Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Oh Lord, Help me to keep my Big Mouth shut ...

NAAS, 13 March 2002: OPINION by Brian Byrne. Press (mis)relations have become almost a requirement for Naas Town Council chairmen in this current council. But what can we expect? They’re politicians after all, and they only want the press to report the nice things. That’s not why we exist, though.

I’m writing this because last night I was at the receiving end of an attack by Mayor Willie Callaghan. And as the eventual sequel happened after another member of the press had left the chamber, it is important that the whole story be put on the record.

The attack came following a general complaint by Mayor Callaghan to my colleagues that they ‘only print the bad news’ and fail to publish the good, and he specified a particular ‘good’ one that he said had not received any press attention.

Wrong on count one. The specific ‘good’ news story HAD been published, he just hadn’t seen it.

Then Mayor Callaghan specifically complained that ‘a particular member of the press’ (which was very identifiable as myself) had 'taken documents' off the council table after the last council meeting two weeks ago. The insinuation was very clear.

A touch of the slanders here. Mayor Callaghan had got himself offside, leading with his mouth before his brain knew what he was talking about. And not for the first time ... he did the same on his opening speech as chairman last year. Anyway, last night, this writer broke council chamber protocol by objecting from the press bench to what was in essence a gross slander on my professional integrity.

For the record, the short but accurate story. Following Mayor Callaghan's failure to control the last meeting of the council, resulting in Mary Glennon's retreat from the chamber in tears, her colleague Anthony Egan followed her out to make sure she was OK. I joined them a little later, for similar reason. When Cllr Egan subsequently decided to drive her home because she was so upset, I agreed to collect papers he'd left on the council table. At the end of the meeting, I went about this, noticing also that he'd left his mobile phone. I informed both town manager Tommy Skehan and town engineer John McGowan that Cllr Egan had asked me to collect his things, then I brought them home to him.

Mayor Callaghan, for reasons best known to himself - and probably nothing to do with my recent criticism of him - decided that I had been up to no good. After all, I AM a journalist, have been for longer than than he has been a town councillor. And, along with politicians and aluminium window salesmen, we are sometimes perceived to be close to the bottom of the league as honourable people. Strange thing is, Mayor Callaghan waited to comment in public about his concerns about my actions rather than simply ask me what I had been doing. He had, in fact, had plenty of opportunity to ask me privately before last night’s meeting started.

Anyway, back to last night. For the record, after my own protest - brushed aside by the Mayor - three councillors came to my immediate defence: Anthony Egan, Pat McCarthy and Mary Glennon. But Mayor Callaghan was not yet ready to remove his foot from his mouth and instead continued the meeting.

Only at the very end of the evening’s public proceedings did he apologise, saying he ‘hadn’t known that I HAD told members of his staff’ what I was doing. I accept his apology.

But I commend to those who might need it, a ‘Daily Prayer’ which my late father used to distribute to customers of his pub, the Hideout in Kilcullen. It goes thus: ‘Oh Lord, help me to keep my big mouth shut until I KNOW what I am talking about’.

I tried to take it to heart many years ago. Most of the time, I think, I succeed.

©2002 KildareNetNews.