Belfast riots and how political communication has produced the wrong results


 Belfast riots

The decision by Belfast City Council to restrict flying the Union Jack and the subsequent actions of the various political parties involved highlights the degree to which political ambition has always trumped real leadership and a more long term view for the greater good in Irish politics.

Having lost his seat in 2010, Peter Robinson and his DUP colleagues have been waiting in the long grass for the Alliance Party’s MP Naomi Long to slip up. Long took the seat in 2010 with a 1,533 vote majority.

With 90% of the vote shared amongst unionist parties, East Belfast has always been a battle for the heart of unionism where unity, let alone cooperation and leadership, appear extinct.  The Alliance Party’s decision to support flag restrictions over City Hall was quickly pounced upon by Robinson’s DUP camp and by the UUP who immediately circulated over 40,000 leaflets to all homes in the area.  The target was always Long whose name, home address, telephone number and email were highlighted on the leaflets even though she does not sit on the City Council.

The actions of all three unionist parties have acted as a lightning rod for the already marginalised working class Protestants in the area.  In particular, it is the tone set by the direct mail political communication that has lit an uncontrollable fuse and backed East Belfast rioters and their politicians into a corner.

The DUP and UUP targeted Long and her family home making her the subject of death threats and has returned Belfast rioting news stories to news programmes across the globe.   Rioting has caused damage, injury and fear with city centre businesses severely affected and up to a 100 police officers injured.

The issue has gone from local to national to international and is being watched by potential business investors who will be meeting in boardrooms across the globe and scratching Northern Ireland off their investment list.

And where now the political leadership needed to restore calm? Ruthless Unionist political communication tactics may have won brownie points to boost political careers and party prospects but have surely thwarted compromise for no party will want to capitulate to violent mobs, even the ones they are responsible for setting loose.


Tarantino’s ‘I’m shutting your butt down’ – a textbook case of how ‘not’ to do an interview?

A textbook case of picking the wrong channel to promote your product.  Quentin Tarantino interrupts Channel 4 news reporter Krishnan Guru-Murthy in mid-interview to tell him ‘I’m shutting your butt down!’   Krishnan had asked Tarantino why he thought there was no link between movie violence and real violence.

Tarantino’s ‘I’m shutting your butt down’ – a textbook case of how ‘not’ to do an interview


Noonan’s excuses on Bankers Pay and Pensions ‘pathetic’

The following is an extract from the editorial in the Sunday 11 Novermber edition of The Irish Mail on Sunday

We pay the piper: we can call the tune

September 2008:  Anglo Irish Bank, having borrowed billions it could not repay, went bust.  Everyong there lost their jobs. The carcass was later bought from creditors by a US venture capitalist fund for a nominal fee.  It re-employed a handful of staff on one third wages to eke what they could out of Anglo’s loan book.


Bank of Ireland CEO Richie Boucher who stonewalled the Govt’s Finance Committee last week

After Anglo collapsed, so too did Bank of Ireland and AIB.  They too ceased to exist.  Their staff lost their jobs too.  The Government which had guaranteed people’s deposits, used other banks and post offices to dole out cash.  Bank of America bought the branches and cash machines that used to belong to BoI, HSBC snapped up AIB’s buildings and ATMs.  Around half of the old workers were invited to apply for similar work under the new companies. Bank of America (Ireland) and HSBC Ireland – but for half their old salaries.


All the old board members of both banks were fired.  Their pensions were slashed because the pension pot was suddenly hugely under-funded.  Many were sued by bondholders, who also demanded criminal and parliamentary inquiries into what went wrong.  The guilty men were punished, Irish banks were cleaned up – and our national recovery began.


…….but sadly, we know that the above is just a fairytale. The bust banks were propped up using our money.  The pension funds of former bosses were topped up – using our money.  And the salaries of bank workers stayed just as artificially high as they were at the height of the boom – all thanks to our money.


And still it goes on.  The four banks employ over 1,700 on salaries over €100,000, of these 200 get more than €200,000 and 65 receive over €300,000 while their new chief risk officer will receive over €500,000.  All this to employees of a bust bank bailed out by taxpayers.4


Minister for Finance Michael Noonan who claims he is powerless to do anything about bankers pay and pensions

Yet our Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan pays the piper on our behalf but refuses to call the tune.  Astonishingly he buys into the laughable notion that we have to pay huge salaries to attract people capable of winding down a failed investment firm or of running two banks to serve just four million people.


Noonan and his cohorts are trapped into an ideological mindset controlled by these smarter, more confident and tougher bankers they are, amazingly, supposed to oversee.



Olympics sponsorship controversy highlights need for establishment of clear ethical policies for sports, cause-related and charity organisations

The London Olympics sponsorship where McDonalds, Coca Cola and Heineken have become big name sponsors has drawn considerable criticism from the UK medical profession.

The Academy of Royal Medial Colleges issued a statement claiming it was sad that an event that celebrates the very best of athletic achievements should be sponsored by companies contributing to the obesity epidemic and unhealthy eating habits. Alongside McDonald’s, Coca-Cola has the exclusive right to sell non-alcoholic drinks at Olympic venues while Heineken has been named the games’ official beer.

Currently one-quarter of Britons are obese with obesity and related health ailments costing the U.K. health system about £4 billion every year. Britai like Ireland, is also battling an increasing alcohol problem.

The Game’s organisers stand accused by the UK medical profession of sending out mixed messages to its stakeholders through these sponsorship relationships.  The organisers claim there would be no Olympics without the funding that big brand multinational corporate sponsorship provides.

In Ireland at a recent health promotion conference a speaker noted that “young men are interested in four things”. The alcohol companies brew one of them, and sponsor two more of them”. Sponsorship of sport and music is a clear way to target young people and interestingly a 2010 report noted that four of the top 10 Irish Facebook pages were for alcohol brands.

Indeed alcohol companies, as major sponsors, enjoy a ubiquitous presence at nearly all of Ireland’s key music and sporting events. Carlsberg (along with eircom) sponsor the Republic of Ireland soccer team, Guinness is a major GAA sponsor, Heineken sponsors rugby and the Oxegen festival. Absolut vodka is a leading sponsor of Ireland’s most successful cultural festival, the Galway Arts Festival. Yet alcohol-related illnesses cost the Irish taxpayer over €1 billion annually.

Of course, it is not just music and sport, healthcare and charities are also under the spotlight with a move by alcohol, pharma and healthcare industries to sponsor these organisations.  Recently Professor Des O’Neill  raised disquiet at the move by Pernod Ricard, who are using their Powers whiskey brand, to sponsor the Irish Hospice Foundation’s creative writing short story competition and book.

Pharma companies sponsoring health charities usually do so because the charity’s stakeholders rely on a specific product supplied by the sponsoring company.  These business relationships provide a corporate social responsibility (CSR) platform for the sponsor and promotes the company and its products in a positive light, provides exposure to a specific audience of key stakeholders and increases profits.   Yet crucially, medical organisations and charities have a particular duty to develop clear guidelines on industries that run counter to their objectives.

It is imperative that the organisation who seeks a sponsor (known as a ‘ property’ in the business)  should take a reputation or risk management approach by constantly updating guidelines that clearly spell out what types of companies and categories are acceptable as corporate partners, along with other policies that will ensure their relationships can stand up to scrutiny by key stakeholders, the media and the general public.

For example, the UK Charities Commission in its Charities and Commercial partners report, advised the following:

  • Charities should consider establishing an ethical policy which clearly sets out the charity’s values. This will form part of their wider fund-raising strategy and they can use it to ensure that trustees, staff and any potential commercial partners share a common understanding of the charity’s ethical values.
  • As best practice, charities should highlight their ethical policies and any commercial partnerships they have in their Annual Report and yearly accounts.

At a time of unprecedented economic austerity, it is understandable that cause-related, health and charity organisations will come under increasing financial pressure. However it is also vital that the organisation take a critical ethical and risk assessment viewpoint and, by clearly setting out its ethical policy, ensures that it takes a longer term view regarding proposed commercial partnerships,that is, ones that are appropriate and in the best interests of the organisation and its stakeholders.


Framing debate: RTE prioritizes Eurovision over Earth Summit as Govt launches eco PR campaign


Interesting to note the priority shift within RTE with regard to arts, culture and the environment. The station has been criticized for airing these programmes at witching hours.   Station management have now spent considerable sums covering our very own ‘manufactured fizz’ at the Eurovision but has no plans to cover the Rio+20 Earth Summit later this month.  Noticeably, there has been no Environment correspondent at RTE since Paul Cunningham was appointed European correspondent nearly a year and a half ago.

Is the coalition now taking a taking a simillar view?  Yesterday it launched  its document, “Our Sustainable Future” outlining a 70 measure implementation plan. This was a fine PR job – a glossy brochure launch – a photocall with no  journalists or environmental correspondents invited to ask probing questions. Maybe they figured there was no point, after all, there are hardly any environment correspondents left.

Read John Gibbons report here

Has McWilliams been right all along?

The Fiscal Treaty referendum ‘yes’ vote was a pyrrhic victory for the coalition as fear overcame anger or electoral pragmatism overcame a ‘roll of the dice’ gamble.  The electorate certainly don’t believe the Government’s mixed message assurances regarding a second bailout..

In today’s Irish Times Derek Scally reports on the views of all German parties confirming that it is not just Merkel, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble and their CPD colleagues that are opposed to easing Ireland’s bank debt, it is aIso a deep-seated view across the Bundestag, from the government to opposition benches and includes the SPD and Greens.

Deaglán de Breadun backs up Scally’s analysis claiming that there was not much ‘meeting of minds’ when the CPD’s coalition partners, the Free Democratic Party (FDP),met with the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform in Leinster House yesterday.

So it seems economist David McWilliams was right all along.  We’ve played the ‘best boy in the class’ routine and they want more of the same. In other words, ordinary taxpayers must continue to be  penalised to protect private financial investors.  We are too small and too weak to matter.

Cleverly, in the same edition, John Geraghty, writing in an Irishman’s Diary details German war reparations and notes that Germany’s final payment was made on October 3rd, 2010, more than 91 years after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. As he says himself,  “Truly debt repayment is all about time – and timing”.

Schools, Facebook and Cyberbullying

The decision last week by the board of management at Oatlands College, Stillorgan, to expel four students who posted abusive comments about their teachers on Facebook has raised a number of crucial issues for social media users, schools, the Department of Education, social media networks  and internet service providers.

While there are views regarding the severity of  the  decision to expel the pupils, the story raises a number of serious questions:

  • Why have social media networks failed to set any boundaries for what can and cannot be said online?
  • While there are many young social media users who have failed to grasp the power and permanence of the online written word and the implications for privacy, reputation and libel, surely there are those who do understand its implications and who have used it to devastating  effect?  The suicides of Tyler Clementi, Phoebe Prince and Leanne Wolfe in Cork   were a direct result of insidious cyber-bullying.

Boards of management and the Department of Education have a responsibility toward the reputation of their staff but also a responsibility toward the health and safety of their young students.

This is a story about malice, about reputation, about values, boundaries and responsibility. So what can be done?

  • The Department of Education should  revise and update its guidelines on bullying;
  • It should also introduce a social media education programme for teachers;
  • Consider the introduction of a new social media training programme as part of the school curriculum;
  • The Board of Management  need to create environments that value and teach tolerance and respect for all and introduce mandatory Codes of Conduct for the behaviour of teachers, students, general staff and visitors, if they have not already done so.  They need to create models of positive behaviour clearly demonstrating that there is no tolerance for certain behaviours including a zero tolerance approach toward bullying, cyber bullying and sexting.
  • The Department of Justice, in consultation with the Departments of Education and Communications  should draw up legislation on cyber-bullying.
  • The Department of Education, along with the Department of Communications, should also consider the setting up a forum involving parents associations, school boards of management, school principals, teacher’s unions along with  the key players in the communications industry – internet service providers, social media networks, mobile phone operators and SMS service providers to discuss ways in which the communications industry can play their role in combating cyber-bullying and sexting.

If left unaddressed we are allowing teachers and students to live in an unsafe school environment which is open to a constant  unhealthy 24/7 threat.  It is the least we can do in commemoration of the tragic suicides of  Clementi, Prince, Wolfe and all others who continue to be tormented by this insidious and malicious form of intimidation and bullying.