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.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty