13 December 2005

McDowell: Passport bid was 'a false, bogus fraud' on the State

Irish Independent

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Michael McDowell: 'I stand by every single word I said and it is the plain unvarnished truth as far as I'm concerned'

Justice Minister Michael McDowell has robustly defended his decision to give the Irish Independent documents relating to a "bogus" application for a passport allegedly made by former journalist Frank Connolly

Michael McDowell told RTE's 'News at One' yesterday that he was doing his job in defending the security of the State and that the passport application form he made available to the Irish Independent was not a confidential document but one which was a "fraud on the Irish State".

The full text of the interview is as follows:

Sean O'Rourke: Ever since you put out that written Dail reply last week about the Centre for Public Inquiry and its executive director Frank Connolly, you've been taking some criticism. What exactly was your justification?

Mr McDowell: Well, first of all I want to say that I answered a question which was put to me by Deputy Finian McGrath. And he asked me to comment on recent attempts, as he put it, to undermine the CPI. This is the body for which Mr Connolly was working as its chief executive.

I answered the question directly and I stand by every single word I said and it is the plain unvarnished truth as far as I'm concerned. I won't be browbeaten into silence by people who are peddling what I regard as a complete falsehood and that is: unless material is proven beyond all reasonable doubt by admissible evidence in a court of law, it can not be the subject matter of any comment by the Minister for Justice. And that seems to be a constant theme going through all of this, what I consider to be very misguided and ill-informed criticism of me. My job is to defend the security of the state.

SO'R: And is that what you were doing last week by making these revelations about Frank Connolly?

MMcD: You will recall that I was being asked to deal with the issue as to what I had done with the Centre for Public Inquiry and to comment on what Deputy McGrath said were efforts to undermine that body.

SO'R: But what he was really talking about, I suspect, is the fact that the Irish Independent had been given, at least, copies of the false passport applications. Presumably that would have been a matter of concern for you as Minister for Justice?

MMcD: No. First of all, it is not a concern of mine that matter appeared in the Irish Independent because I supplied it to the Irish Independent. SO'R: You actually provided those documents to the Independent?

MMcD: Yes, I provided that document to the Independent, yes.

SO'R: Was that not a document that should have been treated as a confidential one - a citizen applying for a passport?

MMCD: No. Because it was a false, bogus application form which was generated as part of a subversive activity.

SO'R: Why didn't you say at the time that you were giving these documents to the Independent

MMcD: What do you mean, why didn't I say? The Irish Independent sought from me and I gave to the Irish Independent the document which was the subject matter of the false application for a passport. And I just want to make it very clear, under the Official Secrets Act, a Minister of State is perfectly free, in appropriate circumstances, in the public interest, to make official information available to the media and I just want to make it very, very clear as well that it was not a confidential document. It was a bogus fraudulent document. Let's deal with this, Sean. It was not a confidential document. It was a document which was a fraud on the Irish State. And the person named on it as the applicant for the passport never made that application. A priest's signature was forged on it purporting to be the signature of a priest in west Belfast. The document was entirely bogus and it was certainly not a confidential document.

Forgery

SO'R: But we are talking about something here that was the subject of a garda inquiry, that worked its way up the system to the DPP. I'm surmising here. Correct me if I'm wrong. And the DPP, in his wisdom, decided there really wasn't sufficient grounds for a charge. And you as minister, against that background, you see fit then to get at Frank Connolly in another way.

MMcD: I'm not getting at anybody.

SO'R: But he's without €4m in funding.

MMcD: Hold on a second. The decision by Mr Feeney of Atlantic Philanthrophies to withdraw funding is a decision for Mr Feeney's charity and not for me.

SO'R: Are you saying you had nothing to do with it?

MMcD: I fully support it.

SO'R: And he did it based on pretty heavy briefing from your good self.

MMcD: I'm sure he took into account what I said to him.

SO'R: Well, your office was saying last week that you told him the full, unvarnished truth.

MMcD: That's right. And I insist on my right to do it. And I don't know what your problem is with this, Sean.

SO'R: Could I put a question to you that was raised by another analyst yesterday? In this case there is uncertainty about at least whether anyone is going to be charged with the murder of Rachel O'Reilly. You presumably have info which is akin to what you had on Frank Connolly. Do you want to tell us who murdered Rachel O'Reilly?

MMcD: Sorry, Sean, this is an absurd proposition that you are putting to me.

SO'R: But you use the same logic.

MMcD: It is not the same logic. My purpose as Minister for Justice is to defend the Irish State from subversion and I intend to do that fearlessly and I'm not going to be browbeaten by anybody.

SO'R: You're the last person anyone would expect to be browbeaten.

MMcD: But the point, Sean, that you're forgetting is that it is not the case, it's not the law in Ireland, its not a Constitution doctrine in Ireland. There is absolutely no basis for the proposition that because material can not be adduced in a court established by law for one reason or another or because no prosecution is being brought, that that material cannot be brought to the attention of the Irish public.

SO'R: You can fillet the file to blacken the name of the person who the DPP has decided not to charge - that's really what you are talking about.

MMcD: Sorry, it's not about blackening anybody's name. I stand by every word I said. It's not blackening somebody to tell the truth as you see it. I heard the Frank Connolly interview with you and I won't comment on the credibility of that interview with you. But I say that I stand by every word that I've spoken in public.

SO'R: Would you accept, Minister, though, that if it's the case that Frank Connolly has not visited Colombia, then that he has been gravely wronged?

MMcD: I'm not speculating on anything he said to you. I'm saying what I said to you is certainly right. What I've said to the public and to Dail Eireann is perfectly right and I'm just saying that's the beginning, middle and end of it. I am not going to be put into the position by anybody that as Minister for Justice I cannot comment on actions which I consider are subversive of state security.

SO'R: You're citing the protection of democracy as justification.

MMcD: Yes.

SO'R: In what way was the Centre for Public Inquiry a threat to democracy?

MMcD: I'm not suggesting that the Centre for Public Inquiry is a threat to democracy. Those are your words. I'm saying that Mr Connolly himself has some questions to answer and I made that very, very clear in Dail Eireann, and no amount of obfuscation by some commentators in the media will take away from that fact.

The second point I will make to you is when, for instance, I said the Provisional IRA were organising large-scale robberies in Dublin, the exactly same criticisms were unleashed on me that I was unfairly attacking an organisation.

Pusillanimous

SO'R: You didn't name any names.

MMcD: I mentioned Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Martin Ferris as members of the Army Council and exactly the same argument was made again in relation to that, that this was something which should be dealt with in the courts or not mentioned at all. This is the supine, pusillanimous approach taken to the State's security that has got us into difficulties we've encountered in the past.

SO'R: What other files have you given to the Independent?

MMcD: Sorry, I didn't give any files to the Independent.

SO'R: Documents.

McMcD: I supplied to the Irish Independent the bogus application form and I did so because it is not a confidential document and the people are entitled to know that such a false application for an Irish passport was made. Can I ask you this as a journalist: do you think it is wrong that a minister would supply a bogus application form?

SO'R: I think the more information you get from ministers the better. I'm all in favour of openness. I just think this is highly unusual what you did.

MMcD: Then what's your problem, Sean?

SO'R: I suppose I don't have any particular problem. I just simply have a few questions, I suppose, that I wanted to ask you and I appreciate you coming on the programme.

MMcD: I'm being frank with you and I didn't have to volunteer that I gave that document to the Independent. But I'm being frank and truthful with you because I stand over everything I do. I did that because on an RTE programme a couple of days previously remarks had been made that there was no truth whatsoever in these questions which were being raised about Mr Connolly and his role.

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