IRA Spy Sean O’Callaghan Embraces Neo-Conservative Muse

The perceptible journey of IRA double agent, Sean O’Callaghan into the ranks of the neo-conservative movement appears to have taken on a more serious turn with his admission in a recent article in The Irish Times that his alienation from childhood hero James Connolly, a socialist leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, was inspired by an American philosopher some regard as the country’s first neo-conservative.

SO'CUnder the influence of figures in the Tory think tank Policy Exchange, and his friendship with neo-cons like Ruth Dudley Edwards and David Trimble, it seems it may only be a matter of time before O’Callaghan formally throws in his lot with the neo-cons, represented in Britain by the Henry Jackson Society, whose barmy view of the world gave us the invasion of Iraq, the chaos in Libya, the civil wars in Syria and Ukraine and, of course, those nice people in ISIS.

For a graphic account of the disaster that is the modern neo-conservative movement there is no better person to turn to than Adam Curtis, whose film The Shadows In The Cave, describing similarities between neo-cons and Islamic radicalism, is a classic:

O’Callaghan, who was a key figure in the IRA’s Southern Command when he volunteered his services to the Garda Special Branch, and then turned himself in to British police, recently published an account of the life of the Irish Marxist and Irish Citizens Army leader, James Connolly titled: James Connolly: My Search for the Man, the Myth and his Legacy. (He also wrote The Informer, the story of his life of betrayal in the IRA.)

The thesis of his book on Connolly, who he says inspired him growing up in Co. Kerry, is that Connolly was a fanatic and that fanatics are essentially bad people who misled others, causing them personal harm and society damage.

O’Callaghan was roused to write the book, he confided in his Irish Times’ piece, when he revisited a book called True Believer, by an American writer called Eric Hoffer.

True Believer was a psychological analysis of mass movements and the fanaticism which can accompany them but its author is also seen in some circles as a neo-conservative at a time when there were no such people – the first neo-con, in other words.


Eric Hoffer, neo-conservative muse and Sean O’Callaghan’s inspiration

Hoffer was a strange and eccentric figure whose early life was something of a mystery according to his biographer, Tom Bethell, whose book, Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher, is one of the few studies of the man.

But according to Bethell, Hoffer was one the earliest manifestations of what would, four decades later, become chillingly familiar to the world  clad in the ideological garments of neo-conservatism.

The turning point in his life, the point at which he made a sharp, fateful turn to the right, according to Bethell, was the student uprisings at Berkeley in 1964 and ’65:

… the 1960s – especially after his Berkeley experiences – he became what we would [now] call a neoconservative.

Other American conservatives also moved rightwards in response to radical mass movements in America at that time, notably Ronald Reagan who ran on a law and order ticket for California governor in the wake of the disturbances.

When Reagan made it to the White House in 1980 some of those he would bring with him to Washington would later re-emerge in the Bush administration either as signed-up neo-con zealots, like Paul Wolfowitz or fellow travelers, like Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Hoffer’s main claim to a place in the neo-con pantheon lay in his obsession with the survival of Israel which he outlined in a short essay written for the Los Angeles Times in 1968, a year or so after the Six Day War in the Middle East.

The concluding sentence of that essay could be regarded as the mantra of the neo-conservative movement, a mantra that underlines the roots of neo-conservatism in protecting and advancing the interests of the Israeli state, a truth that is rarely acknowledged in polite company:

I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel, so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the holocaust will be upon us.

What a strange arc has the journey of Sean O’Callaghan’s life taken that this is where he has ended up?

‘Unite’ Trade Union To Picket DUP & Sinn Fein Over Welfare Cuts

Unite community activists protest devastating impact of Tory austerity cuts

Changes to social welfare provision will mean most vulnerable face devastating income cuts

Lowering corporation taxes will mean hundreds of millions in deeper cuts to public services

Speaking ahead of planned protests by Unite community branches outside DUP and Sinn Fein offices tomorrow (Saturday, 28th November 2015 at 1-2pm); Unite Community Organiser, Albert Hewitt, expressed his union’s concerns over the likely impact of devastating cuts facing local communities:

“Our community activists have led the way in terms of highlighting the devastating impact cuts to social welfare provisions and tax credits are likely to have on the most vulnerable in our society. We have also highlighted the impact that cuts to Legal Aid are having in terms of cutting access to legal redress over unfair welfare decisions – this protest is part of that wider campaign against Tory austerity measures.

“Last November’s budget heralded unprecedented cuts to public services – it is likely that future budgets will be even more destructive. As if these were not enough, George Osborne is currently seeking reductions of up to 24% in Departmental budgets – cuts on this scale are driven by an ideologically-motivated desire to dismantle core public services. These cuts are unconscionable and offer nothing to all communities in Northern Ireland.

“Working class communities are rightfully very concerned about the scale and severity of the expenditure reductions which will be forced through by the Tory government. The budget does not recognise the higher objective need existing in Northern Ireland, a society still transitioning conflict, and will be deeply divisive in terms of impact. The recent deal between the parties ties the hands of the NI Executive in the face of further and deeper Tory austerity cuts in the future.

“Perhaps of greatest concern is the deal’s proposal to reduce corporation tax to 12.5% in an unwinnable race-to-the-bottom on global tax haven status. No one knows just how much this will cost but we can be certain that this will mean hundreds of millions of pounds of further cuts to public expenditure budgets at a time we cannot afford them. Our communities deserve better. These protests send a clear signal that Unite in the community will be at the forefront of the campaign against austerity in Northern Ireland”, Mr Hewitt concluded.

Fresh Start Or An Old Sticking Plaster? An Alternative Suggestion….

U.S.-based political consultant Michael McDowell (no relation to the other one!) offers some critical thoughts on the so-called ‘Fresh Start’ deal at Stormont and some alternative ideas for reform. This article first appeared in The Belfast Telegraph.


Peter & Marty sign the new ‘Fresh Start’ agreement. But whose dingaling is bigger?

(The photo above, of NI’s beloved leaders and fathers of their people, accompanied this article when it appeared in The Belfast Telegraph. I was in two minds whether to use it when I noticed something really, really interesting. If you look at the radiator cover behind them you’ll see two contraptions with handles sitting on top. I’ll bet these are the official seals of office, one for the First Minister, on Peter Robinson’s side, the other for Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, on his side. The interesting point to note is that the First Minister’s contraption appears distinctly larger than the Deputy’s. So much for claims by SF that the offices are co-equal. The people who designed them must have done this on purpose to send a simple message: the two offices do not have the same ranking. Or to put it another way: Peter’s dingaling is bigger than Marty’s dingaling!)


Stormont Fresh Start: Sticking plaster approach to a festering wound will not suffice

The so-called “agreement” between the DUP and Sinn Fein last week – and it is those two parties alone which have agreed, not, please note, the other three parties in the Executive – is a weak attempt to respond to the serious, medium-to-long-term problems of the Government of Northern Ireland.
The devil is in the detail and much is, yet again, promised but not delivered, so claims that this “consolidates the peace… secures stability… enables progress… and offers hope” are aspirational only.

A Fresh Start is yet another sticking plaster on the failing body of the Good Friday Agreement. It gets us only past the May 2016 election while continuing to guarantee generous salaries and benefits for ministers, MLAs, party political advisers and others for another four to five years.

Similarly, Peter Robinson’s announced resignation as First Minister, many months ahead, does not mean root-and-branch change in the ailing governance of the province.

This latest crisis grew out of the two paramilitary-related murders of ‘Jock’ Davison and Kevin McGuigan, but, importantly, the “new” version of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) proposed to handle such outrages is entirely shorn of the old IMC’s key power – ie, to recommend a party’s exclusion from Government for breaches of the Mitchell Principles of non-violence.

Clearly, Sinn Fein insisted on this exclusion and the DUP acquiesced in it, returning with unseemly speed to its ministries and perks, and we now are to have an IMC Mk II without teeth.

Plus, the new IMC is to meet only once a year, it seems. Yes, we have several provisions in A Fresh Start for more PSNI/Garda co-operation on cross-border organised crime, paramilitary excesses and so on, but this should already be ongoing.

This is expected in a democratic society – especially 17 years on.

The gaping holes in this latest document are lack of provisions for victims and the past, which are once more kicked into the long grass, plus much talk but no action and much foot-dragging on flags and parades.

Yes, there is mention of reducing the truly excessive number of MLAs (108), but not until after the May election. Why wait?

Work was supposedly being done on this, but it seems politically convenient to keep the gravy train full for several more five-year terms.

No wonder the public mood is sour on politicians.

Yes, too, there is mention of reducing the number of ministers/departments from – for a small jurisdiction like Northern Ireland – 12 to nine. But when will this happen? By the May election? We shall see.

What odds does one place on firmly ring-fencing the illegitimate use of Assembly petitions of concern, which have been ordered up for utterly cynical purposes by the DUP and SF just recently? That is one particular get-out-of-jail-free option the two big parties will be loath to give up.

True, an official Opposition is talked about, but the details in this 67-page document are frustratingly vague on how that is to come about or to operate effectively.

As for the reduction in corporation tax to match the Republic’s 12.5%, be careful what you wish for. Serious economists are warning that the massive loss in tax revenue will need to be quickly made up in domestic and foreign investment – and this in a climate of slow growth globally, competition with the Republic and a mediocre record of job creation in Northern Ireland, with emphasis on job “announcements” but fuzzy maths on job losses.

This tax cut is almost two-and-a-half years ahead and any consequent holes in the NI Budget could badly damage the already-precarious economic well-being of the poorest in the community, who are already endangered by London-mandated welfare cuts.

A hefty cut in corporation tax is not a panacea for making Northern Ireland into the South Korea of Western Europe. And the US and the European Commission are not impressed by the Republic’s arguments that its low corporation tax is “fair”.

The gridlock in the Executive and Assembly will inevitably return because the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is just not fit-for-purpose any longer and this latest tinkering agreed by the DUP and Sinn Fein is largely a smoke-and-mirrors exercise.

The current Executive and Assembly will sooner rather than later come to a point of no return, because the functionaries of both the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Civil Service are entrenched against reform that could create genuine power-sharing, not the current, sordid divvying-up of power by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

It is high time to change the frozen thinking in London, Dublin and Belfast, who are victims of “policy paralysis”. Policy paralysis is a term applied to bureaucracies, which, once they carefully build a new policy or system, are intellectually and administratively “paralysed” or “captured” by it and refuse to alter course – even in the face of chronic dysfunction.

In short, even when the policy is obviously no longer working as intended or is about to collapse, the officials responsible take the same actions over and over again, foolishly expecting different results each time, rather than radically reforming the failing policy.

The repeated and worsening deadlock is a classic case of policy paralysis. It is the triumph of hope over experience, tinkering with the wheezing 17-year-old Good Friday Agreement car, when the only solution is to change the engine, not just replace the gearbox, buy new tyres, try a different brand of petrol or oil, or replace the battery.

Let Enda Kenny and David Cameron have their officials order up a new reformed Good Friday Agreement fit for purpose not only for 2015/2016, but a decade ahead and which stipulates a voluntary (not compulsory) coalition of parties in the Executive.

If the local parties can’t agree then they should be told there will be direct rule from London or a diluted form of joint-authority with Dublin, and that their bloated numbers, salaries and expenses are ended.

London and Dublin can put together a package including a code of collective Cabinet responsibility for ministers so that corrupt or maverick heads of departments can be ousted by a weighted majority in the Executive.

Let us have a designated leader of the official Opposition in the Assembly and an Opposition with real powers to hold ministers to account and probe and issue subpoenas for testimony, for example, on paramilitary breaches or on issues such as Nama.

In addition, let the British and Irish governments keep the option of putting such a political package to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum, as was successfully done in 1998.

Or let London and Dublin hold a Northern Ireland election on the package on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

It is, indeed, time for a “fresh start” – not the stale offering of last week.

Michael HC McDowell is an international affairs consultant and former Northern Ireland journalist who has worked in Cambridge, Massachusetts, New York City, Toronto and Washington DC, where he has lived since 1988

Frank Hegarty Comes Back To Haunt Provos And The ‘Fresh Start’ Deal

Was I the only person to wonder whether Sinn Fein, MI5, the old RUC Special Branch and the British Army’s Force Research Unit might have breathed a collective sigh of relief when the talks that led to the recent so-called ‘Fresh Start’ deal managed not to reach agreement on how to tackle the North’s bloody past?

I say ‘a sigh of relief’ when perhaps a mutual pat on the back might be more appropriate. According to this explanation of what happened, it is at least conceivable that Sinn Fein made a demand – for unimpeded access to secret British papers – which both they and the Brits knew could be credibly rejected by Whitehall. And so the effort was abandoned, seemingly ad infinitum.

And so the show rumbles on with arguably the most destabilising post-conflict element unresolved but leaving behind a distinct suspicion that both the British and the Provos have so many ugly skeletons rattling away in various cupboards that both would rather that the past would just go away.

That the past has no intention of being so obliging was forcefully underlined this week when the son of executed IRA informer Frank Hegarty went public with a demand that Martin McGuinness, at the time of the Hegarty killing the IRA’s Northern Commander, be questioned about his part in his father’s 1986 killing.

Choosing his words with evident care, Ryan Hegarty told the BBC:

He (Martin McGuinness) was around when things were happening. He was a regular visitor to my grandmother’s house. I’m not implicating him but he was there. has posted in some depth about the Hegarty affair – accessible here – drawing both on my work as a reporter in the North and Liam Clarke’s informative biography of Martin McGuinness.

According to Clarke an extensive RUC investigation into the killing was on the point, in late 1993, of charging McGuinness with murder when a political intervention, motivated by the impending IRA ceasefire, stopped all this in its tracks.

Martin McGuinness’ reaction yesterday went beyond a stout denial, going as far as to suggest that British intelligence may have had a role in the affair:

There are questions to be answered in relation to Mr Hegarty’s death by those with detailed knowledge of this event, including British intelligence.

However, other accounts put McGuinness squarely in the frame and say not only that he lured Hegarty back to Derry from England where he was in hiding with his British handlers, with false assurances that he would be safe – hence the visits to Grandmother Hegarty’s home – but that he also had a motive.

That was a long simmering squabble between McGuinness and the then IRA Chief of Staff, Kevin McKenna, fueled in part by rivalry over the IRA’s top job and McGuinness’ resentment at having to step down as Chief of Staff when he stood for Sinn Fein in the 1982 Assembly election.

Frank Hegarty had been expelled by the IRA on security grounds in the early 1980’s, after McGuinness lost the Chief of Staff role. But, coached by British military intelligence which recruited him after his dismissal, Hegarty returned to a key position, Northern Command Quartermaster with McGuinness’ support and blessing.

When Hegarty was revealed as a British spy – he betrayed an arms dump containing Libyan weaponry, thus also endangering the ongoing arms smuggling venture sponsored by Col. Gaddafi – McKenna raised various dark questions about why McGuinness had allowed Hegarty back into the IRA.

It is thus not difficult in these circumstances to see how McGuinness might have had a motive for wanting to see the Hegarty affair settled in a definitive way.

Ryan Hegarty’s decision to go public over Martin McGuinness’ alleged involvement in his father’s death, which despite his careful language is exactly what he is doing, demonstrates in a compelling fashion that the past will just not go away.

Too many corpses will simply refuse to rest in peace, and too many angry relatives have dark, suspicious, unanswered questions to allow that to happen.

And there is another certainty. Absent a credible truth-telling apparatus, these matters will be resolved in the courts, both civil and criminal, with dangerously unpredictable consequences.

From that perspective, a ‘Fresh Start’ is anything but.

Here is the piece on Ryan Hegarty carried by the BBC on Tuesday:

Ryan Hegarty. Said Martin McGuinness 'needs to be questioned' about the killing of his father, Frank Hegarty.

Ryan Hegarty. he told the BBC that Martin McGuinness ‘needs to be questioned’ about the killing of his father, Frank Hegarty.

Frank Hegarty: Martin McGuinness ‘needs questioned’ over murder, son says

The son of an IRA informer killed almost 30 years ago has said Martin McGuinness should be questioned in connection with the murder.

Frank Hegarty was found shot in the back of the head in 1986.

His son, Ryan, said Mr McGuinness “needs to be questioned”.

However, the Sinn Féin deputy first minister said he “had absolutely no role in the death of Frank Hegarty”.

Mr Hegarty’s murder is to be investigated as part of a police inquiry into the activities of Stakeknife, who was said to have been the Army’s highest agent within the IRA.

Ryan Hegarty told the BBC: “In the eyes of the IRA, my father committed the ultimate crime.

Ryan Hegarty said his family had been left broken by the death of his father
“In my eyes, he saved the lives of human beings. But it cost him his own life.

“I have never denied that he passed on information to the security services. It’s well documented what my father did.

“My family has been left broken and in misery. It left utter devastation.”

Mr Hegarty said that he did not find out what happened to his father until he was a teenager.

“It was terrible living in Derry as Frank Hegarty’s son,” he said.

“He was known as a tout.

“Whatever my father did, he paid for it. My father was a hero, but to the republicans he’s a cheater.

“He (Martin McGuinness) was around when things were happening. He was a regular visitor to my grandmother’s house. I’m not implicating him but he was there.”

Mr McGuinness has always said that he advised Mr Hegarty’s family that he should not meet the IRA if he was an informer

In a statement, Mr McGuinness said: “At the time of these events, I was an elected Sinn Féin assembly member, having been elected to the assembly in 1982.

“I became involved with the family on being told that Frank Hegarty, a well-known Derry republican, had informed them that he had been abducted and taken to England by British intelligence agents.

“It was my duty as a public representative to assist the family. I did this to the best of my ability but there was little I could do.

“There are questions to be answered in relation to Mr Hegarty’s death by those with detailed knowledge of this event, including British intelligence.”

‘Spotlight’ Movie Company Defends Depiction Of Jack Dunn In Boston Pedo Scandal

The movie production company that made the film ‘Spotlight‘, which deals with the exposing of a Catholic church cover up of widespread pedophilia by priests in the Boston archdiocese by The Boston Globe newspaper in the early 2000’s, has defended as ‘accurate’ its depiction of Boston College press officer Jack Dunn.

In the movie, Dunn, portrayed in his role as a public relations officer, is seen dismissing allegations of sexual abuse by religious teachers at Catholic church-run Boston High School as ‘a witch hunt’, implying the allegations, which had been secretly admitted by the Church, were malicious and invented.

Jack Dunn - his scene was 'accurate' says filmaker

Jack Dunn – his scene was ‘accurate’ says filmaker

Dunn attended Boston High and sat on its board. In the scene, Dunn, along with senior teachers at the school, is being interviewed by reporters from the Globe when Dunn made his ‘witch hunt’ remark.

The presentation put him alongside Cardinal Bernard Law and other senior Boston clerics in the gallery of Church rogues who concealed the widespread abuse, often by making financial deals with the parents of molested children. As in Ireland, offending priests were often transferred to other parishes but no-one was told why, least of all the new congregations.

In the past week or so Jack Dunn has embarked on a personal public relations offensive in an effort to repair his damaged reputation. Using his widespread media contacts in Boston, and starting with Kevin Cullen of The Boston Globe, he has endeavoured to stir up media sympathy for his case.

Claiming he was so upset when he watched the movie that he vomited, Dunn insists that he never said any of the things the movie says he did. He has threatened to take legal action against the studio, although his chances of success are widely regarded as slim to non-existent.

So far, the largely Boston-driven media coverage has failed to note Dunn’s controversial role in Boston College’s decision to hand over confidential Northern Ireland paramilitary interviews to the police in Northern Ireland.

Dunn’s role was largely to badmouth myself and the IRA researcher, Anthony McIntyre who had strongly criticised BC’s failure to stand up for the interviewees in Ireland. As chronicled by yesterday, Dunn told brazen and outrageous lies on behalf of Boston College, which makes his current predicament one of this episode’s great ironies.

Yesterday the producers of ‘Spotlight‘, issued a statement standing over the movie’s depiction of Jack Dunn as ‘accurate’.

Open Road, in a statement issued to the Hollywood-based website, The Wrap,  said that it had reviewed the offending scene and ‘had concluded that the footage in question…..reflected the substance of what occurred during this initial interview at BC High.

Here is the relevant part of the report in The Wrap:

In a statement to TheWrap, an Open Road spokesperson said the film is “based on extensive interviews and other research performed by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy.

“Based on that research, we believe it’s an accurate portrayal of the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church.

“The production believes in everyone’s right to speak their minds on the complicated legacy of this important story. Jack Dunn is no exception. However, we disagree with his characterization of the scene as misleading.”

The production company went on to say that both Robinson and Pfeiffer reviewed the footage in question and said the it reflected “the substance of what occurred during this initial interview at BC High.”

Boston College’s Jack Dunn: When Lies Come Home To Roost…….

Way back in January 2012, Boston College’s viperous press person Jack Dunn gave an interview to RTE television, subsequently broadcast on the station’s website, in which he alleged that, a) I was the sole beneficiary of ‘Voices From The Grave’, which was partly based on oral history interviews with IRA leader Brendan Hughes, and, b) that I had been driven by the prospect of profits from the book to ignore warnings that the book was legally vulnerable, i.e. to subpoenas.

I was so angry and appalled at what I saw and heard on the RTE website that I immediately contacted the station to protest. I was of a mind to sue for libel against this outrageous lie. But, at the same time, I have never believed that journalists should sue journalists.

So I made a deal with RTE; I would hand over all the documentary evidence in my possession demonstrating that these allegations were baseless, RTE could examine them and put questions to me and Jack Dunn in an effort to establish the truth and then do with the evidence what it wished.

The evidence I provided, mostly emails, showed that I agreed to share royalties equally with Boston College, that is 50:50. To be specific, shared with the college’s John J Burns library, where the oral history archive was lodged, and its Center for Irish Programs which was in overall charge of the project.

The two men who headed these bodies, Dr Bob O’Neill and Prof. Tom Hachey had initially asked to be included in the byline but the publisher, Faber, had baulked. Instead they were offered and agreed to write a lengthy foreword and accepted the offer of half the royalties for their departments.

Furthermore, I was able to provide emails showing that when I sent royalties to Boston College, both O’Neill and Hachey asked that the money be diverted to their personal accounts, not to the institutions which they headed. They stole the royalty money, in other words. Stole money from their employer.

RTE radio put together an item on its prestigious Sunday lunchtime news show and the truth came out. You can read about it here.

Recently a movie appeared in the U.S. telling the story of the Boston Globe newspaper’s exposé of the Catholic Church’s cover up of the sexual abuse of young children over many years. It is called Spotlight and it is getting rave reviews and comparisons with ‘All the President’s Men’. Rolling Stone magazine says the movie ‘got it right’.

The movie begins with the on-screen declaration: ‘This is based on a true story’.

Jack Dunn makes an appearance in the movie as a flack for Cardinal Bernard Law, the Catholic prelate most responsible for the cover up, and for various other Catholic institutions including Boston High, a secondary school Dunn attended and some of whose religious staff had been implicated in the scandal.

Dunn appears in a scene in which representatives of Boston High are being interviewed, along with Dunn, by Boston Globe reporters about the history of sexual abuse at the school, which emerged as a result of disclosed court documents that showed that the hierarchy had paid parents to keep quiet.

At one point, faced with the allegations, Dunn protests: ‘This is a witch hunt’, implying the allegations are false and invented.

Now, as this embarrassing picture of Dunn, the denier of priestly pedophile abuse, appears on the silver screen in cinemas throughout America, the BC flack is claiming that it is all a lie.

Dunn’s side of the story is now being told by the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen (see below and here), who, sadly, neglects to tell his readers that Jack Dunn has a track record of telling lies about other people and is hardly worthy of pity, much less credibility, when the same is visited upon him – allegedly.

I don’t know whether Jack Dunn’s movie role was invented or embroidered by the film makers, but I do know that he lied terribly and horribly about me. His record in the truth department is less than stellar and so his current denials re the Spotlight scene should therefore be taken with the obligatory bag of salt.

And about his current embarrassment I can only invoke that time-honoured Belfast phrase: Slap it into him!

Kevin Cullen’s squirming apologia for Dunn can be read below:

Jack Dunn smirks, but that was before he saw the movie 'Spot;ight'

Jack Dunn smirks, but that was before he saw the movie ‘Spotlight’

“The things they have me saying in the movie, I never said,” said Jack Dunn, a BC High graduate and a member of the school’s board of trustees.

By Kevin Cullen Globe Columnist November 22, 2015

“Spotlight,” the movie about The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of the coverup of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, had its general release on Friday and film critics agree: “Spotlight” is one of the best movies of the year.

Jack Dunn had a different reaction. After seeing the film at the Loews theater across from Boston Common, he stepped onto the sidewalk and threw up.

The movie sickened him because he is portrayed as someone who minimized the suffering of those who were sexually abused, as someone who tried to steer Globe reporters away from the story, as someone invested in the coverup.

“The things they have me saying in the movie, I never said,” Dunn said. “But worse is the way they have me saying those things, like I didn’t care about the victims, that I tried to make the story go away. The dialogue assigned to me is completely fabricated and represents the opposite of who I am and what I did on behalf of victims. It makes me look callous and indifferent.”

Dunn is the longtime spokesman for Boston College, his alma mater. He is also on the board of trustees at Boston College High School, from which he graduated in 1979. In 2002, Walter Robinson, then editor of the Globe’s Spotlight Team, called Dunn to set up a meeting with BC High president Bill Kemeza about allegations against priests who had taught at BC High.

That real-life meeting became a dramatic scene in the movie, in which Robinson, played by Michael Keaton, and Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer, played by Rachel McAdams, press Kemeza, Dunn, and a fictional character called Pete Conley about what BC High knew and when they knew it.

Robinson graduated from BC High, and his character expresses incredulity that previous BC High administrators didn’t know about the serial abuse by one Rev. James Talbot.

‘The dialogue assigned to me is completely fabricated and represents the opposite of who I am and what I did on behalf of victims.’

“It’s a big school, Robbie, you know that,” the Jack Dunn character says. “And we’re talking about seven alleged victims over, what, eight years?”

In real life, Jack Dunn says, not only did he not say this but that after Robinson told him what the Globe had learned about the abuse by priests at BC High, he drew up for the school’s board of trustees a four-point plan to address the allegations with transparency and compassion.

“I proposed to the board that we create a hotline so alums can call in and report anything they know; hire an independent child advocate to review each case; report any criminality to the police; and provide counseling and compensation for the victims. There was input from others, but that essentially became the plan,” Dunn said.

The real-life meeting with Globe reporters, Dunn said, was cordial, not confrontational.

“We said we didn’t know anything, that there were no files,” Dunn said. “But we weren’t denying or minimizing anything.”

There were stories in the Globe at the time chronicling what Kemeza and Dunn said and did in response to the Globe inquiries, and a column praised BC High’s response compared to the foot-dragging and obstruction of the Archdiocese.

But real life usually isn’t dramatic enough for the silver screen. Artistic license means screenwriters and filmmakers can take a scene from real life and make it a composite that serves what they consider a larger truth. In other words, they make stuff up.

The irony, of course, is that “Spotlight” has been widely and rightly praised for the way it captures the minutiae of what newspaper reporters do in pursuit of hard-to-get stories like the clergy abuse scandal. It gets the journalism right. But in doing so, “Spotlight,” like other films that take on real-life stories, engages in something that is anathema to journalism — making up characters and dialogue.

The caveat employed by filmmakers is that most elastic of phrases, “based on a true story.” But in the interest of transparency, that sort of disclaimer should be augmented with the words “but we reserve the right to make stuff up.”

The real problem highlighted in Jack Dunn’s case is that fictional dialogue meant to highlight the obstruction thrown up by Catholic powerbrokers was put into the mouth of a real person, creating real-life consequences.

When I talked to him last week at his office in Chestnut Hill, it was obvious that Dunn was emotionally and physically wrecked by the way he’s portrayed in the film. At one point, he cried, describing how his son, a senior at BC High, felt compelled to stand up and defend him in front of his classmates before they went, as a class, to see the film.

“Part of me didn’t want to say anything about this, because I don’t want to take anything away from the victims,” he said. “The Globe reporters did a great job, and my beef is not with them. But the real heroes in this are the victims, and I know some of them and I care about them. But I can’t just stand by and have my reputation ruined.”

What perplexes Dunn, and me, too, is why the fabricated lines are credited to a real person when there is a fabricated character called Pete Conley in the scene. As a character, Conley is an influential business guy who acts as a fixer for the Archdiocese of Boston.

I asked Tom McCarthy, who directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer, what he thought of Dunn’s complaint.

“We spent enormous time researching in depth what happened in Boston — interviewing individuals, reviewing e-mails, poring over court documents. The movie is based on real events and uses, by necessity, scenes and dialogue to introduce characters, provide context, and articulate broad themes. That is true of every movie ever made about historical events,” McCarthy wrote in an e-mail.

“We understand that not everyone will embrace the way they are portrayed in the film, but we feel confident, based on our extensive research, that the movie captures with a high degree of authenticity the nature of events, personalities, and pressures of the time.”

I asked McCarthy for an interview, and to answer this question specifically: Why make a real person look bad with words he didn’t say, when you could just as easily assign those words to a fictitious person you put in the scene? But his spokeswoman said they would limit their response to the e-mail.

Dunn isn’t the only real person portrayed in the film who has a beef with McCarthy. Steve Kurkjian, a legendary Globe reporter, is portrayed as a curmudgeon who was dismissive of the importance of the story. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and Kurkjian did some of the most important reporting as part of the team that won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for exposing the coverup.

Kurkjian, a journalistic icon, is owed an apology, at least. So is Dunn, but he’s looking for more. A lot more. His lawyer sent a letter to the filmmakers, demanding that the offending scene be deleted from the movie, just as the movie hit hundreds of screens coast to coast.

But, with lawyers now involved, getting people to do the right thing is going to be that much harder.

Sort of like when all those lawyers were telling Cardinal Law to batten down the hatches and ignore the rabble that wanted answers.

How’d that work out for the cardinal?

Paris: Now The Backlash…..


This from AFP. How long before someone is killed? So far, not a word of condemnation from Cameron & Co. I wonder what is happening in France in this regard?

Anti-Muslim hate crimes rose 300 percent in Britain in the week following the coordinated attacks in Paris, according to figures published on Monday.

A “vast and overwhelming majority” of the 115 attacks were against Muslim women and girls aged between 14 and 45 who were wearing traditional Islamic dress, according to the findings reported in The Independent newspaper.

The perpetrators were mainly white males aged between 15 and 35, according to the report, which noted that the true numbers of attacks were likely much larger than those reported.

The figures come from a report to a government working group on anti-Muslim hate compiled by Tell Mama, a helpline that records incidents of physical and verbal attacks on mosques and Muslims.

A large number of the attacks occurred in public places such as buses and trains.

“Many of the victims have suggested that no one came to their assistance or even consoled them, meaning that they felt victimised, embarrassed, alone and angry about what had taken place against them.

“Sixteen of the victims even mentioned that they would be fearful of going out in the future and that the experiences had affected their confidence.”

The rise in attacks is in line with a similar increase that happened after the murder in south London of British soldier Lee Rigby by Muslim extremists in 2013, according to the report.

Islamophobic and anti-Semitic incidents had already risen sharply before the attacks in Paris, by 70.7 percent and 93.4 percent respectively in the year to July 2015 compared to the previous 12-month period, according to police figures.

In all, 816 Islamophobic incidents were recorded in Greater London between July 2014 and July 2015, compared to 478 in the previous period.

The same period saw 499 anti-Semitic incidents, a rise from 258 the previous year.

The police did not give a breakdown on whether the recorded attacks were physical or verbal assaults, but said there were a number of factors leading to the rise including a greater willingness of victims to report such incidents and better police recording.

Britain has 2.7 million Muslim residents and a Jewish population of 263,000, according to the 2011 census.