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Message from the Editor: How our investigation into military training in Libya came together

Report on activities of former and departing Defence Forces members is one of several recent investigative projects

Libya

The Irish Times got a few investigative projects over the line this week. On Wednesday we published the results of several months’ work by our Europe Correspondent Naomi O’Leary, who reported that former and departing Defence Forces members have been providing military training to the forces of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar. It’s a remarkable revelation. The provision of military training to forces in Libya is banned under a UN arms embargo since 2011 – a ban imposed in order to contain the violent upheaval that followed the toppling of the dictator Muammar Gadafy. Yet from early 2023, our report revealed, an Offaly-based company called Irish Training Solutions, run by former members of the elite Army Ranger Wing, recruited former and departing Irish soldiers, flew them to Haftar-controlled Benghazi and placed them as trainers alongside military veterans from other countries.

The article was based on documentary evidence, including travel records, as well as photos and video footage and interviews with multiple people familiar with the situation.

The political response came swiftly on Wednesday morning. Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the revelations were “deeply shocking” and damaging to Ireland’s reputation. The Department of Enterprise said the allegations had been referred to An Garda Síochána.

For more on the phenomenon of Defence Forces soldiers crossing over into the world of private contractors, take a look at this weekend news feature by Conor Gallagher.

Earlier in the week, a different type of project, though one with a similarly long lead-in period, concluded with a 6,000-word package under the headline: Who Owns Grafton Street? Published on Monday morning, Colm Keena’s story explains for the first time who controls each of the 119 buildings on Dublin’s most famous shopping street. By turns social history and economic commentary, the story shows how rich Irish families have been buying property on the street, often for cash, as big investment funds seek to reduce the amount of retail property in their portfolios. In the same package, our Dublin Editor Olivia Kelly has a fascinating account of the past, present and future of Grafton Street, complete with then-and-now photographs that capture the street’s evolution over the past century and an easy-to-use tool that allows you to search for individual buildings and their owners.

Like many story ideas, this one arose in a chance conversation in the office last autumn. It came together through very many hours spent poring over land and company registry records, maps, photographs and other sources, cross-checking material and filling in the blanks through interviews with people in the know. As with the Libya story and some other recent projects, such as our profiles of Ireland’s most influential civil servants and all of the Government’s advisers, a great deal of time and effort was invested in getting it to publication. Your subscription to The Irish Times helps make that kind of work possible. And with your support we will be doing more of it.

Ahead of a big week in domestic politics, Simon Harris is prominent in our coverage this weekend. For a man who has been in the public eye for more than a decade, there remains an inscrutable quality to the 37-year-old Fine Gael leader, who is set to become taoiseach when the Dáil meets on Tuesday. A rich profile by Political Correspondent Jennifer Bray traces Harris’s personal and political development from his early activism in Co Wicklow through a rocky period as minister for health to the steps of Government Buildings after Leo Varadkar’s unexpected resignation. At the party’s ardfheis in Galway this weekend, Fine Gael TDs are preoccupied with the question of who will be in Harris’s Cabinet. The more important question is what he wants to do as taoiseach. And on that, according to our Political Editor Pat Leahy, the “barrage of platitudes” in Harris’s first ardfheis speech as leader offered few clues.

“‘Hit the ground running’, ‘match vision with action’; ‘stand by our values’; ‘fix housing once and for all’; ‘we will move mountains’; ‘we will not stop until we finish the job’; he promised the adoring crowd,” Pat wrote last night. “There was little information about what he would actually do as taoiseach. But hardly a single area of Government was left untroubled by vague commitments of unspecified improvements.”

One of Harris’s many early tests will be to set out an approach to Northern Ireland and Anglo-Irish relations – areas in which he has no track record. In Opinion this weekend, Cliff Taylor digs deeper into the debate on Irish unification after a report this week estimated that it would cost the Republic’s exchequer up to €20 billion a year for two decades. In the same section, Jack Horgan-Jones wonders whether the next government might veer right, while Kate Demolder writes in praise of Taylor Swift, the canniest mind in the entertainment business.

The killing of Longford woman Sarah McNally has shocked the Irish community in New York. Washington Correspondent Keith Duggan spent time this week in the Queens neighbourhood of Maspeth, where the young bartender, like so many Irish before her, had made her home. “What happened was a grotesque and shocking act of violence which took place in a public, social setting,” Keith writes.

Almost a year on from the outbreak of “the war the world forgot” in Sudan, more than 1.9 million people have fled the country and almost five million could face “catastrophic hunger” in the coming months, according to a senior UN official. Sally Hayden reports from a border crossing with South Sudan, where she hears from those fleeing violence and hunger. Meanwhile, Daniel McLaughlin reports from another border: the one, tiny crossing that remains open between Russian-occupied territory and Ukraine. Both David McWilliams and Patrick Smyth take Israel’s war on Gaza as the topic for their columns.

Our sports coverage this weekend is dominated by the start of the All-Ireland Championship. “The Championship is almost never what you think it is,” writes Malachy Clerkin in his curtain-raiser. The assumption is that it will be won by Dublin, Derry or Kerry, but could there be some surprises? Our two new columnists, Dean Rock and Michael Murphy, join Darragh Ó Sé for a roundtable chat in which they make some predictions for the coming season.

Take some time over Joe Brennan’s account of an attempted boardroom coup at Disney; Olivia Kelly’s interview with Richard Shakespeare, one of Ireland’s most influential public officials; Róisín Ingle’s conversation with Louise Duffy; and this unsettling video by Bryan O’Brien of a journey through Dublin during a Covid-era lockdown, recorded almost exactly four years ago.

In Culture, we have interviews with novelists Percival Everett, Sinéad Gleeson and Louise Nealon, and with the people behind a new Netflix dramatisation of an infamous BBC interview with a British royal.

Finally, stay up to date with our ever-expanding range of podcasts, covering everything from news and politics to culture, lifestyle and sport.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Editor

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