Two big questions….

The Irish Times editorial this morning is worth repeating (subs needed), with regard to the McDowell vs Centre for Public Inquiry stand off this week. The issues here are far from trivial, and may be subject to further digging. The first question is over the conduct of the Minister “police intelligence should not be used to assassinate a character in the Dáil, even where there are peculiar things to be explained”. There are also concerns over his disclosure of confidential documents to a foreign national. But it has also left a disturbing cloud hanging over the CPI itself:
However unfairly put, there are now important questions in the public domain about the past of the key employee of the Centre. Mr Connolly seems unable or unwilling to clear the matter up completely:

Mr Connolly went beyond being an experienced journalist when he became executive director of the Centre for Public Inquiry. The centre’s mission is “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”. So if he wants to point the finger, he has to be beyond public reproach himself. There is a legitimate public interest in calling upon him to account for these matters. He cannot stand back and call on Mr McDowell to prove his case when he represents a body that has, as its objective, public confidence in public life.

Mr Connolly has not met these high standards in his attempts to rebut the Minister’s allegations. Many will have noted the bluster and obfuscation when he was asked detailed, and legitimate, questions about his photograph allegedly forming part of a false passport and the Garda investigation into him. It is not tenable for a journalist to respond to questions from another journalist by complaining he is being interrogated and to say he will deal with allegations if and when the authorities formally charge him.

CPI was potentially an important civil society project. In Ireland, north and south, where there nowere near enough independent scrutiny of politicians, public servants and large private sector interests, CPI has had short but spectacular career. Its report on calling into question certain safety aspects of the Corrib gas pipeline led to the jailing of five Mayomen and a national campaign calling for people to boycott Shell petrol stations.

That the Centre seems to have folded in its own first media storm is startling. It will argue, perhaps with some justification, that its public success has upset the political establishment in Dublin. But in not being seen to be straight in dealing with legitimate questions, it may also lead to further questions being asked over hanging over the veracity of its own work.

  • fair_deal

    CPI is a defacto think tank for republicans to rake muck at the mainstream parties – granted the mainstream parties make CPI’s job easy at times. It could have been “CPI was potentially an important civil society project.” but it isn’t.

  • martin

    NOT Mc Dowell abloodygen–all right I’ll withdraw from thread as I am aware some one up there seems to like him.ballnotman-ballnotman-ballnotman

  • seabhac siulach

    McDowell should resign. It is as simple as that. He has abused, once too often, his position as minister to air unsubstantiated rumours in the Dail.
    It may be that the CPI or its members are guilty of some trangression or other. However, that is a matter for the DPP and the Gardai, not for a Minister for Justice. He has overstepped the mark this time and should be made to pay the price.

  • Mickhall

    Myself I stand with the CPI board, if they were satisfied with Mr Connolly that should have been it. Myself I feel Mr McDowell has committed a crime under Irish law by showing confidential police/security service documents to a private foreign national.

    There is a real problem for NGOs and it is this, the media is all powerful thus if they take against someone running an NGO they can drive her/him from office. Thus it is imperative that anyone running an NGO have the support of their management committee, Connolly has always had this thus Mr McDowell was brought in as the heavy mob to drive him out.

    It is pretty clear what has happened for all the tosh about secret documents etc. In all probability Feeny was told it would be against his interest to continue to fund the CPI and being the type of man he is, he metamorphosed from steely billionaire to bunny rabbit. Whereas the board stood its ground.

    If McDowell has conclusive evidence that Mr Connolly has broken the law, by using a forged passport or whatever, his first duty as a government Minister should have been to pass this evidence to the appropriate authority, not call in a foreign billionaire for a private chat and a peep and state papers.

    What one has to look at in politics is who gains, in this case it is those with power and wealth who love dark corners in which to conspire. That the CPI has imploded in the manner Mick describes clearly points to the fact that it was nowhere near robust enough and apart from one or two notable exceptions did not have a broad enough base politically. This is a shame because as Mick Fealty has pointed out there is clearly a need for such an organization. Thus there is no reason why , in some form a similar organization cannot be resurrected. Although perhaps those who attempt to do so should be wary of any billionaire who is into vanity funding, or in the very least make sure they have alternative sources of funding.

  • seabhac siulach

    May I ask, by the way, of the two questions, why the focus in the above is solely on the CPI and not on the allegations against McDowell? I would imagine the renegade actions of a state minister to be of greater interest than the infractions of the head of the CPI. What is one more NGO, more or less.
    It is obvious, in any case, that the CPI has been annoying those in high places, hence the letting loose of McDowell to even the score. What a grand wee republic.

  • martin T

    One last post on this thread—I had to laugh at all the self-rightous anti-corruption huffing and puffing they were doing down there over Ivor Calleley’s free paint job-I mean there have been bad scandals down there involving politicians but never one so heinious as what He did— A FREE PAINT JOB whats the world comming to—Cullens 50 million waste on computer voting and Ahern no2 on the Rosport 5—but this really takes the biscuit—even Harney never messed up in health as big as that.

  • Keith M

    First of all, McDowell is fully within his rights to do whatever he wishes with intelligence information supplied to him. He can ignore it, he can sit on it or he can can put it in the public domain. If McDowell believes that an organisation where a director is engaging in subversive activity is receiving funding from abroad, then he is morally duty bound to tell those funding such an organisation. It is then up to those funding such an organisation to do whatever they wish.

    Secondly is entitled to say anything he likes in Leinster House, he has parlimentary privilege.

    If Connolly has a case then it only exists if the intelligence information is wrong. If he wasn’t in Colombia on te dates mentined, he should be able to prove it. If he was in Colombia on his own passport, he should be able to show his stamped passport, as Colombia is one of the countries that still stamps all passports. So it’s up to Connolly.

  • SS:

    The question of McDowell’s conduct comes first. As I’ve said it is highly questionable. If it’s illegal, then consequences should flow from that. If it was legal but unethical, then…

    But I’m afraid I simply do not buy the bad old media line. A hostile press is not impossible to deal with, if you are in a position to make full disclosure.

    The CPI has gained huge respect and support from the British and Irish media. It’s scientific reporting has been the balast which has driven the human story of the pipeline and its effects both within and well beyond the island’s shores.

    It has shown what a strong independent monitoring project can achieve. But to be effective in the longer term it must ensure that it itself is above reproach, and not simply gamble that it will retain support because a large section of the public have become cynical about the workings of big government and big business.

    If it is further shown that their independent reporter had a conflict of interest, then any progress they’ve made for independent civil society in the last year will be lost.

    This story is being pitched in some quarters as Round 58 of the Michael McDowell vs Sinn Fein prize fight. And I’ve no doubt that on some level that is perfectly true. But there is a public interest here that takes precedent over the interests of either McDowell or the CPI and any of its political backers.

    The key point is the loss of one of Ireland’s few think tanks with scientfic teeth. To resile to an old familar political knockabout in preference to looking at the precise difficulties underneath this question is to miss the point. IMHO.

  • Ian

    I seem to recall a very curious aspect to one of the original media report relating to Frank Connolly and Padraig Wilson’s alleged visit to Columbia. I can’t remember which paper this was in; it might have been the Sunday Times or the Indy, back in about 2002.

    Anyway, the paper offered by way of ‘proof’ a photocopy of a passport that was of such poor quality that the face on the attached photo was impossible to identify. Next to this they showed two photos of Padraig Wilson, one I think of him in custody (caption: “IRA’s C.O. in the Maze” or suchlike), and one of him ‘on the outside’, snapped in a pararazzi-stylee.

    The article seemed to be inviting the readers to compare the two clear photos and say ‘yes, those are two photos of the same person’, and then somehow make the logical leap that this proves that the grainy, indistinguishable photo on the ‘false passport’ was also the same person!

    It struck me as a very odd and shoddy piece of journalism at the time. Does anyone recall this, and indeed does anyone have a copy that they could post up or link to?

  • seabhac siulach

    Mick:

    Point taken.

    Regarding the CPI, if it is a think thank with ‘scientific teeth’ as you mention, and as the board of the CPI are standing by Mr. Connolly, does this not suggest that there are reasonably assured by his answers and explanations? I would imagine that the board of the CPI would not blithely accept his explanation without some ‘scientific’ proof being presented in support of his innocence?
    We must remember that one of the members of this board is an ex-High court judge, Fergus Flood. Hardly a radical.

    I agree that the CPI must be above reproach. We must wait and see what further evidence Mr. Connolly can present. Of course, it is always difficult to prove a negative, i.e., that he did not do what the allegations allege.
    How can one fight an obliging media, leaked ‘intelligence’ reports and all the rest.

    In any case, it is not important now whether he is guilty or not. The damage has been done, the funding withdrawn. Mission accomplished for the vested interests (we all know who they are). And we also all know (completely unrelated) that the Corrib gas pipeline is a criminally dangerous undertaking that the CPI was a doing a sterling service in uncovering.

  • Ringo

    Mick

    The question of McDowell’s conduct comes first. As I’ve said it is highly questionable

    Which aspects raise questions?

    The meeting with Chuck Feeney, the answer in the Dail to Finian McGrath or the way certain journalists appear to have the inside track on this or is there something else?

    I see nothing that would raise any eyebrows about his conduct, except the meeting with Chuck Feeney – I think we need to know if, contary to what has been put on record by McDowell, Feeney was shown confidential security information.

    I think you greatly overstate the achievements of the CPI. Its only contribution of note was to stick its oar into the Rossport 5 issue, and muddy the waters a bit more. A couple of other dust collecting documents unheard of, unreferenced and unread by the very public whose interest they are supposed to serve.

    I agree that there is a public interest angle to all this, but it lies in examining the self-appointed role that the CPI saw itself fufilling – it might be a think-tank, but not as we know it.

    And I’m not sure how you deemed to have any scientific teeth, unless having pockets deep enough to hire a consultant counts as science.

  • I am unsure about the criticism that a foreigner was shown particular papers, as it seems there was no criticism about the same foreigner funding a public body.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Scathing attack on the integrity of Mc Dowell in the Sunday Business Post by Connolly’s former employer and current colleague on the CPI Damien Kibred. One wonders if a Garda file on Kibred is on it’s way to Sam Smyth at Independent media courtesy of the Minister’s office.

    Describing the behaviour of Mc Dowell at the DI libel case as a ‘Pinochet defence’ is a phrase that may well follow Mc Dowell around

  • Some would desperately hope.

  • Paul

    seabhac siulach, in this case proving a negative is quite easy, all he has to do is say where he was on those dates, if he was not in Columbia on a false passport. He’s a journalist, he has a diary, it’s not hard. His silence speaks volumes. Dry your eyes boys, one of your plants has been outed, well done Michael McDowell.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Thankfully, for the moment at least, the 26 counties is not a place were you perpetually have to go around proclaimimng your innocence, that is reserved for 6 county Catholics.

    Glad to see that the conspiracy that I quite clearly stated had occurred between Mc Dowell and the Independent media group has now been confirmed by Mc Dowell himself.

    It also confirms the sympathy Mc Dowell has with the regime in Colombia (spellcheck Paul) is fully justified. When the Colombians can’t prove a case in court they simply take the case away and overturn it in camera. When the Minister for Justice can’t secure a conviction he sidles up to Sam Smyth from Independent media (no doubt in dirty mac) and passes over documents for publication Even CJH hadn’t the nect for that, Damien Kibred was correct Pinoche indeed.

  • Keith M

    “Glad to see that the conspiracy that I quite clearly stated”. What conspiracy? The Independent asked for evidence of McDowell’s claims and he supplied it.

    The Provos and their supporters can’t have it both ways. They can’t cry “foul” when McDowell says he has evidence under using “Dail privilege”, and then take umbrage when he puts the evidence in the public domain.

    As for Kilbred, the phrase “neck (spellcheck Pat) like a jockey’s b******s” comes to mind. He was a fellow director of CPI with Connolly. As a so called journalist, what did he do to discover the facts of the case? What requests for evidence did he place with the Department of Justice? Was he really stupid enough to take Connolly at his word?

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    The anti democratic forces are crying simply because they have been outed. Connolly and CPI were proving too much of a thorn in the side of Mc Dowell and that dovetailed with the Independent Media Groups need to control news output.
    The simple fact, that is ignored all round, is that there was no evidence to charge Frank Connolly with anything. A grainy photograph from Bogota and an application form that Mc Mowell alleges came from Connolly. All denied, but hey no need for legal process

    Kiberd and the rest of the CPI have stood by Connolly, obviously they accept his word over that of a man with a history of making outrageous and hysterical statements. By all accounts they have established the facts. Kiberd’s comment that Mc Dowell is a ‘yellow bully’ is proof enough of that.

  • Keith M

    “The anti democratic forces are crying simply because they have been outed.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself Pat. Unlike the democratically elected minister, the self appointed CPI had absolutly no democratic mandate whatsoever. Now that some of its members of been outed as little more than Provo lickspittles they go crying to the media. Pathetic!

    The CPI weren’t a thorn in anyone’s side, they were simply a pimple of the bum of a society being funded by someone who has more money than sense but who finally saw the light.

  • I looked for the piece in the SBP online, but I couldn’t find it.

  • Keith M

    “I looked for the piece in the SBP online, but I couldn’t find it.”

    Do you not think Kiberd has suffered enough? It’s a shame newspapers don’t have things like “It’ll Be Alright On The Night” to show off their bloopers.