If it bleeds, it leads.

Image result for contaminated water Irish Water gave us the stick, and we are beating them with it.

The press mantra of the title explains the conundrum.  We live in a world that is safer than it has ever been in the history of the world.  Yet fear rates have never been higher.  Crime rates may fall across the board but the reporting of crime continues to raise the threat levels.  If your local friendly rag can’t find a violent crime in your neighbourhood they will simply cast the net wider.  In our digitally interconnected global village there is no effort required to turn up a salacious, lurid or graphic violent crime to further terrify your readers.

If it bleeds it leads because if it bleeds it sells.  We are the authors of our own victimisation, our own anger, our own exploitation, because we give our money or our attention to the graphic, the lurid and the salacioius.

In Ireland water was managed by a plethora of small, under-resourced local authorities.; town and county municipalities, where budgets were allocated in a highly political manner by local councillors.  The approach for water was to make do and mend, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  If water became contaminated the goal was to fix it quietly.  What the people don’t know won’t harm them.  Above all:  Don’t upset the Elected Representatives.  As a water plant manager you could not afford to make the politicians look bad, because they held the purse strings.

Enter Irish Water, a nationally constituted public sector organisation given responsibility for all water management in the country.  For the purpose of this post I am ignoring the misguided attempt by the Government to install water meters in every home in Ireland, and the accusations that this was an attempt to privatise water in Ireland.  Those are issues that require entire books, not a blog post.

Irish Water is constituted in a very different way from the Local Authorities.  It was born of another public sector organisation; Bord Gáis.  When you manage the national gas network you need to be focused on safety.  Gas has the potential to explode.

As a result of the Gas governance framework Irish Water was furnished with the tools and the business culture of risk identification, risk reporting, issue reporting.  As Irish Water management take over the Local Authorities they need to change the culture from one of political expediency to one of “Safety First”.

The result of this cultural change is an explosion in the tracking of faults and the reporting of material breaches in standards.  The newspapers are flooded with lurid headlines, burst pipes, dirty water, boil notices, plant failures, activated alarms, contaminated beaches.

As our drinking water becomes safer and safer the fear level of contaminated water increases.

As the investments in waste water treatment plant begin to pay dividends the media become increasingly vocal on each spill of untreated sewage.

The reaction from the general public?  Irish Water is a disaster.  Things were better in the old days.

They weren’t.

 

 

Garth Brooks & the Cabinet Reshuffle

Troyal

Can’t let this week go by without saying something about the vagaries of the political silly season.  When government goes on holidays every year the journalists have time to be more strategic about the issues they cover.  Instead of reacting to the hurdy gurdy of politics they can step back and analyse the direction of politics with a cold eye.

This is not good news for politicians.  In the moment the politician works hard to control the message, control the spin and manipulate events to suit their stated agenda.  If journalists step back from the day to day cut and thrust, and evaluate the last 100 days, the cracks in the spin are all to obvious.  Throw a microscope over any politicians track record and the flaws will appear.

So every year the political powers will attempt to engineer some current news story during the “silly season” to keep politicians in the here and now.  This year the government has manufactured a cabinet reshuffle, but has been handed a better distraction on a plate.  The Garth Brooks debacle is a solid gold gift for government in the height of the silly season.  The politicians can wash their hands of the affair, and throw the concert promoters, the GAA and the planning authorities to the wolves.

A lot of social media commentators have pointed out that this country has better things to focus on than the fate of a country music tour.  This is naive thinking.  Politicians can achieve nothing in the summer recess.  It is a time for holidays and for constituency relationship building.  The last thing they need is for journalism to focus on real political issues.  So Garth Brooks is manna from heaven.  They will do their level best to keep this story alive for as long as it can run.

September 1, 1939; by W. H. Auden, 1907 – 1973

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.