This is an extended version of an article I wrote for The Irish Independent on Friday 22nd July 2011.
The image of Ireland, and in particular our politicians, has taken a battering in the international media over the past 24 months. Sporting and cultural successes – from areas as diverse as golf and the Eurovision – have gone a long way towards improving this image, but our economic and political woes have remained the subject of headlines around the globe.
Talk of “bailouts” and “bankers” has dominated the columns of publications across the world.
When Enda Kenny stood up in the Dáil on Wednesday to deliver a speech on the publication of the Cloyne Report, it’s hard to imagine anybody anticipated either its content, or the reaction to it, both in Ireland and across the globe.
In less than 48 hours, more than 1,000 articles have been published in over 800 publications in 64 countries around the world, referencing the Taoiseach’s speech. To put these figures in context, the coverage is more than double of that generated in the wake of Brian Cowen’s infamous interview on Morning Ireland last September.
In addition to news agencies such as Reuters and AP – who by covering the story ensured its global spread – many international agenda-setting publications wrote extensively about the speech. These included the BBC, CNN, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and Sydney Morning Herald.
Such was the impact of the Taoiseach’s words, the online editions of several Irish and international titles published full transcripts, while a video of the speech was also available on multiple news sites – including RTE and the BBC. Across the world, leading titles included in their copy what they felt were the most powerful lines:
“This is not Rome. This is the Republic of Ireland 2011, a republic of laws,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny, told lawmakers on Wednesday. The New York Times
On listening to the evidence of humiliation and betrayal, Kenny said, “The Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyze it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer … this calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded.” CNN
In a direct challenge to the Vatican, Kenny denounced what he called “the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism – and the narcissism – that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.” The San Francisco Chronicle
Kenny said that far from listening to the evidence with compassion and humility, the Vatican’s reaction was “calculated” and “withering”. The Sydney Morning Herald
Kenny’s speech, and the subsequent coverage in the media, sparked a strong reaction from the public; as reflected in tweets, blogs, message boards and forums on the Internet – as well as a high volume of readers’ comments.
The Guardian, in addition to several news reports on the speech, ran Henry McDonald’s column entitled: Irish political classes lose their fear of the Catholic church. As of yesterday afternoon, there were 61 comments posted by readers in reaction and a link to the story had been shared 39 times on Twitter.
The CNN report, Irish prime minister slams Vatican over child sex abuse, was recommended by 212 people on Facebook and 55 comments had been posted by readers within 48 hours.
In a week in which Kenny’s opinion poll ratings reached their highest level since he took over as leader of Fine Gael in 2002, it is clear from the international media coverage of his speech that his popularity is not confined to Ireland. In addressing such a sensitive topic in such a decisive manner, the Taoiseach ensured Ireland made global headlines for the right reasons.