Cowen Denies Demanding RTÉ Apology

Brian Cowen today informed the Dáil that neither he nor his press secretary demanded an apology from RTÉ for reporting the story on the paintings.

Meanwhile I hear from Robert Sweetnam that he wrote to RTÉ about their apology and received the following reply:

Thank you for your e-mail in regard to our story about the caricatures of the Taoiseach which was broadcast on last Monday’s 9.00 pm News.  Immediatly after the broadcast RTÉ News made the decision that the item as transmitted was both in bad taste and inappropriate.

We subsequently received complaints from various sources, including one from the Government Press Secretary.  We informed him that we had already decided that the item was in bad taste and that an apology was appropriate.

The News item was removed from the RTÉ website and on Tuesday night, we broadcast an apology.

RTÉ News tries to maintain high standards and is willing to admit error when occasionally we get it wrong.  Our editorial independence is important to us.  These decisions are taken by us alone and not influenced by external pressure for or against a particular course of action.

I see.

Cowen tells the Dáil that his press secretary didn’t demand an apology. So if he wasn’t looking for an apology, what exactly did he say to RTÉ when he called them?


Cowen Pictures — Michael Kennedy Replies

You might recall hearing Michael Kennedy TD on the radio last week demanding the resignation of RTÉ’s director general for showing the Cowen pictures on the main evening news.

Here’s an exchange of emails between us and Mr Kennedy.

Unfortunately, although he responded quickly to our first email, he seems to have gone quiet after receiving our reply.  He’s having trouble with that difficult second email.



Dear Mr Kennedy

We operate one of the most widely-read current-affairs web sites in Ireland, and we will shortly be running an article ridiculing your pomposity in calling for Cathal Goan’s resignation.  The article will suggest that you are a deeply authoritarian individual, unfit to hold public office in a modern democracy.

It only seems fair to offer you the opportunity to comment on this article before its publication, which will probably be in the coming week.


Michael Kennedy:

Thank you for your communication and I set out below my views and comments on the matter:

1.    I accept satire’ in all its forms once it is based in a context of  comedy and a separate “Spitting Image” type tv show. I enjoy Nob Nation, Scrap Saturday etc

2.    I believe in the right of free speech.

3.    My objection to the RTE News broadcast is based on my belief that the 9pm News is not a comedy or entertainment show but a ‘serious’ issues broadcast that international TV and Media will ‘pick up’ on.

4.    The fact that minutes after the 9pm News, media in the USA, Australia and the UK had the 2 portraits on their websites proves my point

5.    RTE could have s hown the 2 portraits on any of their ‘comedy’ style shows such as Podge and Rodge. I would have no difficulty in accepting such.

6.    In my opinion, the particular broadcast denigrated and belittled the Office and position of An Taoiseach, the Prime Minister of our country. I hold the view that the Office of An Taoiseach / President / Government Minister are bigger than the individuals who hold the position.

7.    The manner in which the item was broadcast was a gross insult to the Office of An Taoiseach and I would hold the same view if Enda Kenny or Eamon Gilmore held Ministerial positions.

8.    The fact that RTE immediately withdrew any further broadcasts before any apology was sought proves they believed it was an inappropriate broadcast.

9.    Neither I nor anybody in Fianna Fáil requested the Gardaí to get

10.   The Galleries in question have confirmed they sought the help of the Gardaí in relation to the breach of security.

11.   The lack of security at these Galleries raises questions –  if a
valuable painting was stolen in such a casual act, would there not be
public uproar?

12.   The fact that anybody can casually walk in with a picture under one’s arm, pass the door security, walk along the corridors and hang a painting in some exhibition room without any of the Gallery staff witnessing the event is worrying. What if a terrorist planted a bomb or as I have said above, stole a painting?

13.   I regard myself as having a sense of humour and see politicians and others in public life as ‘fair game’ but insulting the Office of An
Taoiseach is ‘not on’.

14.   If RTE felt the need to include the Sunday Tribune ‘story’ in a news item, they could have reported that 2 Galleries had called in the Gardaí­ to investigate a breach of security without resorting to ‘gutter style’ attack on the office and position of An Taoiseach.

15.   The international reputation of Ireland can do without our Prime
Minister being ridiculed on our national television station.
I conclude by saying I felt outraged by the RTE broadcast and I hope I have explained my position.

Michael Kennedy TD

P.S.1. Kindly advise your address for my records.
P.S.2. If this ‘portrait’ was of a woman, would you agree there would be public outrage.
P.S.3. Do the feelings of Mrs. Cowen and her two daughters matter in this ‘toilet humour’? What of Brian Cowen’s ageing and sick mother?

Michael Hennerty
<michaelhennerty@>                                                 To
25/03/2009 11:18


Your interview on the Pat Kenny  show
Congratulations on your interview with Pat Kenny this morning.  It is
high time that respect for “the Taoiseach and ministers” should become compulsory in Ireland.  I look forward to your introduction of Sharia Law and the launch of the Taliban Branch of Fianna Fail in the near future.  Keep up the good work.



Dear Mr Kennedy

Our web address is  You will not like it.  You will find it contains quite a lot of content critical of the recent actions by an Garda Síochána and your own party.

If I may take a few of your points, according to your own numbering system.

Point 3.  I am not clear on how a politician is qualified to tell a broadcaster what is a serious news issue and what is not.  Is it your view that government has the final say on what items the news should be permitted to report?

Points 6, 7 and 13.  There seems to be no reference to the position of Taoiseach in the paintings. There is a likeness of Mr Cowen, which does not seem to be a caricature of him, but a fair likeness.  Can you clarify how the office, as opposed to the person, of the Taoiseach was ridiculed?

Point 9.  If Fianna Fáil was not involved, one must speculate as to the identity of the “powers that be” to whom the Garda referred.

Points 11 1and 12.  The artist, as far as I am aware, did neither of the things you mention: steal a painting or plant a bomb.  To the best of my knowledge, he placed a painting in a gallery which is not an unusual thing for an artist to do.

We have sought opinion from three lawyers on this, and all agree that the only possible offence committed by Mr Casby might be one of trespass.  However, a leading legal professional and academic, Eoin O’Dell, is of the opinion that the degree of trespass in question is trivial and that a conviction would in any case be struck down by the Supreme Court as an unconstitutional interference in freedom of expression.

Point 15.  A well-known PR professional, Terry Prone, has stated publicly that the international exposure was generated by the government press secretary’s inept handling of the matter and by the Garda’s disproportionate response to pressure from the powers that be, whoever they might be.

On your supplementary comments, since the picture is not of a woman, but of Mr Cowen, I have no way of speculating on what the reaction might be, nor does it seem relevant to the issue at hand. However, I have seen many unflattering caricatures of the Minister for Health which do not seem to have elicited the same response from an Garda Síochána or from Fianna Fáil for that matter.

Mr Cowen’s family are always going to feel the sting whenever he is lampooned, criticised or satirised.  That is the unfortunate reality of life for anyone who places himself in the public eye.

I am not clear what significance the email you attached from Michael Hennerty has.




I’m gutted.  It turns out that Michael wasn’t replying to me directly at all, but simply sending me the same cut-and-paste reply he sends to everyone emailing him about this subject.

Why don’t you try it yourself and see if he sends you the same answer?  His email address is

Isn’t it a pity he didn’t get a grown-up to help him with the confused logic before he sent out all these identical replies?

I remind you, people: this is a member of the party that leads our country at a time of unprecedented crisis.


What the hell, I thought.  Why not send him another email?  Here it is.

Dear Mr Kennedy,

As we did not receive a reply to our last email, we have taken the liberty of publishing our correspondence with you in full without, unfortunately, your response.

If you wish to respond to our points, you might like to do so at this point.

I would also want to clarify one issue, if I may.  Your response to this query seems to be identical in every way to the responses you have sent to a number of other correspondents.  Could you please confirm that you are sending pre-written statements to people who write to you?

Could you also please clarify why you are requesting details of people’s home addresses?  Is this an attempt to intimidate your correspondents?


All Bock posts on this subject:

Cowen Nude



State of the Nation




Biffo T-Shirts, Bags and Mugs

Click on the pic.

UPDATE: Clarification for people who don’t quite get it. These items have nothing to do with Bock the Robber. I didn’t make them and I’m not selling them. I’m only telling you about them in case you’d like to have one.

I have also had a couple of messages pointing out that Conor might not agree with the use of his images on T-shirts or mugs, and therefore I have removed this link, pending clarification.


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gardai Policing Politics

Art Police

As you probably know, our gobshite police force questioned an artist in recent days for putting a painting in a gallery without permission.

Imagine that. 

These policemen, not renowned for their subtlety, levels of literacy or cultural sophistication were sent out to intimidate a painter who made a joke about the leader of government, as if they were qualified to do anything but direct traffic.

The man lampooned is not the head of state.  He’s a politician, who leads the party that presided over the collapse of our economy due to its close relationship with a bunch of criminals in the banking industry and construction.

The puppet police didn’t prosecute the builders who bankrupted our country by constructing thousands of over-priced houses, but they want to jail an artist for driving a single nail.

Dear God!  What a bunch of fools.

What a pathetic country we have.



Times Online


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Brian Cowen — Lost



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Cowen Paintings — John Waters Makes a Fool of Himself Again

There’s no limit to the self-importance or the stupidity of people like John Waters.

In this Irish Times opinion piece, Waters asserts that Conor Casby committed a crime, that his paintings have no artistic value and that the whole thing was caused by the internet.

Now, let’s just be clear. and I’ll say this slowly for John’s sake.  The paintings are not on the internet.  They’re in the back of some police station and before that, they were on the walls of two galleries.  The internet has nothing to do with it, except in the paranoid, Luddite mind of John Waters.  This man is losing touch with reality.

Secondly, John Waters has no discernible artistic talent or qualifications that I’m aware of, other than having written the worst Eurovision song in history and once having screwed Sinéad O Connor, which to me would indicate a severe deficit of judgement.  And yet, he considers himself entitled to pronounce on the merit of Conor Casby’s painting skill. 

Thirdly, he has no basis for accusing Conor Casby of committing a crime, and if I were Conor, I would be taking immediate action against the Irish Times for defamation.  I bet there are many lawyers who would be happy to take the case at no charge, pro bono publico.

At the same time that he attacks a defenceless schoolteacher for engaging in a harmless prank, John Waters overlooks the inappropriate use of the police force to intimidate the artist, because it wouldn’t suit his prejudices to address the implications of doing such a thing to a citizen of our democracy.  It seems that in John’s world, some people, like Brian Cowen, are above ridicule, and other people, like Conor Casby, are beneath contempt.

Waters is rapidly drifting towards his natural home territory: authoritarianism.

He has always had these inclinations.  He was always an opinionated, overbearing bombast, and an intellectual snob, but it’s only as he gets older that he feels able to come out and be true to his natural leanings.

What a pompous gobshite.


Also on Bock:

Windbag Punctured


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Favourites Policing Politics

Cowen Nude Pictures – Investigating An Artist

Let’s just go through the mechanics of this ludicrous episode.


An artist paints a picture. No law broken.
He takes it to an art gallery where he leaves it, free of charge. No law broken.
The painting is an unflattering portrait of a politician. No law broken.
The gallery discovers the unauthorised painting and removes it quickly. No law broken.
The national broadcaster reports the incident. No law broken.
The politician takes offence at the news report.
The politician’s press officer demands an apology from the national broadcaster. Abuse of position.
The national broadcaster removes the news clip from its website and offers an apology for reporting the news item. Abuse of trust by broadcaster. Abdication of journalistic integrity.
Politician contacts police commissioner and demands an investigation. Abuse of office by politician.
Police commissioner diverts valuable policing assets from fighting crime to investigating prank. Misuse of resources by police commissioner.
Interference in politics.
Police visit commercial radio station and demand copies of emails from the artist. Attempted breach of Data Protection Act by police.
Station refuses. No law broken.
Police tell station head that the “powers that be” want action taken. Intimidation.Possible abuse of power by police.
Artist voluntarily contacts police.
Police confiscate other unrelated paintings from artist’s home. Theft of property by police. Intimidation.
Police prepare file for director of public prosecutions. Intimidation.
Abuse of police power.
Abuse of due process.
Waste of police time.
Waste of DPP resources.

So tell me. On balance, who is guilty of an offence?


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Eoin O’Dell provides a legal analysis HERE

Humour Politics

Brian Cowen Picture Challenge

Here’s a challenge for you.

Find a picture of Brian Cowen that isn’t offensive.


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RTÉ Letter of Apology to Brian Cowen for Nude Picture Report

Dear Taoiseach,

Thank you for your threatening letter in which you make some very valid points.  Thank you also for sending the two large men in ill-fitting suits who were quite courteous in telling me what they intended to do to me if I didn’t broadcast better news about you.

I would like to reassure you that of course I realise you hold the purse strings and that you will sink me without trace if I don’t toe the Fianna Fáil line.

This organisation, as you know, has a proud record of silencing its programme makers if they offended Fianna Fáil ministers, and I have no intention of departing from this tradition.  We axed Scrap Saturday many years ago when it became too irreverent towards your illustrious predecessor, CJ Haughey, and only recently, we chopped Vincent Browne’s radio show after he questioned the Taoiseach too vigorously.  More recently still, we put the squeeze on Nob Nation for being disrespectful towards your magnificent self, and I hope you now find their attitude more to your liking.

Let me also please confirm that I would never permit RTÉ to question the government’s wisdom in any way.  I fully realise that you could have me fired at the drop of a hat and I wouldn’t want that in these challenging times.  After all, apart from working in RTÉ, I have no useful skills and nobody would think of employing me in the real world.

Regarding the criminal artist who placed paintings in art galleries, I condemn his actions without reservation and I have had the news reporters flogged, as you demanded.  I have also placed an obsequious grovelling apology in an endless loop on the main evening news.

I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused to you by these pictures, or by our reporting of the incident, or by anything else that every happened to you in your entire life, anywhere in the world.  I sincerely apologise if anyone, anywhere, ever criticised you or laughed at you or poked fun at your appearance. I apologise for what Ian Paisley said about you.  I apologise if your parents ever disciplined you.  I apologise on behalf of all women if a girl ever turned you down.  I apologise for the hamburger manufacturers of the world, and for Arthur Guinness & Co, and on behalf of the world’s manufacturers of deep-fryers.

Taoiseach, I deeply, humbly, painfully apologise for any offence caused by the publication of these pictures, but if I may say one thing, Taoiseach.  We have searched high and low, throughout the internet and the outternet, and we have been unable to find a single picture of you that would not cause offence.

Please forgive me for saying this, Taoiseach, and don’t have me fired or flogged.  On behalf of RTÉ, let me please apologise without reservation for your appearance, which is of course entirely our fault.

Finally, let me assure you that it is RTÉ’s policy to publish only the news that you and your government wish to have published, and we will never knowingly publish any other sort of news or in any other way criticise your leadership.

Yours Sincerely

Cathal Goan

Director General



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Favourites gardai Policing Politics

Artist Charged With Putting Picture IN Gallery

I wrote to the Garda Press Office about this insane business, but that was two days ago and I originally intended to write something about the nature of the works in question.  However, we now discover that the Gardai have gone beyond simply investigating the incident, and have questioned an artist, Conor Casby, about painting pictures and putting them in art galleries.

How about that?

Artists putting pictures in galleries.  What next?

The Gardai, who are constantly reminding us of their arduous workload, consider it a priority to enter an artist’s home, confiscate his paintings, question him about placing two pictures in art galleries and then forward a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

How about that?

This is at a time when crime gangs are machine-gunning each other on our streets and bankers are robbing us blind, but the Gardai see it as their priority to question a real artist while the country is being destroyed by con-artists.

That’s the kind of work our police force considers useful.

Because one overweight, pig-ugly politician, Brian Cowen, decided he didn’t like the caricatures made of him by an artist, our supposedly non-political police force entered an artist’s home, questioned him about a non-crime and stole his artistic work. They also raided a radio station with which the artist had been in contact, informing the staff in the process that the “powers that be” wanted something done.

In other words, Cowen sent his uniformed goons to intimidate a critic.

Now look.  Somebody like Cowen can’t be caricatured.  He’s a living caricature of himself, and even a photograph of him could be considered offensive.

When we contacted the Garda Press Office, they were reluctant to get into specifics about the investigation, which I could understand, and in fairness to the Garda who answered my query, I suspect that he privately considered the whole thing as ludicrous as everyone else does, so I’m not qoing to name him, because I think he was doing his best with a bad situation.

Instead, I’ll just give you the exchange of emails with the Garda’s clarification of his private opinion in its entirety.


Bock: I understand from RTE news reports that an Garda Siochana is making inquiries after two portraits of an Taoiseach were left in Dublin art galleries.
We intend to write an article on this incident, and I was wondering if you could help.  In particular, while we can see how a person might be breaking the law by removing a painting from an art gallery, we have difficulty understanding how it might be possible to break the law by leaving a painting inside a gallery.
Given that an Garda Siochana is reported to be investigating the incident, it would be extremely helpful if you could shed light on the legislative basis for a possible prosecution in such cases.

Garda: We can confirm that such an inquiry is taking place but we would not speculate as to possible legislative breaches in relation to an ongoing inquiry.

Bock: Thank you very much for your prompt reply.  Obviously I would not write about the specifics of an ongoing inquiry but I was wondering in general what law exists making it an offence to place a painting in a gallery.  Could you point me towards the legislative basis for such an offence in a general sense?

Again I can only say that we would not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Garda: It is my personal opinion that there would be no specific legislation governing the placing of an unauthorised painting in the gallery and that the offence would exist in the manner in which the painting was placed e.g trespass, criminal damage, offensiveness of item displayed etc.

Bock: Again may I thank you for responding promptly and I do appreciate how difficult it is to comment without getting involved in the specifics of a case, so  I certainly wouldn’t attempt to go down that route.  It would be better to stick to generalities.

I didn’t know that there was legislation covering the offensiveness of paintings, and I thank you for this information.  The article we write will probably be concerned with this aspect of the matter.

Would the legislation relating to the offensiveness of paintings relate to all paintings or would it be limited to recent paintings?  For example, it occurs to me that a painting made in the 19th century might have to be removed from a gallery if it was assessed as offensive.  Clearly, this could lead to difficulty with work currently on display in many galleries, both in Ireland and internationally.

I personally considered the work of Hierionymus Bosch to be particularly violent and explicit in many ways, yet his main body of work was produced in the 15th century.  On the basis of the information you have provided, it would seem that paintings by Bosch or, for instance, Salvador Dali, might be considered offensive and subject to prosecution.

You certainly raise interesting issues about art that I was not aware of up to now.

Garda : The reason that I did not want to get into specifics re possible breaches of legislation is because of the possible interpretation of what I have said.

There is no legislation specifically governing offensiveness of paintings but rather the display of offensive material as outlined in a recent public order/criminal justice act.

I am not aware of the exact circumstances of what was displayed re Brian Cowen or indeed what was actually displayed and I was merely outlining, in the broadest sense, what may possibly constitute an offense in this case.

To be honest, it would be ludicrous to suggest that art (in general) could be liable to prosecution with regards to offensiveness and I would not like to be attributed to any suggestion that it would.

If you wish to see what legislation is outlined in that act by all means you should look it up.

Also, if you wish to discuss this further, for reasons of clarity, please do not hesitate to contact me on 01 6662071.


As you can see, this Garda is a reasonable, helpful and intelligent man, and I fully accept his reminder that he did not suggest art could be liable to prosecution.

I followed the Garda press office’s advice about looking up the areas of law mentioned in the kind policeman’s replies to me.

Incitement to hatred is defined as follows:

"hatred" means hatred against a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation.

Therefore, ridiculing an individual because of their appearance is outside the scope of the Incitement to Hatred Act.  It’s a bit disappointing that the Garda didn’t seem to know this.

Criminal damage.  Well, driving a nail into a wall is so trivial that it’s beneath the attention of the law and would be laughed out of court.  To prosecute somebody for this would raise all sorts of questions about the lack of Garda action when citizens make complaints about genuine and serious criminal damage.  It also raises questions about the common Garda disclaimer that they can’t act without a formal complaint from the injured party.  I wonder if a gallery’s management would make a formal complaint against an artist for causing a pin-prick in a wall?  I wonder what such a complaint would tell us about the people who run the gallery?

Trespass comes into play only if the artist was in the gallery without the intention of viewing the artworks.  Likewise, it would require a formal complaint, and in any case this would be a trivialisation of the offence and a manufactured charge, designed to oppress.  No court could determine what was in the artist’s mind when he entered the gallery, and he may well reasonably have had the intention to view the pictures on display and to contribute an artwork of his own, which is exactly what he did.  Will they charge him with donating a picture to a gallery?

We’re left with the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, which states as follows:

7.—(1) It shall be an offence for any person in a public place to distribute or display any writing, sign or visible representation which is threatening, abusive, insulting or obscene with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or being reckless as to whether a breach of the peace may be occasioned.

Now that is a worrying piece of legislation, but again, the crucial element is the intent to provoke a breach of the peace, and clearly the artist had no such intention.

However, the Public Order Act and the Criminal Justice Act are immensely flexible pieces of legislation, capable of being interpreted any way the police choose.  That in itself would be worrying in a normal society, but when the police appear to have become an instrument of the government’s wishes, as in this case, it is more than worrying.

If any artist is prosecuted under this act, it will be because a politician has dictated that it should be so. The police bringing the charges will plainly be acting under political instructions, and that will be a truly sinister development.


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