November 11, 2009

“Ah, come on, what’s Star backwards?”

HE CERTAINLY wasn’t taking any prisoners.
I wasn’t sure what the reaction of Pat Kenny’s tormentor Alan O’Brien would be when Gary Ashe and I went to his home address to have a little chat with him. It was barely 14 hours after Monday night’s bizarre incident on RTE1 and maybe his blood was still up. Moreover, the questions I wanted to ask him weren’t conducive the conversation ending well.
O’Brien had been feted as something of a hero after he confronted Pat Kenny about his salary live on air during Monday night’s edition of The Frontline. I was watching the show myself and, as soon as he started his rant, I knew I would probably have to go after him the next day.
Presumably like most other news desks in the city, mine wanted firstly to find out the identity of heckler - and then what his story was. As I was driving in to work the following morning, I was frantically wracking my brains, wondering how I would find him.
In the end, I was saved by Today FM. Ray D’Arcy carried a live interview with the heckler, in which he revealed his names was Alan O’Brien and was from Inchicore.
That was all we needed. Within a few minutes we had his address. From there it wasn't too hard to establish he had been in trouble with the law on a few occasions.

(This photo by Gary Ashe shows Alan O'Brien giving me a piece of his mind. He got a good bit closer to me than he did to Pat Kenny. ⓒ Irish Daily Star)

He wasn’t exactly a master crime boss, but he had been before the courts. He was convicted of assaulting a man in a psychiatric clinic of St. James’ Hospital in Dublin (as well as damaging 12 plates, 12 bowls, 12 saucers and 12 glasses); he was fined €100 for criminal damage to a house in Drimnagh; he was given the benefit of the probation act for trespassing in a house in Ballyfermot. But the real item of interest was an incident on Grafton Street in December 2006. There, he launched abuse at people walking by, shouting: “Black Bastards...Muslim...Islamic scum.” He was later given a three month suspended jail term after he was convicted of one count under the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act.
Bingo. We had him. He was a racist thug. Now all we had to do was confront him and put the convictions to him. Maybe he would explode and shout how he hated foreigners coming into Ireland; maybe he would lose the head when his dark past was put to him.
The reality was somewhat different. In fact, after we got him, Gary and I walked away laughing, and with our tails slightly between our legs. He was clearly no racist - and clearly knew how to put us in our place.
We got him as he walked into his flats complex after a visit to the dentist. When we approached him, he was carrying a bundle of newspapers under his arm. After I told him who we were and where we were from, he sniffily replied: “I don’t do tabloids.” A quick glance at the papers under his arm bore that out - they were all broadsheets. Anyway, he deigned to talk to us about his intervention on the Frontline for a few minutes. Gary and I had already decided that we would get as much as we could out of him before we asked him about his criminal past.
So, to be honest, he talked on for four or five minutes about his rationale, while I pretended to listen. The reality is that while he was talking, I was vacantly nodding my head, all the time thinking: “Will I ask him now? Is he going to belt me when I put it to him?”
Eventually, he opened the door by saying how he had been in trouble with the law - but only for breach of the peace, don’t you know. “Well, let’s talk about the Grafton Street incident,” I said.
I braced myself for his reaction - but when it came it was completely unexpected.
There was no anger, no explosion, no self pity.
All I got was a look of contempt, mixed with pity.
“I do not have a racist bone in my body,” he said.
“But hold on a minute,” I countered. “You can’t really go round calling people black bastards…”
“Yes, I can. “I have Islamic friends, I am not racist.
“I was using very obvious insensitive things to see their reaction.
“And the reactions from some people were over the top.
“I was trying to get a reaction.
“Black bastards, Jews, Muslims, Greeks, it’s all just words.
“My brother in law is a black bastard - and I am a white bastard.”
Then he turned on me.
“The Star is not in a position to take the moral ground on the language they use.
“You use very figurative language to describe criminals from a certain area but you wouldn’t use the same language about the bankers.”
I protested, weakly, that we were going after the bankers big time - but he was in full flow now.
“If you want to put down these things as a way of taking the sting out of what I said to Pat Kenny, you go ahead and say what you want.
“My principles stand for themselves.
“You don’t even know the basis of what went on.”
Oh, eh right. Our carefully planned ambush collapsed as he laughed and asked us:
“Come on, what is Star backwards?”
That’s what I was thinking as I slunk back to my car.