Saturday, March 29, 2008
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.