Spot the Difference

To raise public awareness of TTIP, the proposed Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership agreement being negotiated behind closed doors between the EU and the USA, I have begun a billboard campaign across the country. The first of those billboards went up this week and they feature the following quote from an Irish Cancer Society Report on TTIP: “It could allow multinationals to sue countries for introducing public health policies that will reduce the cancer rate and save lives”.

An Irish Times article from today about that billboard is headlined “Irish Cancer Society unhappy with ‘Ming’ Flanagan poster”. The article states that the society’s head of advocacy and communications Kathleen O’Meara, while confirming that I did “consult the organisation about using the quote for his campaign’, goes on to claim that ‘She (Kathleen O’Meara) said requested changes were not made”.

Given the Irish Cancer Society’s prominence in Irish society, hardly a family in the country untouched by its outstanding work, this is a serious and potentially damaging allegation. It is also simply untrue.

As accepted by Kathleen O’Meara in the Irish Times article, “The report is public, and so anyone can quote from it”. When we were in the process of designing the billboard, and as a courtesy, we informed the Society of our plan to go with this quote for the first series. There followed a sequence of e-mails and phone calls between my office, the Society and the designers, after which we believed we had incorporated their suggestions.

On the day the billboard went to print we received a phone-call from the Society’s representative, Eoin Bradley, asking if the Society’s name could be put underneath rather than above the quote, but – acknowledging that there was a deadline issue – asking also whether it was too late. It was, unfortunately, and we rang Eoin back and in an amiable conversation, informed him as such.

In the finalising process I had one staff member engaged almost full-time in addressing the Society’s concerns, liaising between the Society, the designer/billboard company and the GUE/NGL staff (they are backing this campaign). As far as I'm aware, the final change that the Society requested, the change that arrived too late for inclusion, was that the line “Irish Cancer Society Report” would appear below the quote rather than above. Attached to this release are two PDF files showing the two billboards. I invite you to spot the difference.

This is a very serious campaign on a very serious topic. TTIP in its current guise, and with an ISDS clause still built in (Investor-State Dispute Settlement, which allows multinational corporations – and ONLY multinational corporations – to bypass all local and national courts, even the Supreme Court itself in the US and the European Court of Justice here and sue national governments directly in a new layer of ‘justice’), has the potential to undermine so much that has been hard-won over the last several progressive decades, especially in the area of health, food safety standards, the environment, working conditions and so on.

I had hoped that our mainstream media would pick up on it, would finally start asking the hard questions of this government, which has been more gung-ho than even the likes of Germany and France, both of which have expressed major concerns on ISDS.

Instead, I get this, a damning headline over an accusatory article. Why am I not surprised.



Ming's OpinionPaul Cotter