Gardai question artist under caution


COWEN PORTRAITS HOAX:THE ARTIST responsible for the nude portraits of the Taoiseach which were found hanging in two Dublin art galleries was questioned under caution by gardaí on Tuesday night.

Thirty-five-year-old Dubliner Conor Casby voluntarily accompanied investigators to Pearse Street Garda station. While a file is being prepared for the DPP, it is not thought likely that any charges will be brought.

In a statement issued yesterday, Mr Casby confirmed he had painted the pictures and said they were intended to be an anonymous and non-profit comment on the use of modern media “rather than an attempt to use the media to comment”. He said that he wished to bring the project to an end “by offering the portraits to the highest bidder and donat[ing] the proceeds to charity”.

The Garda investigation has established that Mr Casby has painted similar nudes of other high-profile politicians, including Bertie Ahern and Michael McDowell.

On Tuesday, a Garda detective visited the offices of Today FM looking for all e-mails and phone messages which had been sent to the Ray D’Arcy Showby the artist.

RTÉ apologised for a television news report concerning the nude portraits of Mr Cowen. It said it had received a number of complaints about the item on Monday’s Nine O’Clock News, including one from the Taoiseach’s office. The report did not run on subsequent television bulletins and was taken down from the RTÉ website.

Yesterday, Today FM presenter Ray D’Arcy said the show’s producer, Will Hanafin, had spoken to a garda who had told him “the powers that be want action taken”.

Mr Hanafin said he was told gardaí wanted the name and contact details of the artist so they could caution him. The detective said the artist was being investigated in connection with three charges: incitement to hatred, indecency, and criminal damage for hammering a nail into a wall of the National Gallery.

When Mr Hanafin declined to pass the contact information on, he was told a warrant would have to be sought to get access to the show’s e-mails.

The paintings of Mr Cowen appeared in the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) gallery and the National Gallery almost three weeks ago. He was shown holding his underpants in one painting and a toilet roll in the other.

A researcher on the Today FM show has been in phone and e-mail contact with the artist since the middle of January. Earlier this week, the artist confirmed to the show that the paintings were his, but denied hanging them in the galleries.

Mr Hanafin told The Irish Timeshe was “totally shocked” to be confronted by a garda. He said in “no circumstances could this be considered an appropriate use of Garda resources. It seems to me that the powers that be have lost their sense of humour.”

Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan criticised the Garda move. “At a time when the majority of gangland murders remain unsolved, to have gardaí spending their time investigating what amounted to a practical joke that offended the Taoiseach’s ego is a scandalous waste of resources,” he said.

“Today FM has clearly come under pressure to hand over e-mails about this matter, while RTÉ News has obviously been browbeaten into a grovelling apology. The way this matter has been handled is more reminiscent of Russia in the 1930s than Ireland in 2009,” said Mr Flanagan.

The Garda press office said it had no information on any contacts with the Ray D’Arcy Show.

In a statement read on Tuesday’s Nine O’Clock News, the national broadcaster apologised “for any personal offence caused to Mr Cowen or his family and for any disrespect shown to the office of the Taoiseach”.

Blogs have been hopping with news of the controversy. Most web-users condemned what they described as the censorship of RTÉ and expressed amazement at the broadcaster’s apology.