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The Ditch: Who is behind the website Micheál Martin says is ‘attacking Government’?

News website is run by ‘two guys, a couple of laptops, a website and a Twitter account’, says shareholder

The comments this week about the Ditch news website by the Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, were designed to deflect attention from the “endemic corruption in his party”, according to one of the founders of the website, Chay Bowes.

He said he was willing to debate “mano a mano” with Martin or the Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar, any subject, including the Ditch or the war in Ukraine in any forum or TV studio of their choosing.

Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Martin said he did not see the Ditch as “an independent media platform at all” and said Bowes had appeared on state-controlled Russian TV outlet, Russia Today (RT), where he was captioned as being an RT correspondent.

“The Russian ambassador is full of praise for Chay Bowes for his characterisation of the Russian war on Ukraine as a war organised by Nato and the EU,” Martin said. The Ditch “is a political organisation attacking Government and wanting to undermine confidence in it”.


The website has published investigative stories that have sparked a number of significant controversies, including reports that led to the resignations of two junior ministers and the deputy chairman of An Bord Pleanála, Paul Hyde.

The website receives financial support from Web Summit, the business run by entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave, who had a huge row some years ago with the Government over support for the summit, which has since moved to Portugal.

In his comments in the Dáil, Martin mentioned the backing of the Ditch by Web Summit and went on to say he would “love to know who is funding the Ditch in its entirety”.

What “really alarms” him, he said, was the praise for Bowes on Twitter in February of this year from the Russian ambassador to Ireland.

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“That is what is behind the Ditch, lads. I will pose the question to the entire Dáil. Is it our function to slavishly follow the Ditch’s agenda all of the time?”

Ditch Media Ltd was incorporated in August 2021 and is owned equally by its two reporters, Roman Shortall and Eoghan McNeill, who are also directors of the company, and Clonard Consulere Gentium Ltd. Clonard is owned by Adam Connon, a legal adviser to Web Summit. It took over Bowes’s shareholding in February of this year. The company has yet to publish any financial accounts.

Bowes, a former director of Ditch Media, described as “laughable and dangerous” the suggestion by Martin that it was under the “malign influence from some foreign power”. He said Martin and Varadkar had become “energetic defenders of each other’s dysfunction”.

Formerly an interim chief executive of the National Association of General Practitioners, Bowes came to prominence with a high-profile story in the Village magazine in 2019 about the leaking of a document by Varadkar concerning a Government deal with a group representing GPs.

In the wake of the Village article, Bowes, Cosgrave, Shortall and McNeill discussed setting up the Ditch, Bowes told The Irish Times. This was in part because he found it so difficult initially to get mainstream media outlets to take an interest in the Varadkar story.

“We thought that Ireland needs a more independent media, one that is not too worried about being left out of the nose bag of press releases if they upset the apple cart… The establishment media in Ireland has links to the political parties that are not immediately apparent but are definitely there.”

In a statement on Friday, the Ditch said it was funded by its subscribers, who donate through a link on its website, as well as by Web Summit “as part of [that company’s] support for Irish media”.

McNeill said Web Summit’s support for “independent Irish media” included past financial support for investigations conducted by the Journal news website, and “other small independent media”.

He could not say what percentage of the funding of the Ditch came from online support and what percentage from Web Summit. The website does not have a paywall or sell advertisements. The number of donors is growing and is in four-digit figures, he said.

The Ditch was an editorially independent media outlet, he said. “Paddy [Cosgrave] has never exerted editorial influence on the Ditch, and I mean that sincerely. Not in the slightest.” He said he and Cosgrave “have similar politics, we have similar views on how the State operates, on how power operates”.

He would describe himself as being on the left, McNeill said. “I have never voted for the Labour Party or the Communist Party. I have voted for People Before Profit in the past.”

He said there was no “orchestrated campaign” pushing the controversy sparked by the report in the Ditch about Minister of State Niall Collins. The report led to Collins’s statement in the Dáil on Thursday, during which Martin made his comments about the Ditch. The controversy was driven by the public’s interest in the story, McNeill said. “At the end of the day we are just two guys, a couple of laptops, a website, and a Twitter account.”

Dr Eileen Culloty, of Dublin City University’s school of communications, said there have always been alternative media that defined themselves as being different from traditional media outlets for a range of reasons. “The big difference now is that with digitalisation, anyone can establish an alternative outlet,” she said.

In democracies, it has generally been believed that greater diversity in the media is a good thing. However, more recently, academia has begun to worry that the explosion in media outlets was potentially harmful because it leads to “fragmentation and polarisation” in society.

People getting their news from “highly partisan” outlets and disengaging from the mainstream media can lead to a society that does not have a common frame of reference.

“I don’t think we are at that point here in Ireland. I believe readers of the Ditch read other media outlets.” Her suspicion, she said, was that readers of the Ditch were in fact “voracious” readers of news generally.

She also said that a lot of alternative media in other countries don’t do “hard journalistic work” but rather rely on partisan opinion and comment. This was not the case with the Ditch, which produces fact-based reports. During the week, she said, a lot of people were interested in the story about Niall Collins and were wondering “why aren’t the mainstream media covering this?”

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent