Michael Dwyer: since he was shot dead in Bolivia, it's been open season on his reputation

The smearing of Michael Dwyer is continuing unabated. Dwyer was 24 years old when he was shot dead on 18 April. He met his end in a hotel room in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz. How he died is a matter of dispute. The official version is he was killed in a shoot-out with a unit of the Bolivian army. He was alleged to have been en route to assassinate Eva Morales, the socialist president of the country.

Dwyer was in the country just six months when he was killed. When he died, he was in the company of some shady characters, but nothing of substance has yet emerged to give credence to the official version of events.

Bolivia in general, and Santa Cruz in particular, is a hotbed of political intrigue, which often spills into violence. Despite calls from the Irish government and other politicians for a proper investigation into what happened, few believe the truth will ever emerge.

Since his death, it's been open season on the young man's reputation. There was nothing in his background to suggest any allegiance to far-right politics, yet he is being cast in some quarters as a fascist.

Before leaving for Bolivia, he worked briefly for a controversial security firm, IRMS, at the Corrib gas site in Co Mayo. He went to South America with men he met in the company. That connection has made him a handy political tool for some of those protesting at Shell's presence in Erris Head.

Meanwhile, in Terryglass, Co Tipperary, his family are locked in a grief that may not attain closure unless they find out what really happened. In another time, their plight might have attracted a modicum of decency.

The smearing started after Dwyer's funeral. Four of his colleagues from IRMS showed up late at the graveside. They were all eastern European men. One tabloid newspaper reported that the four gave a Nazi salute over the grave.

There is absolutely no evidence that this happened. The four deny vehemently that they made any such gesture. They joined the family for the post-funeral function and made themselves known as friends of Michael. Yet the word went out on the media waves, to be used by whomever it might suit to paint an ugly picture of Shell and those it employs.

Indymedia is an unlikely place for the smearing. The citizen journalist website does much that should be commended. It offers an alternative to the mainstream media and generally imposes standards on its material displayed. As might be expected, the general thrust of the politics espoused therein is left wing.

In a long article on the site on the Corrib gas dispute, it is stated as fact that Dwyer was part of a plan "to trigger civil war in Bolivia". The piece is littered with suggestive links between Dwyer and fascist organisations. Two mainstream publications are cited as source material.

The Mail on Sunday and the News of the World are given billing on this totem pole of liberal and left-wing politics. Regularly on Indymedia, the "right-wing corporate media" is decried, yet two of the most prominent organs under that category are cited as reliable sources when the agenda suits.

Dwyer's name has frequently been raised wherever the Shell to Sea protestors meet. At a rally on Galway's Shop Street on 29 June, photographs of Dwyer handling guns were displayed. He was referred to as a "Shell mercenary". Sources who have attended a number of gatherings of various strands of the protest confirm that he has also been referred as such elsewhere.

The Shell to Sea protest is a curious place for such disregard for common decency. The protest grew out of a genuine movement based on citizens standing up to the might of a corporate thug. Those involved have themselves been smeared, painted as under the influence – or even the control – of republican dissidents. They have quite correctly claimed that they are portrayed unfairly in parts of the mainstream media.

Yet now, for the sake of cheap expediency, elements within the protest and its wider support base are using a dead citizen to further their own agenda, eschewing any standards of decency towards the bereaved family.

That lonely outcrop, the high moral ground, is in danger of being totally abandoned in the dispute over the Corrib gas field.

For sure, there are more humane elements within the protest who would distance themselves from this stuff. It would do no harm if they took a bit of responsibility and forcibly made their views known.

In the fullness of time, it may turn out that Michael Dwyer had knowingly embarked on something sinister or even deadly. Alternatively, it may emerge that he was a young man who believed himself to be on a frolic, something with which to regale mates in the pub when he returned home. He may well have been a patsy, an innocent abroad caught up in a country where civil rights are at the whim of the incumbent power, in the absence of a proper democratic tradition.

Whatever the facts, there is no evidence whatsoever that he actually did harm to another during his brief tenure on this mortal coil. His family deserve more than to have their bereavement or memories traduced by others in pursuit of their own agendas.