Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Payback time

A few loose ends on a complicated controversy in Ireland; the ultimate issue is the use of the media to conduct a state vendetta against a private individual, Frank Connolly. The affair is extremely well covered on Where's me country?? and GUBU -- just a general link in both cases, since there are accumulating posts on the topic.

We had mentioned Connolly obliquely a couple of months ago as providing an example of the inversion of the usual notion of the journalist as the recipient of a tip from an insider: in one aspect of a tangled investigation of Garda corruption in Donegal, Connolly as a journalist had been the source for a politician's information that police had assembled a bomb before later "finding it" on the site of a disputed TV mast. Note for future reference that this mast was disputed because it was part of a strategy of shutting down illegal TV booster dishes that were in wide use in Donegal at the time to receive UK TV channels. One of the companies that was expected to gain from legitimate retransmission rights was owned by Tony O'Reilly, who also owns the Independent newspaper group. So the framing of the protestors had side benefits for Tony.

Move forward in time to this story in the 26 November Irish Independent, in which journalist Sam Smyth clearly has access to an official document purporting to be a false passport application from Frank Connolly. Last week Justice Minister Michael McDowell used a parliamentary query to confirm his view that Connolly had travelled to Colombia (further alleged, to meet the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). McDowell also revealed over the weekend that he was the source for the Independent story.

While the main focus of the story is correctly on McDowell's behavior -- which is really vintage Karl Rove "slime and defend," by the way -- it also says a lot about media ethics at the Independent. Conflicts of interest abound in Tony O'Reilly's holdings, but you'd wade for a long time through Indo stories to find any disclosure of them. And Smyth's 26 November story says nothing about sourcing -- just a reference to a belief of the gardai. Plenty of parallels to the Valerie Plame identity disclosure scandal in the USA.

Finally, in McDowell's not at all contrite statement to the Dail, he says:

The fate of Irish democracy, in large measure, depends upon the capacity of the Government to frustrate the Provisionals' plan to subvert Irish democracy by these unlawful means.

Looking back over the last 35 years of Irish history, we can think of three times when the state was in danger of collapse: the potential impact of a destabilized Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the public debt crisis in the 1980s, and the festering culture of corruption whose legacy has still not been dealt with (although it has generated a good blog). The Provisional IRA is only connected to the first, and it's far from the whole story in that. In a nice bit of timing, David McWilliams had written in Tuesday's Irish Times (link via Slugger O'Toole) about the thinking of people like McDowell, as it pertained to the school he went to. It would seem that his self-image as true custodian of the Republic has gone to his head.

UPDATE: GUBU diagnoses that everyone is now in "move on" mode but asks:

Well, if everyone thinks that what McDowell did was kosher, name and shame a guy when you haven’t enough evidence to charge him, well then let’s go with it.

Indeed. Isn't it now time for McDowell (and Bertie, who supports him) to call on the British government to release all the documentation in the dropped case of the alleged Stormont Sinn Fein spying ring?

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