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Irish Times backing illegal parking outside Church fits with its history of protecting our motoring status quo

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: After spreading misinformation on the Sandymount cycle path trial, and giving a huge amount of weight to fringe groups against pedestrianisation, with the New Year, The Irish Times is back with more of the same.

IMAGE: The article was published on the front page of The Irish Times.
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All media outlets big and small have views and slants of some sort. Newspapers in Ireland might not be as politically polarised or as clearly aligned to political parties as in other countries, but newspapers are still full of people and people have their different focuses, biases, and starting points.

IrishCycle.com for example has a starting point that accepts that the car-dominant status quo of our roads and streets is not good for health, safety, or the environment (a side note: This website has covered in detail how change is hard and things are often not black or white, so, please don’t pretend otherwise).

In theory, The Irish Times has said it supports cycling and sustainable transport and agrees with changing the status quo in leader editorials, which are supposed to be the ‘voice of’ a newspaper.

In practice, the focus and framing by the newspaper keeps siding with people opposed to changing the status quo. This will often be followed up by some pro-cycling articles or “debates” on the newspaper’s letter page. But the damage is done by the articles and framing focused on protecting the status quo.

The newspaper’s journalists may claim that this is just standard news reporting. But this is clearly not just news coverage, these are editorial choices that go beyond news reporting and includes the headlines, editing and framing of these articles. Today’s article is a case of framing to the point of editorialising news coverage. It and similar parochial articles finding their way onto the front page of the newspaper shows its a choice of the newspaper’s editor/s.

The Irish Times uses the headline “Cycle path with block right to worship, church claims” on the front pages of the newspaper, and “Right to worship being overtaken by right to cycle, church elder claims” online. And the standfirst states: “Cycle lane decision ‘plain wrong’ as Howth Presbyterian church parking will be blocked”.

It’d make you think the church in question, the Howth Presbyterian Church, has no car park at all or it will be blocked, and that the current on-street parking mentioned in the article is perfectly legal.

The reality is that churchgoers who park on the street are parking illegally on the footpath and cycle lane.

Such illegal parking is often dismissed as harmless but as Kieran Ryan, a cycling campaigner, pointed out today: “Tonya McEvoy was killed while cycling past a church in Kildare in 2017, and illegal parking by mass-goers was a contributory factor in her death.”

The first paragraph of the article states:

The ‘right to worship is being overtaken by the right to cycle’ under plans to install a segregated cycle path on the Howth Road in Dublin, the local Presbyterian church has said.

But the cycle lane on the Howth Road outside the church is already in place. Parking on the road at this location is already illegal and the Church’s small car park will still be accessible, as will other nearby legal parking spaces.

The newspaper goes on as if the change will not only prevent illegal parking:

Fingal County Council plans to install bollards from Howth to Sutton to segregate the cycle lane from traffic. The intervention will prevent on-street parking for several kilometres, including in the area in front of the Victorian church.

The article then covers a “constitutional right to worship”, which the church goers have, but they do not have a constitutional right to park illegally wherever suits them:

Church elder Michael Sparksman said the congregation comes from a wide area across north Dublin and many elderly parishioners would be cut off from the church if unable to access it by car.

“The council suggested people walk, cycle or take public transport but that is really not viable given our age profile and the distances people come from,” he said. “We have a constitutional right to worship. People have been going to worship in this church for 121 years. For the council to decide we can’t do that because we can’t access the place is plain wrong.”

The Irish Times can not do some fact checking to find that it is only a 5-6 minute walk to St Mary’s Church where there’s parking outside and inside the church grounds or figure out that parents and children across Dublin have to walk further in all sorts of weather.

‘Beggars belief’
In addition to Sunday worship, the church hall is used for Bible studies, youth and children’s clubs and ballet classes. There is also a Montessori school to the rear of the church.

“The council suggested parents could park in Howth and walk with the children. That would take 15-20 minutes, and what are they to do in the rain? It is an attitude that beggars belief and borders on arrogance,” he said.

Here, basically, The Irish Times shows that they were well aware that parking on the road was not legal before running with this front-page article where they only reveal such way down the article:

In a statement, the council said the installation of bollards was “intended to improve road safety and create a safe environment for vulnerable road users and children to safely walk or cycle”.

It said parking was already prohibited along both sides of the Howth Road, as cycle lanes were in place, though not protected. “There is also car parking available within the church grounds.”

The church spokesperson admitting it is fine with lawbreaking and The Irish Times is not a bystander the way it has framed this:

Blocked by bollards
Mr Sparksman said he accepted parking was “not strictly” permitted on the road, but that churchgoers had never been ticketed for the short duration of services.

He said a similar “common sense” stance had always been adopted for parents dropping off children and that the most practical solution would be to leave a short section of the road without bollards.

And, of course, after endorsing illegal parking, paining the council as the unreasonable ones

“We have tried to reason with the council but they will not alter their plans one iota,” he said, adding that there was space for fewer than 10 cars in the church grounds.

“The church is 121 years old we’re been parking here since cars were invented. We support cycleways, but the right to worship is being overtaken by the right to cycle.”

And if it’s not clear already, The Irish Times already has a record of this type of coverage on cycling and related issues.

Previously:

It’s worth saying that the below is only a sample in both content and time, ie much of its coverage of BusConnects and its history of covering a now-defunct Dublin city centre business group that was focused on opposing any changes to city centre streets.

2021

2019

2018

2015

2014

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Cian Ginty
Editor, IrishCycle.com

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