By GERRY FOLEY
On Sept. 23, two Northern Ireland High Court judges began a judicial review of a court order on well-known Irish journalist Ed Maloney, the Northern Ireland editor of the Dublin Sunday Tribune.
Maloney was directed to give the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) his notes from an interview with one of their informers, John Stobie, nine years ago. The hearing lasted a day and was then postponed for 10 days. The conclusion of the hearing is expected to take another two days.
Stobie had revealed that nine years ago the RUC knew that Pat Finucane, a lawyer who defended Irish republicans, was going to be assassinated in February 1989 by pro-imperialist paramilitaries and did nothing to prevent it.
He admitted, according to the Irish News of Sept. 24, that he had been involved in the murder by providing the murder weapon and disposing of it. But he denied that he had participated in the killing itself.
The Finucane murder case was reopened in April in the context of the “peace process” connected with the Good Friday Peace Agreement between the British and Irish governments.
In June, Maloney published a story based on Stobie’s account, and within days the RUC charged the informer with Finucane’s murder and demanded Maloney’s notes.
The journalist told the High Court judges he had learned that the RUC itself had questioned Stobie nine years ago about the Finucane case and therefore had no need of his notes. He protested that the Director of Public Prosecution was trying to prevent his legal team from gaining access to the record of Stobie’s interrogation.
The Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ), a leading human rights organization, was quoted in the Sept. 24 Irish News as saying that the fact that such an interrogation had been carried out raised serious questions about the conduct of the police. If it had evidence of Stobie’s involvement in the murder, why had it waited nine years to act on it?
A police witness only recalled under cross-examination from Maloney’s legal team that Stobie had implicated himself in the murder during his questioning.
The fact that the police only charged Stobie after the appearance of Maloney’s story suggested retaliation for the informer’s revelations of their collusion with the murderers.
If the tribunal upholds the order and Maloney continues to defy it, he faces a possible five years in prison and an unlimited fine. He told the press after the start of the judicial review that his paper has decided not to continue the appeals after the judicial review, and if the court decides against him, it will be up to the authorities to decide what to do with him.
Maloney explained to Denis Bernstein on the “Flashpoints” program of KPFA, the Bay Area Pacifica radio station, on Sept. 19 that the demand made on him by the police under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act is designed to destroy him as a journalist.
If he were to comply, he would not be able to get any information because no one involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland would trust him. If he does not comply, he faces prison and financial destitution.
Maloney’s case has become celebrated in the British Isles for two reasons. First, it raises fundamental questions of press freedom, and for that reason the British National Union of Journalists and other journalists’ organizations are supporting him.
If the order against Maloney is upheld it will make journalistic investigations of collusion between the repressive forces and the reactionary paramilitary gangs virtually impossible.
Second, Maloney’s report of his interview with Stobie offered some of the most convincing evidence of collaboration to date between the official repressive forces in Northern Ireland and the pro-imperialist murder gangs.
In the context of such collusion, Maloney’s turning over of his notes would help the RUC suppress the evidence of its guilt and take revenge on the man who incriminated them.
Maloney’s situation is thus similar to that of Sean McPhilimy, the author of a documentary TV film and a book on collusion between the RUC and Protestant death squads.
McPhilimy was also ordered, under the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act, to betray his primary source. When the police did find out who the informant was, they apparently forced him to go back on his testimony.
With attention focused on the RUC after the release of a report on its functioning pursuant to the “peace process,” the Maloney case has become a central issue in the Northern Ireland situation.
The High Court’s ruling will indicate whether the British authorities intend to make any serious attempts to convince the nationalist population that after the Good Friday Peace Agreement the RUC is going to be constrained by basic democratic legal principles.