Monday, March 31, 2008
It is strange how politics in Ireland functions sometimes.
While the Taoiseach's position hangs in the balance, with opposition TDs calling for him to quit and coalition partners demanding he make a statement, and while he is soon to face difficult questions about his evidence to a Tribunal of Inquiry, his legal firm instead are spending their time pursuing an online politics discussion board over a potential libel.
Obviously, in times like these, such an unusual set of events can provoke imaginative flights of fancy in the more excitable of politicos. Inevitably, therefore, a conspiracy theory has grown up around the events affecting Politics.ie the past few days.
Here's a little chronology of events in order for you to understand the context of the conspiracy theory. And following, there is the conspiracy theory. The first is factual, the second - I would like to stress - is fictional, though no doubt it is believed as fact in some quarters.
In order to highlight the difference, I have put the latter into italics. But first, let us go over the chronology of actual events:
A few weeks ago, the popular political discussion website Politics.ie was hacked into. The accounts of some Young Fine Gael members were accessed by the hackers, who proceeded to post on the website under their guise.
The opinions expressed were certainly not opinions those individuals would espouse. One of the Fine Gael members was able to prove categorically that they could not physically have accessed the website when posts were made under their name.
It became evident that the site administrator's own account had been hacked into, giving the hacker access to the passwords and email addresses of anyone registered with the site. Fortunately, as soon as this came to David Cochrane's attention, he took the site down for almost two weeks as he sought to make the accounts and the site more secure.
A few days ago, following revelations at the Mahon Tribunal, a poster who had only posted eight times in total and not at all since last Summer, opened a topic on the site entitled 'Grainne Carruth.'
Ms Carruth is the former secretary of An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who recently gave testimony to the Mahon Tribunal that appears to contradict evidence previously given by An Taoiseach.
In the opening post of that topic, this poster made an allegedly libellous suggestion about Frank Ward and Co. solicitors, who represent An Taoiseach at the Mahon Tribunal.
This post was noticed by a prominent Fianna Fail poster on the site, who immediately suggested it could lead to a libel action. Others posted on the topic, but none mentioned Frank Ward and Co., nor did they make any suggestions of impropriety about them.
However, after the other posters, including myself, had concluded, someone changed the title of the topic to 'Grainne Carruth and Frank Ward'. As only moderators or those who commence topics are capable of changing topic titles, it is reasonable to assume that this title change was committed by the original poster, the same person who had made the allegedly libellous comment.
Overnight, Liam Guidera of Frank Ward and Co. contacted David Cochrane to demand the removal of the alleged libel. The tos and fros of that particular interaction can be examined here.
In short, he demanded the removal of the libel, an apology and the identities of six posters on the topic in question, including my own. I have made my response to that demand in my post below.
Mr Guidera told Mr Cochrane that his attention had been drawn to the alleged libel by Sean Dorgan, who is the General Secretary of Fianna Fail. Given that the alleged libel did not involve any Fianna Fail members nor indeed the party itself, it remains unanswered as to why the General Secretary of Fianna Fail would take it upon himself to scour the internet for potential libels of legal firms and then draw their attention to any he believed he had found.
In an attempt to maintain the forum of free speech and political debate that has become the hallmark of Politics.ie, Mr Cochrane has taken the brave step of moving the site to servers located outside of the country. This may have the effect of frustrating future legal action. Then again, it may not. Mr Cochrane has indicated, in the comments on the post below, that he intends to fight against this attempt to silence Politics.ie.
Today, the mainstream media have noted the affair (subscription required), but given its legal nature, have shied away from describing the full nature of the case, as I am doing here.
That is the story so far.
But I promised you a conspiracy theory, so let me pass it onto you. Here's how it goes:
It has been suggested by some people on Politics.ie that, because of
David Cochrane's involvement with the lobby group Libertas, which is campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty, he has become unpopular with some people in some mainstream political parties, all of whom with the exception of Sinn Fein are campaigning in favour of Lisbon.
It has been suggested that the recent attempt to hack the site in order to discredit Fine Gael posters may not have been a simple prank by a bored hacker, but potentially something more serious, more targeted, more organised.
It has been mooted that the hackers were seeking access to the database of passwords and email addresses in order to identify certain posters, and in order to make fake and discrediting comments under the guise of others, such as had happened to the Young Fine Gael posters.
It has further been suggested, even in the comments on my post below, that a 'false flag' poster could possibly have gone onto Politics.ie with the express intention of creating a libel, which was then coincidentally spotted almost immediately by a prominent Fianna Fail-supporting poster on the site.
Then the General Secretary of Fianna Fail somehow becomes aware of this alleged libel of a legal firm, who happen to represent the leader of Fianna Fail, and brings it to their attention. They immediately initiate action against Mr Cochrane and Politics.ie.
In addition to the poster alleged to have committed the libel, the firm also demands the identities of others who posted on the topic, but NOT the Fianna Fail supporter who identified the post as potentially libellous.
Instead, they seek the identities of individuals who did not refer to the firm at all in any form, but who are in general noted critics of Fianna Fail.
In short, according to this conspiracy theory, Fianna Fail, or someone acting on their behalf, would have successfully hacked into a website to discredit Fine Gael supporters and obtain the email addresses of posters who were anti-Fianna Fail.
Then, according to this conspiracy theory, the party manipulated a libel on the same site, knowing that David Cochrane as publisher would be legally liable, in order to silence the site and to damage him and the anti-Lisbon campaign.
And here endeth the conspiracy theory as I understand it.
It seems to me that some politicos have very feverish imaginations, not to mention a large degree of paranoia. Such a conspiracy theory could clearly not be remotely true. It is clearly preposterous to suggest that either Fianna Fail or Frank Ward and Co. would ever be involved in such an outlandish set of events.
Rather, Fianna Fail's General Secretary was simply doing a good turn when he passed on details of this potential libel to the legal firm, and they, as is entirely their right, sought to defend their good name.
Of course, in order to dispel this sort of nonsense, it would be helpful if Sean Dorgan explained the circumstances surrounding how he came across the alleged libel in the first place, and why he chose to take it upon himself to pass on the information to Frank Ward and Co.
Until he chooses to clarify those details, I suspect that this conspiracy theory may continue to have currency among the more gullible and suggestible in political circles.
It just goes to show what strange times we are in when such a conspiracy theory about the largest political party in the country can arise so quickly. What could they have possibly done in the past to make such an outlandish story plausible to people?