Controversy over firing of leading Irish investigative journalis
One of Ireland’s leading investigative journalists has been fired after being called “a rogue reporter”. The departure from the Irish Independent of Gemma O’Doherty, a multi award-winning senior features writer, has received almost no coverage in the rest of the media.
But an article in the satirical magazine, The Phoenix, has revealed incidents that occurred before her sacking.
The Phoenix article on 6 September
In April this year, she doorstepped Ireland’s police chief, Garda commissioner Martin Callinan, and questioned his wife while seeking to confirm a story that penalty points had been wiped from Callinan’s driving record.
The article states that two executives at O’Doherty’s paper were “appalled” at her making the approach without previously informing her bosses.
Stephen Rae, editor-in-chief of the Dublin-based Independent titles, was also furious at O’Doherty’s action. Rae is a former editor of the Garda Review magazine.
Her story about Callinan was eventually run in what the Phoenix calls a “sanitised” fashion. Weeks later, she was informed that she was to be made redundant. She refused to go voluntarily and was told she would be made compulsorily redundant (the only Indo journalist to suffer that indignity).
These incidents were the culmination of years of dogged, single-minded investigative journalism by O’Doherty that brought her into conflict with senior police officers, leading politicians, the judiciary and the prosecuting authorities.
It concerned the mystery surrounding the death of a priest, Father Niall Molloy, who was found dead in the home of a couple – Richard and Therese Flynn – in Clara, Co Offaly, in 1985.
Richard Flynn was charged with manslaughter but his trial and its aftermath was suffused with controversy. The judge, who knew the family, was accused of a conflict of interest. Flynn’s counsel suggested Molloy had died of natural causes. And the jury then returned a not guilty verdict.
However, a later inquest revealed that Molloy’s injuries were consistent with his having suffered a serious blow to the head.
The story rumbled on in the background for years until O’Doherty took it up and patiently exposed a series of inconsistencies in the approach of police and prosecutors. She mounted evidence that pointed to collusion and a cover-up.
Her stories from 2010 onwards helped to put the “Father Molloy murder” on the news agenda, boosting his family’s demand for an independent inquiry. (Examples here and here and here and here).
In November 2012, in an article by O’Doherty headlined “Molloy’s murder will rock the state”, she reported with approval a politician’s claim that the case amounted to “the biggest cover-up in the history of the state.” She wrote:
“A two-year investigation by this newspaper into the priest’s killing has exposed a litany of damning evidence and glaring inconsistencies which point to nothing less than a cover-up of staggering proportions, involving several institutions of the State and the Catholic Church.”
O’Doherty’s subsequent enforced departure from the Independent has received no coverage in the rest of the Irish mainstream media.
But she has had backing from the National Union of Journalists. Its Irish secretary, Seamus Dooley, said: “We believe she has been badly treated and has a case for unfair dismissal.”
Now a concerned group of campaigners on behalf of Molloy’s family along with relatives of other murder victims who have grievances against the police have taken up O’Doherty’s case.
An open letter to the Independent’s editor-in-chief
They have written an open letter to Rae. Here it is in full:
Dear Mr Rae,
We write to you in disbelief at your decision to fire Gemma O’Doherty, chief features writer at the Irish Independent and one of the country’s most talented and courageous journalists.
Gemma is a reporter of the highest professionalism and integrity, who has done huge service for her country, and her newspaper, through her work in exposing injustice and Garda corruption.
We are the parents of children who have been murdered. We represent Irish people who have lost family members in violent circumstances. Some of us have been very badly treated by the Gardai.
When the criminal justice system and the Gardai failed us, Gemma listened. Now you seek to silence her. In doing so, you must also want to silence us.
Ms O’Doherty’s remarkable journalistic pedigree speaks for itself. In her 16 years with the Irish Independent, she has won numerous awards – from campaigning journalist of the year to medical journalist of the Year, and last year, she was nominated for two national media awards, crime journalist of the year, and feature writer of the year.
Her ground-breaking journalism has led to the establishment of two state investigations in recent months, and she is singlehandedly responsible for the reopening of the 30-year-old murder file into Fr Niall Molloy.
Her campaigning writing is regularly raised on the floor of Leinster House, and on television and radio. Indeed, your own Sunday Independent recently wrote a lengthy article praising her astonishing work on the horrific murder of Fr Molloy.
As Irish citizens, we see her dismissal as nothing less than a grotesque attack on press freedom, human rights and democracy.
Your silencing of Gemma – the only person you have handpicked for sacking in INM – is a morally repugnant and indefensible act which has consequences for all of your readers and the broader public.
There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil. Gemma had no problem doing that. It is high time that others followed her lead.
We await an explanation from you, to your readers and the Irish public, as to why you have treated such a fine journalist in this way.
It is signed by Catherine Costelloe (Searching for the Missing/Irish Families for Justice/ex-Scotland Yard); Liz Molloy (Justice for Fr Molloy, Roscommon/Offaly); Lucia O’Farrell (Justice for Shane O’Farrell, Monaghan); John Nugent (Justice for Patrick Nugent, Clare);
Nancy Shanahan (Justice for Aongus Shanahan, Limerick); Julia Walsh (Justice for Desmond Walsh, Limerick); Genevieve and Walter Smith (Victims of Garda harassment, Cavan); Nuala O’Gabhnain (Justice for Jim Goonan, Offaly); David Walsh (Justice for Mary and Molly Walsh, Waterford).
I called Stephen Rae this morning and, at the time of writing, I am awaiting a reply.
Sources: The Phoenix/Broadsheet.ie/Private information/NUJ/Father Niall Molloy website