A step too far by McDowell?

Justice Feargus Flood, chairman of the Centre for Public Inquiry, has come out in support to the group’s executive director, Frank Connolly.

In an interview on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said that every citizen is entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven otherwise in a court of law (Audio file available at bottom of article).

The comments follow Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell’s admission that he supplied documents to the Irish Independent for their story on allegations that Frank Connolly had applied for a false passport.

Atlantic Philanthropies, founded by Irish-American billionaire Chuck Feeney, announced it was ceasing funding for the Centre for Public Inquiry following the revelation.

The opposition parties have been quick to condemn McDowell with Sinn Fein’s Justice Spokesman, Aengus O’Snodaigh TD, has called on the Minister to resign.

It’s all a far cry from 2003 when McDowell felt whistleblowers to the press should be slapped with a five-year jail term following a leak by a Garda when his son was assaulted.

At the time, the Star ran a campaign against the minister’s excesses, with a logo featuring a picture of a bespectacled McDowell in Islamic headdress, alongside the legend: “Mad Mullah McDowell . . . No to Police State.”

McDowell responded by labelling the paper as `the methane gas rising from the pond life of Irish journalism’.

Update from today’s Irish Times (Carol Coulter):

He also repeated his claim that he was defending the State against subversion, stating: “I will not be put in the position that as Minister for Justice I cannot fight subversion of the State.”

Asked how the Centre for Public Inquiry was a threat to democracy and the State, he replied: “I am not saying that. I am saying Mr Connolly himself has questions to answer.”

While stopping short of stating that Mr Connolly was a threat to the security of the State, the inference was clear.

This, and the statement at the weekend in which he said that a person’s constitutional right to fair procedure and due process took second place to the need to defend the State from subversion, raises very fundamental questions about individual rights, state power and the role of the minister for justice.

The publication of information gleaned from Garda files is only justified, under the Official Secrets Act, by a threat to the security of the State, which has now been invoked by the Minister.

But nowhere has he set out how and where the the security of the State is under threat from Mr Connolly….

Visiting areas in Colombia controlled by the FARC guerilla group may be regarded as suspicious, but is not one of the scheduled offences under the Offences Against the State Act; nor is it prohibited by any other statute. Associating with members of the republican movement is also not a crime.

It appears from McDowell’s statement that what constitutes a threat to the security of the State is the opinion of the current Minister for Justice that a specific person or act is such a threat, and that this opinion justifies the suspension of that person’s right to due process and his good name.

This may not withstand judicial scrutiny.”