Paper to sue over minister's IRA claim

Dan Milmo
Tuesday February 22, 2005
The Guardian

The confrontation between the republican movement and the Irish government spilled over into the newspaper industry yesterday after three businessman behind the Daily Ireland title started libel proceedings against the Irish justice minister.

Two directors of the Daily Ireland, including a former Sinn Féin councillor, and a financial backer of the newspaper yesterday instructed lawyers to issue a libel writ against the government minister Michael McDowell.

Mr McDowell appeared on Irish radio over the weekend and repeated allegations that the Daily Ireland, an all-Ireland republican newspaper, is backed by the IRA. Last month he compared the Belfast-based newspaper with Völkischer Beobachter, a Nazi propaganda sheet of the 1930s.

Mairtin O'Muilleoir, a director of the Daily Ireland and a former Sinn Féin councillor, yesterday denied the allegation. Mr McDowell also named Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness as members of the IRA's ruling army council. Mr O'Muilleoir said he was not surprised that the attack on his newspaper had come in the "same breath" as criticism of the largest republican party in Northern Ireland.

"It's open season on northern nationalists and especially northern nationalists who are sympathetic to Sinn Féin. There is an attempt to criminalise that body of opinion."

Mr O'Muilleoir said the linking of the Daily Ireland to the IRA was a "bare-faced lie" but the newspaper and its parent company, the Andersonstown News group, would not go public with their ownership structures.

"If you want to publish the ownership structure of all the newspaper publishers [in Northern Ireland] that's fair enough. But just because we are allegedly from the wrong side of the tracks I don't see why we should have to [provide further details] than anybody else."

Mr O'Muilleoir said he was a majority shareholder in the Andersonstown group, which has five directors. The Daily Ireland launched this month with a £3m budget provided by its parent company and a mix of Irish and American investors. It failed to win government backing after public funding body Invest Northern Ireland turned down its funding application. The attempt to secure government funding met resistance from rival newspaper publishers and unionist politicians, although Mr O'Muilleoir recently said the Daily Ireland was still seeking public money.

A spokesman for the department of justice, equality and law reform said Mr McDowell would fight any libel case brought by the Daily Ireland backers. "The minister will see them in court and he has nothing further to add at present," the spokesman said.

Mr McDowell first made the allegations last month in a 3,000 word statement on a government website. The minister criticised Sinn Féin, the political wing of the republican movement, after the IRA was accused of carrying out the £26.5m Northern Bank heist in Belfast. Mr McDowell asked whether the Daily Ireland would have the same effect as a notorious propaganda sheet that emerged in 30s Germany.

"Will it be to Irish democracy what the Völkischer Beobachter was to pre-world war two German democracy?" he said.

Mr O'Muilleoir said the Daily Ireland was "pro-peace and anti-violence". Robin Livingstone, a fellow director of the Daily Ireland, and businessman Peter Quinn, an investor in the newspaper, are also joining the lawsuit against Mr McDowell. The Daily Ireland has 40 staff and is available on news-stands in Northern Ireland as well as the counties of Sligo, Leitrim and Louth in the Republic.

Its circulation target is 25,000, half the sales of the Irish News, the biggest selling nationalist title in Northern Ireland.

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