Clientelism gone Mad
My favourite broadcaster beyond doubt is Marian Finnucane precisely because she is easy on the ear, intelligent, understanding, and empathetic and has a marvellously sincere style of questioning her guests. Also she is a brilliant listener. Maybe this is her most important quality. In short she is entertainment and information personified. Enough of the plámás, and now I should get down to the question at issue here.
There I was as is my wont, swaddled in my duvet on Saturday morning last, listening to the redoubtable Marian when she introduced Nora Lynch. Wow! What a marvellously articulate and strong lady this latter is. Tears came to my eyes as I listened to her tragic story. She was only on the airwaves simply because two local politicians had written to the Minister of Justice no less seeking an early release of the murderer of her son. Nora Lynch's son Robert was killed by Christopher Cooney in a stabbing incident in the Banner Arms Pub in Ennis County Clare in 1991. This week it emerged that the Justice Minister was asked to expedite the release of her son's killer in representations from Junior Minister Tony Killeen and also by Clare Fine Gael TD Pat Breen. Nora told Clare FM last week and Marian yesterday that representations made by Junior Minister Tony Killeen and Fine Gael Deputy Pat Breen have brought back the tragic events which took place in the Banner Arms 16 years ago.
Good broadcasting, like good literature, should disturb the comfortable. This show was broadcasting at its best. It disturbed me to the core. It raises questions about our clientelist system with all those TD clinics. That’s the system we have. It is brought about primarily by the small size of our country and its constituencies where politicians know many people in the locality personally, and also by the fact that we have four seat constituencies. If one TD refuses to write a pleading letter on the part of a constituent another from another party will. Then say, if an old woman whose son has served 12 out of a 14 year sentence comes in and bawls her eyes out and would like her son home for Christmas what TD would not write such a letter?
On the other hand, there are the rights of the victims and of the victims’ families to be considered. Nora Lynch had to endure the trauma of revisiting the murder of her son in a public way. Victims can so easily be forgotten. Tony Killeen has apologized to Nora Lynch, and indeed as I type these words listening yet again to Marian Finnucane this bright Sunday morning Tony is in Nora’s house to apologize in person. In fact she is being interviewed by Marian as I type these very words. Once again we have the power of good broadcasting. This surely is Finnucane at her best and RTE at its best. Well done to both. Tony Killeen has undertaken never to write on behave of a prisoner again. Well done, Tony. If this makes politicians more aware of what they are doing; if it makes them more circumspect of signing letters willy nilly then this sad case will have served a good purpose in Irish society.
Again, it raises the question of how important or even unimportant are such letters anyway. Practically all of them end up in the litter bin anyway we are told. Mostly they are ignored. Politicians write them solely to pacify their constituents and look upon them as harmless. Maybe it’s time that we as a nation had done with this silly practice!
However, I am really glad I had the privilege of hearing a woman of such power, sensitivity, articulation, compassion and indeed passion as Nora Lynch on the airwaves. Suffering has strengthened and ennobled this wonderful human being. I’m inclined to sing in the words of Shakespeare: “O brave new world that has such people in it!”
The photograph above depicts winter in Malahide Castle. I took this in Winter 2005.