Miriam Donohoe

Thursday 31 July 2014

Credit for admission but Nulty did correct thing by resigning

It's a sordid business but at least Nulty came clean and resigned

Miriam Donohoe

Published 24/03/2014|02:30

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Patrick Nulty
Patrick Nulty. (inset) A Facebook message sent by disgraced TD Patrick Nulty
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Just think for a minute. If your 17-year-old daughter got a suggestive Facebook message from a 31-year-old man in the early hours of the morning asking if she had ever been spanked how would you feel?

Livid I am sure. I know I would be.

And if that lewd message came from a politician, a person in a position of authority elected to public office to make laws and represent the people of his constituency, it would be even more shocking, wouldn't it?

Yes indeed.

I bet your fury would be further stoked if, in making an apology for his gross Facebook indiscretion, the politician described your 17-year-old daughter as a "woman", giving the impression possibly that it was fair game?

Even though at 17 a girl has legally reached the age of consent, she is not a woman. Yes she is capable of looking 10 years older when she is dressed up for a night out. Yes she thinks she is grown up and wants to be treated as an adult. But 17 is a vulnerable age. She is still a child.

Today former Independent Dublin West TD, Patrick Nulty, is facing up to the fact that his life is in shatters after resigning his seat ahead of revelations of inappropriate behaviour on Facebook in the 'Sunday World' newspaper.

It emerged he sent suggestive Facebook messages to a 17-year-old girl at 5am on December 29, asking her if she was "being good", if she wanted to play "truth or dare" and if she had ever been spanked.

He says he was under the influence of alcohol at the time.

If this incident was in isolation maybe, just maybe, Mr Nulty could have been forgiven. But this was not a one off.

It also emerged that female constituents in Dublin North West who came to him for help received inappropriate Facebook messages from him. One woman was asked to send underwear in the post, and another was told to wear a skirt when visiting Mr Nulty's constituency clinic.

Mr Nulty has gone overnight from being a well-respected, hard-working and active member of the Dail to being the villain at the centre of a seedy, very public disgrace. He is also now facing a garda investigation into his actions.

There is very little of a redeeming nature in this case, and Patrick Nulty has been lacerated on the airwaves and online since the story broke on Saturday night. The story has even made news abroad.

But credit must go to the man for doing something which Irish politicians are very bad at doing – admitting they have made a mistake and taking personal responsibility for their actions.

He made some disgraceful and potentially harmful decisions while drunk – but he has had the courage to resign as soon as he knew the story was going to emerge. Many other people in public life in Ireland would have tried to cling on.

Ireland has a pathetic history when it comes to politicians and those in positions of power taking responsibility for their actions. It is always death by a thousand cuts, ensuring that controversies and issues drag on far longer than they should.

The words "sorry" or "I resign" are ones that those in public office often only rustle up when they are like rats trapped in a corner.

It is never their default position.

Clearly Patrick Nulty has serious issues which he must address. He has said he is getting treatment for alcohol problems. His problems may go deeper than this, but that is his own business to sort out now.

In Ireland alcohol is often wrongly used as a cop out for bad behaviour. Last year we had the lapgate affair when TD Tom Barry pulled a female colleague Aine Collins onto his lap during a late night sitting of the Dail. At the time there was speculation that drink was involved.

This sordid affair also exposes the dangers of social media and many a high profile person has fallen on its sword.

Again to his credit Patrick Nulty was not hiding behind a false Facebook name, and he sent out his unsavoury messages as himself.

He was a man with a few too many on him who went several clicks too far. Maybe a 9am to 5pm curfew should be put on social media accounts that are there for business purposes to prevent abuse?

If there is ever a lesson not to engage online after having too many drinks this is it. With smart phones and tablets social media is never far away, and it is too easy to abuse. And you won't always get away with claiming your account is hacked, which is something Mr Nulty originally tried to do.

Mr Nulty's career as a politician has been very short lived. He was only a TD for two-and-a-half years after winning the Dublin West by-election following the death of former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan. He has made an awful mistake which he will pay for for the rest of his life.

He has taken decisive and direct action on this matter, and faces very difficult days ahead as he battles his demons.

Irish Independent

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