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Press freedom comes carrying a very high price



Date Published: {J}

There was a rich irony that Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy was at NUI Galway last Thursday night to talk about freedom of the press, at the end of a day when defending that right – and being vindicated by five judgements to nil in the Supreme Court – cost her newspaper €600,000 in costs.

Because, as in any other business, there is nothing quite like major financial risk to force those who push the barriers to rein in their targets.Geraldine Kennedy and journalist Colm Keena had won a Supreme Court case against a High Court order requiring them to reveal the source of an article on payments to former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

However, in what was described as ‘exceptional circumstances’, the Supreme Court ruled against them on costs.The Supreme Court held that their behaviour in destroying documents at the centre of the case did not entitle them to an order for costs in their favour.

The reality is that if they didn’t destroy those documents, the focus would have switched from the former Taoiseach’s money trail to an investigation into who spilt the beans.

Despite her disappointment, Geraldine Kennedy said the decision of the Supreme Court in July was a landmark one that enshrined the principal of journalistic privilege and the protection of sources into Irish law for the first time.

She’s right in theory but there are very few papers who would risk exposure to this sort of punitive ruling at a time when revenues generally are in decline. It was admirable then that she braved the floods and her disappointment to head west to NUIG later on Thursday to fulfil a longstanding engagement and address what she saw as challenges to press freedom in the 21st century.

She told the gathering of academics, students and guests that her only concern on the case was the public’s right to know and in doing so to protect journalistic sources.

If the person who leaked the information to the Irish Times on Mr Ahern’s unorthodox financial affairs were found, he or she would have served a minimum of six months in prison.

Because in addition to trampling all over the notion of press freedom, the state is equally keen to stamp out whistleblowing – despite all of the noise it makes to the contrary.

Indeed the dissemination of information generally is a problem for the powers that be – why else would they pass a Freedom of Information Act and then put every obstacle they can think of in the way of making that process work?

Geraldine Kennedy pointed out that freedom of the press wasn’t some carte blanche for journalists to do whatever they wanted – it was about journalists serving the public’s right to know as citizens what was going on around them.

Detractors will argue that the sins of the tabloids – intrusion, invasion of privacy, sensationalism, a race to the bottom – have cost those who behave in a more responsible way, but that’s just an easy excuse for not embracing the notion of a free press in the first place.

The problem, as always, comes back to money; are papers prepared to pay for investigative journalism, which by its nature cannot be churned out in 20 minutes – and if they do, are they willing to bear the financial consequences.

To be truly independent, Geraldine Kennedy said, the press had to be financially secure. Accepting that very few in any walk of life can claim that in the current climate, the problems are exacerbated for newspapers who, in some cases, have to deal with advertisers making demands on editorial coverage – or even worse, who have an owner determined to push through a personal agenda.

But the biggest threat to freedom of the press still comes from Government and state authorities who treat media with suspicion at best and distain at worst.

When the Supreme Court backs that by ruling that a newspaper – one vindicated in its actions through the highest court in the land – should then pay all of the costs of both sides as though they had in reality lost, you can see that it’s not just the Government which places minimal importance on freedom of the press.

Thankfully the big hit hasn’t dampened the determination of the Irish Times to fight the good fight, but in a country where corruption was the norm for three decades, that’s an uphill battle.

The Supreme Court verdict on costs at least lets us know where we stand. But the state should remember that this isn’t just about freedom for the press – it’s about the public’s right to know. And that’s a price still worth paying.

Read more on page 15 of this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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