The third week in February was national Bash The Shinners Week, writes Pat Flanagan (for the Irish Mirror)
After Claire Byrne’s controversial programme on Sinn Féin this week, RTE is running the risk of becoming seen as the Government’s broadcaster rather than the national one.
Is there another democracy in the western world where a publicly-funded broadcaster airs a prime time programme which appears designed to undermine the credibility of the biggest opposition party in the State?
While it wasn’t advertised in the RTE Guide, it seems the third week in February was national Bash The Shinners Week.
All the show lacked was that stock ending that accompanies all those adverts which states “this message was brought to you by the Government of Ireland”.
I presume, in the interest of balance, RTE will now produce a programme on why ordinary folk are reluctant to vote for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
We’ve had the rise of Sinn Féin, how about the demise of the Civil War parties?
Mind you, with so many scandals to cover, Ms Byrne might have to dedicate the entire season of her shows to that one.
The very premise of the programme The Rise Of Sinn Féin was questionable and appeared to be little more than an excuse to dig up the dirt on what is, if recent polls are to be believed, the biggest party in the State. Indeed there are many people who watched on Monday evening who will believe that it was those polls which brought this programme about.
If there is a conspiracy doing the rounds that a memo came from somewhere on high ordering an all-out assault against Mary Lou and Co, RTE has only itself to blame.
That other RTE programmes also participated in Bash The Shinners Week can only fuel those suspicions.
Let me state on the record that I am not a fan of Sinn Féin and I am unlikely to vote for them but I can totally understand why an increasing number of people do.
The establishment, and RTE is part of it, is finding it extremely difficult to accept the rise of Sinn Féin and is looking for ways to traverse this changing and challenging political landscape.
Ms Byrne hiring Eddie Hobbs as her guide shows just how lost this programme was in this strange new land where, until recently, two-and-a-half parties played happily at Punch and Judy politics.
Then there was a hang on to your wallets moment when the camera panned to Mr Hobbs.
The appearance of the ghost of financial disasters past must have startled some viewers – especially the small investors who lost their life savings when the investment fund he fronted went bust.
“The idea that we can fix the housing problem yet put all of this taxation through is nonsense,” explained earnest Mr Hobbs, warning about the dangers of Sinn Féin in a future government.
The problem for Mr Hobbs and the credibility of the programme was that he was the face behind a property investment fund which ended up losing €13million on disastrous property deals and here he was lashing the Shinners on housing policy. Indeed Renua, the political party he helped found, is in danger of going the same way as his property fund and currently has no elected representatives.
Neutral observers may well ask what was the point of the programme if not to give Sinn Féin a good kicking, although it may well have the opposite effect.
If Ms Byrne and her crew really want to know why Sinn Féin is on the rise they need look no further than the station’s own website, which is reporting that residential property prices rose by 14.4% on an annual basis in December.
This means that couples and individuals need to be earning more than €130,000 to qualify for a mortgage to buy an average-priced house in Dublin.
The reality is that Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens have all shared power in the last two decades and allowed this socially destructive situation to develop and fester.
Indeed, why should anyone be surprised that young people are refusing to vote for parties which have encouraged institutional investors to buy up housing estates and put the price of a property way beyond their means?
Although it is not being openly addressed, the establishment is as terrified of the young as it is of the Shinners and their lack of allegiance to any political party or ideology.
This week Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman Pearse Doherty urged the Government to stop international investment funds buying up homes desperately needed for ordinary families.
Fine Gael Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe insisted we need more cuckoo funds and not less.
Why would a generation that has little chance of ever owning their own home not vote for a party that at least gives them some hope is the only question that Ms Byrne needed to ask.