Monday, January 02, 2006


By Amen Dunphy
The director of the Centre for Public Inquiry accused Minister for Justice Michael McDowell of joining a witch hunt against him, over claims he was connected to an IRA plot to sell information to Farc guerrillas.Frank Connolly denied he had travelled to Colombia using a false passport, and said the allegations were made to detract from the centre’s independent inquiries on Trim Castle and the Corrib Gas project.Mr McDowell last night accused Mr Connolly of being linked to the IRA scheme to provide Colombian terrorists with bomb-making information in return for cash.In a written reply to a Dáil question by independent TD Finian McGrath, Mr McDowell claimed that Mr Connolly travelled to the Farc-controlled region of the war-torn country on a false passport in April 2001 along with convicted IRA member, Padraig Wilson.Mr McDowell said under Dáil privilege Mr Connolly also travelled with his brother, Niall, one of the Colombia Three, who re-appeared in Ireland in August after jumping bail in Bogota.But Mr Connolly said he was the victim of a campaign of vilification which had descended to a more vicious level since his appointment to the position of executive director of the Centre for Public Inquiry (CPI).“The Minister has done a grave injustice and damage to me. He has joined what has become a veritable witch hunt against me.“He has also done incalculable damage to the integrity of his own office.“It is patent to me however that the real target of the venom and mendacity which has been visited upon me is the Centre for Public Inquiry,” he said.Mr Connolly claimed the centre had been targeted by elements of Irish society who were hostile to a body established to carry out independent scrutiny.“On Saturday 26 and 27 last, in what was patently a considered and timed response to the publication of the report on the Corrib Gas controversy from those seeking to protect vested interests, the same false allegations were again published by Independent Newspapers concerning me.“Further, the Minister for Justice, Mr Michael McDowell, participated in the attacks and has now repeated the allegations under Dáil privilege,” he said.Mr Connolly accused the minister of trying to damage his position at the CPI, as well as attempting to destroy his reputation and career as an investigative journalist.He also said confidential documents had been leaked from a garda investigation file to a member of the board of Atlantic Philanthropies which funds the CPI, and to Independent Newspapers.“While it is difficult for me as one citizen of a state to defend myself when my character is attacked by a minister of government and a powerful newspaper group I will always defend my integrity,” he said.


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