Irish Republican News · December 19, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
CPI backs Connolly, due process

The Centre for Public Inquiry is standing solidly behind its chief Frank Connolly, denounced as “a subversive” [a republican] by Minister for Justice Michael McDowell.

In has emerged McDowell handed selected contents of a Garda police file on Connolly to journalists and the watchdog body’s patron Chuck Feeney, including a false application for a passport bearing an alleged photograph of Mr Connolly.

The Irish-American philanthropist has now controversially cut funding for the body, despite heavy criticism of McDowell for applying his own rough justice to Connolly.

Mr Connolly’s brother, Niall, who has admitted travelling to Colombia under a false identity, has denied charges of an IRA plot to train Colombian rebels. Niall Connolly was one of the Colombia 3, who suffered a miscarriage of justice in that country but returned safely to Ireland earlier this year.

The Centre for Public Inquiry’s chairman, former High Court judge Mr Justice Feargus Flood, has lambasted the Minister for Justice for his attack on hos colleague, pointing out the centre had “provoked the ire” of vested interests since its establishment.

Producing a letter from the state’s public prosecutor’s office, Justice Flood said that it was decided not to prosecute Mr Connolly as long ago as 2003. This, said the judge, showed that McDowell, deprived of the chance of seeing Connolly in court, then opted for “a private and public blackening” of his name.

Flood said the board of the CP had full confidence in its executive director and denied that either Frank Connolly or the CPI, or both, could pose “a threat to the security of the State” as alleged by McDowell.

Justice Flood said there had been “a signal departure “from principles of fair dealing and respect for justice to the individual citizen by the State. He pointed out that, contrary to McDowell’s protestations, these principles were “absolute, save in the most exceptional cases and where legislated upon by the [Dublin parliament]”.

McDowell is a leading member of the Progressive Democrats, the junior partner in the Dublin coalition government. While the PDs are notoriously suspicious of republicans usurping their position as holding the balance of power in Dublin, McDowell is also being supported by the Taoiseach, Fianna Fail’s Bertie Ahern. The party is gravely concerned at losing support to Sinn Fein in next year’s general election.

Of Fianna Fail’s backbenchers, only Barry Andrews went on the record to say that McDowell’s statements “rang hollow since Frank Connolly is hardly about to invade the state’’.

Others have enthused at the increasingly hard line against “the Shinners”.

McDowell argued that the CPI, in “subversive’’ hands, had “the capacity to gravely undermine the authority of the state’’.

However, the CPI has denied having a party political agenda and, in a statement said its two reports on planning matters were “factually based and devoid of comment’’.

To its credit, the Green Party accused McDowell of employing the methods of US Senator Joe McCarthy who hunted for “reds under the bed’’.

Labour’s justice spokesman Joe Costello was more muted, only asking how many other sensitive documents had been passed on for publication by McDowell and how many more would there be in the future.

McDowell continues to stand by his claims despite reports that a private investigation company hired by Chuck Feeney to look into Mr Connolly’s background gave the former journalist a clean bill of health.

Dermot Walsh, Professor of Law at the University of Limerick disputed McDowell’s efforts to justify his actions on the basis of “national security”.

“There is something uncomfortable when a Minister for Justice says: ‘Trust me and trust what I choose to tell you from confidential Garda intelligence,”’ he said.

“Is it a judicially proven fact or is it simply intelligence they have from sources? This is not evidence, this is an assertion.”

Mr Connolly, who has vehemently denied ever applying for a false passport, as alleged by Minister McDowell, or travelling to Colombia to meet with Farc rebels, says the campaign against him has become “Kafkaesque”.

“I’m like a butterfly in a tsunami at the minute but it’s clear that there’s an awful lot of support out there.

“Messages of support, by phone, text and email, have been coming to me personally and to the centre over the past few days.

“A quick look at the letters page of the Irish Times shows that the public knows this is a witch-hunt by Michael McDowell. This is an issue of human rights and the public sees it that way.”

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© 2005 Irish Republican News