The Dáil’s oversight committee has rejected a complaint from tech entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave that Tánaiste Micheál Martin abused privilege and adversely affected Mr Cosgrave’s reputation.
The Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight (CPPO) met earlier this week to consider the complaint from the Web Summit co-founder, and rejected it, sources have confirmed.
In the Dáil on April 27th, Mr Martin said he didn’t see the website The Ditch - which had run stories critical of the Coalition parties - as an “independent media platform at all” and that he would “love to know who’s funding The Ditch in its entirety”.
Mr Martin said: “Paddy Cosgrave is a strong supporter and there are deep connections between the Web Summit, Paddy Cosgrave and this organisation...
“There is a political organisation out there; it is not an independent media platform by any stretch of the imagination, nor should anyone even suggest that it is because if you read all the tweets of Paddy Cosgrave or Chay Bowes in respect of me or other political leaders on this side of the House it is clear that their agenda is to take down the Government.”
The Ditch website was set up in 2021 by Mr Bowes, Mr Cosgrave, Roman Shortall and Eoghan McNeill. Mr McNeill, editor of the Ditch, told RTÉ in April that the Web Summit was providing funding of about €1 million to the news website over the next five years. In November, the board of Web Summit pulled funding for The Ditch website after Mr Cosgrave departed the summit.
Following Mr Martin’s comments in the Dáil, Mr Cosgrave wrote to the CPPO and said he believed he had been “adversely affected in reputation by the utterances of Tánaiste Micheál Martin”. He said he was affected on the grounds that Mr Martin “claimed that I am a backer and/or funder of a media organisation that is not independent.”
He said Mr Martin “claimed that I am backing and/or funding a political organisation whose agenda is to take down the government”.
Mr Cosgrave told the committee he believed it could be “inferred from the words used that he was suggesting that I am backing and/or funding a media and/or political organisation that is co-funded and/or backed by the Russian government. For the avoidance of doubt, all of the above claims and/or suggestions made by Deputy Martin are entirely false”.
Mr Martin, in turn, submitted a lengthy defence to the CPPO.
The Tánaiste said there was “no basis whatsoever upon which the statements referred to by Mr Cosgrave could be said to comprise an abuse of parliamentary privilege on my part” and that he stood fully over his comments.
“Those statements relate to matters of public interest and of significant public concern; a free and independent media is fundamental pillar of our democracy. It is also critically important, in my view, that members of Dáil Éireann be permitted to engage freely in debate on matters of public importance such as this. Our Constitution enshrines that core principle.”
Mr Martin also said that “Mr Cosgrave, who has a very significant platform himself and professes to be an advocate of free speech, is seeking to undermine that principle by way of this complaint, in furtherance of his long-running and personalised political campaign against myself and other members of Government.”
Mr Martin said he did not accept that Mr Cosgrave had been adversely affected.
An appendix of information was then sent by Mr Martin in which he defended each of his statements in the Dáil and said he believed that were it not for Mr Cosgrave’s financial support “The Ditch would not exist without an alternative source of funding.” He also said that “at no point did I state or infer that The Ditch is “co-funded or backed by the Russian Government”.