Wednesday 7 December 2016

Kenny tells new Citizens' Assembly of online risks

Social media row erupts as pro-life activists accuse some members of being pro-choice

Published 16/10/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Maurice Manning, Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, at the inaugural meeting of the Citizens' Assembly which took place at Dublin Castle Photo: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Maurice Manning, Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, at the inaugural meeting of the Citizens' Assembly which took place at Dublin Castle Photo: Mark Condren

A warning was issued to members of the Citizens' Assembly about their use of social media by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as it met for the first time yesterday.

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It comes as pro-life activists accused one of the assembly members of being a pro-choice campaigner.

Mr Kenny said it was vital the 99 people who will deliberate over abortion legislation remain aware of the divisive nature of the topic they will discuss. They will then be expected to report their findings to the Oireachtas.

At the first assembly meeting at Dublin Castle yesterday he told the members that technology can lead to people being secluded because of their opinions.

"We are all aware that one particular aspect of your deliberations - the Eighth Amendment - has divided our country in the past. Today, the potential for such division is the same.

"Social media puts the assembly within the reach, and indeed the sights, of those with deeply held views on either side of any debate".

Mr Kenny added diverse opinions can draw attention to members and he appealed to the public to allow members of the assembly to go about their work without interference.

"We live in a time when a diverse opinion has become something, or someone, to be pitied, ridiculed, virtually hounded or indeed destroyed.

"On behalf of the Oireachtas, I ask everybody to please allow the members of the assembly the necessary space and respect to go about their work."

These views were repeated by the assembly's chairperson, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy.

"It is critical to the success and integrity of this assembly that the members can freely and confidentially make contributions and express their views without fear of harassment or criticism," she said.

A public introductory session was held in Dublin yesterday to allow the chairperson and other members to meet each other and gain an understanding of their roles.

Pro-life supporters demonstrated outside, where campaigner Cora Sherlock alleged one of the assembly members was an opposing activist who was tweeting about his role in the assembly.

"It is a very troubling development and would confirm the concerns that many people have raised about the entire process, including the selection of members," she said.

"If the Government had established the assembly with a view to taking a truly exhaustive look at the Eighth Amendment, there might have been some merit in that. But the clear purpose of the assembly is to pave the way for a referendum that will strip the unborn child of his or her right to life," she added.

An apparent assembly member posted pictures of yesterday's event on Twitter. He has previously used his account to express support for the pro-choice campaign. He also claims to have attended pro-abortion demonstrations in the past.

The assembly is expected to represent a broad range of people from around the country and is made up of people of different ages, backgrounds and gender. The sample process was designed to omit campaigners. Mr Kenny said its deliberations would be beyond politics and failed to rule out the possibility of a vote on the issue in the future.

Sunday Independent

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