Opinion: Newspaper linking car bomb to Giro visit backtracks on claims but damage is done

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There’s been a lot of commotion caused by the Irish Independent newspaper publishing a story which links the Giro d’Italia and a car bomb discovery which many media outlets have picked up. As our Irish News Editor Shane Stokes writes, this was irresponsible journalism which only brings a cloud over three spectacular days of racing in Ireland.

The Irish newspaper which printed a dramatic story early on Monday claiming that a car bomb found in Dublin might have been connected to Sunday’s stage of the Giro d’Italia backtracked several hours later, essentially accepting that the information was likely not true.

The original story in the Irish Independent stopped short of saying the Giro was the intended target but the tone of the piece appeared to infer that this might have been the case. According to the writers, the car bomb was likely transported from Northern Ireland for use. However it was discovered in the car park of a hotel in Lucan and was never detonated.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed security source as suggesting that dissident Republicans could have attacked Dublin in an attempt to try to have the blame pinned on an opposing element from the north.

“It cannot be ruled out that it may have been intended to disrupt the Giro d’Italia race. This would be a very dramatic escalation in the activities of dissident republicans,” the source stated.

The story was picked up by several international media sites plus La Gazzetta dello Sport, the media company which is owned by the same RCS Sport group that runs the Giro d’Italia.

However the Independent came in for criticism over what appeared to be flaws in the story. Lucan is over fifteen kilometres from the finish location to the stage and transportation of the device would have required those responsible to drive through heavy traffic and built-up areas.

It would also have seen dissident republicans attack the very state that they wish to join, even if their intention would be to have an opposing group blamed.

In addition, disrupting or directly attacking an international sporting event would have been a major gamble for a group seeking to gain support.

Several hours after the story was published, another journalist with the same newspaper appeared to rule out the earlier scenario.

The Independent’s security correspondent Tom Brady stated the direct opposite to what his colleagues Paul Williams and Brian Byrne had earlier claimed was the case.

“It’s likely it was going to be collected there and brought to Northern Ireland for a security target in the North,” he said.

In that light, running the earlier article appears to have been a rash move by the Independent, even if it achieved the aim of securing readership, online clicks and was referenced by international sites.

The Giro d’Italia’s Grande Partenza was very rare in being a sporting event which took place on both sides of the Irish border, and had one clear goal of showing to the world that the previous armed struggle between opposing groups in the North was at an end.

A political ceasefire has been in place for several years and the atrocities which dominated the headlines for many years have essentially stopped.

Hosting the Giro in Belfast was intended to send out a signal to say that the city had returned to normality and that the welcome the riders enjoyed was a symbol of the hospitality that visitors to the region could themselves experience.

This point was articulated at Sunday’s post-stage press conference by Darach McQuaid of Shadetree Sports, who had played an important role in the race starting in Ireland.

He said that the Giro’s start in Ireland was a clear sign that Belfast and the surrounding areas had moved on from the past and that the area was a place where tourists could visit without any concerns.

The Giro d’Italia’s start in Ireland has been perceived as a big success by those north and south of the border, with the enthusiasm shown, the widespread displays of the colour pink, the high crowd turnout and the strong level of media coverage all contributing to the feel good atmosphere.

However the angle taken by the Independent and the headlines generated by it around the world gave a very different impression, suggesting that the race could potentially have been targeted had the car bomb not been discovered.

The piece effectively undid much of the positive press which the Grande Partenza had enjoyed and raised concerns outside Ireland amongst those who are unaware of the success of the peace process.

While the Irish Independent’s security correspondent played down the original story, it is unlikely that any follow up pieces – if they are indeed written – will reach anything like the same amount of readers as the dramatic, and inaccurate, first story.

The Giro organisers, the workers on the race, the volunteers who helped make it happen, the crowds who stood by the roadside for hours in wet conditions and the riders themselves deserve far better than that.

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