Thursday, July 12, 2007

Off On A Tangent

The Mahon Tribunal has been examining all sorts of dicey deals that took place ten years ago, looking for pay-to-play bribes and the like. Now they've run off on a tangent, taking them far afield from the original purpose. Is it any wonder that these tribunals go on for ages and cost a small fortune?

Somehow or other, the Irish Times acquired a bit of information that came from the secret sessions of the tribunal, and the editor decided to publish them. Ms. Geraldine Kennedy felt that the story was worth running back in September, implicating the taoiseach in a very suspicious set of payments when he was Minister of Finance.

What the tribunal ponders is not on the record until they finish, at which time they put things on the record that apply to their decision. They were not at all finished with the whole Bertie Ahern payments issue, so when the story broke, the tribunal wanted to know who had spilled the beans.

Colm Keena, the author of the piece, refused to divulge his sources as he wished to protect a vital informant who wanted to remain hidden. That's traditionally been a correspondent's prerogative, to not reveal identities so that they can get the story that otherwise would not be told. It's for the public good, in the long run, to allow secrets to be uncovered without harming those who would otherwise be afraid to speak out.

Unfortunately, the former Minister of State declared that it was the tribunal itself that allowed some unsavory tidbits to be leaked, in an effort to harm the re-election efforts of both Mr. Ahern and Fianna Fail. Well, the Mahon Tribunal isn't having any of that, to besmirch their august selves, and they mean to get to the bottom of it. Not satisfied with Noel Treacy's explanation of how he came to claim that the tribunal was leaking, they've gone after the newspaper to tell them where the story came from.

Protecting his sources, Mr. Keena refused to speak, and Ms. Kennedy backed up her reporter. Now the tribunal is making some very loud and rude noises, threatening to take the Irish Times to the High Court and charging correspondent and editor with contempt. What next, will the news people be tossed into the 'Joy to see if mucking out their cells every morning will bring about a change of mind? And for what? To force someone else to prove that the tribunal is above board?

Apparently, Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Keena have little or no confidence in Irish jurisprudence. The documents and paperwork that were used to craft the September news article were shredded after the tribunal ordered them turned over. All that remains of the source's identity is inside the memories of two people who refuse to recollect.

There's another tool in the Irish Times arsenal that may yet be wielded. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword, and a bit more persuasive than a court order when it comes to rallying support in the court of public opinion.

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