Is McDowell right?

Here it is, hopefully the first of many weekly columns folks… (time stamp changed to place it at the top)

Defining a term is always a good place to start, Article 38 of the Irish Constitution:

1. No person shall be tried on any criminal charge save in due course of law.

Is Michael McDowell sailing too close to the wind? Is due process going down the swanny? No, says McDowell, quoted in the Irish Times:

“In particular, in matters relating to the protection of the State’s security and the prevention of subversion of democracy, which sometimes involves making the public aware of underlying facts and allegations, it would be very wrong of a Minister for Justice to fail to take action or to speak out on the sole basis that the subject matter was incapable or unlikely to be established beyond reasonable doubt in the criminal justice process.”

The statement did not say how State security or democracy were threatened by Mr Connolly.

Therein lies the crux. Even if the entire of what McDowell is saying is true – what threatens democracy more; a brother of a known Republican heading an organisation to examine corruption in Ireland, who allegedly travelled on a false passport, or, a Minister for Justice (a barrister himself), circumventing the constitutional rights of a citizen – perhaps leaking confidential information to journalists?

I am inclined to believe the latter, for a number of reasons. It should be noted that I am not known for a love of republicanism, nor of any group that uses violences to further their political aims. Indeed the record probably shows me to be something of an anti-republican, though perhaps not as gung-ho as Mr. McDowell. So if McDowell is right, we must show that Frank Connolly and the CPI pose a threat to the security of the State, and to the democracy we live in.

Firstly, I don’t care if Frank Connolly travelled on a false passport. I do care that it is a crime to do so, I do think people who travel on false passports should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But I don’t think travelling on a false passport warrants this level, or indeed any level, of interference from the Minister for Justice. The last time I checked, the people who execute that role are an Garda Siochana, the DPP, and the Judicial system. It is not the Minister’s job to outline a Garda investigation into an individual to Dail Eireann. I believe Michael McDowell is abusing Dail privilege by making these accusations, if he were to act properly – he would let the file sit with the DPP until he decides if there is a case to answer, or not.

Secondly, the Center for Public Inquiry (CPI). Exactly how an organisation such as this, that includes notable and well respected citizens with experience in dealing with corruption could pose a threat to democracy is frankly beyond me. In my own humble opinion the fact that they don’t have a website would warrant the withdrawal of all funding, but I digress It’s here.. Fergus Flood, a man with an examplary record in the judicial system. Frank Connolly himself, for his stories that led to the establishment of the Tribunal that Flood later Chaired.

To be quite honest, though woe I am to say it, I wouldn’t mind if all the people working for the CPI were green-blooded Republicans. It doesn’t really matter – they are trying to do something about the state of politics in Ireland. Michael McDowell might not like it, but he should shut up unless he has evidence he can give to the Gardai that the CPI were subverting democracy and threatening the security of the Irish State. Using his Ministerial position to effectively blacken the name of another individual, before a trial even begins, is nefarious to say the least, regardless of whether Connolly is ultimately found guilty of the actions McDowell alleges. McDowell theories on the CPI attempting to blacken the name of the government in order to further the political ambitions of Sinn Fein seem to be far-fetched, and even if true, do not amount in my view, to subverting the State.

Third, and lastly, it could be argued that rather than attempting to protect the interests of the Irish people, as he so laudibly espouses, it is he in fact who is subverting the institutions of the State. Michael McDowell seems to forget that he too is a citizen of this State – Frank Connolly has not been found guilty of anything. Nothing. Frank Connolly is, whether the allegations are true or not, guilty only of having the misfortune of being disliked by the Minister for Justice. In effect, Michael McDowell is taking it upon himself to decide what rights citizens should have and that ‘subversion’ is what he defines it to be. In other words the due process of law can be dispensed with on the strength of the Minister’s opinion.

Further, and very specifically, McDowell noted and in my opinion dangerously [my emphasis]:

…it would be very wrong of a Minister for Justice to fail to take action or to speak out on the sole basis that the subject matter was incapable or unlikely to be established beyond reasonable doubt in the criminal justice process.

Let’s put that another way, without changing the meaning:

The Minister for Justice should speak out regardless of due process, regardless of establishing something beyond reasonable doubt and regardless of the criminal justice system.

I will reserve my wording in response to this statement, lest I find myself in hot water.

I am quite certain you can make up your own minds about this tawdry affair.