The New York Times has been hit with a barrage of criticism following the publication of an article on the Irish economy on Thursday that casts doubts on the recovery and claimed some Irish were eating pigeons to survive.
The article, headlined “Hardships Linger for a Mending Ireland,” contains "‘grave inaccuracies" according to commentators in Ireland and Irish America. But many of the central facts stated appear to be true.
The controversial New York Times piece paints an alarming picture of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. Journalist Liz Alderman contrasts the recent positive attitudes and feedback around Ireland's exit from the IMF/EU bailout, with the austerity, poverty even, that the Irish people are enduring .
An outpouring of criticism flowed on social media, with people taking to Twitter to vent their anger at the story and, in particular, one statement. The Irish Central Bank even demanded a retraction.
A statement about eating pigeon to survive was especially criticized. It came from the profile of a 55-year-old Irishman, John Donovan. The article stated he lives in Shankill in County Dublin, where he “shoots pigeons and grills them outside to save money.”
“I do that just to live,” says Donovan.
Many called the comment inaccurate but Donovan, a former company director who went broke told the Irish Independent newspaper the statement was true, if somewhat sensationalized.
"My struggle started in September 2008 almost on the very day of the bank guarantee when I was made redundant. Then I got into business with the assistance of two friends," John told the Irish Independent.
"We ran out of money. We couldn't get paid.
"The economy was on the floor and was still falling and we just had to stop in the midst of the horrible winter in 2010."
Faced with huge medical bills for his ailing mother he decided to cut back to the bone.
"I decided I was going to cut the bills to nothing. I thought, 'I'm going to fend for myself.' I have a fully licensed shotgun. I'm an experienced hunter so I started shooting a few pigeons in the fields around Shankill, so that's where that came from.
"I fish as well so I catch trout and caught loads of mackerel so I filleted and froze them," he said.
“It really did happen. I had to shoot pigeons to eat and I had to catch fish to eat… In order to have a variety of food to eat, I had to. I live in a semi-rural area and there are more pigeons here than you can shake a stick at.
“It’s absolutely beautiful and I like fish as well and I had the means to do it, so why not?”
He defended speaking up “Unless we speak up nobody is heard. The Greeks took to the streets, we didn’t. The Icelanders burned the bondholders; we should have done what they did and to hell with it.”
After severe business reverses in his hardware business he said he reached rock bottom.
“I did away with all the trappings in life; you name it, I got rid of it,” Mr Donovan told The Irish Times. “I was dreading a cold winter and if it’s like that for a single man, what’s it like for a family? These are the points I want to make.”
“My story is I became unemployed and I got back to employment through my own blood, sweat and tears. And there was blood and there was sweat and there was a mighty amount of tears.”
One of the most disturbing revelations is The New York Times claim that two-thirds of homeowners have not paid their mortgage on time for the past two years. However, this figure is wrong as mortgage arrears figures that were recently released bear no resemblance to the figures in Alderman's article.
Following a complaint from the Irish Central Bank the Times issued a correction which stated:
“This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 12, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated economic data attributed to the Irish central bank. This year through the third quarter, 18.5 percent of homeowners had missed a mortgage payment; it is not the case that two-thirds of homeowners have not paid their mortgage on time for the last two years.
However other statements appear to be true as in, “More than 200,000 of Ireland’s population of 4.6 million have emigrated since 2008. Youth unemployment is 28 percent. Over 60 percent of job seekers have been out of work for a year or more. And 20 percent of children now live in households where neither parent works, the highest rate in the European Union. “
Irish people, both in New York and Ireland, have reacted strongly to the article.
Paul in Dublin claimed, “Only about 30% of the facts in this article are accurate. Having lived through the financial meltdown, I can say with absolute certainty that the case studies in this article are atypical. I have never heard of anyone shooting pigeons to survive, it’s another American stereotype of Ireland.”
Another Dublin commentator lightheartedly answered Alderman, “I live in Dublin, I was going to comment on this article but I just saw a seagull I have to shoot and have for tea, get a grip America.”
One of the strongest comments came from an Irish immigrant living in New York: “The author should take a long hard look at Ireland's Central Bank figures more closely and report the facts of a country that is recovering properly instead of creating a media storm in a bucket." He says the United States will be eating “McPigeon” long before the Irish people will.
Finally, this observer says, “This is one of the most poorly researched and factually inept articles I've read in some time. Example... Mr. Donovan said 'about 10 percent of the 17,000 inhabitants were underwater on their mortgages.'
"Are we basing mortgage arrears figures on the hearsay of neighbors now? And when you do get mortgage data you can't even print it properly? Two thirds of mortgages behind? Try to adhere to higher standards of journalism. It's what readers expect from the New York Times."