Wednesday, October 24, 2007

High Court rules against the Irish Times

Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy is quoted today in that paper as saying that “it is disappointing that the issue of public interest seemed to receive no weighting in the judgement”, following the decision of the High Court to order herself and Colm Keena to reveal the source of an article about payments to Bertie Ahern, gleaned from confidential documents produced by the Mahon Tribunal.

The High Court ruled that, in this case, journalistic privilege regarding confidentiality of sources was “overwhelmingly outweighed” by the need to maintain public confidence in the Mahon Tribunal itself.

I’m puzzled by the Irish Times claim that this was a publication “in the public interest”. The source was a document from the Mahon Tribunal, detailing information which would, in due course, be put into the public domain via the public hearings of the tribunal. What purpose was served by it’s premature publication in the Irish Times?

The obvious commercial answer is that it was a significant journalistic scoop, generating significant publicity and boosting the reputation of that paper, if not necessarily greatly increasing circulation. However, the downside is that leaks from the Tribunal damage public confidence, reduce political support and provide ammunition to those who are willing to go to the High & Supreme Courts in order to delay and/or stymie the workings of the Tribunal and/or the scope of its ultimate findings.

The problem is further compounded by the destruction by Messrs Kennedy & Keena of the documents received, allegedly from an anonymous source. This effectively rules out any possibility of identification of the original source of the leak to the Irish Times. The corollary of this is that neither Ms Kennedy nor Mr Keena can now provide any credible assurance that the Tribunal itself is not the source of the leak, thus leaving it open to the accusation of resorting to trial by media and depriving those who are under investigation of natural justice.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Judge Carney attacks media in Holohan case

Judge Carney hard-hitting address in Cork should not have confined criticism to "tabloid" media, unless his comments regarding Joe Duffy were intended to include RTE in that classification.

RTE & Pat Kenny were among the greatest offenders in this case. Kenny shamelessly and relentlessly retried Wayne O'Donoghue on both radio & TV following Majella Holohan's victim impact statement and the revelation of the finding of traces of semen on the body of her dead son.

Perhaps Judge Carney should also have queried who on the garda and/or prosecution teams revealed this information to Majella Holohan. If my recollection is correct, these turned out to be microscopic traces which might have been picked up from a bathroom mat and were subsequently shown not to be from Wayne O'Donoghue.

It’s hard not to sympathise with Majella Holohan - presumably if she had included those comments in her pre-prepared script, they would have been disallowed by the court? Her own response, reported this morning on RTE, to Judge Carney’s comments also suggest that she still believes there was some sexual background to the death of her son.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Time for some real bench-marking

Christian Pauls, the German Ambassador, was a guest on Marian Finucane’s RTE radio programme last Saturday to answer the charges arising from his briefing to a visiting German business delegation.

Some of his comments on public service pay levels in Germany were very interesting.

For example, he revealed that his own gross monthly salary is €7,330 (€87,600 pa) which, he said, equated to the salary of quite a senior civil servant in Germany.

He also said that his daughter is a paediatrician, the number 2 in the Paediatric Dept of a large Berlin Clinic, which suggests that she may well at “consultant“ level there. He said that she'd be delighted to earn €70k pa as doctors in Germany earn between €50k-€65k pa.

Herr Pauls said that salary levels for doctors and other professionals working in the public sector are linked to civil service pay levels +/- 10%-15%.

This was the background to his comments on the hospital consultants dismissal of a proposed salary of €200k+ as “mickey-mouse”.

This man is clearly an incorrigible trouble-maker. His comments suggest that we do need another round of bench-marking for the public services, but this time against their counterparts in the EU!

It also raises the following question: just as business now routinely out-sources support functions to other companies and countries (e.g. call centres in India), has the Govt considered outsourcing to other EU countries? It sounds like we could get things done a lot more cost-effectively if we wanted to.

Given that there are many state functions which would be similar in structure, it would probably only require modest systems tweaks and a translation service to handle matters e.g. why not a single “factory” to handle all motor registrations in the EU?