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Saturday 22 July 2017

TD wants to tighten social media rules on trials

Paddy Hill (centre) of the Birmingham Six and founder of the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation with Jobstown defendants (from the left) Kieran Mahon, Michael Murphy, Paul Murphy and Frank Donaghy at a rally yesterday. Picture: Collins
Paddy Hill (centre) of the Birmingham Six and founder of the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation with Jobstown defendants (from the left) Kieran Mahon, Michael Murphy, Paul Murphy and Frank Donaghy at a rally yesterday. Picture: Collins
John Downing

John Downing

A government TD has said she will move to strengthen contempt of court rules to curb social media comments during criminal trial proceedings.

Deputy Josepha Madigan said she found some online commentary during the recent Jobstown water charge protest trial had been menacing and may have constituted an effort to influence the jury in the trial.

Solidarity TD for Dublin South West Paul Murphy and five others were acquitted after an eight-week trial, which was later described by all sides "as heavily politicised".

The move by Ms Madigan came as anti-water charge campaigners, including Mr Murphy, vowed to switch their energies to a campaign against bin charges.

Yesterday, the junior minister responsible for urban issues, Damien English, said that the change in the charging regime, now due to happen in September, may very well not cause spiralling prices.

Fine Gael TD Ms Madigan, who represents Dublin Rathdown and is also a solicitor, said she was concerned that the same criminal trial comment restrictions, which already apply to traditional media, should be in force for social media.

Ms Madigan said her move was not just motivated by the events surrounding the Jobstown trial.

"This applies to all trials and is an effort to ensure fairness for everyone. I was very concerned by the recent comments posted on social media during that trial.

"We cannot know how much such commentary is seen by jurors and what effect it might have. But we must protect the independent reputation of all juries," Ms Madigan told the Irish Independent.

The Fine Gael deputy, who is an expert in family law and has already tabled divorce law changes, said she is currently researching material for a private members' bill. She said the Law Reform Commission has already done work on the issue and produced a paper in 2016, while others had also done research.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has also said he does not think the treatment of former tánaiste Joan Burton and her adviser, Karen O'Connell, during the water charges protest in Jobstown, Dublin, was "in any way acceptable".

Speaking in Galway at the weekend, Mr Varadkar said it was important to respect the Jobstown trial outcome.

"But just because somebody wasn't convicted of false imprisonment doesn't mean that their behaviour, or the way they treated Joan Burton and Karen O'Connell, was any way acceptable," Mr Varadkar said. "And I don't think it was acceptable."

Irish Independent

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