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.
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
Several weeks ago I learned of legal threats against
the popular website Nuzhound.com,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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
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