Tag Archives: Colum Kenny

Colum Kenny

As we approach the blasphemy referendum people on the Yes side who know better continue to claim that the Convention on the Constitution recommended the removal of the provision, while they omit the three significant words “as it is” and ignore the fact that what the Convention actually recommended by 53 per cent to 38 per cent was its replacement with a new general provision on hate speech.

And that’s what a UN committee supported.

The distinction is that between the liberalism of the Enlightenment that understood the balance of rights and the libertarianism of Silicon Valley that resists regulation (of social media and capital for example).

Some Yes crusaders who think themselves progressive not long ago also wanted the legal protection for balance in broadcasting removed because it did not suit them.

Its removal in the US, following a campaign by the right, cheapened public discourse.

Why are Irish citizens who see themselves as liberals or radicals so willing to let the Government set an agenda and claim an easy win by this petty referendum while sidelining free speech issues such as the use of defamation law to inhibit journalism or the prohibitive cost of legal proceedings, and more important constitutional questions relating to the abuse of property rights and other matters?

Colum Kenny,
Emeritus Professor,
Dublin City University.


Blasphemy and the Constitution (Irish Times letters page)


From top: Sgt Maurice McCabe; Paul Williams (centre) arriving at the Disclosures Tribunal last summer; journalist and Dublin City University professor Colum Kenny at the tribunal last week

Last Friday, at the Disclosures Tribunal which is examining allegations of a smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe….

Journalist and Dublin City University professor Colum Kenny told the tribunal that in early 2014, two security correspondents – one being a security correspondent for a national broadcaster – told him Sgt McCabe was being investigated for child sex abuse.

He said he felt the two journalists were telling him to ‘cop himself on’ and to ‘not take Sgt McCabe at face value’.

He also said they encouraged him to go and talk to gardai “up there” (Mr Kenny took this to mean gardai in Cavan/Monaghan). Mr Kenny said they didn’t name any specific people with whom he should discuss the matter.

Mr Kenny said the two journalists – whom he said he took very seriously – definitely did not indicate that the child sex abuse allegation was something from the past which had been dismissed by the DPP.

Mr Kenny said:

“I think these people were probably trying to put me straight, you know. Maybe they did it with the best of motives, I don’t know. I felt that they were rubbishing his character by what they were doing. I was really shocked. I hadn’t heard this perhaps because I don’t move in newsrooms or didn’t move in newsrooms at that stage. It came as a bolt out of the blue.”

“…I took it very seriously coming from them. They were respected, you know, journalists and have done very good work.”

The tribunal is examining a claim by the former head of the Garda Press Office Supt Dave Taylor that he was instructed by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan – with the knowledge of Mr Callinan’s successor Nóirín O’Sullivan – to negatively brief journalists about Sgt McCabe by telling them about an allegation made against Sgt McCabe in 2006.

In December 2006, the daughter of a Garda colleague of Sgt McCabe’s, referred to as Ms D, made an allegation of ‘dry humping’ against Sgt McCabe to gardai.

She claimed this occurred during a game of hide and seek in 1998, when she was around six.

When the complaint was made, in December 2006, it was 11 months after Ms D’s father was disciplined for arriving at the scene of a suicide drunk and whom Sgt McCabe told to leave the scene.

The tribunal has heard Ms D made her statement to the gardai on December 4, 2006, after her father and mother made contact with a detective sergeant in Cavan first and outlined Ms D’s allegation.

The matter was investigated by then Inspector Noel Cunningham, his investigation went to the DPP and, in April 2007, the DPP unequivocally ruled there was no basis for a prosecution.

However, six years later in July 2013, Ms D was speaking to a HSE counsellor about the matter, after she was encouraged to do so by her mother, and the counsellor referred it to Tusla in August 2013 – but the matter had been incorrectly elevated to a claim of digital vaginal and anal penetration after the counsellor, the tribunal was told, made a copy and paste error.

On August 15, 2013, Tusla social work team leader Keara McGlone wrote to Mr Cunningham and requested a meeting with him to discuss his 2006 investigation.

In her letter, Ms McGlone – who married a garda based in Monaghan Garda Station in 2015 and who told the tribunal she was liaising with members of An Garda Síochána from 2010 – explained she was doing this because nobody from the HSE had met with Sgt McCabe in 2006.

Ms McGlone wrote:

I would like to meet with you to discuss the case prior to making any contact with the alleged perpetrator.”

But Mr Cunningham never responded to this letter and the HSE never contacted Sgt McCabe.

And the false rape referral wound up in the then Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s office in May 2014 where it remained until the start of the tribunal – with Sgt McCabe only being notified of the matter in January 2016.

In February 2017, Sgt McCabe issued a press statement saying that if this meeting between Ms McGlone and Mr Cunningham had occurred, “the falsity of the rape offence allegation would have been immediately apparent to Superintendent Cunningham and the claimed error would have been discovered immediately”.

Supt Taylor alleges that he was instructed to tell journalists about Ms D’s 2006 allegation and to tell them that, while the DPP ruled against a prosecution, the investigation was still the “root cause” of Sgt McCabe’s complaints about malpractice within An Garda Siochana.

Supt Taylor – and Martin Callinan – have both told the tribunal they didn’t know anything about the false rape referral which journeyed between An Garda Siochana and Tusla until it came into the public domain in February 2017.

In the tribunal last week, Mr Kenny was asked if he’d like to name the journalists and, after a pause, Mr Kenny told Judge Peter Charleton: “I’d rather they name themselves.”

It was then agreed that Mr Kenny would write down the names of the two journalists and the tribunal will, in turn, write to the two journalists and seek responses to Mr Kenny’s claims.

Mr Kenny also told the tribunal on Friday that a number of weeks ago he received a phone call from another security correspondent asking him if he was going to name names at the tribunal.

Mr Kenny didn’t identify this security correspondent – but he made it clear they are separate to the two security correspondents who told him Sgt McCabe was being investigated for child sex abuse.

The only security correspondent present for Mr Kenny’s evidence at the tribunal on Friday was Paul Reynolds, security correspondent for RTE, who briefly sat in the press section.

Mr Kenny explained the context with which he ended up speaking to the two journalists in January 2014, which, incidentally, was the same month Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness and Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy claim they were led to believe by the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan that there was an ongoing child sex abuse investigation into Sgt McCabe – claims Mr Callinan denies.

Mr Kenny explained that, in 2013, he started to write about Sgt McCabe with his first article about Sgt McCabe and former Garda John Wilson [though unnamed] and the penalty points controversy published on April 7, 2013.

Mr Kenny explained how he was very interested in the missing computer belong to Fr Michael Molloy, from Kill in Cootehill, Co Cavan, who was jailed in 2009 for defilement of children and possession of child pornography.

Two years before his conviction, in 2007, Fr Michael Molloy’s computer was seized from his home on the same day he was arrested.

Almost a year after he was jailed, in November 2010, Bishop of Kilmore Leo O’Reilly wrote to Cootehill Garda station requested the computer be located and returned to him as a matter of urgency. He said there were valuable parish records on it.

But the computer was lost.

During a formal disciplinary interview, over the missing computer, Sgt McCabe explained he had nothing to do with the investigation of Fr Molloy and that he never had the computer in his possession.

The disciplinary process against Sgt McCabe eventually ended in August 2013 with a report concluding “finding Sergeant McCabe to be in breach of discipline in this case would be unsafe”.

[It was August 2013 when the false Tusla rape referral against Sgt McCabe went into circulation]

The matter of the missing computer was later examined at the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation in 2015, in which Judge Kevin O’Higgins found it was “difficult to understand” why Sgt McCabe was the only person subjected to disciplinary proceedings, despite having not been involved in the case.

Judge O’Higgins said he was “quite rightly exonerated”.

Mr Kenny took a keen interest in trying to ascertain what happened the missing computer – and also started to ask why security correspondents weren’t making inquiries about it or reporting on it.

In October 2013, he started writing about the matter in the Sunday Independent.

He said it was in the context of this that, in early 2014, he approached the two aforementioned journalists and, similar to what Mr Callinan is alleged to have led Mr McCarthy and Mr McGuiness to believe, they told him Sgt McCabe was being investigated for child abuse.

After his conversation with the two security correspondents, Mr Kenny went to Sgt McCabe and Sgt McCabe told him about the Ms D matter. Mr Kenny then satisfied himself that the matter was wholly untrue.

The tribunal has seen that a letter from the DPP’s office to the then State solicitor for Cavan Rory Hayden on April 5, 2007, in relation to Ms D’s complaint, stated:

“Dear Sir,

I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 1st March 2007 together with copy investigation file. I agree with you and the Guards that the evidence does not warrant a prosecution. There are no admissions, the incident as described by the injured party is vague. It appears that it was only when she was eleven/twelve that she decided that whatever occurred was sexual in nature. Even if there wasn’t a doubt over her credibility, the incident that she describes does not constitute a sexual assault or indeed an assault. Further, the account given to her cousin [blank] differs in a number of respects to that given to her parents and the Guards. There is no basis for a prosecution.”

The tribunal has heard that Sgt McCabe was told by Mr Hayden of this result on the day it was released in April 2007. While Sgt McCabe took a note of it, he never physically saw a copy of it until the tribunal.

Mr Kenny explained that it was “easy” to ascertain what the DPP’s directions were in relation to the Ms D allegation against Sgt McCabe from 2006.

And he said that any journalist who was told of child abuse rumours about Sgt McCabe at that time had an ethical responsibility to contact Sgt McCabe and put the rumour to him.

The tribunal has already heard that the only journalist and newspaper to write about the Ms D allegation which was circulating around media and political circles in early 2014 was Paul Williams, of the Irish Independent – and he never contacted Sgt McCabe before four articles by him were published between April 12, 2014 and May 3, 2014.

Neither Ms D nor Sgt McCabe were identified in the articles but the tribunal has heard from several witnesses that they knew they were about Sgt McCabe – including Sgt McCabe himself who was contacted by various people on foot of them.

Asked if he usually puts allegations made about a person to the person at the centre of the allegation, Mr Williams told the tribunal he would if they are identified.

When Mr Williams gave evidence to the tribunal last summer, he said that the then head of the Garda Press Office Dave Taylor simply told him that the DPP ruled against a prosecution.

When the contents of the DPP’s letter to Mr Hayden were put to him, Mr Williams conceded that, had he seen that, he would have taken a different view of matters.

When Mr Williams gave evidence, he had the following exchange with Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe:

Michael McDowell: “Did you put any of that to him or to Sergeant McCabe, you knew you were speaking about Sergeant McCabe?”

Paul Williams: “No.”

McDowell: “When you published it, it was legalled, was it not?”

Williams: “Yes.”

McDowell: “Were you asked whether you’d ever put any of this material to the man about whom you were writing?”

Williams: “No.”

As previously stated, Mr Williams’ first article about Sgt McCabe was on April 12, 2014 – after he interviewed her on March 8, 2014.

However, it’s worth nothing that Sgt McCabe and the fact directions by the DPP had been made in relation to him were reported by an INM publication before Mr Williams even met Ms D.

On March 2, 2014, Mr Kenny, in an article primarily about Fr Molloy’s missing computer and the disciplinary proceedings levelled against Sgt McCabe, wrote:

It is understood that Sgt McCabe has also been subjected to a serious accusation by a senior garda that was subsequently referred by gardai to the DPP, who found no basis on which to pursue the matter.”

On Friday, Mr Kenny very briefly indicated to the tribunal that when sending an article for publication to the Sunday Independent, he had sent a document to INM’s lawyers outlining the DPP’s full directions against Sgt McCabe in order to verify what he was writing.

The tribunal didn’t specifically hear what this document was or specifically to whom it was sent or even specifically when it was sent.

Mr Kenny wasn’t asked these details.

But Mr Kenny’s article of March 2, 2014, appears to be the only one he wrote in which he mentioned the DPP’s directions around that time – so it seems reasonable that Mr Kenny would have sent it before the March 2, 2014 article was published.

Mr Kenny told the tribunal:

“The document was furnished to the lawyer for the Independent Newspapers, not this Independent Newspaper lawyer, at the time when I was writing about the affair. So it was part of a legalled and assessed process.”

In conclusion, given Mr Kenny reported on the DPP’s directions in the Sunday Independent on March 2, 2014 – a week before Mr Williams even met Ms D on March 8, 2014 – it begs the question: did editors in INM, and/or the company’s lawyers, have a full understanding of the DPP’s unequivocal directions pertaining to Sgt McCabe – on foot of information from Mr Kenny – before they published Mr Williams’ four articles about Ms D?

And will the tribunal get to see this document?

The tribunal continues.

Related: Inquiry into loss of computer in sex abuse case essential (Colum Kenny, Sunday Independent, March 2, 2014)

Previously: ‘It’s A Farce. Everyone Knows…From Politicians To Cops To Journos’

Meanwhile, At The Disclosures Tribunal

Disclosures, Denials And The Journalists

The Commissioner, The ‘Knacker’s Horse’ And The Two ‘Headbangers’

Colum Kenny

On Wednesday, a commentary piece by media analyst Colum Kenny about the Irish press, Charlottesville and Donald Trump was posted on The Irish Times website.

It was trending for a time.

Then it was taken down.

Without explanation.

Colum Kenny wrote:

Speaking in New York, at a combative press conference where he controversially renewed his claim that there was wrong on both sides involved in a street fight about a civil war statue of a Confederate general on a high horse at Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump was asked about chief executive officers leaving his advisory manufacturing council in protest.

He slammed them, saying, “they’re not taking their jobs seriously as it pertains to this country . . . If you look at Merck as an example, take a look at where their product is made. It’s made outside of our country. We want products made in the country . . . You can’t do it necessarily in Ireland and all of these other places. You have to bring this work back to this country.”

That a president of the US is singling out Ireland in response to lost US jobs is bad news. And it matters a lot more to Ireland than the details of a street fight in middle America. You would not think so from the relative media coverage here.

That street fight provides good self-righteous TV footage, easily and cheaply available, with cardboard cut-out bad guys in the form of Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members. Trump makes good copy.

He equivocated when it came to condemning those who perpetrated the worst violence at Charlottesville, but he voiced the reservations of many Americans when he claimed there had been violence on the other side, from a small number who reportedly came with baseball bats to confront a lawful, if odious, right-wing demonstration against the removal of a statue.

Trump is a sometimes odious and frightening president, but he was elected fairly under the American system.

Irish fascination with his antics is tinged by a certain air of superiority that leaves us open to accusations of hypocrisy.

We have, after all, attracted US jobs offshore by means of incentives that seem to have come to have no social bottom line.

We hide behind the shield of Nato without paying a penny for it, and cutely let the US buy facilities at Shannon while we take the neutral high ground.

And what of our own Civil War monuments?

We jettisoned various statues of Queen Victoria after independence, but what if we were to tear down monuments to those who rejected democracy in 1922 when most people accepted the Treaty, or various unofficial memorials to the later IRA? Would those opposing such iconography be dismissed as fascists?

Donald Trump has no monopoly on ambivalence.


The commentary piece can be read in full here

Pics; Irish Times


From top: Michael Lowry and Colum Kenny

This afternoon..

Leinster House

At the Oireachtas Committee on Communications

Dublin City University Professor Colum Kenny said while he did not view the potential take over [Of Celtic media by Denis O’Brien’s Independent News and Media] in personal terms, he said he had “difficulties” appearing before a committee looking at the take over of INM on which Mr [Michael’ Lowry sits.

I think there’s a conflict of interest“, he said.

He also expressed concern over the lack of “firm details” regarding the takeover and said such circumstances made it difficult to give an informed position.

Prof Kenny said he did not understand how the committee had been asked to make a consideration of a matter before the Broadcasting Authority

Good times
Witness says appearing before committee ‘awkward’ (RTÉ)

Previously: ‘Mr Lowry Cannot Be Asked To Excuse Himself’

540bbfba1f8f9.imageColum Kenny

Further to the Charlie Hebdo shootings.

Colum Kenny, a professor in the Communications Department of Dublin City University and a member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, spoke with Richard Crowley during RTÉ’s News At One.

Mr Kenny is also a former barrister and discussed what should be deemed unpublishable.

Richard Crowley: “Legally, what could be published?”

Colum Kenny: “Well, what you can publish is limited in the law under the provision of the Defamation Act 2009, that refers to blasphemy and you can be prosecuted for publishing or uttering a matter that’s grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters that are held sacred by any religion. Now it does have to cause outrage among a substantial number of the followers of that religion and you have to show that it was intended to cause outrage but a person can be prosecuted for publishing something that does cause outrage among a substantial number of believers. You would, as a media organisation, you are allowed to argue that there’s genuine literary or artistic or political or scientific or academic value in the matter to which the charge relates and it would be up to the circuit court to decide whether or not they accepted your argument. ”

Crowley: “But as I understand it, any visual depiction of the prophet Muhammad is offensive to some Muslims. You don’t have to ridicule, you don’t have to present him in a derogatory sense, you simply have to produce a visual depiction and that would be offensive. Now, to the rest of us, that seems ludicrous.”

Kenny: “Well, I’m not sure it’s ludicrous. The certain religious depictions, in a number of world traditions, and even in early Christianity and Buddhism were regarded as inappropriate, so many believers thought you shouldn’t attempt to represent the sacred so it’s a cultural thing that changes with time. But certainly it’s true that in Islam today there are people who find any depiction of the prophet Muhammad offensive and I think we need to be sensitive to that as journalists and as news media organisations. It doesn’t mean we don’t do it, if it’s appropriate in certain circumstances but if it’s going to cause outrage among a substantial number of Muslims then we need to think twice before we do it.

Crowley: “I suppose the question, Colum, becomes what is a substantial section of the population? The majority might say this is about a minority of the minority and we cannot be driven by that, if we want to protect freedom of speech and our own values.”

Kenny: “Well, we certainly can’t be driven by attacks, by physical attacks, outrages like that in Paris yesterday, which was entirely unacceptable and I think anyone who talks about this issue, should make clear their own position on that, whether they’re a Muslim or otherwise, they need to make it very clear that this is entirely unacceptable, no matter what the provocation, you don’t respond like this but the question of whether or not a substantial number of people find it offensive would be one, actually, that the circuit court judge would have to address, if there was a prosecution. They’d simply look at the evidence, they might well hear evidence from people like your previous speaker [Dr Ali Selim], one of the leaders of the Islamic community in Ireland, and that well might satisfy the court, that ‘yes’ a substantial number of Muslims find any depiction offensive. If they decided that, they’d have to go on to look at whether or not the publication intended to outrage those people and finally, they would have to look at whether or not there was any literary merit, or artistic or political merit in the publication. So you could have a situation where a magazine, such as Phoenix, for example, publishes something and was prosecuted but it could argue that this was some kind of a political statement or that it had literary merit and perhaps, at the end of the day, they’d get off for that reason. But I mean even if it got off, even if we leave aside the question of criminal prosecution, there is a requirement I think on all journalists to be sensitive to the feelings of all religious communities but that certainly doesn’t justify what happened in Paris yesterday.”

Listen back here


Professor Colum Kenny, from Dublin City University, and member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland

Last week Seamus Dooley, from the National Union of Journalists, criticised the ruling by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland concerning an item on same-sex marriage on the Derek Mooney show on RTÉ Radio One, which was broadcast in January.

A listener who complained said the programme breached the guidelines for fairness and objectivity. The BAI upheld this.

In response, Mr Dooley criticised the ruling, saying:

The BAI would appear to be singling out discussion on so called same-sex marriage, imposing restrictive conditions even before the government has provided wording on a possible referendum on civil marriage equality, never mind setting the date. Every interviewee likely to expression an opinion in favour of civil marriage equality must automatically be confronted with the alternative viewpoint. Likewise, a guest likely to oppose civil marriage equality cannot be interviewed without an advocate of civil marriage equality.

He also said, because the proposed gay marriage referendum came about because of the Constitutional Convention, journalists will now have to apply the same rule to any subject that was discussed at the convention and gave rise to a future referendum.

Further to this, Dublin City University Professor Colum Kenny, who is a member of the BAI, wrote to the National Union of Journalists challenging Mr Dooley’s criticism.

From his statement to the NUJ, Mr Kenny said:

The NUJ thinks that “the requirement of fairness, objectivity and balance has now been interpreted to mean that broadcasters are required to seek out alternative views in a range of programme settings.”

In fact, assuming that alternative views are voiced, any member of the NUJ involved
in broadcasting should know that this has been required ever since RTE was founded
more than half a century ago. Guidelines that RTE and other broadcasters issue to
their employees have long cited that law (most recently enshrined in S.39 of the
Broadcasting Act 2009). The legal requirement has never been confined to referendum campaigns.

The NUJ is wrong to imply that the Mooney show discussed same-sex marriage in a manner somehow removed from the fact of a planned referendum. The programme participants did not seem to share the NUJ’s degree of uncertainty about the planned poll or about its central question, and had a view on how people ought to vote. Mr Mooney himself expressed his opinion in the matter.

The NUJ does not refer to another recent BCC decision concerning also the Mooney Show’s treatment of matters relevant to what the NUJ oddly terms “so called same-sex marriage”. In its earlier decision the BCC rejected a complaint by Catholic Democrats. I recommend that people read these two decisions online at bai.ie.

When rejecting the earlier complaint in June, the BCC found that that particular Mooney Show consisted largely of a factual discussion of Civil Partnership as it related to same-sex couples.

Regarding pungeant comments made by Mr Michael Murphy on guidance provided by the Roman Catholic Church in respect of the pastoral care of homosexuals in the Church, the Committee was of the view that “his interpretation of the teachings was reasonable and did not require a counterbalancing perspective”. But in its more recent decision the BCC found against RTE because, among other things,

“… the programme guests favoured such a change [in the Constitution] … and the
presenter stated similar views. It was the view of the Committee that in the absence of alternative views on this topic, a matter of current public debate and controversy, the role of the presenter was to provide alternative perspectives to those of his guests and that this requirement was not met on this occasion.”

In issuing its criticism of the BCC, the NUJ has unwittingly lined up with those who would like to dismantle the legal requirement for fairness in broadcasting. In the USA forces that included right-wing Republicans and big business succeeded in having the Federal Communications Commission’s “Fairness Doctrine” overturned. Among the fruits of their efforts have been shock-jocks and the kind of reporting that one sees on FOX NEWS.

Those who want “cranks” and others whom they regard as “unreasonable” excluded from the airwaves ought to bear in mind that they themselves might be regarded as “nutters” next time around. The NUJ Code of Conduct rightly states, “A journalist strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair.” And fair is fair.

NUJ sticks to its guns on Mooney programme dispute (News, NUJ.ie)

Previously: That Loony Mooney Ruling

Pic: DCU