Sinn Féin and the Irish Independent
The Press Ombudsman has decided that sufficient action was offered to resolve a complaint by Mr Shaun Tracey on behalf of Sinn Féin that the Irish Independent and Independent.ie breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
The Irish Independent and Independent.ie on 8 March 2016 published an article under the heading “Ex-IRA boss one of 19 members of SF ruling body”. The article claimed that several former IRA members were included in the Ard Chomhairle of Sinn Féin. It listed 4 Ard Chomhairle members who had served prison sentences for IRA offences. Another 10 members of the Ard Chomhairle were mentioned in the article.
The day after publication Mr Shaun Tracey in his capacity as Press Officer for Sinn Féin wrote to the Irish Independent stating that the article was “full of inaccuracies and spin”. In particular he sought the publication of a correction in regard to 6 specific statements which he complained were inaccurate.
The newspaper replied saying that before addressing the claims of inaccuracies it required a full list of membership of the Ard Chomhairle which, it said, it had requested prior to publication.
Two weeks later Mr Tracey wrote to the editor of the Irish Independent asking for a correction and an apology as the “article was factually wrong and misrepresented the position of Sinn Féin”.
The editor responded by repeating the request for a full list of membership of the Ard Chomhairle. Sinn Féin provided the editor with this list on the following day.
As Mr Tracey received no further response from the Irish Independent he made a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman. He claimed that the article published on 8 March had breached Principle 1 of the Code of Practice. The first inaccuracy Mr Tracey referred to was a claim in the article that the Ard Chomhairle had not endorsed its party president, Gerry Adams TD, as a candidate for Taoiseach in an upcoming Dáil Éireann vote. Mr Tracey said that this decision had been deferred and no decision had been taken. The second issue raised by Mr Tracey was a claim in the article that one of its TDs had “admitted” that Sinn Féin “did not have a parliamentary party”. He objected to the use of the word “admitted” as it was, he said, a matter of public record that Sinn Féin did not operate a parliamentary party system and that the use of the term “admit” suggested that this fact had been “hidden from the public ”which was not the case. The other inaccuracies referred to in the complaint related to a statement that two members of the Ard Chomhairle were non-elected members, when they were elected members, to inaccurate descriptions of party functions for two individuals and to one individual named in the article as a member of the Ard Chomhairle who had in fact not been a member of the body for the previous three years.
The Irish Independent in its submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stood over the thrust of the article (that the influence of former IRA men in Sinn Féin’s ruling body could influence the party’s choice of candidate for Taoiseach) but acknowledged that there had been inaccuracies in the report and offered to publish a correction. The editor also stated that the online version of the article had already been amended to remove the inaccuracies.
The editor went on to reject the second of Sinn Féin’s claims of inaccuracy, that a Sinn Féin TD had “admitted” that there wasn’t a parliamentary party structure in Sinn Féin. The connotation that Sinn Féin put on the choice of the word “admit” was not acceptable to the newspaper. The editor quoted a dictionary definition of “admit” as “confess to be true” and, as Sinn Féin did not have a parliamentary party structure, he said the word “admit” was appropriate.
Mr Tracey did not accept the editor’s offer of a clarification as he repeated his belief that the reference in the article to admitting that the party did not have a parliamentary party structure required addressing by the newspaper as the information had been given voluntarily in an RTÉ Radio interview and that the word had been used to give a “negative spin on something that was not negative”.
As the complaint could not be conciliated it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I believe that the offer by the newspaper of the publication of a correction was sufficient to resolve this complaint. What remained unaddressed according to the complainant was the use of the word “admit” in the article. This part of the complaint is about an interpretation of a word and is not something which breaches Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.
7 July 2016