By Joe Little, Religious and Social Affairs Correspondent
RTÉ News has learned that retailers here will not be receiving an expected delivery of the survivors’ edition of Charlie Hebdo on Friday.
120 businesses which had placed almost 2,000 orders with Easons Menzies News Distribution were told earlier today that Menzies, the British partner in the firm, had received only 100 copies for distribution in Britain and Ireland.
A chance encounter on a Leinster House corridor last week should have alerted me; chatting to Michael Noonan about the water charge u-turn, the Finance Minister suggested that the steam was going out of the issue, but that the controversy had been very instructive -”it’s all left and right now” he said, or words to that effect.
By Political Correspondent David Davin-Power
Opening a three-day visit to Turkey, Pope Francis has said the international community has a moral obligation to assist in caring for two million refugees who have fled there from neighbouring Syria and Iraq.
By Joe Little, Religious and Social Affairs Correspondent
During the long hot summer, the death of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds reminded us of a bygone era.
After his passing, we were reminded of Albert’s time as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs when he did so much to ensure that the plain people of Ireland got home telephones.
By Europe Editor Tony Connelly
The European Commission’s salvo against Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland is the most serious assault yet on the Government’s long-standing defence of the country’s tax system as it affects overseas companies.
The investigation does not deal with the 12.5% corporate tax rate per se, which has always been eyed with suspicion by several large member states.
Furthermore, the Government insists it operated within the law in all its dealings with the US computer giant.
Nonetheless, the level of detail contained in the Commission’s letter to Ireland – sent in June but only made public on Tuesday – about meetings between Revenue officials and Apple’s tax advisors 23 years ago makes uncomfortable and very public reading.
Its five weeks until the big day. But ‘Budget Season’ is firmly upon us. The release of positive exchequer returns has this week intensified discussion on the scope for a smaller-than-anticipated adjustment.
The season of speculation and spin has already seen new junior ministers on the block – Simon Harris and Ged Nash – seek tax cuts and wage increases. This week a succession of Cabinet heavy hitters from the Taoiseach to ministers Michael Noonan, Joan Burton and Brendan Howlin have been out on it.
As ‘Budget Season’ in Ireland is not drastically different to that of the UK, a political memoir released last year by Gordon Brown’s former press advisor is intriguing.
Anybody with even a passing interest in the behind-the-scenes workings of government should read Damian McBride’s ‘Power Trip: A decade of Policy, Plots and Spin’.
McBride was the Downing Street spin doctor who controversially resigned when he was caught attempting to smear members of the Conservative party. That aside, he provides a fascinating insight into the dark arts of selling a budget.
Setting the scene
After leaking the date of the Budget months in advance, the second story for the media is what Mc Bride calls ‘a scene setter’ which outlines the government’s priorities for the Budget and the economic and fiscal backdrop. He admits that this is often “fairly bland” but it’s crucial “to get expectations in the right place on some of the key growth or borrowing figures, just so there were no nasty surprises on the day for the markets and no shock headlines in the post-Budget papers.”
Looking at statements from a string of our own ministers in the last few weeks it would appear that we are in that ‘scene setter’ phase. The message is that the adjustment will be much less than expected but we cannot afford a giveaway budget.
After the scene is set, McBride said that the next stage of briefing the Budget is “downright skulduggery.” In the weeks before the speech, he said the government wants as little speculation about the Budget as possible to keep its powder dry for the crucial few days beforehand.
“So I’d tend to leak a few stories or planned announcements from other government departments that could be guaranteed to cause a bit of distraction and keep the journalists busy for a day or two.”
Talk of by-elections and local authority funding before Budget 2015, and last year’s Seanad Referendum (held eleven days before Budget 2014) are similar distractions in an Irish context.
The much-derided former Westminster spin doctor said the use of distractions “is a time honoured trick to help the successful presentation of the Budget” and if they work successfully “this meant we would get to the weekend before the Budget without a single good story from the package having leaked and with any bad news on the fiscal side already reported and discounted ahead of the day.”
A Budget contains forty to fifty readymade stories and, of these, McBride says “we would generally decide two to three that had to be held back until the day at all costs, and a few dozen that were too complicated, boring or unpopular to do in advance. That left us with about fifteen that could be released before the day, equating to one each for the main Sunday and daily papers, if the Sundays couldn’t be persuaded to go for some skulduggery instead.”
His memoir continues, “There is certain etiquette to these Budget stories. Journalists tend not to write definitively days in advance that a particular measure will happen, both because – from the Treasury’s point of view – it looks a bit too ‘leaky’ and because – from the journalist’s – it’s always wise to have a get-out clause in case the budget changes at the last minute.
“So the usual form is to say, for example, that the Budget is ‘expected to freeze fuel duty’ or ‘considering announcing a boost for first-time buyers’ and so on.”
Journalists having a punt
Then there are journalists having a punt. McBride recalls how enterprising journalists used to call him up “either because they’ve had a genuine tip from elsewhere or – more likely – because they’re just having a punt, and says: ‘I’m thinking of writing that you’re going to scrap TV Licenses for pensioners’.”
If the journalist’s punt is true and that is exactly the big headline measure that the government wants to announce, McBride says he would not want to see it wasted on one newspaper a few days out. The cunning spin-doctor then opts for his favoured method of lying-without-lying by telling the journalist, “I know where this is coming from, but I would be very, very cautious if I were you…it almost certainly won’t even be floated, so you’d end up looking a bit silly…if I was you I’d steer clear of that one for now.’
“Obviously that particular journalist risks ending up a bit miffed when they hear the announcement on Budget Day, so you need immediately to follow up by offering them the best of your fifteen stories as an alternative, even a couple if you’re worried….”
Fine Gael/Labour strategy
After six tough budgets where crisis management of bad, and even worse, news was largely the priority, the current government’s challenge will be to manage expectations.
It needs to create enough positive noise to help increase consumer confidence. But it must be careful to resist the urge to reverse cuts and excessively ease taxes in a giveaway budget.
The last thing the government, who bid farewell to the Troika, might want is come out with a Fianna Fáil/PD Tribute Budget, à la Charlie McCreevy in 2000. This early in the recovery, the opposition similarly needs to avoid imitating their predecessors Fine Gael and Labour by shouting “we want more”.
People in Sarajevo have been very uneasy about marking the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie.
It’s a big moment for the city. Yet people seemed reluctant to talk to me about the man who pulled the trigger, Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip.
That’s because opinions in the Bosnian capital are sharply divided. For Serbs, he is a hero who bravely fought against the occupying Austro-Hungarian Empire.
For many Muslims and Croats, he is an insidious terrorist who was hell-bent on creating a Greater Serbia. Continue reading
Tonight 28 EU leaders will symbolically mark 100 years since the outbreak of World War I by gathering in the West Flanders town of Ypres, the centre of intense fighting a century ago.
They will meet first in Flanders Field, the impressive museum in the centre of the city, before walking to the Menin Gate for the Last Post ceremony.
Voters across the European Union were led to believe that things would be “different” when they cast their ballots in the European Parliamentary elections last month.
Not only would they be choosing Members for the 751-member assembly but also, in a new departure, selecting the President of the European Commission. Continue reading