24 February 2005 Edition

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Daily Ireland sues McDowell for libel

Justice Minister Michael McDowell is facing legal proceedings for libel after he refused to withdraw remarks about the new pro-nationalist newspaper, Daily Ireland. McDowell refused to withdraw his accusation that Daily Ireland is a "Provo front", saying "I will see them in court". Last month, the Justice Minister issued a statement on his Department's website claiming that the paper had the backing of the Provisional IRA and comparing it to a Nazi propaganda paper.

Following the Northern Bank robbery, McDowell also claimed that the IRA funded the paper. Daily Ireland Managing Director, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, rejects these claims and says that the paper receives the majority of its funding from the Andersonstown News Group, via Bank of Ireland.

Ó Muilleoir wrote to the Justice Minster seeking a meeting to discuss his "scurrilous and dangerous comments" but McDowell refused to meet with the group.

"From the start, we have said that Daily Ireland would be anti-violence and pro-Peace Process and would not be a mouthpiece for anyone," said Ó Muilleoir. "Minister McDowell is unwilling to tolerate a newspaper which has a different take on the Peace Process. In no other European country would this assault on freedom of the press by a Justice Minister be tolerated. Readers should read the paper in print or at dailyireland.com and make their own minds up. We will robustly defend our reputation for business probity in all our affairs."

Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, says he too is "gravely concerned" at McDowell's remarks.

"This effectively targets Daily Ireland journalists, who come from a broad range of social, economic and political backgrounds. One journalist served as a campaign worker for a PD candidate. It could make them fair game for attack from a number of sources. His sweeping statement also questions their integrity and could damage their standing in society.

"Mr McDowell has an absolute right to disagree with the editorial line of Daily Ireland and it would be surprising if he did not do so. As a believer in competition, I find it surprising that he is so opposed to the emergence of a new newspaper and to the emergence of a new voice in the newspaper market."

According to a media law expert, McDowell would have to prove that his comments were fact or else that they were fair comment on a matter of public interest. Without evidence, his comments may be seen as a personal attack on the paper, in contrast with the line taken by other members of the government.

Before its launch, Bertie Ahern sent a letter to Ó Muilleoir welcoming the new paper to the market and wishing it success in the future. Ó Muilleoir also points out that the Andersonstown Group holds the Fás Excellence Through People accreditation, which was presented by Mary Harney, Michael McDowell's own party leader.

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