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Editor rapped for destroying documents on payments

Mahon Tribunal Lorna Reid IRISH Times editor Geraldine Kennedy and the paper's Public Affairs correspondent Colm Keena destroyed documents relating to the Bertie Ahern payments affair so they could not produce them at the Mahon Tribunal.

Yesterday both journalists were unrepentant about their actions which they said had been taken to protect sources.

Ms Kennedy told the Mahon Tribunal that the line of questioning adopted by the tribunal confirmed to her that they had done the right thing.

She said it was ironic that the Mahon, McCracken or Moriarty tribunals would not have been set up without leaks to journalists.

Tribunal chairman Judge Alan Mahon said it was a matter of deep regret that both Ms Kennedy and Mr Keena had failed to provide any assistance to the tribunal and had destroyed documents at the heart of the matter after they had been ordered to produce them for yesterday's hearing.

He warned both that failure to answer questions was an offence punishable by a ?300,000 fine or two years in jail.

The tribunal will give its ruling next Wednesday (October 4) on the leaking of the confidential documents. The two journalists were summonsed to appear before the tribunal after confidential material appeared in their newspaper.

Ms Kennedy said her newspaper respected the important public function of the tribunal but that did not mean the Irish Times would desist from its separate duty to publish matters in the public interest.

She said she had seen and been given copies of documents by Mr Keena which related to the payments to Mr Ahern.

'The Mahon, McCracken and Moriarty tribunals would not have been set up without leaks to journalists'

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On legal advice she had destroyed these documents and instructed Mr Keena to do the same.

This was after she had received a letter from the tribunal ordering Mr Keena and herself to produce all documents they had relating to the story.

She said she did not destroy the documents out of any disrespect for the tribunal but because she felt this was the only way she could protect journalistic sources.

Ms Kennedy confirmed that the information about the payments to the Taoiseach had come to her newspaper unsolicited and anonymously.

It was quite clear that the tribunal had methods for keeping tabs on letters and the way they were sent out, as well as security processes, she added.

Thus, if she or Mr Keena had provided the documentation they had, this could help the tribunal to identify the source of the story about the Taoiseach.

"The narrowing down of avenues of communication on this type of story could lead to identification of sources and our primary obligation is to protect our sources," she said.

Ms Kennedy insisted that her newspaper was pursuing this line in the public interest.

The story was factual in that the person who was now Taoiseach had received payments in 1993 while Minister for Finance.

"And we learned that he was moving in the High Court to stop the Mahon Tribunal from proceeding with its investigation into these payments, but I have no intention of saying how that information came to my knowledge."

Mr Keena said he meant no disrespect to the tribunal. However, he was not prepared to answer questions that could lead to the identification of a source or sources.

Pressed by tribunal counsel Des O'Neill SC, Mr Keena said he believed the best stance to take was not to assist the tribunal at all on the issue of sources.

"I would be very anxious that I might say something that would assist in the categorisation of sources."

Counsel for both journalists, Eoin McGonigle SC, said their stand was a very simple one: they should never reveal their sources.

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