A furious row has broken out after Ireland’s justice minister accused reporters of bribing the police for stories.
Speaking on national broadcaster RTE, Michael McDowell suggested he knew of journalists that had been engaged in bribing officers.
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When he appeared on the TV news programme Six-One NewsMcDowell quoted a passage from journalist Diarmuid Doyle’s column in the Sunday Tribune in which he said: “Without thinking for 20 seconds, I can name five journalists who pay gardaÃ for stories.”
Radio presenter Pat Kenny later asked the minister to substantiate his claims, to which he replied: “I know what I know but I’m not telling you what I know.”
Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the NUJ, said that the reputation of journalists had now been “tarnished by unsubstantiated claims that some journalists are engaged in corrupt practices”.
Dooley challenged the minister to come up with the proof of such bribery or withdraw the allegations.
The bodies representing police officers in the Irish Republic, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and the Garda Representative Association, said members were outraged and offended by the bribery claim.
The row broke out in the aftermath of new legislation proposed by the minister last month, which will threaten officers who give “unauthorised” information to journalists or other parties with fines of up to â‚¬30,000 (£21,000) and up to five years’ imprisonment.
Dooley wrote a letter to the Irish Times in which he asked the minister to “show us the evidence, name names give us the dates of the incidents. If you don’t have evidence then withdraw your charges”.
He told Press Gazette: “You have to look at this in the context of the fact that this Government has already castrated the Freedom of Information Act, and this is the minister who brought in libel reform and is in favour of statutory regulation of the press.”
The Irish Star has been vociferous in attacking the minister for making his allegations, calling him the “Irish Government equivalent of Father Dougal”, the dimwit priest featured in the Channel 4 comedy Father Ted.
By Wale Azeez