The Case of Ed Moloney

Article excerpt

Back in February of 1989 a Belfast lawyer called Pat Finucane was murdered by Protestant gunmen. Finucane was well-known for having defended members of the Irish Republican Army, and he'd had plenty of run-ins with police in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, also with the British Army. It was not long before credible accusations began to surface that both the RUC and the army had colluded with Finucane's killers, who belonged to the paramilitary Ulster Defense Association (UDA).

One journalist who made spectacular headway in tracing state sponsorship of Finucane's murder was Ed Moloney, currently Northern editor of the Dublin- based Sunday Tribune. Down the years Moloney, now 50, has built up a fine reputation. He's been Northern Irish editor of the Irish Times and has contributed to the Guardian, BBC, the Washington Post and other publications. But because of his work in the aftermath of the Finucane killing, Moloney now faces the possibility of being thrown into prison for defying a court order to hand over working notes to the police. Unless his lawyers get the order thrown out, Moloney could be prosecuted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, a statute rushed through the British Parliament in the mid-1970s, giving the police and courts even vaster summary powers than they normally enjoy. In this event he'll face a no-jury trial, as the first journalist to be prosecuted in such a way. He could be given an unlimited fine, plus anywhere from six months to five years in prison. Or he could be convicted of contempt of court, and given an unlimited prison sentence.

Why would the security forces and judicial apparatus of Northern Ireland want to risk international condemnation for their onslaught on a journalist? The reasons are devious, part of a desperate attempt to salvage the reputation of these same security forces, most notably the RUC.

After Finucane's murder in 1989, Moloney conducted a series of lengthy interviews with William Stobie, a quartermaster in the Protestant paramilitary group responsible for the killing. Stobie told Moloney that he was an agent working for the RUC and had given the RUC advance notice of the operation that ultimately led to the murder of Finucane. As quartermaster, Stobie had provided the killers with their weapons.

Stobie volunteered this information to Moloney on condition that it not be published, since its disclosure would endanger his life. He told Moloney he wanted his account on record in case anything happened to him. He said that his RUC Special Branch handlers regarded him as a loose cannon and were setting him up for assassination by his loyalist colleagues. He also claimed that the RUC Special Branch had planted guns in his home, and indeed he had been charged with possession. But after Stobie threatened that he would reveal in court that he had forewarned the police about the murder plot, the legal authorities quietly dropped those charges. It was in this atmosphere of fear and intimidation that Stobie had gone to Moloney.

The years rolled by and then, earlier this year, the Finucane case turned red hot. A London group called British-Irish Rights Watch sent a report to the Irish government on the Finucane case. …