When We Were Kids

Muhammad Ali in Dublin 1972

June 4th

I haven’t looked at the news yet. I was thinking of M Ali. He was dying last night. Just noticed that this was how he signed his autograph, M.Ali. I’m reminded of some stories and I thought I’d write them now before checking the news. I mightn’t feel like it later, and they may get “affected”.

When he was fighting in Croke Park a group of us boys were planning a route to bunk in on the day that involved scaling a complex of walls, finally leading into Croke Park. The furthest we got was a very high wall running along by the old handball alley, which was the new handball alley then, where Ali had been sparring every day. By this stage we had seen Ali every day for a couple of weeks and we all had several genuine autograph, all since lost. He signed his autograph M. Ali. So there’s a line of us boys straddled along this high wall, inching along adjacent to the ball alley, dangerously exposed by the windows to the dressing rooms in the ball alley, only a few yards to our left. Then we noticed one of the windows was open. It was hot July day. And into the frame of the open window stepped a naked Muhammad Ali, his back to his. The window was long and narrow, framing his shoulders and from above his head down to his thighs. We all froze on the wall staring at Muhammad Ali’s naked arse. Years later I told this story to a group of older men on a building site. Looks were exchanged. They all wanted to know one thing and one thing only. They were disappointed to learn that Ali hadn’t provided a full frontal. Someone must’ve seen us, a hand reached around the frame and eased the window closed. Ali had to move aside. He glanced over his shoulder as he did so, and the window closed.

On the day of the fight bunking in was unnecessary. It turned into a freebie for all.

A few years ago David Frost went to the US to interview Ali. There was a real sick room feel about it all and Frost was sensitive in the extreme. At one point he was expounding at length about Ali’s legacy and Ali’s head drooped and he started softly snoring. Frost, realizing Ali had fallen asleep listening to him, was totally flustered and apologetic. Then he realised everyone was smiling. Ali opened one eye to look at him. “I’m teasing,” he said. Towards the end of the interview Frost asked him what he felt now about his achievements in the ring. Ali said that his last fight had been over thirty years ago. “But you’ve come here today, all the way from England to see me. I’m still hot.”

I just looked at the news. He died last night. RIP M. Ali.


Sleepily Comfortable and Casually Condescending

Prime Time Edit 2

The Prime Time programme on the rise of nationalism in Ireland (Thurs Jun 25) seemed, from the off, to have another agenda. Two separate issues were collapsed into one, as if they were synonymous.

David McCullagh in his introduction said that similar nationalist groups across Europe “tend to share a deep suspicion of the political establishment and an implacable opposition to emigration.”

This had the effect of casting both issues as being tied at the hip. But many people, who could not in any way be described as racist, are often suspicious of Ireland’s political establishment, and often with good reason.

Nevertheless, the insinuation was woven through the report, and had the effect of suggesting that those working-class people featured in the programme, speaking out for social justice, may be proto racists.

The people featured were mostly working-class people, with working-class accents, concerned with social housing. Everyone knows that working-class accents are the speech patterns of the “other” in Ireland, particularly in Dublin.

In the privatisation of housing under Fine Gael, social housing was neglected in favour of the market, and homelessness soared.

But the victims were mainly those working-class people who traditionally depended on social housing, and are depending on it even more now when two wages can’t afford to buy one house. Those same people who are unable to avail of the pricey educational advantages that middle-class Ireland routinely enjoys and regards as “normal”.

The spin put on this programme, which was ostensibly concerned with Gemma O’Doherty’s and John Waters’ often hair-brained and dangerous escapades, seemed more like political sleight of hand, designed to tarnish those social activists who are neither racist nor hard leftists, but who are interested in social equality and who are often rightly suspicious of Ireland’s political establishment.

To suggest that anyone who is suspicious of a political establishment such as the one led by Fine Gale during austerity, are somehow proto or even covert racists, is really little more than a slippery bit of class politics designed to tarnish opposition to Ireland’s right-wing political establishment.

Sowing Division

The result of Fine Gael housing policy was that there was competition for housing between immigrants and working-class people, setting in train an unfair competition for limited resources. The price of failure in this competition to gain accommodation was homelessness.

But the set of circumstances that caused the conflict arose directly from Fine Gael housing policy, as was repeatedly shown and argued by Fr Peter McVerry.

To imply, as the Prime Time programme did, that those desperate people, placed in such a conflictual set of circumstances imposed upon them by a right-wing political establishment, are somehow proto racists, is a mean and underhanded trick of political spin.

The insinuation also has the effect of protecting the interests of the political establishment that the RTE journalists themselves are clearly part of.

Given middle-class suspicion of working-class people, and the routine middle-class prejudices on display by, for instance, Josepha Madigan’s NIMBY activities, it is almost comical that middle-class prejudice towards working-class people should be manipulated in this way to suggest that working-class people are prejudiced against immigrants.

Abstract Austerity

Only a few days earlier, another RTE journalist, Áine Lawlor, made the case on her TV show that austerity had been good for Ireland.

When Áine Lawlor’s views on austerity met with opposition from people interested in social equality, her RTE colleagues came out in support of her position.

But these RTE personalities are all well paid professionals. Austerity cost them nothing. In fact, austerity often provided the raw material for many of their stories. But none of them were personally bitten by austerity. To them, austerity is an abstraction. It’s just background noise.

But for people on housing lists and hospital waiting lists and working in jobs that don’t pay a living wage and don’t deliver enough to buy or even rent a place in the premium rental market encouraged by FFFG housing policy, austerity is a daily suffering grind. It’s not abstract. It’s real and it’s dirty and it hurts.

And by all accounts there is more of it coming down the line, since the parties who delivered the last tranche of austerity are now back in power in a combination/partnership that no one expected or voted for.

In fact, people were assured by Micheál Martin that Fianna Fail would not enter into coalition with Fine Gael.

This means the new taoiseach has already broken a campaign promise, and he’s still only a wet weekend in the job.

Disappointing Journalism

To be told by the public service broadcaster that those who oppose the current right-wing political establishment, share traits with European racists, seems like a deliberate attempt to deceive the viewer, or to dampen potential dissent.

If this is the standard of journalism in RTE we are in real trouble. Because there are those of us who actually look to the established media to behave like “real” journalists, since they are the established face of the profession.

But far from serving the public interest, as real journalists are expected to do, this kind of lazy, politically compromised journalism risks making cynics of us all.

Such biased journalism gives the impression that the established journalists and the political establishment that they purport to hold to account are all really in the same social club.

Though I am not a journalist by profession, but an arts practitioner, I hold to the ideals of objective journalism, and write from that perspective to the best of my ability. I am not affiliated with any one party or cause, apart from a general interest in social justice and a particular interest in untangling spun political narratives such as the one described above.

The idea of a journalist not holding to those ideals of objective journalism makes no sense to me, since this would have the effect of abandoning the unique perspective that journalism affords, that space where independent opinion may be expressed.

But this is precisely what these high-ranking RTE journalists seem to be doing. In the process of promoting the policies of the political establishment they purport to be holding to account, they are rendering their own professions meaningless.


As if to add insult to injury, when Micheál Martin finally ascended to the office of taoiseach, Brian Dobson on RTE wondered might the new coalition be described as “centre left”.

Really? I’d regard myself as centre-left. But if Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are centre-left that makes me Che Guevara. I guess that’s the idea. Shove everyone over in the bed, right-wing becomes “normal” and everyone else is a radical.

It is difficult to decide whether this is disinformation – deliberately designed to deceive – or misinformation: mistakenly delivered, where the journalists themselves are being deceived with disinformation.

Though that’s hardly possible, since it would mean that the RTE journalists are lacking in the basics of political science.

Whatever the mechanics, this carefully judged encroachment also came across like information spun in the apparent service of right-wing parties attempting to supplant those parties of the left and policies of the left that many voters, calling for change, favoured in the last election.

Perhaps it’s just institutional complacency.

Certainly, the photograph of Miriam O’Callaghan and David McCullagh that goes with the Prime Time programme on the RTE player seems like a study in complacency.

Both look kind of sleepily comfortable and casually condescending, their expressions perfectly encapsulating the sense of unaccountable privilege that appears to inform their journalistic choices.