Lord Laird, an Ulster Unionist member of the House of Lords, has previously named journalists and academics as claimed “republican sympathizers” and made a string of other allegations against leading members of Sinn Fein.
Last year, he made serious claims at Westminster against Irish businessman and trade unionist, Phil Flynn, and said the taoiseach should resign for using Flynn’s services as a trouble-shooter.
Most recently he claimed that two senior officials at the Irish state broadcasting service are closet republicans and has threatened to name the two who, he said, have “extreme republican backgrounds.”
Under House of Lords privilege, people who are publicly named have no recourse to legal action to protect their reputations. Normally people are only named in exceptional circumstances.
It is considered bad constitutional precedent to name people without serious corroborating evidence. The legal device is normally used sparingly as those accused have no recourse to defend their good names.
Laird said the two people, who he has not so far named, are “very senior officials” in RTE but he has not so far made any official complaint against the station.
An RTE spokesman said it could not think to whom Laird was referring when he made a more generalized complaint that the media in the Republic had been “infiltrated by the IRA and Sinn Fein.”
Laird said his proof lay “in the highly negative reaction in sections of the Southern media, in particular the State broadcaster RTE, against the minister for justice, Michael McDowell”.
It is not a coincidence, said Laird, that instead of being lauded for his anti-republican speeches, McDowell had “found himself the subject of a campaign of vilification in the Irish media.
“The worst example of biased coverage has been that of RTE, said Laird and, in view of that “it is time that two very senior RTE officials explained their extreme republican backgrounds”.
Laird is unrepentant about the comments and has vowed to name the men at the earliest opportunity. “I’ve got to wait for an opportunity but I will name them in the House of Lords the first chance I get,” he said.
When asked about RTE’s denial of the allegations, Lord Laird replied: “Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?”