I was in London when a text message came through.
It simply said that the news quality in the North
had gone up - Daily Ireland had folded.
I initially thought it was a joke. Throughout
the day, joyous calls came through confirming
the demise of the enterprise. Few would ever accuse
it of being a serious newspaper but it certainly
provoked extreme emotions. I was surprised less
by the collapse than the timing. I had thought
it would stay around long enough to help Sinn
Fein over the brow of the hill and into the welcoming
arms of the PSNI. But rather than the Joe Brolly
interview being the first salvo, it was the parting
the management-issued death certificate blamed
the Brits it effectively expired from lack of
public interest. While the British Government
took out advertising space in other papers and
not in Daily Ireland, placing the Teach Basil
outfit at a certain disadvantage, any newspaper
that can only survive on government funding really
has little right to be in the game. Ostensibly
a paper with a republican ethos, it failed to
see the irony in its 'blame the Brits' explanation.
as the paper was being launched last year, a unionist
academic commented to me that the Provos are very
capable in many areas but it would be beyond them
to sustain a daily paper. The first sign that
all was not well was when it failed to reach its
break-even plateau of 20, 000 sales daily. It
seemed to scale halfway to that summit but never
any further. Then it stopped producing its Saturday
edition and had the chutzpah to tell its readership
that it was merely consolidating. Time it seemed,
and no vast expanse of it, was beginning to prove
the unionist academic right.
month or so before its downfall I had been told
that Mairtin O'Muilleoir and Sinn Fein MP Pat
Doherty had been in and around Dublin trying to
persuade people in the banking community to fund
the paper. They met with handshakes but not hands
in the pocket. Then in Derry at a commemoration
for the hunger striker Michael Devine, I picked
up that O'Muilleoir had been involved in sharp
exchanges with Sinn Fein. He wanted the paper
to have more autonomy whereas the party wanted
it to be a ventriloquist's dummy. Particular pressure
was said to have been applied to journalists from
two of the main functionaries in the Sinn Fein
press office. Holding to Clemenceau's maxim that
there is no passion greater than the passion of
a functionary for his function the duo are said
to have berated and frustrated journalists who
deviated in the slightest from the party line.
All of this lent itself to a view that that difficulties
were mounting and that the venture might not be
long for the road.
losing their jobs is never a cause for celebration.
The management at the paper must bear some responsibility
for overlooking free flowing news in favour of
managed news. Journalists found themselves as
little more than propagandists. Had the management
opted to produce a daily for Ireland rather than
a flag for a particular section of opinion in
Ireland, it could have reached the 20,000 mark
and still be in business, with journalists' jobs
has long been said that Daily Ireland was a good
idea in the wrong hands. Its lack of vigour and
novelty meant that it could never compete with
the Irish News. Shortly before the death rattle
of its rival, the Irish News, flush with the vigour
of life, announced that its sales were continuing
to rise in a contracting market.
reporting was atrocious. Its coverage of the longstanding
Ballymurphy violence right on its own doorstep
was appallingly tendentious. It did for the enlightenment
of its readership what one hand does for clapping.
One excellent article does stand out - Laura Canning's
coverage of the crisis in the Republic's prisons.
This one beacon in an otherwise dim news landscape
shone precisely because there was little else.
This particular exercise in the monitoring of
power was unfortunately never extended to the
power closest to the paper. Did it ever raise
one serious question of Sinn Fein?
the exception of perhaps two contributors, one
from the Republic and the other in the US, the
columns were appalling. Few readers are going
to be excited by supposedly serious writers scribbling
that the West Belfast festival just gets better
and better. Whether it is or is not is neither
here nor there. Either way, the public imagination
was never going to be set alight by such mediocre
on message musings.
was a sense that the management was acutely sensitive
to the shortcomings of the columnists. When the
end approached its dying kick came in the form
of a cruel joke at the expense of the West Belfast
scribe Danny Morrison who was seemingly not given
the heads-up about the pending demise. Consequently
in his final column the nationalist Morrison lambasted
republicans for being unable to put together a
propaganda organ. While there was much in the
Morrison swansong that republicans could learn
from, none of it survived the widespread merriment
that greeted the egg splattered face of the former
Sinn Fein publicity director.
the public mind the Daily Ireland ultimately amounted
to little more than the Daily Provo, a term favoured
by some of its detractors. There was nothing essentially
wrong with the paper leaning Sinn Fein's way.
But if it were ever to survive it had to be Sinn
Fein plus rather than Sinn Fein just.