Irish question all at sea…

ATLANTIC Philanthropies, the American group headed by multi-millionaire Sinn Fein sympathiser Chuck Feeny and which funds restoratice justice schemes in Northern Ireland, has pulled the plug on money for the Centre for Public Inquiry. The CPI is headed by Frank Connolly, the brother of Niall Connolly, one of the Colombia 3 who is wanted by the government there for his alleged role in training FARC guerillas there with an IRA team. The decision comes just after the Irish Justice Minister claimed Frank Connolly was linked to the IRA plot.

Connolly denies it, claiming a secret police file was leaked to the Irish Government and media, and is aimed at undermining his position in the CPI.

The CPI claimed to have blown the lid on what it ‘independently’ discovered were serious safety defects in the Corrib gas pipeline proposals, which Shell describe here (alternative links welcome!). A campaign against the pipeline resulted in further political controversy.

But it seems to be so much more than a straight battle between the left and the right of Irish politics,

“This report by the Centre for Public Inquiry into the Corrib gas controversy raises serious issues of public importance. The analysis, by Richard Kuprewicz, of the proposed onshore pipeline and plant will also require detailed examination by all of the parties involved” said Frank Connolly, Executive Director of the Centre for Public Inquiry.

Kuprewicz has recently been reappointed to the Pipeline Safety Committee by Washington State Governor, Christine Gregoire.

According to her website, Mr Kuprewicz has been reappointed to a term effective November 3, 2005, ending July 31, 2008. Kuprewicz is an energy systems consultant with ACCUFACTS and a member of several organizations including the federal office of Pipeline, Technical Hazardous Liquid Safety Standards Committee and the Pipeline Land Use Advisory Commission.

The Committee advises the Utilities and Transportation Commission and other appropriate federal, state and local government agencies and officials on matters relating to hazardous liquid and gas pipeline safety, routing, construction, operation, and maintenance

Mr Kuprewicz obviously has a big reputation in his (oil)field of expertise.

The Village castigated the media for a lack of favourable coverage of Kuprewicz’s report and suggested an ulterior motive for what it called “shortsighted journalism on the issue of offshore exploration”:

Newspapers in Ireland are not prepared to spend the money on investigations that is available from Atlantic Philanthropies to the Centre for Public Inquiry. But the centre’s report mentions another possible reason for shortsighted journalism on the issue of offshore exploration and who gains from it: “Providence Resources, controlled by Tony O’Reilly, the owner of Independent News and Media, is the largest Irish company involved in offshore oil and gas activity and controls significant acreages off the west coast and in the Celtic Sea.”

But with millions of euros in the pipeline – literally – perhaps it then came as no surprise to find that Mr Kuprewicz was not as independent as CPI had claimed. The Sunday Times recently reported:

Richard Kuprewicz, an American authority on pipelines, was hired by the CPI in September after his company, Accufacts Inc, failed to win the government contract in August. It went to a company called Advantica. Their official report has been completed and is expected to be issued to residents in Mayo within two weeks.

Connolly refused to state how much Kuprewicz was paid for his report but said his status as an independent expert was unquestionable. He also said the fact that Accufacts had applied for the government safety review (the Independent Safety Review of Corrib Onshore Pipeline) was already in the public domain as the company was listed in government documents. The CPI, he added, used that list of tenderers when choosing its consultants.

“Kuprewicz is a worldrenowned expert on pipelines and he is independent,” said Connolly.

Connolly said the CPI, a body which promotes transparency, was under no obligation to discuss the cost of any contracts. “We don’t discuss our commercial transactions. When we release our annual report you can look at it,” he said.

A few days ago, the Irish Examiner reported that Kuprewicz’s ‘independent’ safety investigation was “funded by American businessman Chuck Feeny”. There is no suggestion that Feeny was aware of the apparent lack of independence in the report he was funding, but it’s doubtful whether a smart guy likes to be suckered.

It’s probably only coincidence that Atlantic Philanthropies’ funding for restorative justice schemes in Northern Ireland runs out in April. Looks like a clean break is inevitable there, possibly putting the British and Irish governments in a stronger position in the medium term – already State funding for restorative justice schemes after next April has become a political bargaining chip to entice Sinn Fein onto the Policing Board.

Shell and others are relying heavily on a positive report from Advantica, something Accufacts was not prepared to give. Corrib would seem to be at the centre of an Irish ideological, political and financial battleground between many different interests.

  • Oilbhear Chromaill

    I’m disappointed at the capitulation of Atlantic Philantrophies to the combined forces of the Independent Group, the media guardians of vested interests in Ireland, and McDowell, their political rottweiler.
    The publication to the Dail record of allegations which the DPP judged insufficient to pursue charges against Mr Connolly previously has brought a new form of law to bear in Ireland. When all else fails, convict the victim, without trial and without giving the ‘defendant’ the opportunity to speak in his defence in the Dail, abusing Dail privilege in order to prevent any future court proceedings at which Mr Connolly could – and would be – acquitted (such is the flimsy ‘evidence’ against him). Interested to hear what lawyers think about this muddying of the lines between the courts and the parliament…
    Seperation of Powers, what have you?
    Perhaps it’s too much to expect that the Minister for JUSTICE would be aware of what he’s done, using elected office for the purposes of libelling someone with impunity.
    Roll on the General Election so he can be sent back to Rathgar or whatever rathole from which he emerged.

  • Ringo

    Excellent interview with Frank Connolly on the News at One yesterday where he makes an absolute balls, (sorry, less than convincing stab) at defending himself.

    Looks like Chuck believes what Michael McDowell had to say to him about Frank’s activities in their private meeting earlier in the year.

    http://dynamic.rte.ie/av/2097290.smil

    OC
    libelling someone with impunity

    Well if it was libellous, why doesn’t Frank bring him to court and sue for libel? Maybe because he hasn’t a hope – he’s just glad there isn’t enough evidence at present to do him for the false passport.

  • Mickhall

    Fair weather friends indeed, the first of many to go one would think. Can we expect a lurch to the right as the shinners try and keep in favor with such people.

  • George

    Ringo,
    McDowell made the comment in a written reply to a Dáil question.

    I would assume that comes under parliamentary privelege.

  • Ringo

    True, but Frank Connolly claims the concerted operation to blacken his name and that of the CPI has goes back long before McDowell’s answer (see the bit in bold below).

    Also, the word now is that Chuck Feeney had pulled the plug on funding on Tuesday, before McDowell’s statement in the Dail (front page of today’s IT).

    It also says that “Mr Feeney offered last month to continue funding if Connolly was replaced. However the board in discussing media allegations concerning Mr Connolly, declared its confidence in him. As a result Atlantic opted to terminate its €800,000-a-year funding”.

    Personally I don’t think there is any place for these sort of shady lobby groups. The innocuous sounding generic name reminds me of the litany of US lobby groups (both Republican and Democrat) that wield a completely undemocratic influence in Washington. Prior to this we have only had to contend with the religious right behaving in this underhand way in the Republic.

    See Centre for Strategic and International Studies and
    International Institute for Strategic Studies – two diametrically opposed lobby groups with nebulous name, both proporting to be objective and independent. In neither case it is remotely the case, yet it doesn’t stop them rolling out reports without reference to the underlying adgenda. Clientism and spin are alive and well in our body politic, but this we can do without.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Mc Dowell, despite having a reputation for his forthright views, is always quite careful to deliver the smear without putting himself in any danger of libel.

    His boast to the DI that he would see them in court proved to be no more than an empty threat, content as he was to scurry behind his ministerial office.

    Likewise his smear on Connolly was done under the cloak of parliamentary privelege, something he has done on occasions in the past. Exactly how Garda documents found their way to Independent media and to Feeney needs to be explained. Indeed the interests of both Mc Dowell and Independent media have dovetailed on quite a number of occasions.

    I would like to see RTE or some other news organisation interrogate Mc Dowell on this issue and get him to make his allegations in a news studio, that way we could see whether he is prepared to stand over his claims and given Connolly a fair chance of rebuttal..

  • seabhac siulach

    My, my, McDowell loosing off again. Wonder why?

    Budget overshadowing him (and his august office)?
    Gang crime out of control in Dublin/Limerick?
    Been out of the media spotlight for 5 mins?

    Now, what can the poor man do to distract attention from his failings and get the spotlight of media adoration back on his head?

    How?
    How about having a bash at the Shinners again, this time by way of Mr. Connolly. Brilliant. It has always worked in the past. Countless, boring, times in the past…
    So, why not now?

    What’s more, do in the Dail, where you can hide behind Dail privilege and get the absolute freedom to rehash second-rate stories you’ve seen in the tabloids (i.e., the Irish Independent!).

    This man is a (thundering) disgrace!
    He is a member of a splinter party that should not even be in Government, completely unrepresentative…

  • Paul

    These allegations have been printed in the Indo and other papers, why doesn’t Mr Connolly sue them?

  • DK

    seabhac siulach – how is McDowell attacking Connolly “having a bash at the Shinners”. Unless maybe the CPI is not actually independent but a political lobbying body – one that has successfully conned (until now) Atlantic Philanthropies by claiming to be what it patently isn’t i.e. independent

  • Ringo

    It is clearly a completely outrageous and obviously groundless suggestion that Frank used a false Irish passport to travel to Columbia – unlike his brother, who did exactly that.

    But Frank gets cranky when he is offered the opportunity to point out his whereabouts at the time he was supposed to be in Columbia.

    – unlike James Monaghan, who was only delighted to point out that he couldn’t have been in Columbia at a certain time, because he had evidence that he was elsewhere. And he made sure everybody knew about it. But that’s not Frank’s style – he’s not a softie like James Monaghan.

    All the same, you’d think that Frank, with his rep being dragged though the mud, wouldn’t be bothered waiting for the DDP to press charges so he can deal with the allegations. As he says, it might never come to that. But even then Frank says that he is prepared to bear this cross rather than throwing a few times and places into the public domain and right back at Michael McDowell. Very odd.

    BTW, Welcome back Pat!

  • Paul

    I presume Chuck Feeney gave Frank Connolly a chance to clarify things and, um, Frank just couldn’t do it.

  • seabhac siulach

    DK:

    “how is McDowell attacking Connolly “having a bash at the Shinners””

    He knows that there is a public perception (aided by the media and himself, primarily) that the trip to Columbia was undertaken by the IRA. One of the Columbia 3 was a Sinn Fein member in Cuba, i.e., Frank Connolly’s brother, Niall. Any reference to Columbia will just further deepen the perception that Sinn Fein were involved in dirty dealings in Columbia. It is all about perceptions and throwing mud…about making Sinn Fein as unelectable as possible to the ‘sensible’ middle classes that his comments are usually aimed at.

    Or are we to believe that McDowell is sincerely interested in the lives of the ordinary Columbia people and the rule of law there? Not likely. He has shown no interest (ever) in other countries human rights and being a member of a far right party is not exactly one of the touchy-feely charitable types…

    My point is that this is not his business. Where are his Dail comments on the continuing gangland killings? Why is the media giving him such an easy ride with that? The man is an incompetent showman.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    TY Ringo.

  • I’m really not sure why the focus has come onto McDowell. Gonzo’s post above raises much more serious matters than that intervention, and is worthy of more consideration than a slew of muckslinging at the Minister.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Mc Dowell has positioned him centrally in the middle of this storm, all by himself. Indeed, the muck slinging originated from his direction

    As I have stated it is uncanny that the interests of the O Reilly media empire and that of Mc Dowell dovetail on a number of issues.

    The attempts to undermine Connolly and by default CPI were often joint attacks first by Mc Dowell and then given prominent headlines by O Reillys gangs.It is worth investigation if there was a degree of pror planning. After all when was the last time you seen Mc dowell getting bad press from O Reilly’s gangs.

    The fact that Garda documents were shown to Feeney by Mc Dowell and the fact that these documents (or copies of same) ended up in the hands of O Reillys gangs is sinister.

    The CPI seemed to have done a job on the government over the Rossport case. A fact that seems to have un-nerved the goverment. Were they fearful of further CPI investigations? Was it necessary to stymie the investigations of the CPI by organising an attack on Connolly?

  • Pat,

    There may well be good questions to ask viz a viz the motivations of the minister. And it is right to ask them. But there are others that arise, which are just as important.

    The CPI was a project of immense promise. I do not believe that someone of the eminence of Mr Justice Flood would have joined the board, had he not believed it to be so. The Republic’s state has too few means for ordinary citizens to put the decisions of politicians and public servants under independent scrutiny.

    So it has to be asked why a body set up “to independently promote the highest standards of integrity, ethics and accountability across Irish public and business life and to investigate and publicise breaches of those standards where they arise” collapsed almost overnight when its chief funder was given sight of certain documents by a Minister of the State? That is a startling and shocking fact!

    Whilst I can understand how an ordinary citizen accused of a criminal offence might wish to wait until a criminal prosecution before proving their innocence, it makes no sense for someone who must retain public trust and confidence to carry out their own work to resort to such a defensive position immediately.

    The centre may or may not have done good works in the two reports it has produced this year. Gonzo’s blog above raises an important question over the degree of independence of one of the independent investigators.

    As for ‘gangs’ of journalists, this story is all over the Irish press. And rightly so. There appears to be several major public interests at stake.

  • Mickhall

    Mick,

    No, the shocking fact is not that the CPI collapsed when a senior government Minister showed a foreign national secret state documents that the citizens of the ROI are unable to see. [were is the legality in this] The shocking fact is an NGO which you yourself say had great promise, can be sabotaged by a politician who has a vested interest politically in so doing. For a minister to shove a bit of paper across a desk with a nod and a wink will just not do. Indeed it is the very behavior the CPI was set up to look into.

    Also Mr Feeney comes out of this poorly, an individual who claims his charitable trust gave the funds to the CPI with no strings attached and guaranteed the organization’s independence, now it seems, feels he has every right to interfere in its internal affairs when the CPI management would not dance to his tune, after the Minister whispered in his ear saying god knows what. Talk about who pays the piper calls the tune, why am I not surprised

    We should not over-look amongst other remits the CPI was set up to scrutinize the behavior and work of politicians and government, Yet a senior government minister has played a major role in sabotaging it. Plus once again state security has been used against a private organization whose remit is to oversee any wrong doing by state apparatus. [presumably including the Security Services] If there is one lesson the last thirty years has taught one is the word of a senior police man or security service officer is to be taken with a pinch of salt unless it can be verified by more than one independent source and in the light of day. This war on terror seems to be removing peoples common sense.

    Best regards

  • Mick, there are several hares running here. And it will be interesting to see what comes out it.

    And I agree that the lack of transparency of the Minister’s actions raises crucial questions of probity, not to mention, as you say, national interest.

    But if you are looking for what lies beneath this latest scandal, you also cannot afford to simply look in one direction.

    Examining the Minister’s action and the reaction of the chief funder to the exclusion of other ‘lines of enquiry’ is to ignore the possibility that the CPI contributed to its own downfall by not adopting its own rigourous standards of transparency.

  • Gonzo

    Mickhall

    Yeah, but who watches the watchers?

  • Gonzo

    The link for Providence Resources doesn’t seem to be working today.

    Just mentioning it in passing…

    Let me know if it’s working for you.

    http://www.providenceresources.com/

  • Mickhall

    Gonzo

    Good question, increasingly government feel it is their duty to do this via the secret state. My self I feel it can best be done by an alert and vibrant civil society. After all, you yourself have not been doing a bad job of late bringing such matters to our attention via slugger.

    Regards.

  • Paul

    On paper the CPI seems a good idea, but the appointment of Frank Connolly scuppered the whole thing. The people involved in the CPI must be seen to be whiter than white, its independence and fairness are obviously crucial to its operation, what’s the saying about Ceasar’s wife? If Frank Connolly could not defend himself against these allegations then he should have resigned immediately. If I was accused of travelling anywhere on a false passport I could kill the allegation dead in the water by saying where I was on the dates alleged, it’s easy. There is no excuse for Frank Connolly not to do the same if he believes the CPI is of any value at all. The only possible explanations are that he was in Columbia on a false passport, or that he was somewhere even more embarassing for him. In either case he is not a fit person to be running such a body. Can any of his defenders give another explanation? The fact that his champions, on this site and in the media, are the usual, “SF right or wrong, prove it! prove it!” brigade tells its own story.

  • Ringo

    MickHall,

    would you agree that the concept of ‘watchdog’ organisations, privately funded by either weathly individuals or corporations are not the way to go? In my opinion they are an unworthy way of outsourcing the natural scepticism that comes with an alert and vibrant civil society, from the many to the few. And they inherently have some unspoken adgenda – as we all do.

  • Mickhall

    Ringo,

    Yes I would, as you say people are always going to worry about their impartiality, I feel the way organization such as Liberty [UK] is funded is a far better way. There is no reasons why billionaires or anyone else should not contribute, but for such people to be the sole or majority source of funding; and for a host of reasons is a disaster waiting to happen.

    Take care.

    Mickh

  • Oilbhear Chromaill

    The CPI is ‘whiter than white’. No charges were brought against Frank Connolly, hence he is innocent of any allegations in the eyes of the law. Which raises the question as to why McDowell took secret Garda files, which had been dismissed as insufficient grounds to bring a case against Connolly, which would have given him the opportunity to defend himself in court and get acquitted by a court, and showed them to a foreign national. It’s a wonder he didn’t lose the files – like his department lost the files relating to the Dublin Monaghan bombing etc.
    As far as I’m concerned Frank Connolly is a man of integrity, honesty and highly effective at his work, into the bargain. That’s why the likes of McDowell and the Indo Group, whose records of ineptitude, bluster, bias and plain cowardice speak for them selves, may have won this time but next time, or some time, they’ll come a cropper. Hasten that day.

  • Gonzo

    Oilbhear Chromaill

    As a republican, I’m sure you’re aware this isn’t actually about Connolly’s guilt or innocence, it’s about public trust and confidence as an independent government watchdog.

    So yes, Frank has set himself up as an example to us all. He demands openness and accountability from his government, as he is right to do.

    But when he refuses to adhere to his own standards, refuses to anwer questions others he would expect others to, does that not raise questions about his ‘independence’?

    Even in terms of professional judgment alone, hiring the guy who didn’t get a contract to write a report on the guy who did isn’t going to cut it.

    The CPI may have had valid points to make about Corrib, but its case will not be taken seriously, even if it deserves to be, for obvious reasons.

    As we all know, McDowell might well have explanations to give about the Connolly files – neither you nor I really know for sure – but he can be held accountable, if not by the courts, then the electorate.

    Who holds Frank Connolly accountable?

  • Oilbhear Chromaill

    I suggest, Gonzo, that he should be held accountable in a court of law. Which is where he should be if there’s evidence against him, as claimed by McDowell, not tried, kangaroo style, in the media, courtesy of McDowell’s abuse of parliamentary privilege. If Connolly’s done wrong, he should be charged, tried and convicted. He deserves due process. He doesn’t have to prove his innocence – others must prove his guilt – the fundamental premise of a progressive, democratic society, I would have thought.
    McDowell should be charged with revealing Garda files to a third party and he should account for himself in a court of law on that charge. In the meantime, pending due process, he should stand down from the Cabinet.

    I think he’s gone too far this time and it’s time to soften his cough.

  • Mickhall

    Gonzo,

    In this case surly it should have been his employers, not some government nominated hitman who has powerful friends in the media. His employers still stand by him as I understand it? As to the general public, we can draw our own conclusion as to the credibility of Frank Connolly heading the IPC and by so doing im sure this will color how we view any reports that organization were to issue. For example if this NGO were to look into some thing to do with the PRM, him being head would colour my opinion of such a report. However on most other matters I myself have no problems with frank. Having said this I can see why some might feel he is the wrong man for the job, although I doubt they would object quite so rigorously if he were not a shinner. Having said this, there are not that many people with Mr Connolly’s energy and enthusiasm for this type of work to replace him with, is there?

    The fact is people who object to people of Mr connolly’s ilk, had better get used to shinners being in places of power and influence as it has to be said an increasing number of the electorate don’t seem to have any problems with this.

    good work of late gonzo

  • Gonzo

    Oilbhear Chromaill said:

    The CPI is ‘whiter than white’. No charges were brought against Frank Connolly, hence he is innocent of any allegations in the eyes of the law.

    This misses the point, as we’re talking about allegations in the eyes of the public.

    Whatever McDowell has done, he can at least be held to account, if not by the courts, then the electorate.

    By setting himself up as someone shedding a light on Government activities, it is crucial that someone like Connolly isn’t just ‘innocent’ by seen to be ‘whiter than white’.

    He demands openness and accountabilty from others, yet refuses to provide it when it comes to himself. He is, ironically, behaving exactly like one of those politicians he’s seeking to expose.

    That undermines public trust and confidence in Connolly.

    You might think Feeny has been influenced by McDowell’s intervention, but he seems to be clever enough to make up his own mind. You don’t make $4 billion by getting suckered too often.

    If Connolly couldn’t privately persuade Feeny that there was no reason to stop the CPI funding, then he wasn’t going to convince anyone else to take it seriously.

    If Connolly could have provided Feeny with evidence of his whereabouts at the time referred to in McDowell’s accusation, surely he would have, in order to save the CPI?

    Even if McDowell did act in an underhand manner, few seem convinced by Connolly’s incomplete version of events.