Tuesday 24 April 2018

Taoiseach’s comments on court case 'mind-blowing', says Howlin

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Comments about the Belfast rape case made on live radio by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during the trial have been described as “mind-blowing” by Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin.

The former minister said politicians should know better than to reference an active trial, especially one so high-profile.

The Irish Independent revealed yesterday how Mr Varadkar sought legal advice after an appearance on Newstalk’s ‘Pat Kenny Show’ on March 9.

The presenter was forced to interrupt the Taoiseach on two occasions as he brought up a “certain trial happening in Belfast” during a discussion on the abortion referendum.

Mr Varadkar was attempting to make the point that introducing rape as a specific ground for abortion would not be workable as it would require some form of process to prove an attack had occurred.

Referencing the Belfast case, he said: “Can you imagine putting women through something like that, or anything even vaguely approaching that?”

He added that in order to avoid “re-victimising” a women, the Government would propose to make abortion legal without specific grounds up to 12 weeks.

Mr Howlin told Independent.ie’s podcast ‘The Floating Voter’ that it was bad for anybody to make such public commentary during a trial.

“For a politician it is doubly bad. For the Taoiseach it is quite mind-blowing that any comment would be made about an ongoing trial. I hadn’t heard it before. To say it’s unfortunate is to put it mildly,” he said.

Although the trial was being held in a different jurisdiction, Mr Howlin said: “If you say something on any broadcast media, whether it’s social media or a radio station, you assume it’s broadcast to the world.”

However, the former public expenditure minister revealed that he had to reprimand one of his own senators for a social media post made shortly after the jury acquitted Ireland rugby internationals Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin tweeted his own views on the outcome, including a reference to “smug, well-connected middle-class boys”.

The tweet was quickly deleted – but not before it was reposted hundreds of times.

Mr Howlin said he spoke with the senator who “put his hands up” and admitted it was a mistake. “It shouldn’t have happened,” the party leader said.

Meanwhile, a new Oireachtas report says the dangers posed by the growth in social media platforms can only tackled by a suite of new laws.

Existing legislation dealing with harassment and abuse have been found inadequate.

The identification of the young woman at the centre of the Belfast rape trial on social media was yesterday cited by chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell, as an example of the challenges that need to be taken on by politicians.

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