Web Summit funding of €1m for The Ditch as editor rejects ‘anti-government’ tag

Eoghan McNeill described Micheál Martin’s intervention on investigative website as ‘mix of ignorance and arrogance’

The Ditch editor Eoghan MacNeil editor and Roman Shortall investigative journalist. Photograph: Brian Meade

The Ditch news website is to get funding of approximately €1 million over the next five years from its main backer, the website’s editor has said.

Eoghan McNeill said that apart from the funding the website receives from voluntary donations and financial support from Web Summit, it does not have any other source of funding. He would not say what percentage of the website’s funding comes from Web Summit.

Web Summit is 81 per cent owned by entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave, according to its latest filed accounts. They show that the event organiser made a profit of €3.8 million after tax in 2021, on a turnover of €31.8 million.

Mr McNeill was speaking on RTE radio’s This Week programme about comments made in the Dail on Thursday by the Tanaiste, Micheal Martin. The Fianna Fail leader described The Ditch as “a political organisation” that wanted to attack and undermine confidence in the Government.

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Mr Martin said he would “love to know who is funding the Ditch in its entirety” and referred to the fact that one of the founders of The Ditch, Chay Bowes, had views on the war in Ukraine that had been praised by the Russian embassy in Dublin.

Mr McNeill said Mr Bowes, a former director and shareholder in Ditch Media Ltd, was no longer connected to the website, that the former shareholder’s views on the war in Ukraine had been a “bone of contention”, and that the website had no links with the Moscow regime.

Mr McNeill said he would like to see a change of government but that was not what motivated decisions as to what was published by The Ditch.

“I would say that it [a change of Government] doesn’t motivate what we do or don’t publish,” he said. “At the same time, Paddy [Cosgrave] and I have similar views on the State, how power operates.”

Mr McNeill is one of the two journalists who work for The Ditch, which has published news reports that have led to the resignation of two junior ministers and the deputy chairman of An Bord Pleanala, Paul Hyde, and put pressure on Fianna Fail junior minister, Niall Collins.

The website editor said Mr Cosgrave had no editorial input into The Ditch. “We’re not anti-government or anti-Micheál Martin. We’re left wing. If we’re anti anything, we’re anti right wing,” he said.

In a statement on Twitter on Saturday, Mr Cosgrave called for Mr Martin’s comments in the Dail to be referred to the Oireachtas Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight so that his “baseless allegations” could be withdrawn.

The Ditch is a member of the Press Council which means that people unhappy with its journalism can make a complaint to the Press Ombudsman, Susan McKay.

Ms McKay, also speaking on the This Week programme, said it was “certainly open to the Tánaiste or to anybody else who is offended by an article in any of our publications, to use the office of the Press Ombudsman to make a complaint.”

However, while her office could investigate such issues as truth and honesty, fair procedure, and distinguishing between fact and opinion, it was not open to her office to investigate whether an outlet had a political agenda.

“Clearly the standards that the Press Council upholds would preclude somebody using what is supposed to be a media outlet simply as a political campaigning tool by individuals, but we don’t actually take a position on the ownership of publications,” she said. “I would invite anybody who wants to have my office look at a complaint about The Ditch to do so.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

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