“Irish Water staff assaulted 63 times, targeted with guns ”
This was the Independent headline two weeks ago. But what’s behind that attention-grabbing headline? Not much.
I made the same FOI request as the Independent, to both Irish Water and The Dept of Environment. Not that I would expect Irish Water to release them, but the FOI officers I first contacted at the Department kindly offered to open it for me. And Ervia swiftly got back.
So what’s striking in those documents? First they’re nothing new.
While the FOI release is from 2015, the emails describe a request dated 17th Nov 2014 for “examples of attacks and intimidation of meter installers”, made by Alan Kelly and his department:
The list was quickly and swiftly drawn-up, in less than two hours, and sent back to John Tierney.
Whoever sent it felt justified to add this was upsetting
“Examples of metering protests. so so upsetting reading through this”
I could go into detail for each of the allegations made, and to be perfectly fair, some can be found by a simple Google Search. A depot was indeed set on fire. Irish Water staff were assaulted.
The problem here is they’re reported as facts. The two firearms incidents, and I am not disputing these did not happen nor condoning their use, are both taken out of context.
Yet this is how the Independent phrased it in their article:
“One of those incidents occurred in Louth in October of last year, when a man allegedly pulled a shotgun on an Irish Water worker and threatened him. Details of the other incident are not known.”
Allegedly. Yes apparently a shotgun was produced. So why the sensationalist headline when the facts do not add up? And it was “produced”, not aimed at water installers.
They claim that “Details of the other incident are not known”. This is disingenuous at best.
For that second incident happened on 21st November 2014, four days after this list was drawn by Irish Water and sent to the Department.
And again a more prudent headline in The Irish Times read:
“Water meter installers reportedly threatened with rifle”
And the only incident before that FOI?
It was an imitation gun
The headline is clear. Irish Water staff were “TARGETED WITH GUNS”
But this is not the case.
So what can we make of “ASSAULTED 63 TIMES” ?
The FOI documents relate of 50 incidents.
The Independent felt it could simply add others enumerated in the document, for emphasised gravitas.
When a newspaper decides to omit facts and embellish figures, it is as clear an indication as any that they have an agenda. And for The Independent and other INM publications, it is not only bias, but cronyist interests that come into play. Another clear signal we need media oversight and media ownership guidelines more than ever.
But The Herald, another INM title, went further yet.
“STALKED AND THREATENED WITH GUNS”
And the only “publications” that went ahead with the story that day?
You guessed it, all INM:
But the most interesting part is yet to come, as crucial information stemming from this FOI was bizarrely not reported on. And yet is reminiscent of techniques usually associated with cold-war-era state security services.
Reports are compiled and sent to the Department, and detailed information is passed along, such as protestors names, pictures and vehicles they’re driving:
A Ford Mondeo following the crews was pictured and reported on several occasions:
Some of the comments are quite bewildering:
“Lots of passing vehicles beeping there (sic) horns perhaps in support?”
And show clear disregard for health and safety of citizens:
(“Now lying on ground claiming to be injured”)
Her name is taken down and passed along. (“The lady removed by the ambulance is redacted”)
And the Ford Mondeo is noticed again:
These reports are clearly chilling. And this is only Irish Water, which lets you wonder what they and the Department of Environment collect on private citizens, and under what authority.
(The FOI documents are available here)