MICHAEL CLIFFORD: In truth, what has Gemma O’Doherty exposed?

Presidential hopeful Gemma O'Doherty. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

When questioned last Monday by RTÉ over her startling claim about Ms Guerin, Gemma refused to elaborate, writes Michael Clifford

In the time of Trump, narrative is everything. Facts are a secondary consideration. The US president, for instance, need only tweet and his supporters believe what they read, irrespective of any conflict with the facts.

So it went also with Brexit. The narrative was that the UK would be free to prosper on its own, and money would be saved to pump into its own services. All the facts suggested otherwise, but people heard what they wanted to hear, and didn’t bother too much about the facts.

In this country there is a certain narrative that is appealing to some who are disaffected or angry. This narrative has it that we are living in a country that has corruption levels more usually associated with a tinpot dictatorship.

In this version, the country is run by and for a tiny elite which has utter contempt for “ordinary people”. The regime is propped up by a police force that will do absolutely anything required to protect the regime, and a media that is corrupt and ignorant.

For those who see the world through such a lens social media represents the only medium of truth. And through the darkness they see one shining light, a person of bravery and integrity who carries the flame of truth. Her name is Gemma O’Doherty and she wants to be president. She is running on an anti-corruption platform.

Last week, a row blew up over Ms O’Doherty’s comment that she believes Veronica Guerin was murdered not by criminals, but by the State. The claim angered Ms Guerin’s family and many of her friends, who found it offensive to her memory and legacy, and factually ludicrous. Veronica Guerin was murdered in 1996. Brian Meehan, a career criminal who was part of John Gilligan’s crime gang, was convicted of her murder in 1999.

Gemma speaks with the authority of a journalist who says she has conducted investigations into Garda corruption.

When questioned last Monday by RTÉ’s Pascal Sheehy over her startling claim about Ms Guerin, Gemma refused to elaborate on the claim, saying that her supporters are not interested in it.

“They know I have tried to follow in the footsteps of Veronica Guerin, in that I too have been exposing corruption within An Garda Síochána,” she said.

In truth, what has Gemma O’Doherty exposed? 

In her statement launching her bid to be President she pointed to her credentials. “Most of my work revolves around exposing corruption in public office, primarily in the police,” she said.

So what has she exposed? She is a reporter of over 20 years’ standing but most of her work with Independent Newspapers involved feature and travel writing.

Then in 2010, she wrote about the 1985 death of Fr Niall Molloy and her investigation contributed to the case being examined again.

In 2013, she wrote about how then commissioner Martin Callinan had penalty points cancelled. (Callinan claimed the incident was in connection with his work). Later that year she was made redundant by the Irish Independent. She sued and received a settlement of damages and an apology from the paper.

However, it is her work since leaving the Irish Independent that sets her apart, and has seen her attract a following on social media.

Ms O’Doherty has made a documentary about the disappearance in 1977 of six-year-old Mary Boyle near Ballyshannon in Co Donegal. The thrust of the piece is that the child was murdered by a person known to her who was a member of Fianna Fáil. She says a phonecall was then made to the local Garda station by a Fianna Fáil politician instructing that the chief suspect not be interviewed or charged. And this instruction was followed with the connivance of at least some of those gardaí investigating the disappearance of Mary Boyle, whose body has never been found.

Ms O’Doherty’s work in this respect paints a number of gardaí, both senior and junior, as covering up a child’s murder to protect a member of Fianna Fáil. A few years ago she was one of the organisers of a march to Fianna Fáil HQ in Dublin to protest at the party’s alleged cover-up of the murder.

The only evidence produced to back up the theory came from two former gardaí who were based in Ballyshannon at the time of the disappearance. Since appearing in the documentary, both have disputed the narrative and claimed they were misrepresented. One of them stated that the alleged phone call to the station had the status of nothing more than a rumour.

The other major story Ms O’Doherty has engaged with is the murder of Sophie Tuscan du Plantier in 1996. Last month in a long piece in Village magazine she posited the theory that Ms Du Plantier was murdered by a garda and the subsequent botched investigation was actually an attempt to cover up this murder.

“Allegations have emerged that a senior member of the force may have been responsible for Sophie Tuscan Du Plantier’s death,” Ms O’Doherty writes.

The officer at the centre of these claims, who is now deceased, was a notoriously violent person and a sexual predator infamous for having affairs with women, particularly foreigners… on his deathbed he was said to be a profoundly disturbed man. The shocking allegations against him however remain unproven.

As with the Mary Boyle case, this “investigation” was replete with innuendo and theories of conspiracy. There is not a scintilla of evidence that a member of An Garda Síochána murdered Ms Du Plantier. One might just as easily suggest that a member of Fine Gael, MI5 or Macra na Feirme was responsible for the terrible crime.

Her supporters online don’t care. They see somebody who is calling out the tinpot dictatorship corruption and that’s good enough for them. Whether this popularity can transfer into the real world, where hard questions would be posed about her work, remains to be seen.

Last week when Ms O’Doherty was making her pitch to Cork City Council, Fine Gael’s Des Cahill posed her a simple question: “Why would the people want a President who ridicules everybody else?”

There is a far more pertinent question that may have to be addressed if Ms O’Doherty receives a nomination. Who will guard the president?

How could Ms O’Doherty be expected to trust a “murderous police force” to protect her?

The only solution would be to have a private security force take up the slack. Recruiting and arming such a militia would be a sensitive issue as candidates would be required to show judgement, perspective, the capacity for reflective thought and, crucially, to be quick on the draw. Where better to look than on Twitter?

No doubt this matter will be the focus of much debate should Ms O’Doherty’s campaign march on.

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