The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Censorship at the Irish Echo

Patrick Farrelly and Eamon Lynch • June 20 2003

Two columnists at the Irish Echo newspaper in New York have resigned from the paper accusing its publisher of censorship. Both claim that Sinn Féin, the Irish political party led by Gerry Adams, brought pressure to bear on the Echo publisher, Sean Finlay, about the content of their columns since they were hired last year. Finlay's latest act of censorship this week produced angry letters from his own editorial staff accusing him of caving in to intimidation and betraying the newspaper's editorial independence.

The Echo is the oldest and largest circulation Irish newspaper in the United States. Sean Finlay, a communications millionaire, bought the newspaper early last year from Claire Grimes, whose family had owned the paper since the 1940s. As part of the newspaper's re-launch last September Finlay revamped the paper and added new columnists, including Eamon Lynch and Patrick Farrelly. Below are their accounts of the events which led to their resignations from the Echo

Eamon Lynch
Several weeks ago I learned of legal threats against the popular website, which links to daily news stories about Northern Ireland. The threat came from Mairtin O Muilleoir, publisher of the Belfast-based Andersonstown News. O Muilleoir, a former Sinn Fein Belfast City Councillor and a confidant of Gerry Adams, demanded that Nuzhound remove links to two articles in the online magazine The Blanket that were critical of the political coverage in O Muilleoir's newspaper.

The articles - alleging bias and an overtly pro-Sinn Fein slant at the Andersonstown News - were written by Dr. Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner and now a prominent critic of the Sinn Fein leadership who often writes in major Irish and British newspapers. Formerly an independent community newspaper, the Andersonstown News is now tightly controlled by the Sinn Fein leadership and frequently attacks critics of the party in its pages.

On June 11, the Irish Echo published a column in which I wrote about this effort to intimidate Nuzhound and censor McIntyre's criticisms. I pointed out that the Andersonstown News seemed determined to stifle both political debate critical of Sinn Fein and criticism of its own journalistic standards. On the morning of June 17 I received a call from the Echo publisher, Sean Finlay, asking if I could stand over an assertion in my column that an Andersonstown News editor had once joined an angry picket of McIntyre's home during which abuse was directed toward his pregnant partner. I made clear that I could. Finlay expressed the opinion that McIntyre was a "discredited" figure and said he would call me back to discuss the matter further. He never did.

I soon learned that O Muilleoir had e-mailed Finlay complaining about my column. Finlay immediately offered O Muilleoir a rebuttal column in the June 18 issue. Later that day I was informed that Finlay had ordered my column removed from the Echo website and online archive. Further, he ordered a 'Publishers Note' inserted at the end of O Muilleoir's column stating that the Echo accepts the Andersonstown News is independent and has the highest journalistic standards.

Echo staffers vehemently argued against Finlay's move, insisting that my column was factually and legally defensible, to no avail. I was not afforded an opportunity by Finlay to defend the piece or to answer O Muilleoir's complaint. I e-mailed Finlay to express my disgust at his censoring of my column and pointed out that O Muilleoir's intimidation of the Echo and Finlay's easy acquiescence had proved the point of my column about Sinn Fein's propensity to censor opinion and debate. Finlay replied by saying he would not discuss any decision he makes regarding his newspaper. In light of this I told the editor of the Echo, Tom Connelly, that I had no alternative but to resign.

O Muilleoir's column appeared June 18 with the flattering 'Publishers Note'. O Muilleoir did not answer any of the serious issues I raised regarding intimidation and censorship. He also boasted of his frequent legal threats against any major media outlet that publishes statements by McIntyre about the Andersonstown News. In this case, he has cowed an American newspaper simply for reporting on his threats and intimidation.

Patrick Farrelly
In mid-December I submitted my third column to the Echo. It concerned the choice of a Ford Motor Company executive as Grand Marshal of the 2003 New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade. I noted that Ford was the major commercial sponsor of the parade and that the executive was unknown to the Irish community in New York.

The column also pointed out that the parade committee choose Cardinal Egan as grand marshal in 2002 and that Egan's big day coincided with the publication in the Hartford Courant newspaper of an article which in part said that while serving as bishop of the Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocese, Egan "allowed several priests facing multiple accusations of sexual abuse to continue working for years." The thrust of my column was to point out that the St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee was an undemocratic organization with little or no accountability to the Irish community in New York.

On December 23rd I received an email from the Echo editor Tom Connelly stating the following: "I've decided to hold your column until the Jan. 8 issue. Sean Finlay thought it was not appropriate for the Christmas issue." On January 8th I got a further email: "Sorry the column didn't appear in this issue. Sean has some problems with it that we are to discuss this week. I wasn't aware of the depth of his concerns until yesterday and am still a bit in the dark as to what he objects to." With a view to bringing this matter to an amicable conclusion I sent an email to Connelly on January 13th saying: "If the publisher wants to kill the column he should say so; if he has some specific criticisms it would be good to know what they are."

Shortly after this I learned that Finlay told Connelly he had decided to "spike" the column when he first read it in December. Connelly had one last suggestion: he would edit the column. I was dubious but saw no harm reading his revise. He emailed this version on January 31 saying: "I have no idea what Finlay will say. I tried to remain faithful to your theme while taking some of the bite out of it." The "bite" had certainly been taken out of it and it bore only a passing resemblance to what I had written.

At this point I let Connelly know that the situation was untenable and I couldn't continue writing for the Echo. I was already aware that Finlay had found my first two columns disagreeable - the first was about the post 9/11 civil liberties situation in the US, the second was based on issues raised in Ed Moloney's book 'A Secret History of the IRA'. I'd been told that as a result of the latter column, Sinn Fein's representative in Washington D.C. had made her extreme displeasure known to Finlay.

At the Echo Christmas party in mid December, Finlay told me that if he had his way my columns wouldn't appear in the newspaper. When I asked him about the nature of his objections he refused to elaborate. From what I have been told informally by Echo staffers, Finlay objected to criticism of Cardinal Egan, the St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee and the Ford Motor Company. Internally it was assumed that Finlay was worried about advertising in the large St. Patrick's Day issue being adversely affected. Finlay, I was told, was also influenced by the representations that Sinn Fein had made after my second column was published.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Intellectual freedom is essential to human society. Freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorships.
- Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov

Index: Current Articles

22 June 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Censorship at the Irish Echo
Patrick Farrelly and Eamon Lynch


The Pen Mightier Than the Sword
Mick Hall


The House that Who Built?
Anthony McIntyre


Angrytown News Responds

Jimmy Sands


Pedro Albizu Campos

Aoife Rivera Serrano


Ernesto Guevara
Liam O Ruairc


Motion Passed
Na Fianna Éireann


19 June 2003


Andersonstown News: Voice of Banana Republicanism?
Eamon Lynch


A Gnat on the Back of an Elephant
Mags Glennon


In Defence of Eamon Lynch
Anthony McIntyre


Left Right?

Eamonn McCann


President-in-Exile in Jail

Pedram Moallemian


The Letters Page has been updated.




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices