As regular readers of Niall O’Dowd’s Irish Central website will know, the said Niall has been devoting a lot of time and space on ad hominem attacks on myself since the arrest of Gerry Adams.
While basing his attacks on the claim that the Boston oral history archive was set up by myself to undermine the Sinn Fein leader (read this blog post for a proper perspective on this) there is a subtext which explains the real reason for the animosity.
Essentially I found him out stealing my by-line and my articles, written for the Sunday Tribune in Dublin, to use in his Irish Voice newspaper back in the late 1980’s. It was a dirty, cheap thing to do and I confronted him about it (I chose not to go the legal route since that would endanger innocent people’s jobs) and demanded that he pay me a proper fee in future for using my journalism. He had no choice but to agree but our relationship was always a tense one, marked by mutual dislike.
I wrote about it in some length on this blog when O’Dowd first editorialised against myself and Anthony McIntyre and below is a reprint of the relevant part. But he is right about one thing: I dislike liars and will always use my journalism to expose them, whether it be lies from Niall O’Dowd, Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley or Margaret Thatcher.
Here is the extract. Enjoy:
Not for the first time, Niall O’Dowd cast aspersions on myself in the course of his editorial, suggesting that “deep hostility” to Sinn Fein on my part motivated the Belfast Project at Boston College which concentrated on interviewing “dissidents”.
Well the best answer I can give to this charge is to say that I am exactly the same journalist that I was in the late 1980’s when our paths first crossed. A brief history of the relationship between myself and Niall O’Dowd will help to fill out this explanation and account for the poison in our relationship.
Niall O’Dowd founded the Irish Voice in 1987. Not long afterwards it was suggested to him that he might hire myself as his Belfast correspondent. This he refused to do, on the grounds that I was regarded as being far too close to the IRA. It is easy to forget these things but in those days Niall O’Dowd would rather have been dead than be seen in the company of Gerry Adams and as for his sympathy for the North, well he always was very keen to get adverts from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
I presume he had been fed this line by his mates in the Department of Foreign Affairs then battling desperately to shore up the SDLP in its life or death electoral struggle with Sinn Fein. As the recent Northern Editor of The Irish Times, I had angered the DFA with my coverage of that battle, predicting correctly, for instance, that Sinn Fein would win seats at the SDLP’s expense in working class Nationalist areas due to their advantages in age, class, enthusiasm and drive. But sometimes truth-telling can get you into a heap of trouble. And it is sometimes remarkable how these phases in your career can be airbrushed out by people.
I heard about all this in Belfast but paid no heed to it. Until a year or so later when we took our annual vacation in New York, picked up a copy of The Irish Voice and lo and behold, staring out at me from the front page with the byline ‘From Ed Moloney in Belfast’, was a piece I had written the week before for the Sunday Tribune then my employer. I made enquiries and discovered that this had been going on for some time. In fact every week for months, O’Dowd had lifted my articles in the Tribune and published them in the Irish Voice. I was never told about this, my permission was never sought and, needless to say, I was never paid.
Part of me was flattered by this, a part outraged. A year or so before I was poison but since then the quality of my coverage had clearly turned him round. That felt good. On the other hand he didn’t have the gumption to admit he had made a mistake and put our relationship on a proper footing. And then there was the cheapness, the willingness to steal my journalism – it was worth using in his paper, it added to his product but he didn’t want to pay for it. So, I have to say I was tempted to take legal action against him, so angry was I. But that could cost the paper money and jobs could be lost. So we made a deal. He would be able to use my pieces but he would pay me.
And so it went on until the peace process began to pick up speed. I approached that story in the same way I had all others, which was to dig as far as possible below the surface to discover what was really happening. And what a story it was! When an organisation like the IRA makes such a radical U-turn then it is rarely done in a straightforward way. Lies are told, tricks are played, extraordinary things happen and people get disappointed and disillusioned. But for a journalist like me it is all your dreams come true – great stories as far as the eye can see, a host of sources all with reason to talk. Sheer bliss! But the important point was that I had approached all my journalism, from Kincora, to Paisley, to the SDLP, to Billy Stobie – and more recently the Belfast Project at Boston College – in exactly the same spirit.
Alas Niall O’Dowd didn’t see it that way at all. Sometimes a journalist can dig too deep and the rows began, angry calls from New York about this or that article – presumably preceded by angry calls to him from Suffolk Road in West Belfast. Finally the break came. And the given reason? Well, I wasn’t writing original pieces for the Voice, just sending them articles that also appeared in the Sunday Tribune. That just wasn’t good enough complained Niall O’Dowd as he put the phone down.
And that was the end of my relationship with Niall O’Dowd and the beginning of what promises to be a lifelong enmity. Now, dear reader, you understand.