Sunday, January 01, 2006


Never an unfawning word – and lavishly repaid
by Colin Murphy
Saturday, October 15, 2005

Journalist Sam Smyth has fawned on Michael McDowell for a decade-and-a-half. Coincidentally, he has been in a position to publish several 'scoops' connected with the Department of Justice
Profiling the newly-appointed Minister for Justice in June 2002, in the Sunday Tribune, Sam Smyth described him as "an ideological powerhouse as a founder of the PDs" and as being "determined to seize control and make major changes" in the Department of Justice.
"He is an outstanding lawyer, a gifted advocate and probably the most successful Attorney General in more than a generation, according to the Taoiseach whom he served," wrote Smyth.
As the grandson of Eoin MacNeill, McDowell "was born to achieve high office and wield and broker the enormous power of the state," he said.
"A classic economic and social liberal, he will not back off on one of the most sensitive issues facing his society: a police force many believe is out of control and urgently in need of reform and accountability."
According to unnamed "friends" cited in the article, McDowell had "never courted cheap popularity and often championed unpopular causes.
"Although he lives in some comfort in Ranelagh, McDowell has never been drawn by the potential multi-million incomes available to top lawyers and has sacrificed a personal fortune to follow his political beliefs."
A year later, writing in the Irish Independent following McDowell's announcement of Garda Síochána reform plans, Smyth wrote:
"All of Michael McDowell's earlier life was a preparation for the mission he outlined yesterday: A root and branch reform of the Garda Síochána... Privately the opposition admit that McDowell is the best equipped, both from the perspective of family history and personal disposition, to take on what is regarded as perhaps the most sensitive issue facing the state."
Then in February this year, Smyth profiled McDowell again, for the Irish Independent.
"This totem of middle-class values, a saint in the latter day church of liberal intellectuals would also love to be Taoiseach", he wrote, and "his unbridled ambition in tandem with a keen intellect and unquestioned competence has delivered him to one of the senior offices of government."
Smyth continued: "Even those who dislike him respect Michael McDowell. And respect is a more durable currency in politics than affection."
Smyth cited an unnamed PD source as saying: "The parliamentary party is in awe of him when he addresses them... He is very, very clever and they listen very carefully when he has something to say."
Smyth wrote, "McDowell's great strength is also his Achilles heel. A politician driven by principle and moral certainty is susceptible to charges of arrogance. And being right most of the time is not an endearing quality to others who make occasional mistakes.
"Oratorical skills honed in the Four Courts have made McDowell one of the handful of speakers worth listening to in the Dáil and he clearly enjoys the cut and thrust of the chamber. And many of his adversaries are surprised to find McDowell good company in the bar and helpful in his office."
Prior to being given a copy of the bogus passport application at the centre of the Frank Connolly-Colombia story by Michael McDowell in November, Sam Smyth had broken a number of stories
connected with the Department of Justice.
In June 2005, Sam Smyth wrote a story in the Irish Independent detailing the contents of a letter from Donegal investigator Billy Flynn to Nora Owen, then Minister for Justice in the Rainbow Coalition government.
That letter was evidence that Flynn had in 1997 alerted the then Minister for Justice, Nora Owen, to the ill-treatment of Frank McBrearty Jnr and Mark McConnell at the hands of Donegal gardai.
The story also revealed that Flynn had written to the Attorney General and Chief State Solicitor and three public representatives, including Joan Burton, then a junior minister.
This information backed up claims by Michael McDowell that the members of the Rainbow government had been aware of the McBrearty affair and had failed to deal with it. McDowell had previously said ministers in the Rainbow government were partly responsible for the McBrearty affair, and Nora Owen had rejected this the previous week.
In February this year, Smyth broke the Phil Flynn story, in a front-page article in the Independent claiming that Flynn was "linked to a Cork-based finance company at the centre of the investigation" into money seized by gardaí the previous day in Cork in an operation on an alleged money-laundering operation.
In April 2004, in the midst of the debate leading up to the citizenship referendum, Smyth wrote an article in the Independent revealing records of a 2002 meeting between Michael McDowell and two of the three masters of Dublin maternity hospitals in the Department of Justice.
"The detailed correspondence and records of meetings fully support Mr McDowell's claim that the Dublin maternity hospitals were urgently and deeply concerned about the increasing numbers of pregnant non-national women turning up to give birth", Smyth wrote.


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