Govt adviser accepts new position

Barry McSweeney has moved too. But should he allowed to take any position in government?

In a statement this evening, Mr MacSweeney said he was pleased to accept his new position.

He added it was his intention to work to ensure significant developments in the fields of energy, marine ICT, digital and geo-science.

The Labour Party says many questions are still unanswered, among them the manner in which Barry McSweeney was appointed.

Fine Gael has called it an embarrassing debacle. It says the Government clearly did not check their facts when making the appointment.

Talks over science adviser's disputed PhD continuing

More on the Barry McSweeney saga in todays Irish Times:

Mr Martin said before the weekend that a decision might be made within a couple of days, raising expectations that the Cabinet might settle the issue at today’s meeting.

This could not be confirmed yesterday, however.

Dr McSweeney could not be reached for comment.

The Labour Party’s spokeswoman on education and science, Jan O’Sullivan, continued yesterday to press the Minister for details relating to the adviser.

“There are still unanswered questions about Dr McSweeney’s claim that Pacific Western was different” when he received his degree in 1992, Ms O’Sullivan said yesterday.

She wrote to the Minister on November 4th, requesting more information, including details of the research conducted by Dr McSweeney for his PhD. “Neither of these have been clarified to my mind,” she said.

A resignation this week?

An Post

There are a number of billboard ads on display around Cork concerning An Post staff grievances with management. The billboards are headlined:

An Post management is not delivering

Forgive me, and correct me if I am wrong, should that not say:

An Post management are not delivering

I would imagine there is more than one manager involved.

As if nothing was wrong…

Michael O’Farrell, political reporter at the Irish Examiner, lambasts Barry McSweeney and the Irish Times for failing deal with the hard questions being asked about McSweeney’s qualifications, or lack thereof. He gets it right in my view. Myself and Fiona have been on this story pretty much since it started, but it seems no matter how much media coverage the story gets McSweeney still believes his position to be tenable. Fiona gets a mention at the end of the piece, well deserved praise indeed.

It is not a tenable position for McSweeney by any means. As O’Farrell notes:

Contacted by the Irish Examiner, Ed Walsh agreed to make a statement.

In a few short paragraphs Professor Walsh made it clear that failure to address this issue quickly would quickly see Ireland’s hard-fought-for reputation among researchers world- wide plummet.

“This is not a matter that is improved by delay – it really needs to be addressed fairly promptly otherwise it becomes a cause of international embarrassment to everyone,” he would later tell RTÉ.

Through his intervention Professor Walsh has all but forced the fate of Dr McSweeney who will likely have vacated his office by this time next week.

Professor Walsh chaired the top level International Government Commission of experts which first recommended the establishment of the office of chief scientific adviser.

In addition the former University of Limerick president and chairman of the Science Council is one of Ireland’s most respected academics.

Damning criticism from the very man who is responsible for seeing his job created in the first place now renders Dr McSweeney’s job untenable.

It is a shame that the only academic brave enough to come forward – until now – was Fiona De Londras, from Dublin’s Griffith College.

She, and in turn Ed Walsh displayed the kind of bravery, integrity and force of conviction so lacking in all the other protagonists this scandal has touched this past month.

Fine Gael Conference

I spent my Saturday morning travelling to Millstreet to attend the Fine Gael National Conference – curiosity got the best of me and it was the first time to attend a party conference in Ireland. The last time I went to one was in 2003 in Bournemouth for the Labour get together.

To compare, the FG conference was an incredibly somber affair from what I could gather. A one day conference in the middle of nowhere – hardly the same as Fianna Fail ones or the sheer debauchery and alcoholism of the Labour ones in the UK. But I didn’t stay in Millstreet into the evening, so maybe things did liven up a bit after I left.

As I kind of half expected I bumped into someone I knew, namely Richard, who was there covering the event for the Sunday Tribune. He suggested I get a press pass to use the press facilities upstairs, and meet some hacks. Some minutes later I go to the press room – certainly wasn’t something I expected. It was an interesting experience to see many of the faces familiar to me from the telly – RTE and TV3 correspondents – a plethora of laptops and mics. A shortage of tables prompted me to take a table with a bag on it, Ursula Halligan from TV3 was very polite in later saying it was her table, but there would be little problem sharing. She did enquire who I worked for and where I was from – a blogger I replied – attending simply because I was interested. Ursula expressed interest in blogging and my blogs – a very nice woman indeed.

Unfortunately I couldn’t liveblog the event, simply because the Greenglens Arena doesn’t have Wifi, and the press room relied on a dozen dial-up land lines, for which I had no cable.

In the end Richard was driving back up to Dublin, so I bummed a lift in order to go out on the beer in Dublin. Where I managed to bump into Caoimhe in a rather inebriated state (me, not her).

All in all an eventful weekend.

Irish Times on blogging

So another article on blogging in today’s Irish Times. Brian Boyd is on the story this time. Now last time an article was published in the Irish Times, and Irish bloggers reacted, many accused critics of the article of navel gazing and elitism. I am not sure, by the way, if this is a staffer article or a freelance contribution.

Incidentally the headline is the first thing I noticed, the sub involved uses the term “web blogs”. First time I’ve seen that.

The overall impression I get from this article is one of rubbishing the entire community of blogs, and the idea of blogs, because of the views expressed by some bloggers. But it does balance out in places. More on that later. Here’s the piece:

Eurabia will be consumed by the fires of jihad – or so suggest some bloggers. Brian Boyd went surfing for far-out views on the French riot and found a parallel world of extremist, right-wing opinions.

‘Cordon the place off, evacuate non-Muslims, and slaughter the rest like livestock.” This was a recent posting on Viking-Observer.blogspot.com, a Scandinavian web log page, in response to an article they carried on last week’s “Muslim riots” in Denmark, which they said were similar to the ones in France.

This posting was swiftly followed up by someone suggesting a “more workable solution”, which was to “cordon the place off, tear-gas the heck out of the place, and ship every identifiable rioter back to the third-world hellhole they or their parents originally came from”.

Another blogger claimed to have a “solution” vis-à-vis Denmark’s Muslim population: “Transportation. Arrange for a poor third-world country like Kirghizstan to set up a giant prison, funded by Denmark, to provide Muslim levels of care. I imagine that Danish immigrant crime would drop as fast as America’s did when we got serious about putting large numbers of our violent and unsocialised Africans in prison.”

Viking Observer first came to the attention of many people when it was mentioned by ex-Guardian journalist Melanie Phillips in one of her own blogs on her own web page (www.melaniephillips.com).

Phillips, once the very personification of bleeding-heart liberalism, now has a different world-view. She was dismayed that the UK media coverage of the French riots had “been sporadic and downplayed, and the disturbances have been portrayed as caused by deprivation and race. The fact that the rioters are Muslim has been mentioned, if at all, only in passing. But in Denmark, as Viking Observer has reported, Muslims have also been rioting for days in Arhus, apparently over the publication of cartoons satirising the Prophet.”

While neither Phillips nor Viking Observer have any control over individual contributions made at the end of a story, what is interesting is how bloggers concentrate around certain internet sites (whether right-wing or left-wing) and express themselves in a manner which no newspaper would countenance.

Web logs – more commonly known as “blogs” – started a few years ago to enable people to keep online diaries. They were (and still are, in many cases) tediously inane events, with people detailing the minutiae of their life for a global web audience.

More recently, and especially since the events of 9/11, they have increasingly become part of national and international debate. Anybody, anywhere with access to a computer can blog – you can use your blog for a personal attack, to preach racial hatred or merely to solve the world’s problems.

Bloggers have a potential worldwide audience of 900 million people. Blogs are hosted usually by Google, Yahoo or Microsoft.

Figures released by Google show that its www.blogger.com website (where people get it all off their chest – politically or otherwise) attracts 15 million visitors a month. To put that in perspective, this is more people than visit the web sites of the New York Times, USA Today and the Washington Post combined.

It’s all a bit of a legal minefield, but basically Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are protected from any liability for anything posted on the blogs they host.

“We don’t get involved in adjudicating whether something is libel or slander,” Jason Goldman from Google’s blogging division has been quoted as saying.

Many commentators believe, with apologies to Tom Wolfe, that blogging is the “new journalism” – something which the politically motivated have been quick to exploit.

It is widely believed that political parties and lobbyists now give information to bloggers that wouldn’t be touched by orthodox media for reasons of taste and libel etc. It was bloggers who spread the falsehood that US politician John Kerry had a “secret girlfriend” during the 2004 primaries.

No blogger got sacked or sued for printing the lie.

Victims, like Kerry, of a damaging blog lie, can take defamation cases. But, as David Potts, a Canadian lawyer and world expert on so-called “cyberlibel”, says: “Filing a libel lawsuit, the way you would against a newspaper, is like using 18th century battlefield tactics to counter guerrilla warfare. You’ll accomplish nothing and just get more ridicule.”

Potts advises fighting back with your own blog.

What is most interesting about contemporary political blogging is how it aims to provide an alternative news service, free from what certain bloggers would call “the inherently lefty-liberal bias” of the traditional media (the BBC etc).

It’s almost as if John Berger had re-written his Ways Of Seeing book from a right-wing perspective.

This is evinced in how the Viking Observer covered the French riots story: “The Observer is the Sunday edition of the British left-wing paper, the Guardian, and for this Sunday the paper had opted to include a ‘Focus’ article on the riots. It opens up with victimology at full tilt, assuring us of the innocence of the two youths, then describing how they ran from police despite said innocence.

“We end up with the youths killing themselves when they choose to crawl over a two-metre wall adorned with scull and crossbones, to be electrocuted by the electricity substation behind the walls. The thing gets raised a notch more by the mention of the two devastated families.

“But during all the coverage of the riots, did you ever hear about Jean-Claude Irvoas? The same day that the two youths electrocuted themselves, Mr Irvoas (51) got out of his car to take a photo. Instead, he was set upon by three Arabs and beaten to death while his wife and daughter – both still in the car – could only look on in horror. Nobody rioted for him.”

The blog continues: “But that is not what angers me – that is the treatment the Observer chose to give him. After the victim-worship of the two youths in the top-three paragraphs of the article, Mr Irvoas is stashed in part of the second-last paragraph, but only as a pawn in an evil politicians’ plot to get ‘the intolerant right-wing vote’.

“What brings my blood to near-evaporation state is that neither he nor his family qualify as victims – they are ‘victims’ – hyphenated people who apparently had it coming since they weren’t black or Muslim.”

It was under this story that individual bloggers expressed their own sentiments, as quoted at the top of this article.

Whatever one’s particular take on the causes of the French riots and what action should be taken by the authorities, what is interesting in the blog coverage of the story is how both sides of the political blog divide accuse each other of “linguistic treason”. Some say “riots”, others say “actions of harassment by the police”; some say “delinquents”, others say “youths”; some say “police”, others say “provocateurs”.

It’s a media studies module in itself.

There’s a whole new world of reportage out there. It can be fiery, extremist and inflammatory, or it can be unshackled, uncensored and progressive depending on your own leanings or prejudices.

The words with which Labour politician Nye Bevan used to sign off his speeches seem apposite for the blog community: “This is my truth, now tell me yours.”