighbour Tony Killeen only mounted a half-hearted defence of Brian Hayes’ comments on The Week in Politics is telling.
O’Dea could be wonderfully entertaining in the Dáil but you just knew he would sail too close to the wind one too many times.
And listening to O’Dea’s interview with The Limerick Leader’s Mike Duane that caused all the controversy, it is hard to have sympathy at all for his plight.
‘I suppose I’m going just a little bit too far when I say this,’ said the bould Willie before making allegations about Quinlivan running a brothel. Yes Willie, you were going a little bit too far alright.
To make such libellous comments to any person about another in that manner is asking for trouble. To do so with a journalist in what was clearly on the record is writing your own political obituary.
But it does raise some interesting questions about what is on the record and what is off the record. There are quite a few politicians in this county who cast slurs to reporters on fellow public reps but don’t expect to be quoted on that.
It is loose talk and certainly would make an explosive story on one level. But these comments are not made officially and journalists have a certain responsibility to ensure they behave in an ethical manner.
And let it be said that that is what Mike Duane did. The interview was conducted with a dictaphone placed under his nose and the context of the interview was official – just after the launch of the Fianna Fáil local election campaign in Limerick.
The real amazing thing behind all of this is that we are now in February 2010, nearly a year after the comments were made, before this became a real national issue.
And the behaviour of the Government parties in the whole mess has made the coalition look as unstable as ever.