Monthly Archives: August 2014

“Little faith” in alleged Garda corruption probe.

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Shane Tuohey’s  body was found in 2002 in the River Brosna in Clara Co Offaly following a night out with friends. The Gardai were swift to conclude that Shane had killed himself but there was a lot of evidence – pointing towards the possibility of foul play – that was not considered by the guards in a timely fashion.

The scene where his body was found was not preserved for forensic examination. No attempt was made to recover CCTV of the night he disappeared and the one tape that was secured was subsequently lost. Allegations of an assault on Shane were not investigated until six months later. Gardai produced a witness statement from a woman claiming Shane was suicidal that was later denied in its entirety by the woman.

I investigated this case first eight years ago and to my amazement got a letter from the then Garda Commissioner admitting the investigation could have been “more professional”. But they stood by that investigation and the system has turned a deaf ear on the Tuohey’s quest for justice since then.

The Tuohey family have been dogged though. Gradually securing more and more paperwork that raises more and more questions about the Gardai’s prosecution of the case, and the Department of Justice’s commitment to transparency. They recently obtained one document that I had sought eight years ago. It bears a handwritten note which reads “Not to be seen by Philip Boucher-Hayes”.

This podcast from Drivetime is a short summary of a very detailed and complex case.

One of the first actions taken by Frances Fitzgerald when she suceeded from Alan Shatter at the Department of Justice was to establish an Independent Review Mechanism into the allegations of Garda Corruption made to Government. That review will now consider 220 separate cases including some allegations involving the possibility of wrongful deaths, of cover up or failure to investigate a crime and of possible Garda brutality.

Those making the allegations were promised that they would meet with the barristers conducting the review and would be able to present their grievances, but yesterday the Department of Justice confirmed to me that the review would be a paper only review.

Several I have spoken to are worried that if they are not interviewed the Independent Review Mechanism might be given a very partial or self serving version of events. Because the Garda file is by no means the totality of evidence that should be considered.

Given their history of antagonism with the Gardai and with the Department of Justice they say they can have little faith in a Review Mechanism that doesn’t at the very least hear from them. The Minister promised them they would now be heard, but many are feeling that the system is once again finding a way to turn a deaf ear.

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“Good afternoon to you” – sitting in the Liveline chair.

Working in RTÉ has afforded me many experiences as a journalist I would not have gotten elsewhere. Seeing history unfold for myself in the Balkans or the Middle East; a variety of challenging investigative projects; translating personal passion for food and farming into prime time documentaries and more besides.

Sitting in the Liveline chair for the last month now goes high up in the short list of memorable moments.

“But you’re a journalist, Philip. What are you doing refereeing that chimpanzee’s tea party?”, asked a sniffy friend after my first day on the job. It’s taken me a month to come up with a coherent response (I’m slow like that) but it’s obvious really that Liveline is one of the most fundamental journalistic processes;  Getting real people into a space where they can comfortbly relate personal experience that illuminates national debate.

Analysis of media organisation’s woes; the focus of journalism courses in a time of digital platform proliferation; debates about what journalism should be doing tend to overlook this one simple truism. Journalism is about telling people’s stories, and it’s at its most compelling when you find a platform that allows people to tell those stories themselves.

Much of our media is a starchy diet of comment, analysis (yes, like this piece) and political reaction. Media by wonks, on wonkish issues, to be consumed by wonks with a second course of the trivial hyperventilated over by the inane. So when you come across the person whose recent scrape or whole life story illustrates the bigger point they’re better than ten policy wonks or a month of Sunday morning panel shows.

Joe has created a space on a radio station that tends towards the cerebral where people are comfortable relating the most private details publicly. Yes, of course there are show offs and pub bores among the callers but the vast majority want to make a sincere contribution to the public discourse, and the national conversation is the better for it.

It is also for a presenter about as thrilling an hour and a quarter you’ll spend in front of a mic. When Joe Duffy shuffles off this mortal coil his adrenal gland needs to be donated to science. For it is either a tiny shrivelled pea having produced more adrenaline every lunchtime for the last 15 years than any other broadcaster has in a lifetime. Or he is a freak of nature with superhuman capacity to absorb the hormonal rush Liveline sends coursing through your veins.

There is no other programme I know where you will routinely walk into studio knowing you only have about twenty minutes worth of calls. You place your faith in those people to be sufficiently interesting to generate more calls. You place your faith in the call takers to make a quick assessment and turn around of what’s come in. You place your faith in the producers to have a Plan B … and a Plan C and D just in case. Because if they don’t you will literally be whistling Dixie to 400,000 people, and that is a lot of faith for an atheist and professional sceptic to be placing in anything.

And as the conversation unfolds there is another piece of mental gymnastics at which Joe proves himself particularly supple day after day. Working off a two or three line written brief about the caller you have to give them your complete, whole and undivided attention. It’s not a real conversation if you’re doing anything less. Except you’re also reading the briefs on the other callers, talking with the producer, watching the clock and counting your ad breaks, while dredging up facts from the murkiest recesses of your brain on topics you never expected to be talking about that or any other day. Syringomyelia in Cavalier King Charles show dogs anyone?

I’ve a new found respect for what Joe does and what he and the team have built Liveline into. His choice in ties is dubious at best and he walks around the office painfully slowly causing traffic jams wherever he goes. But the programme is the best kind of journalism in its class and it has been a privilege to babysit it for the summer.

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