When Talking to Dissidents is Not So Good

The PSNI is again attempting to use journalists to gather evidence, this time confiscating the phone of freelancer Eammon MacDermott, over allegations he spoke with dissident Republican Gary Donnelly, a spokesperson for the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, recently released from Maghaberry prison and this morning back in court in what seems to be an extreme vendetta against him. This vendetta against Donnelly is now extending to harassing journalists who speak to him in the context of their job. MacDermott, freelance and a former prisoner, is easy pickings; will the PSNI go after Sky News or Channel 4 next?

Last week the news was awash with how it’s so good to talk to dissidents; this week the PSNI has decided to flex their inept muscle and demonstrate that if you do talk to dissidents, they’ll be at your door with a warrant. Margaret Ritchie was perhaps too confident in her derision of Mi5’s lack of intelligence about dissidents, when she made noises that the PSNI might be better placed in their role. Obviously the PSNI are even worse than Mi5, as they have to resort to spying on journalists to gather information — a tactic which isn’t even worth the effort, as journalists won’t comply and it will end up getting thrown out of court anyway.

Is the arrest of Gary Donnelly and intimidation of Eamonn MacDermott an example of Chief Constable Matt Baggott’s “Personal Touch” approach? Brian Rowan writes: “to quote one senior officer, people need to be “sensible in their reactions to this””, that in dealing with dissidents, what is needed “is the police to do what they think is best, not what politicians think is best.” Even if that means trampling press freedoms? It’s a slippery slope, this wanton disregard of civil liberties. Intimidating the press won’t help catch any bad guys.

Eamonn McDermott makes the point: “We understand as journalists that there’s a thin line you don’t cross between reporting what the public have a right to know. What the police are saying is you will report what we decide you can report, which is a very worrying situation for any country to be in.”

The PSNI have agreed to return Eamonn MacDermott’s SIM card, but not his phone
UTV also reports: “Séamus Dooley of the NUJ said he welcomed the decision to return the SIM card but that it “raised fundamental questions about the initial seizure of the phone.””

Earlier this morning, Gary Donnelly was charged in relation to allegations the PSNI made about conversation(s) between MacDermott and Donnelly that took place last September – almost a year ago. The judge is questioning whether MacDermott’s notes of the conversation are available. In this case, the PSNI are using a journalist to pursue their vendetta against a dissident. “Internment by Remand” as a description is not far off: Donnelly was released two months ago after serving 7 months at Maghaberry over disputed circumstances. Now he is back in jail over a year-old conversation with a journalist.

UPDATE 2: Donnelly has been released on bail:

Inside the court, an investigating officer said Donnelly was arrested at his girlfriend’s house earlier this week in relation to a claim of responsibility made by the Real IRA for the attacks on September 11, last year.

He said he believed he could connect the 39-year-old to the phone used to make that call, adding that police believed they could connect the mobile phone to Donnelly from 2008 up until a few months ago.

He further told the court that the charges arose as a result of statements from local journalist Eamonn MacDermott , who received the call of responsibility, and as a result of further extensive phone inquiries.

Applying for bail, defence solicitor, Paddy McGurk, said that police had contacted Mr MacDermott one month after the claim was made and he gave a full statement to investigating officers and was further interviewed by police on Thursday this week.

He added that Mr MacDermott had told police he would know Donnelly and would be in regular contact with him.

The solicitor also said that the 39-year-old defendant believes he may have been in contact with the journalist around this time about his appearance in court the day before September 11 2009.

However, when the investigating officer said he was unable to comment on this as he was unaware of what Mr MacDermott had told police on Thursday this week, he was accused of being “evasive” by Mr McGurk .

The hearing was then adjourned for a short time to allow police to get further information about the freelance journalist’s interview with officers earlier this week.

After the adjournment, the investigating officer said Mr MacDermott had been asked specifically if he would recognise Donnelly’s voice and if it was the 39-year-old who made the claim.

The court heard that the journalist told officers: “I don’t think so. I wouldn’t think he would be so daft to ring from his own phone. In the length of time it would have taken to read out the statement I would have recognised his voice.”

Stating it was a “serious charge”, District Judge Barney McElholm said he would grant bail because police fears could be addressed by conditions.

He said Donnelly had no prior convictions for terrorism offences and a result there was nothing to suggest a risk of further offending. The judge also said there was “essentially one witness” so there was no real fear of the 39-year-old interfering with witnesses.

Donnelly was released on his own bail of £1,000, with two sureties of £750 each, to reside in Sackville Court.

  • joeCanuck

    If the PSNI have overstepped their bounds, Eamonn McDermott should lodge a complaint with the Police Ombudsman to nip any inappropriate actions in the bud. Otherwise he may simply be seen as seeking publicity for himself or others.

  • jojo

    He should have done a Suzanne Breen and told the police to get stuffed

  • spige

    ‘an extreme vendetta against him’

    Not just an ordinary vendetta then?

    Btw, you’re not related to Jimmy Nail are you?

  • mickles

    I’d rather have some hack lose his phone than see children getting blown the fuck up.

  • fin

    bit confused, I’ve read the blog several times but can’t find the bit about it been all Sinn Feins fault. Obviously Rusty you’ve missed the bit about SF putting talking with dissies in the public eye, themselves and HMG, ergo, it actually is all SF’s fault.

    Although nice to see the peelers have returned his SIM card, any chance your lot will return the legs to the Nationalist copper they blew them off a few months ago, comes in handy for his GAA

  • McCarthy Óg

    Where do you draw the line then Mickles? This journalist speaking to Donnelly wasn’t going to cause children to get “blown the fuck up”. Over the top policing powers in favour of security is a very dangerous game to play, as history has shown.

  • just sayin’

    Is “conversation with a jouranlist the full charge sheet”?

  • mickles

    well, this isn’t 10, 20 or 40 years ago, there are very few secrets in the information age, so extreme policing powers, special branch, etc. are very much in the past, the people would find out and wouldn’t stand for it.

    32CSC have no real goals other than ‘brits out by violence’, which as history has shown doesn’t work. They have a negligable mandate, and little or no support from either side of the community, nor do they deserve it for their shameful actions.

    I think we should take whatever steps (within reason) are needed to get these hooligans off the streets, and the general population feel the same, so that we can get down to serious politics for a change, and start gettin the investment and revenue flowing for this little part of the world.

  • alley cat

    Shite if the cops need the evidence they should take it

  • White Horse

    I suspect that Gary Donnelly’s arrest and the journalist’s harrassment are just smokescreens to allow people to believe that Gary Donnelly is really directing and controlling the dissidents. Clearly as Gary Donnelly thinks the British are not talking to dissident paramilities, and Martin McGuinness thinks they are, I would suspect that the dissidents are really more connected to Sinn Fein than the 32CSM.

    So Gary Donnelly’s arrrest is to give cover to the Sinn Fein leadership, at the behest of their friends in MI5, as they attempt to curtail themselves by stopping dissident violence.

    I also suspect that the dissidents are so infiltrated by Sinn Fein in their efforts to squeeze more out the British government and the DUP that people like Gary Donnelly would do well to think for themselves and move away from them, as they’re just using him.

  • sdelaneys

    Fin, maybe it’s become so clear now when even the PSNI are worried about SF’s cavalier attitude to human rights (witness the parades issue) that Rusty Nail recognises there is little need to explain their role in things like this.
    Thank you for bringing it up though, it’s very helpful in fact, as it’s not so long ago that Suzanne Breen was being attacked by that party for her journalism and for not being ‘on message’ and they appear happy to slate journalists who do not tow the ‘GFA good’ under all circumstances line..

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Theres nothing more pathetic than journalists working themselves up into a lather about their rights……ie THEIR rights being more important that MY rights.
    If I have information about crime…the PSNI would arrest me and question me……and indeed the Journalistic world would not get up off their arses to help me.
    But if anyone from PSNI looks sideways at a journo……..then all hell breaks lose……”gross infringement of press freedom” “cannot divulge sources”, “more than my lifes worth”.
    Give it a rest.you have no more rights than anyone else. Get over yourselves.

  • fin

    “Fin, maybe it’s become so clear now when even the PSNI are worried about SF’s cavalier attitude to human rights (witness the parades issue)”

    so how does that compare with the ban on a parade thro Bradford?

    My dig was not at the journo but at Rusty, who, from the comfort of the USA fully supports those who insist on ‘stirring’ things up in NI, yet, complains about minor details should as the cops holding on to a mobile phone (or Cellphone as Rusty would say)so quite frankly I think Rusty and people like her either need to get over themselves or else she should move back and live what she preaches.

  • aquifer

    These sectarian separatists have very small circles of friends. What is going on here? Has one of them been busted by phone evidence or are the PSNI going to close down the free press?

  • Interesting to recall that some journalists are not so afraid of giving evidence in court. One Derry journalist gave evidence in support of Gary Donnelly last year but that was a totally noble act Im sure!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Has any local journo actually ever been jailed for witholding sources. The only local example I recall was Bernard Falk from BBC Nationwide and 24 Hours in early 1970s…..best known for light hearted items.
    I think journos would love another cause celebre.

  • jojo

    I have to say I do understand why journalists fear this sort of thing. It’s okay to say I would give information to the police but then terrorists don’t give me information and if they did and I gave it straight to the police I expect my life expectancy would be less than a week. That’s why I thought this journalist should have done what Suzanne Breen did. Maybe he will do that now, refuse to give evidence on the grounds that it would endanger his life and his livelihood. But his problem as someone else mentioned was that journalists were prepared to give evidence on behalf of a dissident last year so it would be more difficult to argue that they shouldn’t give evidence against one.

  • jojo

    I just googled that case I mentioned last year and it turned out that it also involved Gary Donnelly