Monday 26 September 2016

Social media's serious threat to the possibility of a fair trial

Published 12/07/2016 | 02:30

The Four Courts: Under Irish law, a person is innocent until proven guilty
The Four Courts: Under Irish law, a person is innocent until proven guilty

Social media poses perhaps the biggest risk to our legal system in 2016, and judges' instructions are futile in tackling the issue. Particularly in high-profile cases, where vast amounts of conventional media coverage and social media comment have tumbled around the Twittersphere for months before a trial, the defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial is surely compromised.

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Social media by its very nature is an under-regulated cauldron of opinion, often inflammatory opinion, where users can espouse views that are unconscionable, unwarranted, or just downright false and defamatory about an individual, without repercussion.

Whether a person has been charged or not, by Irish law they are innocent until their guilt is proven in court. That should be a most basic right for every citizen.

I feel that the kneejerk reaction from the majority on social media is to jump on the 'guilty as sin' bandwagon that trundles into the comment threads and newsfeeds of the millions of Irish people who use social media.

We are subjected to such content in an often unsolicited way as we scroll through harmlessly, or peruse the comments section of an article that carries the story of the individual's arrest, arraignment or otherwise.

Studies in the United States and elsewhere show that public perception is now shaped by what we consume on social media, perhaps more so than television, radio or printed media. Suppose we arrive on a jury for a heavily publicised case, and we have already come in contact with all of this coverage, debate and character assassination of the accused. No matter how the judge instructs us not to use social media during the trial, or implores us not to take anything other than the information traded in court into account during sentencing, the many tentacles of social media have already infiltrated our consciousness.

Guilty as sin? The jury's out.

Justin Kelly
Edenderry, Co Offaly

Momentous day for Dominicans

Eight Dominican deacons were ordained to the priesthood on July 9, 2016, in St Saviour's Church, Dublin. This year marks the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Dominican order.

The ceremony was presided over by the Most Reverend Robert Rivas OP, who is based in St Lucia, part of the Irish Dominican Province. The Archbishop stole the show after the ordination, when he lifted the roof of St Saviour's, as he sang of St Dominic. This surprise was fitting for the occasion, as it would be wrong to not rejoice in the occasion of this momentous ordination. Momentous for the Dominicans, and for the country.

This occasion comes seven years after the year of vocation, commissioned by Pope Benedict. Irish people answered the call to prayer, and with the help of the then Vocations Director Rev Fr Gerard Dunne, these men began their ongoing 'marathon' of prayer, study, community life and preaching.

Archbishop Robert gave St Saviour's a sculpture of a dog with a torch. This was what St Dominic's mother dreamed of before his birth. It symbolises Dominic's zeal to preach the gospel. Now, 800 years on, eight men have been commissioned to continue this noble tradition.

Mark William Thomas O' Farrell
Grattan Road, Galway city

'New politics' is a nonsense

The headlines and editorials are full of calls for Enda Kenny to resign and for Micheál Martin to assume power.

Why is that? Enda Kenny was not a member of a government that bankrupted the country. Micheál Martin was. Is this what they call 'new politics'?

A Leavy
Sutton, Dublin 13

Brexit could revive the Tiger

Although the unexpected outcome of the Brexit vote will likely have negative consequences for the UK and most of Europe, it may well benefit the Irish economy. London now has 250 foreign banks and some 700,000 people are employed in the financial services sector. What would be the impact if even 10pc moved to Ireland?

Many banks and other firms that are presently in London may desire to relocate to a country still in the EU. American, Middle Eastern and East Asian businessmen may be reluctant or unable to rapidly learn French or German. Some may fear the risk of terrorism and be unwilling to move to France, Germany, or Belgium.

As an English-speaking, relatively safe country, Ireland might attract many of these firms. Also, as the 'remain' option was supported by 56pc of voters there, it is possible Northern Ireland might in future leave the UK and reunite with the Republic of Ireland.

The Celtic Tiger may well rise again.

Charles S Shaver, MD
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Feeling detached in Donegal

Richard Bruton writes that, with further democratisation, citizens "whether in Donegal or Dubrovnik" would feel the EU belongs to them and not to an insider elite.

Citizens in Donegal might feel that completion of the cancelled A5 Western Transport Corridor giving a decent road link to Dublin, would be a good start.

Dr John Doherty
Gaoth Dobhair, Co Dhún na nGall

Ignore the gloom and carry on

The mood in the country following Brexit, Ireland being ejected from the Euros and the Console charity scandal has dampened spirits in this country to a extraordinary degree.

The upbeat feeling that was there in June seems to be gone and it is not due to changes in weather patterns. This country seems to be very sensitive to national events and how they go. The country is essentially looking for something it can celebrate and rejoice in, or to feel some progress has been made.

Public events or happenings should not affect people to the extent that it changes their entire personality and attitude towards other people. They should not be upset if a team does not win or by some other negative event that has caught the public imagination. Let's have faith in ourselves as individuals and not rely on a collective herd mentality subject to the ups and downs of public life.

Maurice Fitzgerald
Shanbally, Co Cork

TDs without a quorum, or a clue

One of the 'reforms' introduced under the Fine Gael/Labour government was of course the extra sitting of Dáil Éireann on a Friday.

Last Friday, not enough TDs showed up to work to start work at the allotted time. Let that be the end of any notion that any of those involved in propping up the current Government know anything about work, employment or employment rights, etc.

Indeed, let it also be the end of any notion that a shower that can't find the way to work given all the pampering they receive are of any benefit to anyone - even themselves.

Dermot Ryan
Athenry, Co Galway

Irish Independent

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