By Michael Smith.
The Irish Times title was revived in 1859 by a 22-year-old English army officer, Major Lawrence Knox, and run as a Protestant, Nationalist newspaper, reflecting Knox’s Home Rule politics. He stood unsuccessfully for Isaac Butt’s Home Government Association. By 1873 in the ownership of the department store Arnotts it was a proselytiser for Unionism in Ireland.
It is no longer a Unionist paper but rather ‘liberal and progressive’. It operates under a not-for-profit trust, arranged by probably its best editor, Douglas Gageby, which commits it to progressive values but it is not a charity.
The Irish Times has 630 employees, many sadly laid off currently because of Covid, and is edited by the low-profile Paul O’Neill, much of whose editorial thrust seems to be pro-business.
This article makes the case that it has become stale, complacent, closed, loose with facts, and that its political staff are defensive of the establishment, including for example of the current government. Its
collective instincts for promoting challenging investigations are tenuous – and always have been. It is suppressive.
Suppressing the Stories
Mother and Babies Homes
In 1964 Michael Viney wrote in the Irish Times of a Mother and Baby Home, one of several he visited for a series on unmarried mothers. He recorded that it gave the impression of being “a fairly good class boarding
school for girls”. Recently he acknowledged: “I was perhaps totally misled by the appearance of the convent. None of this was tested by seeking out young mothers who had actually experienced the care of the homes”.
He saw the mothers at work as “a benevolent conspiracy of unexpected thoroughness and ingenuity”. It was an egregious failure to see a scandal before his eyes. Suppression of the reality.
I was born the following year. I cannot think of a single big investigation the Irish Times has itself spawned in my lifetime (perhaps there was
one about Brian Lenihan Sr in the 1990s?). Certainly its Wikipedia entry doesn’t mention any. I shall document a large number of stories
that, on the contrary, it has suppressed. For the most part the Irish Times does not break stories; it fixes them.
In 1970 the Irish Times was influential in spinning the false narrative that Charles Haughey had arranged the illicit importation of arms for the Provisional IRA without approval of the government or its head, Jack Lynch, and in liaison with the IRA. It then pursued decades of vilification of the man whose crime was in fact corruption not ultra-nationalism on which he was – for good or bad depending on your outlook – flexible. It was left to Magill magazine in 1980 and recent books, which the Irish Times has dismissed or ignored, to push the truth.
On corruption the newspaper wasn’t as forceful. In his 2005 memoir ‘Up with the Times’, former editor, Conor Brady, acknowledges that “One of
the questions most frequently asked of Irish journalists when they talk about their work is ‘Why did you not tell us about Haughey over all
those years?”. He says the truth lies somewhere between three propositions – “the libel laws… the culture of secrecy in Irish public life…the
entire political-administrative-business establishment”.
Brady is a reflective journalist and he at least constructively bemoaned that “there is little tradition of self-examination or self-inquiry in
Irish journalism. I do not believe any media organisation has a formal audit system to measure its performance, other than readership and circulation figures”. Sixteen years on, his own former newspaper has certainly not
internalised this criticism.
He was circumspect about the journalistic failures: “At the end of my editorship the Dublin Castle tribunals had uncovered much that revealed at least three distinct strands of corruption that had run through Irish public life for 20 years. The reality is that the Irish media had succeeded in learning very little of substance about any of these over this time”.
Let’s take Brady’s outline of the three areas in which the Times essentially failed, as our starting point, and examine each: donations to Haughey, Ansbacher and planning corruption.
Donations to Haughey
Brady describes how when he was appointed editor in 1986 he set about compiling files and records on Haughey – to no avail. There must
be a suspicion he wasn’t hungry enough for scandal. He says the only insight he got was in 1981 when, as editor of the Sunday Tribune,
someone anonymously sent him copies of Haughey’s AIB Dame St bank statements showing an overdraft of around £200,000. He concluded that Haughey was “entitled to the privacy of his bank account unless there was
evidence of some wrongdoing. I held off publication”. He made some abortive enquiries of the bank itself. He says “it took three sworn tribunals, invested with the powers of the High Court, six judges, 20 senior counsel, approximately 40 other lawyers and any number of court-authorised officials, working over five years, to find out what we now know about
It didn’t take a forensic cavalry to pursue the initial lead which might well have precipitated Haughey’s downfall.
Brady plaintively tries to get himself and the media off the hook: “a few will probably argue that the Haughey story was, in effect told by the media, time and again, but that few people wanted to know the truth”. Brady is too wishfully kind to himself and the media generally. In effect the story just wasn’t told.
When the report of the Moriarty tribunal into Ansbacher was released in July 2002 it showed around 200 of the country’s most respected public figures had availed of the opportunity created by Des Traynor, Charles Haughey’s financial adviser/bagman and the head of Guinness and Mahon Bank and CRH, to cheat on their taxes and to transfer wealth, generated in
Ireland, to supposedly secure and invisible accounts in the Cayman Islands.
Some years earlier, in 1998, the Department of Trade under Mary Harney appointed an authorised officer, Gerard Ryan, to look into Ansbacher. His dossier established a wideranging establishment conspiracy to ensure
well-known holders of illegal bank accounts were never exposed, though many of them were subjected to taxation. This conspiracy has never
been investigated and the Irish Times has never even reported it.
In 2015 Village published the Ansbacher dossier which Ryan has been attempting to submit to the Public Accounts Committee. We printed it because it seemed to us there had been a whitewash to prevent investigation of its mostly tightly documented allegations of the
role of lawyers, toffs, prosecutory authorities and a range of political parties – and their grandees – in the debasement of Irish society. It had been all too convenient to load all the blame on the buccaneers in Fianna Fáil, but they were supported by the professional establishment and the local gombeens of international finance. The Ryan dossier paints a picture which its compiler clearly feels extends to the contemporary, we noted.
Village said it was well aware that it is illegal under s 21 of the 1990 Companies Act to publish or disclose any information, book or document relating to a body obtained by an authorised officer under the Act. Happily
Mr Ryan and other media had beaten us to this.
Village noted further that the Sunday Times had printed allegations of a “cover up”; and named Helen Downes as being in charge of updating the ‘black briefcase files’ where “the names of the Cayman account holders were kept in a separate safe from the lists of their ‘very substantial’ account balances, to avoid any chance of the senior politicians being identified”
We noted that: The Irish Independent reported that the Ryan dossier claims:
• “Declan Costello held an account with Guinness & Mahon bank, which was at the centre of the offshore tax evasion scandal.
• Former Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ministers held Ansbacher accounts, which were not revealed by an investigation into the offshore tax evasion scheme.
• The Moriarty Tribunal did not properly investigate Ansbacher – a state of affairs that undermines the integrity of the tribunal and the reliability of its findings.
• Mr Declan Costello had a major conflict of interest”.
Village was as careful as was necessary to be fair. We noted that: “Some of the dossier appears unfair and we have eliminated it.
Unlike many media we have not unfairly reiterated the names of alleged Cayman account holders that have entered the public domain – as they were received by the Authorised Officer as mere hearsay from a junior employee in Ansbacher. Not, in any event, that all Cayman account holders failed to pay tax.
Furthermore we believe the Authorised Officer made some inferences about Costello and Desmond O’Malley that are not justified by the
evidence adduced in the rest of the dossier. Nor had he proved his allegations that the Moriarty and perhaps Mahon tribunals were compromised in their lack of zeal in pursuit of Ansbacher, though Village has always questioned the extent to which the tribunal reports managed
to probe and explicate all the allegations presented to them, even if in the end the tribunal reports were afforded a blind imprimatur by a
Ansbacher was intertwined with CRH, Ireland’s biggest domestic company. It was run from CRH’s head office, its CEO was Chairman of CRH and eight CRH board members had accounts. The Ansbacher inspectors had this to say about CRH’s involvement with Ansbacher: “The Inspectors are struck by the range of activities carried out on CRH premises and making use of the CRH facilities. The range and duration of the activities is suggestive, but no
more than that, of the idea that CRH was actually aware of Mr Traynor’s conduct”.
The Irish Times has never looked into Ansbacher’s connections with CRH, or indeed CRH’s blatant abuses of its competitive domination of the market that have been mysteriously overlooked by multiple authorities down the years. This is no doubt both because it is legally conservative and because it has no real interest in unearthing a conspiracy of the wealthiest.
Some years later in 2015, The Irish Times cravenly failed to report the Dáil record when Catherine Murphy TD made allegations about interest rates paid by Ireland’s richest man, Denis O’Brien, to state-owned IBRC bank, when O’Brien said he would sue if the record were reported. Reporting the Dáil record is essential in a democracy and was clearly constitutionally
mandated. Village and a few other organs reported the allegations.
The Irish Times is nothing if not terrified of litigation.
According to Brady, “The Irish Times and in particular Frank McDonald had been highlighting for years the bizarre processes and voting procedures at the Dublin county council. In the summer of 1993 Frank and Mark Brennock had worked on a detailed series of reports alleging that councillors had received the money in brown envelopes in public places from lobbyists and representatives of development companies.
They received specific information in relation to one councillor who had it was now deceased. His will had shown him to be possessed of a very
large cash balance of the time his death… There was an immediate political uproar. The Irish Times was castigated for dishonouring the reputation of a dead man. A Garda enquiry was launched. Naturally, it got absolutely nowhere… It was only when two Dublin barristers offered a cash reward for hard evidence of corruption in the planning process place in notices in
the newspapers and lodging the reward fund in a bank in Northern Ireland, that things began to happen. It has always been an absolute tenet of Irish Times editorial policy that we never paid for information, other than
the normal payments to journalist and contributors. I often wondered subsequently if we were right to hold that position so rigidly. It was a stance that was taken for all the right reasons. But in eschewing what we saw as one evil, we may have allowed a greater one to proliferate”.
As one of the “barristers” I was surprised that Brady seemed to feel that if The Irish Times had merely offered money they would have netted the scalps. We had to be by times strategic (including anonymous), manipulative and vicious in ways The Times might have eschewed as a greater evil. We also had to resurrect concern about planning after the body
politic had convinced itself that the issue was dead along with Sean Walsh (whom Brady is too squeamish to mention)
One of the things we did was leak information from informants we got from our reward (lodged in fact with a solicitor in Northern Ireland because no Irish solicitor would touch it). Our most important and first informant who spawned the 15-year planning tribunal was James Gogarty.
He was very nervous at first. He felt he had been stung by the Irish Times which hadn’t treated his allegations seriously. Around that time the journalist he spoke to had an answering machine message “You’re through to [me] but I’m very busy so leave a message if you have to about whatever it is you’re on about but I may not get back to you”. When we met Gogarty he was nervous about talking to any of the newspapers we were using as conduits. He wrongly felt the Irish media were corrupt.
We had to initially inveigle his story into the Sunday Times (Ireland) which he considered not to be Irish. When he fell out with them he found a more comfortable home mostly with Frank Connolly of the Sunday Business Post. To be fair to Frank McDonald he was very helpful in promoting the reward initiative in The Irish Times and vouching for us as anonymous sponsors. He
was an energetic and effective full-time commentator on the environment for 30 years.
A couple of years after that, flushed with the success of the planning initiative, I was involved with a company, Lancefort, established to give
grief to the swashbuckling developers who were wrecking the city; and to seek compliance with environmental, planning and heritage norms.
Unfortunately for us our first target was Treasury Holdings which was demolishing much of the College Street area for what became the Westin
Hotel. We couldn’t get our message across that the scheme had needed an Environmental Income Statement. Our case was damaged by interviews with and profiles of, protagonists in the scheme, in The Irish Times. For example the famous demolition conservationist, David Slattery, who was justifying the demolitions, was lionised under the distinctly unhelpful
heading, ‘Keeper of the Past’. It was unhelpful when we faced conservative judges to be described as “guerrillas, militia and Sinn Féin” and it was no pleasure to face a querulous Supreme Court the morning Frank McDonald had falsely reported we had claimed we would “go to Europe” if we lost the case in front of them.
We were sidelined by the media, and Treasury and their pliable mates trounced us in the courts; but we mounted a campaign against them including feeding material to the press about how Treasury were drafting false minutes of meetings to pressurise rivals to engage them as partners, claiming to be using ransom strips to “have their foot on the throats of” these rivals. The most damning story was of how Treasury Director, Johnny Ronan, sued an estate agent. Ronan was involved in a ‘confidential’
sealed best-bids process to purchase a vast commercial property on O’Connell St and bumped into the agent in a hotel toilet. Essentially, under pressure, the agent told him the best bid so far was £15m so Ronan bid
£15.1m; but by the time the process was complete somebody had bid £15.2m. Ronan sued for failure to “inform me, either directly or by means of hints, of the amount I needed to offer”. We gave the affidavit Ronan had signed attesting to his scam to the Financial Times which made hay with the story which was influential in losing Treasury Holdings its preferred bidder status for the Millennium Dome in London. The Irish Times suppressed the story.
While Frank McDonald, a friend of both the protagonists in Treasury Holdings, dealt with these stories at length in one of his books, it notably never surfaced within the pages of The Irish Times which would have been far more damaging among the business community. Indeed over recent years The Irish Times, perhaps following the resolution of a defamation action initiated by Ronan against it, has always been deferential to Ronan. It has failed to correct a story that said Treasury Holdings had paid back
its debts, to NAMA, when in fact it had gone bankrupt owing €2.7bn of which €1.7bn was owed to NAMA, the public. And The Irish Times
repeatedly touts Ronan’s madcap, litigation backed, schemes for mega-developments in Docklands as if they are serious works of planning.
It emerged recently that Treasury had part-sponsored one of McDonald’s books, though the book contained what looked like a comprehensive list of donors that didn’t mention Treasury. McDonald also seems to have encouraged the ambitions of Richard Barrett, Treasury’s other director, to buy the then-bloated Irish Times but to no ludicrous avail.
Apart from McDonald, The Irish Times didn’t understand how planning in Dublin worked until after the planning tribunal and it still hasn’t realised how it works either in rural Ireland or in the counties outside Dublin where there is most money to be made by corruption. In Dublin speculative values have largely been factored in to land prices whereas in Meath or Wicklow
councillors’ can turn fields into gold.
You won’t read in The Irish Times that we’re failing to implement balanced regional development because the National and Regional Planning ‘Frameworks’ don’t have teeth.
You rarely hear that one-off-housing throws all plans because it diverts a quarter of housing into the fields of our countryside, There’s not much
sense that planning is distorted by diversion of development that should take place in Limerick or Cork into the counties in the hinterland of
Dublin – because the country is animated by an economic not a social or environmental agenda.
And the newspaper rarely (except for the occasional intervention by McDonald) distinguishes high-density which often serves the public interest, form high-rise which usually serves only some businessman’s ego.
Related to the newspaper’s coverage of planning is its treatment of Property and Environment.
In the 1970s The Irish Times property editor Karl Jones was found to have been touting, in its pages, schemes he was himself covertly financially involved with. Thankfully there is no reason to think such shenanigans have recurred.
Nevertheless, though The Irish Times has long been self-defensive about it, it is clear that its copious Property Supplements purvey false narratives of the state of the property market. They boost the market for particular developments and for the property market generally and underplay the poor quality of developments.
In 2006, The Irish Times bought the property website MyHome.ie for €50m. The Irish Times’ board has also been replete with individuals linked to the corporate and political establishment. For example, during the bubble
years, the board included David Went, CEO of Irish Life & Permanent, an Irish bank deeply involved in the housing boom and Brian Patterson, the Financial Regulator.
The report of The Commission of Investigation into the Banking Sector in Ireland noted that “Much of the media enthusiastically supported
households’ preoccupation with property ownership” and “the long upswing in the property market, accompanied by relentless media attention eroded the risk- awareness of both of banks and their customers in Ireland”.
In 2013, UCD academic Julien Mercille wrote that “between 2000 and 2007, The Irish Times published more than 40,000 articles about the economy – but only 78 were about the property bubble, or 0.2 per cent. This is small coverage for what was arguably the most important economic story during those years. Articles that cautioned against the possible negative repercussions of a real estate bubble were often met with stories throwing doubts on such claims or arguing that things would be fine”. Marc Coleman, The Irish Times economics editor, wrote as late as September 2007 that: “Far from an economic storm – or a property shock – Ireland’s economy is set to rock and roll into the century’. In fact, ‘Ireland enters the 21st Century
in a position of awesome power”.
The deference to the property industry still prevails. On 21 January The Irish Times published an article: ‘Planning system from last century
stalls housebuilding – report; Irish Homebuilders Association calls for urgent overhaul of permissions’.
Environment has often been merged with planning and development concerns in The Irish Times.
Its coverage of environmental matters has always been for slow learners and it has never replaced Frank McDonald as a full-time Environment Editor – he is missed. Even locating the ‘Environment’ section on The Irish Times’
otherwise efficient website requires serious sleuthing skills.
You would not know from reading The Irish Times that the future of humanity is threatened by twin dysfunctionalities: loss of species and
It’s been recalcitrant on climate change: suppressive of the science.
Dick Ahlstrom was its long-time Science editor. As late as 2012 he published a piece : ‘’Latest statistics show no evidence global warming is taking place’. In 2013 he ran one: ’Sun’s bizarre activity may trigger another ice
age”. Embarrassingly, the Times’ role in propagating this nonsense was spotlighted shortly afterwards in The Guardian.
Ahlstrom managed to studiously avoid covering the giant IPCC Assessment Reports.
Another infamous Irish Times curmudgeon is William Reville, a retired UCC biochemistry professor who in 2008, wrote a particularly ignorant screed: ‘Are greens simply ageing religious fundamentalists?’
He asserted: “many leading greens seem to be Marxists, a philosophy that comprehensively failed in practice….the big green issues are chosen by leaders who follow a fundamentalist philosophy with a strong apocalyptic strain”.
Down the years there has been editorial indifference to climate change. An infamous editorial on 6 January 2010, during the big freeze that year, a few days after the end of the 2009 Copenhagen COP, was titled: ‘Global
cooling’: “So much for all of that guff about global warming! Are world leaders having the wrong debate? We are experiencing the most prolonged period of icy weather in 40 years and feeling every bit of it”.
Another editorial, on 16 February 2013 raised questions as to whether climate change was anthropogenic:
“There is no doubt that extreme weather events such as superstorm Sandy that devastated New York are occurring more frequently because of climate change. More evidence is needed, however, to prove that our
warming climate is being caused by human activity”.
A search of The Irish Times for 13 February 2014, during cyclone-driven Storm Darwin, shows 16 articles mention “storm” but none mentions “climate change” or even “climate”.
We’ve really known about human-caused climate change since the 1980s. The Irish Times showed no signs of adopting best practice as represented in the Los Angeles Times which announced in 2013 that it would no longer
publish letters denying human responsibility for climate change. Its standards are well short of those of, for example, The Guardian in dealing
with denial and in the use of terms such as “global heating”.
McDonald and climate-specialist John Gibbons both wrote forcefully about climate though the newspaper appeared slow to publish their polemics.
Reflecting changed times, The Irish Times has now closed down climate-change scepticism, though Kevin O’Sullivan, one-time editor of the
paper, who has reverted to the role of Environment and Science Editor, is not always as strong as you would expect. He still refers to Irish dairy and beef as world-beating in carbonefficiency though research now suggests
otherwise. And as recently as 2 February a piece in his name was inaccurately headlined: ‘Revised Climate Bill to ban oil and gas extraction
goes before Cabinet Move will end fossil fuel prospecting and the future development of oil and gas fields’. In fact billions of Euro of oil and
gas can be prospected under existing licences.
Its coverage of aviation, agriculture, property, the car industry and so on, is all divorced from climate.
In May 2020 the vast bulk of Providence Resources’ EGM comprised the chairman reading long questions from a climate-activist shareholder about how environmental concerns might affect its gas exploration plans. It is a
telling editorial decision that The Irish Times chose not even to mention this. Its business correspondent claimed his role did not embrace environmental concerns.
The Green Party
Because it’s slow on the environment, The Irish Times hasn’t twigged that the Green Party isn’t very good at being green.
It was slow to report the rise of the Irish far right – perhaps rightly squeamish about giving coverage to Gemma O’Doherty when she was
first cultivating a racist following. In 2017 it unwisely published a glossary of ‘Alt-Right’ terminology by Nicholas Pell but it also allowed articles attacking the piece. In the end it has done a number of wide-ranging pieces, and is appropriately scathing of those who trade in demagoguery.
British State Collusion with Loyalists
The Irish Times has been very slow to process the inconvenient fact that loyalist terrorists were joined at the hip to MI5 and even Westminster
governments. The Northern Ireland state during the ‘Troubles’ was one in which justice for Catholics was always systemically unlikely. The
Irish Times has been slow to recognise the realities established in documentaries like Unquiet Graves, about the murderous and collusive, loyalist Glennane Gang. It failed to highlight how dysfunctional the Smithwick Tribunal’s finding of collusion (by Gardai with killers of RUC officers) without named colluders was and how it appears the tribunal’s role was as a quid pro quo for other inquiries that the Irish Government wanted conducted by the British government into murky murders in the North. It does not take an appropriately forceful stance on the slowness of the British authorities to process those enquiries properly.
Clearly The Irish Times has been progressive over the last generation on minority, identity, privacy and lifestyle rights – such as contraception, divorce, abortion, women’s rights, racial- and religious-minority rights and, predominantly, on LGBT+ rights including gay marriage.
On economic equality it is unsound. It rarely mentions the Gini-Coefficient or other standard measures of assessing inequality. It doesn’t assess governments and institutions against a standard of their success in reducing inequality.
The Union Unite has documented how difficult it is to get the ascendancy in The Irish Times to accept that all is not now well in Ireland’s approach to equality (see Village current edition, pages 52-53). Readers are invited to decide for themselves why the paper might be so complacent about whether resources are being redistributed in society.
The Irish Times is wrong on the judiciary and the need to remove party-politics as any factor in judicial elevations. It no longer has a legal editor
and has long been strangely deferential to the judiciary and indeed to barristers, reflecting no doubt a combination of genuine reverence and
fear of litigation. It, for example, never addressed the distortions peddled by Michael McDowell in the Seanad, and faithfully reported by Michael O’Regan on 1 February 2017, that the Republic was the only state in the common law world in which a government had ever proposed
having a lay majority on a judicial advisory board.
Typical is an Irish Times View piece in January 2020 which stated: “The Bill championed by Minister for Transport Shane Ross was excellent in one respect: as a case study in how not to make law. Inspired by a vague, unsubstantiated hunch on Ross’s part – that the process by which
judges are selected is rotten with judicial cronyism”. It was no such thing. He was concerned rather that judges were elevated in opaque ways that have always favoured barristers who are party loyalists.
The Irish Times is deferential to judges and lawyers generally. You won’t read investigations of the malpractices in the legal profession or attacks on the anti-competitive over pricing of lawyers. Then again, you won’t read analysis of any of the abuses of the professions. The professions are The Irish Times’ core readership!
Village, as a casual survey of the material precedent will confirm, is mean to the Irish Times (and RTÉ). In exchange the Irish Times (and RTÉ) ignore Village. Neither of them has ever covered a Village scoop, at least not in my
– over-long – time.
In November Village reported that Leo Varadkar had transferred a confidential draft contract to a friend. It emphasised that the leak
was illegal and its cover was headlined, ‘Leo, Law Breaker’. The Irish Times has always pretended it could not publish any reference to this illegality for legal reasons. Its political correspondent, Jack Horgan-Jones spent a lot of
time claiming he could not publish the WhatsApp photograbs that characterised the Village story, again for legal reasons – though following an FoI request he subsequently ran his own story on the affair, littered with WhatsApp photograbs. He described Village as a sometimes fringe publication, teeing it up for Leo Varadkar to describe it – in the Dáil – as a
fully fringe publication.
The newspaper commissioned an inept piece from its legal affairs editor claiming that Varadkar had not broken the law because, as Varadkar had himself implausibly claimed, the Official Secrets Act did not apply to TDs and Senators or Ministers. He wrote: “At the very outset the Act states that the definition of “public office” does not include membership of either House of the Oireachtas, meaning it does not apply to TDs or senators”. The interpretation was hopelessly wayward (and of course was never corrected).
In fact as the dogs in the street know the law applies to everyone (unless they are duty-bound or duly authorised) to transfer a document. As Paul Murphy TD put it: “Confusion arises because it’s true that public office is defined in such a way to exclude a member of Dáil or Seanad: ‘public office’… does not include membership of either House of the Oireachtas.
However, the offence doesn’t require someone to have a public office”.
The Irish Times was parroting for Fine Gael. The paper’s Political Editor rowed in with a piece claiming that Varadkar was claiming a Trumpian
executive privilege. A little law would have confirmed that that privilege does not apply in Ireland and that transferring the document required non-existent “due authorisation”. The Irish Times failed to get legal advice as to
whether Varadkar had broken the law but instead made up the law – along the lines Fine Gael was suggesting to it. It was still doing it as news broke of garda interviews with officials in the Department of Health. On 15 February Crime Correspondent, Conor Gallagher stated the Offical Secrets Act “suggests it doesn’t apply to Ministers”.
Subsequent to its magazine story, Village attempted online to prove that Varadkar lied to the Dáil, another resigning offence. His mistake was claiming his friendship with O Tuathail was of the sort where they’d meet “two or three times a year”. Village had WhatsApp screengrab evidence that he had said he met Varadkar seven times in 2020. There was further evidence of three other meetings. Village put out a statement making the case that the instances it displayed were of an order so much greater than
what Varadkar had claimed that he should resign, caught lying. Clearly, as the country well knew, Varadkar had trapped himself. In a piece replete with denials which failed to mention the significance of there being so many meetings, the article pointedly quoted the Tánaiste, implausibly, saying Village “has its facts wrong again”. Horgan-Jones called O Tuathail to
extract a comment from him confirming Varadkar’s version, in the teeth of the evidence. Horgan-Jones, so fastidious about defamation and the law of screengrabs, wilfully published it in all its contradictions. He referred to the text messages being “purportedly” from O Tuathail. He seemed to construe the fact two of the meetings alleged by Village did not occur, as implying that the allegation of lying did not stand up.
The exercise of extracting a lie from O Tuathail saved the Tánaiste from enforced resignation.
The Irish Times political team had no interest in law-breaking, no interest in lying. They contrived to damage Village’s story. In the process they seriously damaged the newspaper’s credibility and have had to endure a four-month-long social-media onslaught.
The question subsists, why did The Irish Times suppress the truth about law-breaking and lying by the State’s most powerful politician?
Subsequent summaries of the politics of the year in The Irish Times mysteriously omitted any reference to the whole affair. Its ‘annual’ review
of Irish politics terminated after Golfgate, in the summer!
The Irish Times doesn’t understand whistleblowers. It doesn’t understand the need to cultivate them and to handle them sensitively as they are often traumatised by bullying or worries about going against the grain
with colleagues or friends. Just because everything a whistleblower says does not stand up to scrutiny does not undermine their central truth if they have one. It’s not a game of pointing out inconsistencies. They didn’t
understand that with James Gogarty. The newspaper also fell well short in its handling of probably Ireland’s most relevant whistleblower ever, Jonathan Sugarman who showed, through his own experience of being
asked to falsify capital ratios for Unicredit Bank how all Ireland’s banks had allowed themselves, in breach of elementary banking rules, to become first illiquid and then insolvent – a failure that bankrupted the country. After initially going to Fintan O’Toole who covered his story without naming him or the bank, The Irish Times never again gave full credit to Sugarman’s
story which was eventually kept out of the Banking Inquiries also. Sugarman in the end went to Village which covered the entire episode.
Time after time whistleblowers come to Village having been treated unsatisfactorily by fastidious Irish Times’ journalists.
The Irish Times mishandled Village’s story of Matt ÓTuathail’s. Just because one or two of the Screengrabs wrong it does not alter the central truth that they show the relationship was closer than Leo Varadkar had claimed.
One of the most dramatic failures of The Irish Times has been to grapple with the allegations of whistleblower Gerard Convie from Donegal. After the Greens got into government, Environment Minister, John Gormley, announced “planning reviews” in 2010, not of corruption but of bad practice – in seven local authorities including Donegal. Senior Planner Gerard Convie’s case studies comprised all the material for the review in Donegal. He has for more than a decade alleged systemic planning corruption during his time as a senior planner. When the government belittled his report, Convie successfully sued for damages. In the
end a senior counsel was appointed to look into his allegations. Some years ago the review was sent to the Attorney General and then passed to the Housing Minister with whom it has rested ever since. Because there has been litigation over the matter (and Village was sued by the former County Manager, Michael McLoone though his proceedings have gone nowhere),
the Irish Times will not touch the story though it tells a story of endemic petty planning corruption for the country. Meanwhile a taint hangs over the
administration of planning in Donegal, and a whistleblower twists in the wind.
Séamus Martin served as a reporter, Features Editor, foreign correspondent and International Editor of The Irish Times. He wrote a piece three years ago for Village about the media, expressing concern that The Irish
Times was controlled by executives not journalists and that it had descended to promoting articles such as “one in which a woman expressed her worries about farting while having an orgasm. Mr Gageby must be
revolving at a ferocious pace in his grave”.
The Irish Times runs lots of ads distinguishing its own weighing of the facts and truth from irresponsible sometimes-conspiracy-theorising social media. A recent submission to the Commission on the future of media, published in its own columns was complacent about a great deal, including the value of its product to society: “the journalism we produce is part of a vital and inter-connected ecosystem, imparting trustworthy and accurate information which underpins society, citizenship and democracy”. It also is unwisely hostile to social media, “where original and professional reporting – local, national and international – is replaced by opinion, much of it ill-informed, and by alternative facts, outrage and extremes…”.
The Irish Times has surrendered its status as newspaper of record, now preferring the title newspaper of reference. That reflects a downgrading
of its sweep in keeping with the times. It does not even cover the courts or local government well. It does not systematically correct mistakes it makes – and it makes many.
Though it has 630 staff it seems to conduct no investigations.
It doesn’t revel in exposing abuses of power. Its speciality is the half-leaked document – some report that finds its way into the hands of its political staff 48 hours before scheduled publication.
Though in recent memory it was a force for tolerance, culture and modernity, it seems now to stand politically or philosophically for no clear thing though it fetishises opinion over investigation. Its opinion-setters do not for the most part represent anything particularly wise or even clear. It has no base standard – it will write shamelessly about farts or shopping, orgies or celebrities. Its speciality is the unoriginal, evidence-and-statistic-free opinion offered without elegance or wit. It does not aim to challenge, it does not aim to delight. Many of its journalists have been in situ for far too long and have made up their minds on the topics under their watch.
Deep down it equates its values with not getting its hands dirty with investigative journalism, not reporting inconvenient facts, not challenging power structures, not rocking liberal governments, not making a difference. 162 years is a long time to be treading water.