11 December 2005

'Not enough evidence' against journalist

Times Online

**Via >>Newshound

Richard Oakley and Enda Leahy
December 11, 2005

FRANK CONNOLLY, the former journalist at the centre of a row with Michael McDowell, the justice minister, will not face charges over his alleged use of a false passport to travel to Colombia with a senior IRA figure.

Sources close to the case have said the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has decided that the current file does not contain enough evidence to prosecute Connolly, the executive director of the Centre for Public Inquiry (CPI).

McDowell used Dail privilege last week to provide details of the false passport Connolly is alleged to have used, and linked him to an IRA plot to sell terrorist expertise to Farc guerillas.

Connolly has denied the allegations and insisted he has never been to Colombia. He has said the person in the CCTV footage is not him and the allegations were a bid to damage the CPI, which recently released a report critical of the Corrib gas pipeline.

He has accused McDowell of usurping the functions of the gardai and the DPP. He said the minister was seeking to destroy his reputation by publicly making allegations of a criminal nature.

McDowell is understood to have discussed the file with Atlantic Philanthropies, the charity founded by billionaire Chuck Feeney, who was bankrolling the CPI, a self-styled ethics and anti-corruption watchdog, to the tune of $4m (€3.38m) over four years.

Following last week’s revelations by McDowell, Atlantic Philanthropies announced that it was withdrawing its financial support with immediate effect.

Sources said the DPP had reviewed the garda file on Connolly and found it insufficient to support a criminal prosecution in its current form. It is understood the DPP believes CCTV footage that shows a man, alleged to be Connolly, entering Bogota is not of a high enough quality and wouldn’t be strong enough to use as evidence in a trial. Connolly did not want to discuss the matter yesterday, but said he was not aware of the DPP’s position and that he should have been told about it.

The board of the CPI, chaired by Feargus Flood, a former high court judge, is to meet this week to discuss the implications of Feeney’s funding being withdrawn.

A spokeswoman for McDowell yesterday responded to criticism of his use of Dail privilege to detail garda intelligence on a member of the public.

“The Official Secrets Act 1963 allows a minister to provide official information when it is in the interest of the state to do so,” she said.

Jim O’Keefe, Fine Gael’s justice spokesman, said he had “grave concerns” about McDowell’s handling of the matter. A spokesman for the Labour Party said McDowell had “created a very dangerous precedent by quoting garda intelligence under the privilege of a Dail question”.

A political source close to McDowell said: “Frank Connolly has not challenged McDowell to repeat the allegations he made under Dail privilege. If this were to happen, Connolly could sue for libel on the basis that they were false as he claims.”

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