NUJ Should Put Morris And Barnes In The Dock
The Broken Elbow
March 28, 2013
I have the following statement to make in reference to the NUJ’s decision to suspend Anthony McIntyre from union membership for six months on foot of a complaint lodged by Allison Morris of The Irish News and Ciaran Barnes of The Sunday Life that he had allegedly breached ethics.
The wrong person was brought up in front of the NUJ’s ethics council in relation to this matter. Allison Morris and Ciaran Barnes are the people who have breached the NUJ’s code of conduct and it is they who should be suspended, not Anthony McIntyre.
The following facts in relation to the origins of the PSNI subpoenas issued against the Belfast Project archive at Boston College are, I believe, beyond dispute:
1. When Allison Morris interviewed the late Dolours Price in February 2010, Dolours was undergoing psychiatric care at St Patrick’s hospital Dublin. When her family learned that the interview was underway they asked Morris to end the interview because of her illness but this request was refused;
2. Following subsequent conversations between Dolours Price’s family and the management of the Irish News, agreement was reached on the manner in which the story would be treated in the paper’s coverage. No direct quotes were used, restraint would be exercised in relation to what she had alleged in the interview and Dolours Price would agree to take her story to the ICLVR, the so-called ‘disappeared’ commission. The Irish News evidently accepted the family’s view that in Dolours’ mental state caution should be exercised in how the story was treated;
3. The Irish News complied with that agreement but Allison Morris breached it. She took her tapes/story to her friend and former Andersonstown News colleague Ciaran Barnes in The Sunday Life and three days later he published an unrestrained account based, I firmly believe, on Allison Morris’ taped interview with Dolours Price. The Irish News abided by the agreement with her family but their reporter did not. If that is not a breach of ethics I do not know what is;
4. In the course of his story Barnes suggested that he had listened to Dolours Price’s taped interview with Boston College and in it she had admitted helping to ‘disappear’ Jean McConville. The US Attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, specifically cited this claim from Barnes in court papers as justification for issuing the subpoenas against Boston College. There is no doubt in my mind that the behaviour of Allison Morris and Ciaran Barnes led directly to the legal action instituted by the PSNI in Belfast and the Department of Justice in America;
5. The proof that Ciaran Barnes could not have listened to the taped interview that Dolours Price gave to Boston College lies in the fact, to which I have attested in an affidavit, that she never once mentioned the Jean McConville case nor her alleged part in that woman’s disappearance in her interview with Anthony McIntyre. The effect of his claim was to disguise the fact that his source was Allison Morris and that she had breached the agreement her editor made with the Price family;
6. It therefore follows that Barnes’ source had to be Allison Morris, the only other person who had talked to Dolours Price in the run up to his article. It is surely no coincidence that his story appeared three days after Allison Morris’ story appeared in The Irish News, and that he and Allison Morris are friends and former colleagues.
I too am a member of the NUJ although I now live and work in the United States. In 1999 I was made an honorary life-time member of the union, an award I was honoured to accept. I have to say however that I am dismayed at this decision by the ethics council and more so by the manner in which it was reached. The wrong people were charged with a breach of ethics and I now call on the leadership of the NUJ to institute a full inquiry into the behaviour of Allison Morris and Ciaran Barnes in relation to the interview of Dolours Price of February 2010 and its aftermath.
I also call on the NUJ to include in this investigation an examination of the relationship between the PSNI and the media in Northern Ireland with specific reference to the differential treatment of journalists in the pursuit of confidential sources.