Wednesday, December 14, 2005


McDowell claims cause anger

The big story in Ireland right now concerns some allegations made by the ever-controversial Justice Minister Michael McDowell. Even A Tangled Web have commented on the controversy.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, recently under privilege in the Dáil, Justice Minister Michael McDowell claimed that Frank Connolly, executive director of the Centre for Public Inquiry and brother of one of the Colombia Three, Niall Connolly, had travelled to Colombia on a false passport when he was a journalist in 2001.

Mr McDowell on Monday revealed that he had personally given documents to the Irish Independent for a story on the issue.

As a result, the CPI's sole backers from the US, Atlantic Philanthropies, withdrew all funding last week.

Mr McDowell has defended what he did claiming it was his duty to tell the public about Frank Connolly’s alleged role in an IRA plot to sell bombing information to Farc rebels in Colombia.

McDowell told TDs: "Undoubtedly, the Centre for Public Inquiry … is one which has, in subversive hands, the capacity to gravely undermine the authority of the state,"

"I regard it as my clear and unequivocal duty to bring into the public domain the central role played in that body by a person [Frank Connolly] who the gardaí are satisfied participated in an important way in the series of visits to Colombia designed to exchange know-how in terrorism and explosives for massive amounts of cash apparently to be spent on distorting our democratic process."

However McDowell has been accused of breaching the constitutional rights of Mr Connolly. The chairman of the Centre for Public Inquiry former Justice Feargus Flood said that Mr McDowell could not override the Constitution as all citizens were entitled to the presumption of innocence.

He said: "All I know is that, in principle, all citizens of this country are innocent until proven guilty in accordance with the rules of the law.

"The minister cannot override the Constitution under any circumstances. Justice shall be administered in public in court."

Mr McDowell has rejected accusations that he breached Mr Connolly's constitutional rights stressing that the information he released was not confidential nor did it prejudice any Garda investigation into the matter. He said the disclosure did not in any sense breach the privacy of any individual and he repeated his earlier claims that the documentation used for Mr Connolly's trip was fraudulently acquired.

In the Leader's Questions slot in the Dáil the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern defended Mr McDowell stating that the false passport application allegedly made by Mr Connolly, which Mr McDowell supplied to a daily newspaper, was not a confidential document. He added that it was already in the public domain.

"The minister has acted at all times properly … and I fully support him," Mr Ahern said.

Green Party TD Ciarán Cuffe and Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh have both called for the minister’s resignation on the issue.

Labour leader Pat Rabbitte meanwhile asked if Mr McDowell's recent comments about Mr Connolly were linked with an investigation into his department's purchase of Thornton Hall for a new prison.

Wow! Those of you who are not from Ireland probably find this quite difficult to understand. I hope I've explained it adequately as what's written above pretty much covers the whole issue.

My thoughts on this? Well, I am not a fan of the Progressive Democrats nor indeed of Minister McDowell in relaton to his domestic policies. However, when it comes to tackling Republican extremists, I think the Minister has done an admirable job. While I disagree with alot of the man's policies I have no doubt that he is doing his utmost to protect this State from terrorist threats. I therefore support his decision to release Mr Connolly's documents.

I don't accept that the Minister breached Mr Connolly's constitutional rights because, as the Taoiseach and Mr McDowell have pointed out, the documentation was not confidential and was already in the public domain.

Any threat to the Irish State must be opposed. A Justice Minister is honour-bound to ensure the security of the Irish people and Mr McDowell clearly understands that.


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