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Micheál Martin in the Dáil yesterday.
National Union of Journalists

Micheál Martin doubles down on criticism of The Ditch as NUJ questions his use of Dáil privilege

The NUJ’s Séamus Dooley noted that, unlike TDs, journalists must act subject to “extremely restrictive defamation laws”.

LAST UPDATE | 28 Apr 2023

THE NATIONAL UNION of Journalists (NUJ) has criticised Tánaiste Micheál Martin’s use of Dáil privilege to attack news website The Ditch. 

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions yesterday, Martin accused the site of presenting stories in a “selective and distorted way”, adding: “I don’t see The Ditch as an independent media platform at all.”

The Tánaiste double-down on criticism of the website today, accusing of feeding into a “toxic atmosphere online in politics.”

The controversy currently embroiling junior minister Niall Collins originated on foot of reporting by The Ditch and the website previously uncovered issues that ultimately led to the resignations of ministers Robert Troy and Damien English. 

The Tánaiste yesterday said the website was orchestrating “a campaign” against Collins and said: “I do not believe that this House should be a slave to or facilitating political campaigns.”

Martin also raised questions about the funding of the website, saying it has “no advertising” and stating that it “does not offer subscriptions”. 

The Ditch, which is a member of the Press Council of Ireland, does not require readers to pay to read its material but does facilitate monthly donations to the site. 

In response to Martin’s criticisms, Irish Secretary of the NUJ Séamus Dooley said that Martin’s decision to use the Dáil to criticise the work of a media outlet and a number of named individuals was “not acceptable”. 

“I was extremely disappointed to see Dáil privilege used by the Tánaiste to attack a news website in this way,” Dooley said in a statement to The Journal

Dáil privilege refers to the constitutional protections offered to members of the Dáil that shields them from possible defamation, as long as they are in the chamber when they make the statement on an issue. 

Referencing this protection, Dooley suggested it was unfair that the Tánaiste was free to speak as he wished while Irish journalists are subject to “extremely restrictive defamation laws”. 

“It is inevitable that there will be profound disagreements between those who exercise power and those who seek to hold them to account. Journalists who criticise or challenge public figures can expect criticism. Media organisations, across all platforms are not above scrutiny and are capable of responding robustly to criticism,” Dooley said. 

Journalists and publishers understand the tension that exists in a democracy between the media and government. A diverse, challenging media is important and in Ireland we are fortunate in having a range of media across all platforms.

“No media organisation has a monopoly on concern for transparency or accountability. It is not acceptable for politicians to make criticism under Dail privilege against named individuals.

“The media operates within the constraints of extremely restrictive defamation laws. Politicians who wish to challenge the accuracy, efficacy or bona fides of any journalist or media organisation should do so within the same constraints and without the protection of Oireachtas privilege.”

During his contribution yesterday, Martin said that Chay Bowes was “a founding member of The Ditch” and he also described Web Summit CEO Paddy Cosgrave as “a backer”. 

Martin said that Bowes was “a political opponent of the government” and he also referenced that Bowes was “quoted on Russia Today”.

Company filings show that Bowes is a former director of The Ditch but this is no longer the case. 

In a statement to The Journal yesterday, The Ditch confirmed that the Web Summit was one of its backers and said it had three directors. 

“The Ditch has never paid for advertising or attacked any Irish media for not covering our stories. Many do – Martin questioned both these outlets’ judgement, as well as all the readers who consider our stories to be in the public interest,” the statement said.

“The Ditch has two directors, Eoghan McNeill and Roman Shortall, who are two of the company’s three shareholders, the third being a holding company for lawyer Adam Connon.”

The Ditch added that the site is funded by subscribers, as well as the Web Summit, “as part of the company’s support for Irish media”. 


Speaking to reporters in Cork today before the NUJ’s criticism, Martin repeated his criticism of The Ditch, saying they have presented various stories “in a very distorted and selected way”. 

“If you had read the original Ditch story, you will have to the impression, for example, that he had voted for the disposal of property to his wife, which he didn’t. But that was the clear innuendo and impression, the same thing happened in relation to the planning story.”

Martin went on to say that he wanted to “call it out in the Dáil yesterday” as it was something be had “been meaning to for quite some time”. 

On The Ditch and many of the cheerleaders and those who back it, look how it operates, the attempt to make sure you get the story trending, it’s leading to a toxic atmosphere, online in politics in this country.

“And, you know, I’m a democrat,  I believe in parliamentary democracy, I think many people out there in our society don’t believe in parliamentary democracy and seek to undermine it.”

“I’m not going to stand back and allow a particular form of politics develop or political debate develop, I call out what I feel like, in my opinion, needs calling out.”

Martin said that government parties were “clearly” being targeted by the website, something he described as a “consistent thread”. 

“I don’t think that’s good for politics. And it’s not something that I as a political leader want in any way to facilitat,  by adding to the drama in Leinster House and the Dáil forum.” 

With reporting by Mairead Maguire