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Tuesday 20 August 2019

Artist behind Cowen portraits prank tells gardai he acted alone

Jason O'Brien

THE artist who painted the hoax nude portraits of Taoiseach Brian Cowen has told gardai he also hung them in two Dublin galleries.

He has also handed over another five paintings of politicians to investigating officers, the Irish Independent has learned.

Conor Casby (34), who is understood to be a secondary school teacher on Dublin's northside, voluntarily presented himself at Pearse Street Garda Station on Tuesday night. During a two-hour interview, without a solicitor, Mr Casby said no one else was involved in the prank.

He earlier claimed, through emails to Today FM, he had given the paintings to friends and that perhaps they had erected them in the National Gallery of Ireland and the Royal Hibernian Academy gallery.

But Mr Casby came forward after an investigating detective told staff at the radio station on Tuesday that the artist was being investigated in connection to incitement, indecency and criminal damage legislation, and requested his contact details.

"It is remarkable that a member of An Garda Siochana can turn up at a radio station within 24 hours of an item being aired, but that when it came to investigating suspected wrongdoing at Anglo Irish Bank, it took the authorities weeks to finally raid their offices," Labour Senator Alan Kelly said.

Fine Gael said the reaction was "completely over the top".

However, Fianna Fail TD Mary O'Rourke said on Newstalk radio yesterday: "I didn't like what I saw. It was bordering on obscenity."

The Irish Independent understands it is unlikely Mr Casby will be formally charged over the prank. It is believed gardai were contacted by one or both of the galleries, and not by Mr Cowen.

The paintings appeared in the galleries almost three weeks ago. Mr Cowen was shown holding his underpants in one painting and a toilet roll in the other.

Meanwhile, both RTE and the Government yesterday maintained the broadcaster had decided to apologise for the nature of a television news report on the paintings before a complaint was received from the Taoiseach's office.

The item was carried on Monday's 'Nine O'Clock News', with a spokesman for the Taoiseach's office confirming yesterday that its complaint had concerned the nature and tone of the report.

"The [picture] appeared for about 30 seconds behind the newsreader as it was being introduced, and there was the flippancy in the report and in the vox-pop, stuff like 'it was not clear whether the Taoiseach posed for the picture' when it was clear he wouldn't have," he said.

Taste

A RTE spokeswoman said the station's managing director of news, Ed Mulhall, had decided the item was inappropriate, even as it went out.

"Within the time it was broadcast, RTE News itself deemed it in bad taste and inappropriate, and already was making decisions that it wouldn't be broadcast... on the later broadcast on RTE Two," she said.

She said an apology would have been made even if complaints had not been received.

The story first appeared in a Sunday newspaper, with the spokesman for the Department of the Taoiseach saying yesterday it had not complained because of the "straight-forward nature of reporting".

The story was carried in a number of British titles yesterday, and in papers in San Francisco and China.

Mr Casby was not returning calls last night.

In an email to the 'Ray D'Arcy Show' earlier, he said: "From my perspective I would like to draw [it] to an end by offering the portraits to the highest bidder and donate the proceeds to charity."

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