Irish press critical of image Ahern wedding portrayed

Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has been heavily criticised by the press in Ireland after Hello! magazine bought exclusive rights to his daughter’s wedding to Westlife star Nicky Byrne in France.

He was accused of having “sold himself and his office” to the celebrity magazine by angry Irish journalists who were excluded from the wedding. Aherne was adamant that he had not been consulted about the deal with Hello!, saying that he had simply gone along with his daughter Georgina’s wishes with regards to the pictorial coverage of the wedding.

But Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole asked how French President Jacques Chirac would be regarded if his family descended on an Irish town for a wedding where the church was blocked off, the streets taken over by kick-boxing heavies with guns in their belts, and the locals treated as inconvenient yokels – all because the event was the property of a celebrity magazine. The very idea of a national leader behaving in this way in a foreign state would be regarded as a national humiliation, thundered O’Toole.

Irish Times political writer Mark Brennock reported that Ahern was well aware of the damage he might suffer “at the hands of an outraged press” for the type of role he had agreed to play.

However, said Brennock, while the Irish leader might have accurately predicted while at the wedding that he was “going to be murdered for this thing at home”, he had chosen on this occasion not to put his political image first. What consequences this will have, only time will tell. Hello! printed 200,000 copies for Ireland carrying the wedding story, compared with its normal 70,000, and the total print run was 800,000.

According to Hello! publishing director Sally Cartwright, this was because there had been big interest in the UK in the last Westlife wedding – that of Bryan McFadden to former Atomic Kitten member Kerry Katona, to which OK! magazine had exclusive rights.

Cartwright said she expected the issue to be one of Hello!’s biggest selling of the year. It could boost Hello!’s circulation in the next round of ABCs, following the magazine’s 32.9 per cent drop to 347,461 earlier this month.

Hello! and OK! both suffered a fall in sales. OK!’s fell 14.8 per cent year-on-year to 489,882, due to increasing competition from existing celebrity weeklies Now and Heat and new launches New! and Closer.

By Des Cryan in Dublin

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