Gene Kerrigan: When ‘Daredevil’ Ditch and ‘Batman’ Paddy Cosgrave took on Niall ‘The Joker’ Collins
• Yesterday 19:00
Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave.
Dail ‘privilege’ allows politicians to say anything about anyone, free of the danger of being sued for defamation. So it was on Thursday that Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin hid behind Dáil privilege to create innuendo about the funding behind The Ditch website — it’s the Russians, apparently.
How do we know this? Well, so-and-so (who put money into The Ditch) is a friend of the other fella, who’s chummy with a Russian TV channel, which is not unknown to the Russian ambassador, who is not unconnected to a certain Vladimir Putin.
It was a bit strained, but Micheál’s fans were impressed, so maybe I’m missing something.
“That is what’s behind The Ditch lads,” said the Fianna Fáil leader.
Mr Martin appeared totally sincere in his effort to convince us he’s an authority on media credibility.
And, sure, maybe he’s right, it’s the damn Russians having a go at us.
Maybe Vladimir Putin is at it again. After all, in recent years the man’s never not been at it. Having blasted the life out of Chechen separatists, he sent his tanks to annex Crimea. Then it was on to Syria, where he used his bombs and guns to help dictator Bashar al-Assad oppress his people.
With the blood already flowing like so many rivers, Putin launched his notorious invasion of Ukraine.
And now the blood-thirsty bastard has set his sights on ruining the career of Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins, TD.
Needless to say, first thing Friday morning I was climbing over the gates of McKee Barracks, offering my services and demanding a Walther PPK, with silencer, and a map of Moscow.
Never one to tone down his rhetoric when he can ratchet up the innuendo, the current Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, announced that some TDs wanted to turn the Dáil into a “kangaroo court”.
No kidding. It seems the ruthless thugs wanted to actually ask questions of Niall Collins — instead of allowing him to give an unexamined statement on the allegations against him.
With a straight face, Micheál Martin asked the Dáil: “Is it our function to slavishly follow The Ditch’s agenda?”
Well, no, not really. And I’m not aware that anyone on the planet suggested that is the function of the Dáil.
In short, last week, a rich messer (The Web Summit’s Paddy Cosgrave, who founded The Ditch) used a couple of journalists to rattle the cages of the political parties whose writ has run in this great little nation since 1923.
And it wasn’t just the cages that ended up rattled. Leo and Micheál sounded more than a little shook.
It’s sobering to realise that the people in charge of housing and health and law and order and all that stuff are so fragile.
Now, in my opinion, The Ditch is not all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, take a closer look and it’s surprisingly insubstantial. But the journalists are the real thing — and we’ll get to yer man Cosgrave in a minute.
First let’s look at the Fianna Fáil lads. And, naturally enough, let’s start with Niall Collins.
Niall has a solid Fianna Fáil background, but we shouldn’t hold that against him.
Various family members have loyally served the party through the generations. This was enough to ensure his ascent within the party — councillor to TD, TD to minister. The party’s web of connections and loyalties was enough to lift him to a position of prominence — which, in turn, led to his record receiving an increased level of scrutiny.
His big moment in the spotlight came a few years back. In a notorious bit of play-acting, he and some other TDs were caught in a bit of messing that was immediately christened Votegate.
Someone noticed the votes of some TDs were turning up on the yoke that records the voting, even though they weren’t in the Dáil chamber. And Niall was involved.
I won’t bother going into the detail. Suffice it to say that if at the next election you or I were caught doing what Niall did, we’d end up in front of a judge.
Ah, well, sure, it was just questionable voting in the country’s national parliament — nothing to get excited about.
Last week, The Ditch raised questions about Niall’s role in determining the status of a piece of land his wife bought.
They had very little on him, but one thing led to another and Niall didn’t — or couldn’t — make an irrefutable statement to shut the matter down.
So, Collins found himself stumbling through a soggy bog of unanswered questions — move that way and he might get the all-clear, move the other way and the ground might explode beneath him.
Either way, I’m not at all sure I give a damn.
Fianna Fáil has the kind of record that — whenever there are any allegations or even questions — they all turn to one another and whisper: “Did we do it?”
If they didn’t do this, you can bet they did that.
And if Fianna Fáil did that, the odds are that Fine Gael did the other.
Businessman Cosgrave made a lot of money out of organising the Web Summit — or so I’m told.
He sounds terribly boring, which may explain why he seems to see himself as a Bruce Wayne character — boring rich guy by day, crook-busting Batman by night.
Paddy doesn’t — as far as I know — actually dress up in tights and a cape, but he certainly goes all Dark Knight on Twitter from time to time.
Last January, he tweeted: “Maybe it’s time to bodybag a few minions in media, civil service, charities, judiciary, private sector etc. Who’s up for it?”
I remember saying that. Exactly that, word for word. When I was 12. Paddy Cosgrave is 41.
Look, we’ve all embarrassed ourselves at one time or another. But Paddy makes a habit of it. Last week he tweeted: “I think it’s high time for someone to bodybag some golden circle fat cats.”
Now, some people, when they turn into their 40s, begin to see in the misty distance the vague shape of their own mortality. And they go a bit — well, I suppose you could say they go a bit Paddy.
There’s naivety there, and maybe even some kind of idealism, but personally, I could do without the swaggering and the threats.
Fans of The Ditch boast that it got rid of two ministers — Robert Troy (FF) and Damien English (FG).
I’m not sure what English did to deserve being got rid of. I could look it up, but — sorry, Damien — it was something or other.
Robert Troy — I remember one of the things they got him on was that he failed to register his directorship of a company. There was nothing crooked about this — he’d registered his directorship in 2019 and 2020, then he didn’t bother in 2021 because the company had ceased to trade.
Yeah, yeah, he should have re-registered. And I’m not a Bob Troy fan, but let’s keep things in proportion.
The following encounter with Heather Humphreys TD comes entirely from an account published by The Ditch:
The intrepid Ditch reporters turned up outside Heather’s constituency office in Cootehill, Co Cavan. They were enquiring about two derelict flats above the office.
“Up here? Above me?” says HH. “Well, they’re storage for the office here.”
At which point The Ditch pounced. Had she sought planning permission to change the use of the derelict flats to office space?
They knew — the cunning divils — that she hadn’t.
And since the flats were derelict, uninhabitable, the notion of converting them was somewhat moot.
“Do you know what youse boys do?” said Humphreys. It was a rhetorical question. “F**k off and leave me alone.”
And, to be honest, I see her point.
I’ll sleep a lot easier knowing reporters from The Ditch are patiently going through public records, ensuring all is well — and noting where it isn’t.
We could, though, do with less of the dramatics and far less of Mr Cosgrave’s petty gotcha game.