Updated: 29/07/17 : 06:28:43
Printable Version   Bookmark and Share Share This


Farewell then, retiring Vincent Browne

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

THE MOST memorable Christmas present outside my own family circle was handed to me by Vincent Browne.

A small group of us had been summoned to an afternoon meeting in his office, December 1982.

Was this, after all his huge energy and great effort to fund a re-launch The Sunday Tribune, to be the fatal coup de grace in time for Father Christmas.

There was no double tap that December day and Browne himself, though it took a wee while to realise it, was doin' Santa without donning the red suit.

Most Lost

It had been a bruising year for many of us, the work of journalism itself in 'the GUBU year' and then the collapse of ''the Tribune'' and its 15 days old sister, The Daily News.

It was one of the very few times I've cried uncontrollably in public as an adult. 

End-of-month cheques for salaries, expenses and holidays etc bounced all over Dublin, lost and irretrievable. Immense. 

The Daily News people, some in from abroad, got no salaries, expenses or holidays for any part of their employment either. Immense. 

Yes, immense but lost most of all -- and many people have experienced this in the brutalities of receiverships and liquidations -- is the friendship, camaraderie, comradeship and trusts built between colleagues. 

Into that cauldron of catastrophes stepped Vincent Browne to attempt rescue and re-launch, of the Sunday title anyway.

His only other real rival was the outgoing Sunday title editor, Conor Brady backed by venture capital agency DCC.

Crucially Browne had the support of staff and the High Court approved his bid to buy the title for a nominal sum.

Like DCC, his financiers had no known experience of the (notorious) bottomless buckets of cash needed then to run a national newspaper.

Extraordinary Kindness

Best known among Browne's backers would be up and rising star Tony Ryan.

He was the founder of Ryanair and jetted the globe after setting up Guinness Peat Aviation with its 'who's-who' starry board of directors.

Tony Ryan wrote the cheques in those envelopes handed out by Vincent Browne that December day.

It was an extraordinary kindness from a man we had never met and who, then or afterwards, owed nothing to anyone present that December day.

Most people left the room without opening their envelope but one whisper on the way out said  '£40 pounds.' Kindness from a stranger. 

Bangs Bucks

In Buswells lower bar somebody stripped their envelope and spotted the mistake.

Er, our mistake: It's four hundred pounds, not forty. Surely some mistake on their part?

A stranger would hardly go that far with people he didn't know, hadn't met and didn't even employ.....yet.

But he did and before another year had passed he was getting -- any by some accounts -- giving, too, some bangs for his bucks.

The biography of Tony Ryan claims he flattened Vincent Browne in one angry encounter. 

Browne has always roundly denied such an incident but, yes, there were points of view exchanged over his interview with INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey.

In that notorious exclusive McGlinchey had described how he liked to get in close and see the eyes of people he assassinated. 

Disgusting in any sense and way, way beyond where Ryan had expected his (new) Sunday Tribune to be, even though people were certainly talking about it.

Earlier, and within a short time of re-launch, Ryan let it be known he thought the newspaper was too ''left wing.''

Decent Thing

Its campaign to have Nicky Kelly released from prison, led by Longford journalist the late Derek Dunne, failed to float the boat of some.

Minister for Justice Michael Noonan did the decent thing and released Kelly.

But before the brown-foldered lengthy memorandum re that 'Left drift' landed on each desk Browne was already giving a prescient taste of President Donald Trump. 

His style was chaotic. People who had been hired to important posts were mesmerised and demoralised by his style, or absence of it.

Those peoples (plural) early senses of those things, in turn, demoralised others.

There were those who stood up to be counted and spoke Truth to Power, especially that power which Browne now held, aged just forty.

Those voices included the late Mary Holland, the complete journalist AND great humanitarian and Fintan O'Toole, a fearless and good union officer.

Phoenix Magazine

Also fearless was Paddy Prendiville, who left to be editor of Phoenix magazine when it was established by the original founder of The Sunday Tribune, John Mulcahy.

Over the decades, only Phoenix magazine has managed to hold Vincent Browne, an important figure in Ireland's public domain, to any sense of account. 

It does so without the negative traits sometimes displayed publicly by Browne himself. 

Star Turn

On his day, Browne could be the Pele, Suarez or Eusebio of journalism, the star turn. 

He could also be Norman Hunter or be like Roy Keane in the tackle. 

He witnessed the May 17th 1974 Dublin bombings within minutes of their aftermath and their record loss of life in the Troubles. 

It seemed to shape a lot of what came later but 'the North' is the least of what his legacy will remember. Nothing he did shaped the Peace Process.

1. Vincent Browne was the first-ever to put the Gardai and The Church under the spotlight after decades of their unchallenged and unquestioned deification;

2. He systematically promoted and powerfully enabled the voices of women in journalism and in Irish Life.....long before Bono's roll call last weekend in Croke Park;

3. Vincent Browne was the first to begin to comprehend and then to publicly explain the scale of child abuse in Ireland. 

4. He used Magill magazine to reveal the scandals of neglect inside Ireland mental hospitals. Helen Connolly's innovative investigation stands the test of time.

Some will argue -- but I'm not sure -- that his Magill three-parter on the 1970 Arms Crisis got to its root, or got to the rot in the Republic hidden in/by that Crisis.

Never Dented

Shops refused to stock those issues but then that only heightened the demand.

That magazine (or that series) never dented Charles Haughey or Fianna Fáil.

Anything but when you recall Fianna Fail's market shares in general elections, even ones they lost.

The Public are also mistaken in thinking Browne held Bertie Ahern to account.

Indeed, his public harangue and rants at Ahern in the 2007 campaign greatly helped to turn the tide for an FF three-in-a-row when all seemed like it might be lost.

Entertainment Value

Postscript: When Browne bowed out from broadcasting on TV3 on Thursday night he read a long list of names of people he wished to thank.

There is another list, probably lengthier: Those who refused to appear or weren't invited to join his panels. It would speak for itself. 

In the past decade some people found delight in the entertainment value of a Browne rant or harangue on TV3.

Entertainment? Hardly, and some of the those silly and stupid people who spoke to me would not like or tolerate it for their own spouse in the workplace.

One rule imprinted in me as I grew up and learned: Namely, never ever crush anybody's Spirit. 

That message is the gift I'd offer VinB, hashtag or by hand, this July 2017 morning.