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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ahern's solicitors try to silence online debate


This is really quite concerning for free speech in Ireland and on the internet as a whole.

Frank Ward and Co., the solicitors representing An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the Mahon Tribunal, have sent a letter to popular discussion website Politics.ie, threatening legal action.

Their threat, which can be examined here, alleges defamation and libel in relation to a thread on Politics.ie about Grainne Carruth.

Ahern's solicitors have demanded that David Cochrane, who operates the site, provide the real life identities of six individuals who contributed to that particular debate.

I am one of those individuals.

I categorically state that I libelled no one. I also am of the opinion that at least four of the others whose identities are sought also libelled no one.

My contribution to the debate referred to by An Taoiseach's lawyers was to pose questions about Irish legal history to another poster, who despite answering my questions and being one of the most prominent posters on the offending debate, is NOT one of the people Ward and Co. wish to unveil.

In that context therefore, I can only assume that the legal firm have chosen to stifle all debate rather than merely seek to address an alleged libel.

I am also of the opinion that any potential libel can be simply removed in an online debate upon request, as opposed to libels in print which are impossible to retract.

I am therefore stunned that the solicitors representing An Taoiseach have chosen instead to threaten legal action against a popular politics discussion website, and against named internet identities.

David Cochrane has stated that he was told the person who drew this debate to the attention of Frank Ward and Co. was Sean Dorgan, the General Secretary of Fianna Fail. I have no idea if that is the case or not.

I would also like to identify some other facts of interest in Irish current affairs:

David Cochrane is a prominent member of lobby group Libertas, which is running a strident and successful campaign against the Lisbon Treaty.

Fianna Fail are campaigning in favour of that treaty.

This week, the leaders of two parties in the governing coalition of this country called upon An Taoiseach to make a statement clarifying the apparent contradiction of his evidence to the Mahon Tribunal with the evidence of Grainne Carruth.

This weekend, people are debating all of these facts in pubs, in restaurants, around the family dinner table, and yes, online too.

I do not suggest any connection between these facts, causal or otherwise, nor do I suggest any connection between these facts and the threat of legal action against David Cochrane and Politics.ie.

I do suggest that it is wrong to seek to silence freedom of speech and vibrant political debate online in this country, however.

17 comments:

David Cochrane said...

JC,

I can absolutely 100% confirm it was Sean Dorgan from Fianna Fail who drew this to the solicitors attention.

Liam Guidera (The solicitor in question) told me this during a rather tense phonecall yesterday evening.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the sequence of events – a new user makes allegedly libelous comment - the site owner get sent letter threatening legal action not just against the site owner himself but other posters who contributed to the thread itself- Anyone thinking "False Flag Attack?"

JC Skinner said...

That is fascinating, David. One wonders why such a prominent member of Fianna Fail's backroom would be spending time examining online discussion sites for potential libels, not of the party or party members, but of firms of solicitors.

Conor McCabe said...

This is all a bit strange. David Cochrane has already apologised for your comments. Where does that leave you?

Anonymous said...

As far as I remember, the trouble was caused by a poster called "Saul of Tarsus". It happened late at night and, not surprisingly, the politics.ie moderators were slow to delete the offending post(s). (Just about everybody knows they cannot monitor everything carefully 24 hours a day.)

We expect Fianna Fail to do everything in their power to stifle criticism, but really....

JC Skinner said...

It leaves David and I in the same position, Conor.
David has apologised for the alleged libel. I did not perpetrate any libel. Therefore David did not apologise for anything I said.
Anonymous 2, that is a fair recollection of the events.
However, I don't know if the sequence of events whereby Sean Dorgan brought the thread to the attention of Mr Guidera amounts to Fianna Fail stifling criticism.
Rather, I think it amounts to Mr Guidera's firm, the solicitors representing An Taoiseach at the Mahon Tribunal, seeking to stifle online discussion about the tribunal and their client's interactions with the tribunal.

Anonymous said...

I had a look at the post by saul of tarsus on google cache and just can't see what could possibly be libelous. Do you know is politics.ie gone as of now - all access is down. No more voice for the common people!

Conor McCabe said...

"Conor. David has apologised for the alleged libel. I did not perpetrate any libel. Therefore David did not apologise for anything I said."

ok. Wasn't sure, that's all.

I suppose with this ongoing it's hard to talk about. I had a look at google cache as well.

Green Ink said...

What the fuck is going on here? Very disturbing to see P.ie is down. As for the false flag I totally buy that.

Peter Slattery said...

They doth protest too much, methinks!

David Cochrane said...

JC,

You've been very supportive in your comments on this blog. Let me return the gesture by saying something here that I will not say on Politics.ie

I do not believe that Frank Ward & Co. were libelled, the issue is the fact the thread comes up #2 in a Google search.

If they want to take the clothes of my back, I'll go that far.

I will not let them take me down.

I believe there is an agenda that goes further than the case as it's presented. And I will stand up for myself, and P.ie.

JC Skinner said...

Maybe they should sue google too, then.
Frankly, I can't see how this issue will end without ignominy for Ward and co.
Even if they can demonstrate defamation in a single post by a single poster new to the site, I suspect the media coverage of this attempt to silence the entire website rather than simply ask for the offending comment to be removed will backfire upon them.
And frankly, like yourself, I do not believe for a minute that their firm was libelled on politics.ie.
I also like yourself believe there is a wider agenda at play.

imokyrok said...

David is doing himself proud. I really hope the media go for the jugular on this. I've emailed all the papers I can contact and will be encouraging a couple of journo friends to stir it tommorrow

Anonymous said...

Although I can't remember the discussion word for word, I would opine that it is a considerable stretch of imagination to call anything said libellous.
This is clearly an attempt to gag the most successful and critical political website in the land. How more disgusting can this debacle get?

Do we all now don the garb of the Tibetan Monk ?

Regards,
EvotingMachine0197.

AL said...

And I suppose their legal costs are covered by taxpayer money!? This is disgraceful. Fair play to David for taking a stand.

Informer said...

Sorry to say folks, Bertie has the same rights as we all do, either online or offline as according to European guidelines on Internet deflamation on character, even though he is a public official. Why not I ask, if someone can bring down a website because he is mentioned in it, why can an elected representive of the people not do the same?! One law for all my friends....

Damien DeBarra said...

Some questions from blather.net: http://www.blather.net/zeitgeist/archives/2008/03/taoiseach_bertie_aherns_solici.html