Once new legislation is brought forward, McDowell should go (rolling news updates)

Michael McDowell has shown his incompetency on many occasions in the past; he compared Richard Bruton to Joseph Goebbels, he was forced to come down on the issue of children on licences premises, he was forced to back down on café bar licences and he took the law into his own hands by publically connecting Frank Connolly to the IRA where the DPP knew there wasn’t enough evidence to convict… Frankly the last example there is and was enough for me to lose faith in this minister but in no previous case was the safety of children put at risk; now a sex offender walks the streets and runs no risk of re-arrest unless he acts again.

In 1990 the Law Reform Comission recommended changes to the law on Statutory Rape. At this point McDowell was not a TD (having lost his seat in 1989) but he was chairman of the Progressive Democrats. Mary Harney has said that the Justice Department was made aware of issues with the law in 2002; if it was before the election he was Attorney General, if it was after he was Justice Minister, either way he must have heard the concerns of the Chief State Solicitors Office.

In his own defence McDowell has said that the DPP was in charge of the Supreme Court case and it never informed the Justice Department of the risk posed; by saying that he is saying that the Justice Department doesn’t pay attention to cases which challenge the validity of Irish law, and neither does the Attorney General, he is also saying that he has either forgotten or ignored the warning given to the Department in 2002, one that he was sure to have heard.
McDowell has also said that the DPP had used the now defunct law until a few weeks ago because he had no worries of its constitutional legality, this now appears to also be rubbish.

McDowell is now frantically trying to cover his own tail and is throwing the DPP in the way to do so. He should not take full responsibility for the inaction over the past 16 years, but he should bear the brunt of the current crisis because he has had 4 years to fix it and plenty of warnings on what would happen if he did not. I don’t believe that sacking him now would solve any problems either, but as soon as this new legislation is drafted and on its way into law he should step down or be pushed; the Irish people shouldn’t have to wait another year until another election in order to have faith in their Justice Minister again.

Let us not get carried away; it’s not as if someone can now rape a child and get away with it, and it’s not as if the country will descend into anarchy until the hole is patched up but the fact is that people whom are guilty of some of the most horrific sexual crimes are within reach of freedom, why? Because our Government and those gone before it have failed its people. The so-called Justice Minister has been a chief architect in that failure.

Update: McDowell has just described the Supreme Court decision as a bolt out of the blue in a Seanad hearing; he seems set in his ways that the Supreme Court decision was a surprise to his deparment, so it must be asked why the Justice Department and the Attorney General is not paying attention to challenges made to Irish law? I doubt there are many, and even if there was one challenge a day, it’s not difficult to track them, get a briefing on what change they have and what would happen if they succeeded. That’s ignoring the fact that he was given 4 years notice, of course.

Update 2: Breakingnews.ie story; some noteworthy quotes:

“In a bid to distance himself from the controversy, McDowell said neither he, nor the Attorney General Rory Brady were personally aware of the case. He claimed the DPP had taken charge of it.

But in the Dáil Tánaiste Mary Harney, Mr McDowell’s Progressive Democrat party leader, claimed the case had been handled jointly by the DPP and the Attorney General.

The case was reported in The Law Society Gazette last October and in a national newspaper last July, but Mr McDowell claimed he first heard of it through the media.

But the Government has since taken a different view and agreed to reconvene the Dáil during next week’s holiday to debate emergency legislation.

Update 3: Breakingnews.ie reports that Legislation to be brought to Dáil,Seanad on Friday: Minister for Justice Michael McDowell is to rush emergency legislation on statutory rape through the Dáil and Seanad on Friday, it emerged tonight. The Cabinet had planned to recall the Dáil from its recess next week to address the issue but the embattled Minister McDowell revealed that all stages of the new law will be pushed through the Oireachtas before the weekend. He told Senators: “I propose to bring into law before this weekend emergency legislation which will restore the protection to young persons under the age of 17 years of age the statutory provision of the offence of unlawful carnal knowledge.”

Update 4: It’s hard to think of a worse time for this report to come to the fore; while not completely relevant to the topic at hand, you can’t help but feel that this issue will not end with a simple legislature change.
The Children’s Rights Alliance has accused the Government of failing to honour the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. In a report published today, the organisation criticises what is says are major shortcomings in the area of child protection and the treatment of children from ethnic and under-privileged backgrounds. The study, which is due to be presented to the UN in Geneva next week, recommends constitutional change to ensure children’s rights are given express recognition.

Reports like these are usually brushed away and ignored, this probably won’t be as easily hidden.

The Government begins to rally around McDowell, but all eyes are on Bertie when it comes to full support: Minister for Finance Brian Cowen today insisted Cabinet colleague Michael McDowell had the Government’s full backing as the clamour for his resignation grew. The Fianna Fáil deputy leader expressed his support for the embattled Minister for Justice as more men convicted of sexual offences against children sought freedom at the High Court and parents prepared for a protest outside the Dáil tomorrow.

Let us not forget the support that Tony Blair gave Charles Clarke just days before he was sacked from office. The opposition are true to their word (and done the right thing generally) by not getting in the way of important legislation for political gain (not that there would be any if they did), Sinn Fein want McDowell to appear in for questioning in the Dail, something he has yet to do on the matter. Opposition parties have agreed to support the Government’s proposals for emergency legislation to plug the legal loop-hole on statutory rape. It is understood that the Bill will restore the crime of statutory rape and would have a uniform age of consent for young men and women.
… Brendan Howlin of Labour said his party would be supporting the bill but claimed some anomalies still existed that would have to be teased out.
… Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin earlier called for Mr McDowell to appear in the Dáil to answer questions about the affair. Meanwhile the Government has bowed to opposition pressure by acceding to calls to cancel next week’s break and have both the Dáil and Seanad sit on Wednesday and Thursday. Cowen looks through his book of excuses too, and tells us the Supreme Court were, in his opinion, wrong. Most people with any legal knowledge would disagree with him, and even still if the Government and McDowell are to be believed it wouldn’t matter, they weren’t paying attention to the case and so couldn’t have formed an opinion on it:
Earlier, the Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen, said he disagreed with the Supreme Court decision that led to the current controversy and said the release of a child rapist this week flowed from that ruling and not from Government inaction.Tomorrow is set to be a day of emergency bills, appeals and protests, and what has the Government got to offer those effected by their inaction? The phone number of their nearest counselling service. The Government is to rush emergency laws on underage sex through the Dáil tomorrow in a bid to avert an unprecedented political, legal and criminal crisis. The Supreme Court will be simultaneously hearing a state appeal against the release of a child rapist who walked free after a 1935 law under which he was convicted was declared unconstitutional. Parents outraged that other sex offenders could be released via the same loophole are also holding a major protest outside Leinster House as politicians debate the Criminal Law Sexual Offences Bill 2006 inside. Breaking news details the new legislation, and McDowell claims that this “offers the best protection for the nation’s children”; really? I could have sworn dealing with this issue when it was first raised would have been the best protection: Emergency legislation to be rushed through the Oireachtas tomorrow offers the best protection for the nation’s children, Minister for Justice Michael McDowell insisted tonight. The 15-page Criminal Law Sexual Offences Bill 2006 will restore the offence of statutory rape to the statute books and maintain the age of consent for teenagers at 17 years. It will also update provisions contained in the 1935 legislation declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court 10 days ago, and offer stiffer penalties in some situations. It will be interesting to read the full text of the legislation, and while BN.ie alludes to the stiffer penalties applying in valid circumstances (if it’s a priest, teacher etc.), the conspiracy theorist in me is wondering if this was all part of the plan to get through unpopular changes? I also wonder what this means: A controversial section in the Bill will not make it an offence for a girl under 17 to engage in sexual intercourse because Mr McDowell explained he didn’t want to stigmatise teenage mothers as criminals or rape victims. So where’s the change? Before the age of consent for males was 15 and females 17, now both are 17, but one is illegal and the other isn’t? Where’s the equality in that?

16 years of warnings, maybe they’ll act now (update 1)

RTE News

The High Court has ordered the immediate release of the man known as Mr A who was serving a three-year sentence for the unlawful carnal knowledge of a 12-year-old girl.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said his detention had been rendered unlawful by last week’s Supreme Court decision striking down the law on statutory rape.

The Law Reform Commission has, for the past 16 years, been warning successive governments (of which only one, which lasted 3 years, was led by a party other than Fianna Fail) on the questionability of Statuatory Rape law in Ireland, so why has it taken the release of a self-confessed rapist to get the parties moving?

Seamus Brennan on last nights Questions and Answers made the excuse of it being a contentious issue for the in-action, frankly there are no excuses.

What I can’t understand is how statuatory rape law and rape law are so connected; surely the man in question admitted to rape and even if the girl in this case was 39 herself it would be no different; why does this law cover all sex with children under the age of consent, and why doesn’t general rape law cover all rape cases, regardless of age?

Update: The Blame Game begins.

“I believe in this case it was agreed between the Attorney General’s office and the Director of Public Prosecution’s office that the DPP’s office would have carriage of the appeal,” he told RTE.

“It is strange perhaps that the Department of Justice, which has channels of communication, wasn’t aware of this but that’s the situation, they weren’t and there is no point in me pretending that they were.”

Mr McDowell also revealed that the DPP, up until the last few weeks, had continued to lay charges under the now defunct Section 1.1 of the Criminal Law Act 1935, apparently unaware of the frailties of such cases.

So the DPP are at fault for not not telling the Justice Department and Attorney General about a possible legal precident being mulled over by the Supreme Court? I may be ignorant, but surely the Minister and AG would take some interest in any Supreme Court actions which attempts to strike down legislation, regardless of its validity.

And he refuted allegations that the Law Reform Commission flagged up the dangers of statutory rape legislation over a decade ago warning that it was unconstitutional.

“People are now arguing that the 1990 Law Reform Commission paper was a warning that it was unconstitutional, that’s not so,” he said.

“I mean why would the Director of Public Prosecutions have continued to use the section for all the years since if he thought it was infirm.

“And the other point is why would no defence lawyer in the 16 years since 1990 have challenged it if they thought that the Law Reform Commission’s proposal in 1990 was based on a proposition that this was unconstitutional.”

I’ve yet to see anyone claim the LRC paper called the legislation un-constitutional, but it did explicitly put forward suggestions for reforms; onces that would have halted this disaster we’re in now.

Anyone interested can find the Report and Consultation papers (both extremely long, as you can imagine) here and here. On page 59-60 of the Consultation paper we find the follow:

In the area of consensual offences, there would doubtless be general agreement that the objective of the existing criminal law, i.e. to protect the young against premature and potentially damaging sexual experience where the consent of at least one of the participants can be regarded as immature and uninformed, should be maintained. The present law is, however, also arguably in need of reform on a number of fronts.

(c) In the area of consensual offences, there would doubtless be general agreement that the objective of the existing criminal law, i.e. to protect the young against premature and potentially damaging sexual experience where the consent of at least one of the participants can be regarded as immature and uninformed, should be maintained. The present law is, however, also arguably in need of reform on a number of fronts.

Pages 65-68 break down the various possible legal changes that could be made, and argue for and against various tactics.
I’m not legally minded, but from what I can see the LRC recommended a number of changes, including the one now urgently needed; it is also said to have described the now defunct law as out-dated (a legal expert may be able to tell us if it was updated in 1993 after acts of homosexuality were legalised as in the 1990 report it makes clear that only heterosexuality is covered in this law).
The fact is, Mr. McDowell, this Supreme Court case should never have happened, you and many before you (John O’Donoghue, Máire Geoghegan-Quinnand Ray Burke) had plenty of warnings and plenty of time to fix this law and you have waited for the Supreme Court to make the decision for you.

Setanta and Sky split the RoI TV rights

I wouldn’t call it an exclusive, because Setanta have gotten there just minutes before me (it’s still nice to be one of the first!), but I’ve just been given the press release which details the break down of the FA Premiership Football rights for Ireland.

Unsurprisingly Setanta and Sky share the spoils; with Sky taking 4 packages and Setanta taking 3 (including the Live Saturday package of games exclusive to Ireland)

Right click here for the full release.

More on the way.

Update: Just to add some comment to this whole thing; Setanta now hold almost 80 of the 170-something matches on offer, one point of note is that Setanta and Sky both bagged the exact same packages as they did in the UK.
This moment has been what NTL/Chorus/UPC has been waiting for since it took Setanta on its cable/digital package, holding almost half of the UK Premiership rights at no additional cost is sure to be the central theme of the next NTL advertising campaign.

Premiership League news piece. 

Allow me to clarify

It seems that some bloggers didn’t quite get my point on “monoblogging” the other day, so I think it would be an idea to clarify my point.

I’m not saying that too many bloggers are talking about blogs, but that the conversation that follows only seems to get going when the issue is blogging. The majority of “controversies”, campaigns or serious debates on blogs seems to be about blogs. That’s not to say that debates and discussion is only about blogging, but no other topic seems to create quite the same attention and interest amongst bloggers as blogging. It makes sense, I suppose, after all it’s the one thing we all have in common and it’s the one thing we all have some level of faith in and hopes for but at the same time it’s sure to be a turn off for those outside the community when the majority of hot discussions are about something they aren’t that interested in.

A fair responce to that is that bloggers don’t blog for their audience but for themselves, and I agree completely, but readers turned off from day one never have the chance to make the transition from audience to contributor.
Of course, bloggers as individuals and as groups will talk about whatever they want, and long may that be the case; forgive me for voicing the opinion that a lot of incidents of discussion tend to focus on ourselves and no one else.

Sunday Tribune to cover current affairs (if space permits)

The Sunday Tribune has undertaken an interesting new advertising campaign in Dublin (and possibly elsewhere) which promotes the well known weekly offerings of “Ross O’Carroll-Kelly“, a fictional snob who says things like ‘Roysh’.

For a publication that once carried a reputation for investigative journalism this is an odd twist, has it really nothing extra to offer the Irish reader than a word-based comicstrip? The Sunday newspaper market has always been a competitive one, and the introduction of publications such as The Ireland on Sunday a few years ago has led to many publishers moving towards the Lowest Common Denominator; much like what has happened since the “Irish” Daily Mail made its way to the newstands some months ago, but relying on a joke column to draw in the masses is a confusing take on the challenge.
Surely a newspaper with its eye on the ball would see a greater opening in the hard-news audience now that some papers have departed for more celebrity-centric pastures. Perhaps the Tribune is, with the help of its second-cousin The Sunday Independent, trying to flank the opposition; one swinging in from the right with a high-brow snobbery and inbred hatred for Republicanism and the other from the left with a finger raised to the southside stereotype and a warm, young and funky image.
Either way it is somewhat of an insult for their news and feature team (or any of their staff that deal with facts over fiction for that matter) when a tired joke is the only great white hope for the executives at Tribune HQ.

Blair must await Irish politicians’ decisions (SBP – 28th May 2006)

It is hard to think of a time since Irish independence when the political situation on this island dictated the very shape of the British government.

But as November 24 draws closer, this year is shaping up to produce such an event. As pressure builds on British prime minister Tony Blair to make way for his successor – almost certainly chancellor Gordon Brown – it is increasingly clear that this decision rests in the hands of people on this island.

Read the rest at sbpost.ie

I don’t think it’s cynical to think that Blair wants a strong legacy, I’m sure most people in his position would and frankly it’s not always a bad thing. The actions of Blair, especially in recent days, suggest to me that he is trying to draw a line in Iraq, start a fresh and move on. In Northern Ireland his decision to spearhead talks alongside Bertie Ahern on devolution suggest that he has quickly realised his original plan can’t work without a push; who ever believed that putting Unionists and Republicans in a room together would end in them setting aside differences? It will take more than that, and time is indeed running out.

Newstalk faces loyalty issue (SBP – 28th May 2006)

Newstalk 106 must work hard to avoid losing its loyal Dublin audience once it goes national, chief executive Elaine Geraghty has said.

The talk radio station will be in a unique position when it makes the move to national coverage.

Programming and format changes are to be made to ensure that output is relevant to the new audiences, but such adjustments could come at the cost of existing Newstalk listeners, who had chosen the station for its local focus.

Local radio is enjoying one of its best periods as listeners begin to show a preference for it over national services.

Read the rest at sbpost.ie

Newstalk are in an interesting situation when it comes to their quasi-national success, as Mrs. Geragthy said herself, there have been mountains of goodwill from Newstalk listeners about the successful licence application but at the same time many have wondered what effect the move will have on the stations output.

Judging by the application details it is true that very little will change, although the introduction of a small amount of musical output will be one of the most intruiging of all. Of course Newstalk would be foolish to abandon their fanbase and from what I can see they have no intention of doing so, with that in mind there are bound to be those that listened purely because of its Dublin-tilt and these listeners will be the ones to watch in the next year.

MonoBlogging

Before I begin let me make it clear that I completely recognise the irony inherent in what I am about to write.

Some of the hottest issues in Irish blogging over the past year have been things like the El Paso incident, The Irish Blog Awards, the bloggers reaction to the Dublin riots and most recently the IT@Cork/Web 2.0 fiasco. What have all of these got in common? Blogging of course.

Damien Mulley says:

If we are constricted to talking about what newspapers and the radio covers then we’d be a very very boring community and dictated by business interests and the interests of demographics. The “big” stories are what “they” tell us they are. This sounds all hippie and conspiratorial about “the man” but hopefully you get me.

I completely agree with his point, and I do get what he means. If blogging became a place for us to discuss something that everyone knows about already then it would be a fairly dull affair; it’s nice to hear other people’s opinions on world events but that is why forums and usenet groups exist. As I’ve said before, blogging is a great resource for the average person to promote what they feel needs attention. Perhaps they want to sell something or generate interest in their product or perhaps they feel there has been a great injustice, or even a small one that has gone unnoticed by the traditional media. In my opinion, blogs are a many purpose tool and have thrived on that basis.
With all of that in mind I can see Piaras’ point when he says:

It isn’t hard to think why some people hold blogs in such disdain given the fact that there’s all this chatter about the phrase ‘Web 2.0′, but in terms of some of the biggest stories which have been in the news recently such as the Afghan hunger strikers in St. Patricks Cathedral, Irish bloggers have been relatively silent.

It can’t help but concern me that the only thing bloggers really get going over is blogs; of course a multitude of issues are discussed across the community every day but none of them see the scale of interest that an issue of blogging does. The ‘conversational’ aspect of our media seems to be saved for incestuous discussions on ourselves.

I am as guilty as any on this, out of the four examples I listed at the beginning I have discussed three here and before anyone thinks I’m calling for these topics to be ignored I would state that in my opinion, they got the attention they deserved. Besides as blogging in Ireland finds its feet it is only natural that it discusses the matters that are caused by it, and that effect it directly.

Perhaps it’s not that blogging is being discussed too much in blogs but that other topics are instead ignored or contained. It is great to see issues being thrashed out across blogs, in comment pages or in actual blogged responses and responses to the responses, the great conversation at work, but why is it that this only happens when blogs are the agenda?

The El Paso issue needed to be discussed, the Dublin riots highlighted some quality blogging in light of poor journalism, the Irish Blog Awards demanded publicity and afterwards kudos and IT@Cork needed the vocal support of its audience, but is that all bloggers are willing to get up in arms about?

On a personal level, I’m not going to stop discussing blogs here, or not get involved in discussions elsewhere because I don’t see that as a solution on any level but I do feel an opportunity is constantly being missed when people decide not to point out another blog or post or interest, decline to comment even when they have something to say or refuse to engage in a discussion for whatever reason.

All change for Irish television

Television in Ireland has always been compared, fairly or otherwise, with its British equivalent. In many cases the comparison can be unfair however when Irish viewers miss out on services and programming that is becoming a standard in the UK you can’t help but feel like more could be done.

As it stands the face of Irish television is in the middle of a major change. DTT is on its way, at least in trial form, and if the Broadcasting Act 2001 is followed through TG4 will become an independent broadcaster on a par with TV3, Setanta and Channel 6. The BCI will also end and be replaced by the BAI (Broadcasting Association of Ireland), this change will level the playing field and see RTÉ answerable to the same group as every other Irish broadcaster.

In the business side of things TV3 will change hands within the coming weeks and months, if not to Doughty Hanson than to ITV. If Hanson does take control the future of TV3 will be extremely uncertain; private equity groups generally buy businesses in order to turn a profit in its eventual sale and the end of a relationship with ITV will cast doubt on the renewal of the programming deal currently established between the two. One has to wonder also if a private equity group, especially one from outside of Ireland, is likely to put much investment into original homegrown entertainment although that’s not to pretend that TV3 has done any more than it has had to do so far. Another issue that is sure to cast some uncertainty on TV3′s future is the broadcasting contract renewal due for 2008, where homegrown output is sure to be an issue.
In the delivery-side of Irish television, NTL/Chorus have recently appointed a single managing director, coming on the back of offical clearance at the sale of NTL to International company UPC. While nothing is set in stone as of yet, a rebrand is quite likely but whatever the name the company goes on it has lost a lot of ground during the last two years. PVR and HD are both digital TV concepts that NTL/Chorus has made no commitment on whatsoever, forcing any viewers interested to make the switch to Sky. The only decent deal done by NTL over the last 12 months has been the subscription-free availability of Setanta, something that will pay dividends assuming they station gets a decent share of the Irish TV rights for British Premiership soccer.

On the issue of Setanta, and indeed Channel 6, both are new players in the Irish market and their future is more uncertain than anyone elses, however Setanta have ensured a strong footing with two packages in the UK and it is expected to pull of the same or better in Ireland.

By the end of this decade Irish television will have seen a massive change. DTT should be up and running, TV3 is likely have changed hands again (if Doughty Hanson do buy them my bet is that they will sell them on after 2008 when they have a long broadcasting contract to increase value), TG4 and RTÉ should be split the BCI is expected to be no more and NTL/Chorus/UPC will have either gotten its act together or crashed out of the Irish TV market altogether. Of course, all this change is not certain to be positive, all broadcasters and carriers should be acting now to ensure that they future-proof themselves and are ready to change methods to stay competitive. Television is unlikely to see the same scale of changes once Digital switchover is complete and HD and PVR reaches the mainstream but that doesn’t mean that anyone should sit back and relax; most Irish broadcasters have done that already and are now left scrambling to stay in the running.

I don’t mean to get too personal…

I hate to blog about myself but just to explain the lack of movement here over the last few weeks.

I’ve just finished and submitted my final projects for my final year of my degree and have finally returned to Dublin, once and for all (back since Saturday). Couple this final deadline rush with the finality of my beloved (read: rubbish) laptop finally packing it in making all things online have been a little bit more awkward than usual.

I am tempted to start a “give me money so I can buy myself a fancy mac” type campaign, but I think it’s pretty crappy to lift other peoples unique uses for their blogs and websites (just look at the long list of milliondollar[whatevers].com sites that appeared a few months ago). With that in mind, any donations are still gratefully accepted (contact me for payment details). Until such a time as I can afford a new machine I’ll be operating from an aging desktop made by ‘Medion’ (who? I hear you cry… while I simply cry).

 Anyway, normal service should resume here pretty sharpish, once I settle back and get used to all my spare time.