Terry Prone: Catherine Martin's 'doing her best' is nowhere near good enough

What’s not to love about a minister stabbing the national broadcaster’s chairperson in the back when said chairman seemed to be doing an OK job?

25th Feb 2024
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Rallying around Catherine Martin makes government ministers lose a few of their marbles without even noticing. They came out after her Prime Time appearance, rationalising it, which is what we do when faced with colleague action that makes no sense. So you had ministers saying that Catherine had the best of intentions toward Siún ní Raghallaigh and wanted to give her “space” to answer questions. Which is like saying that a short walk to the gallows is a great exercise opportunity.

What happened was that Siún ní Raghallaigh rang the minister to say “Want to alert you to a mistake we made.” Which is what chairpeople do. And you know what decent ministers do in that situation? They do one of two things. They say gotcha. Appreciate your time. Clear on it now. Grand. Or they say “Please present yourself in my office this afternoon.” They don’t finish the phone call and then go on Prime Time to condemn the caller to corporate death.

But that’s another thing Government spokespeople came out to say. They said “Oh my God, Catherine had agreed to go on Prime Time the previous Tuesday. How could she pull out?” Really simply, is the answer.

Let me offer the inside story on this. The PR adviser rings the Prime Time researcher and says “You’re gonna hate me, but we’ve got to pull the minister from tonight’s programme. New stuff has come through that would make it inappropriate for her to be on. Desperately sorry.” Click.

The researcher would then run to the production team and the air would be blue for several minutes until someone said “OK, we can’t have dead air. What’re we putting on instead of her?” That’s the nature of live television. And the nature of responsible government ministers.

If you plan to meet a chairperson you believe has misled you and you want, in the phrase so beloved of spokespeople this weekend, to give her “space”, you sure as hell don’t go on an eponymous prime-time show where you know, as day follows night, that Miriam O’Callaghan is going to hit you repeatedly with the loss of confidence question.

Because if you do, another inevitability clicks into place, this one the action of the chair, who considers the possibility of a productive meeting to be pretty thin after she has been, as Ivana Bacik puts it, “summarily dismissed.”

Before we move on, it’s not just Cabinet ministers who slightly lost it in relation to the latest installment of RTÉ, the Farcical. Ivana lost it too. First thing Friday morning, she was out with the phrase — “summary dismissal” — that continues to run in coverage of this debacle.

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