From Socialist Voice, January 2006

All our rights are at risk

The action taken on behalf of the Government by the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, in leaking Garda files to the Irish Independent is a threat to all our democratic rights. Speaking on RTE Radio in early January, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, defended the action on the grounds that it was “in the public interest” and that it was not directed against the Centre for Public Inquiry but was to alert the public about a “dangerous subversive,” in the person of the investigative journalist Frank Connolly, executive director of the centre.
    This clearly is not true and is a smokescreen. McDowell has spent a lot of time and effort pressuring the funders of this organisation, Atlantic Philanthropy, and in particular the Irish-American Chuck Feeney, to withdraw their support and funding. McDowell even invited the directors of Atlantic Philanthropy, while on a visit to Dublin, to a meeting in the Department of Justice, where he showed them the Garda files. What is this but a direct assault on the Centre for Public Inquiry, using the funders as the means of undermining it?
    The Director of Public Prosecutions had given his opinion last year that there was insufficient evidence and that Frank Connolly had no case to answer. It appears that the Gardaí were of the same opinion. Once again the figure of the former unionist MP John Laird appears in the picture. He mentioned the Centre for Public Inquiry in the British House of Lords. What has this centre to do with him, or with the House of Lords? Who is leaking all this information to this individual, and for what reason? Who has most to lose with the possible closing of this centre? Who gains most if there is no independent investigative body?
    The strategy seems to be that Laird raises concerns, makes unsubstantiated allegations and puts names into the public domain under privilege; this is then picked up and presented as fact by the establishment media, which can now print or broadcast the names and information without fear of libel, and without evidence. This is taking trial by media to a dangerously new level.
    The press, and in particular the Independent Group, is leading the charge. Tony O’Reilly is concerned about future developments on this island; maybe he has something to hide?

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