Sunday 20 October 2019

'I was actually shaking' - Woman in Lidl ad campaign speaks out on online racial abuse

Fiona Ryan and her partner Jon Mathis appeared in an ad for the supermarket chain earlier this month along with their 22-month-old son Jonah
Fiona Ryan and her partner Jon Mathis appeared in an ad for the supermarket chain earlier this month along with their 22-month-old son Jonah

Aoife Walsh

A woman whose family was racially abused online after they appeared in a supermarket ad campaign has said she was left "physically shaking" when she first saw the offensive messages.

Fiona Ryan, her fiancé Jonathan Mathis and their 22-month-old son Jonah appeared in a television and billboard campaign for supermarket giant Lidl. The ad, which reads, 'In 14 weeks the Ryan's saved €623. How much will you save?' featured a photograph of the family.

However, after the ad began showing in early September a number of racially-abusive messages were posted on Twitter about the family.

READ MORE: 'Disgusting' - Leo Varadkar condemns online abuse after mixed-race family are attacked online

The responses left Ms Ryan "pretty shook" and fearing for her and her son's safety.

Lidl reported the tweet to Twitter, which then removed it for violating its standards.

Ms Ryan is now calling on the government to enforce better hate-crime legislation.

She said: "When I first saw it I was actually shaking, physically shaking. My 22-month-old son was beside me, so I had to pull it together in a way. I honestly couldn't believe someone would take a picture, a photograph and look at it negatively.

"I wasn't aware that that would even be possible. It kind of shocked me that people in Ireland had this view, whatever they see as 'multi-cultural' families.

READ MORE: 'I'm afraid now. I believe it could happen here' - do white supremacists pose a threat in Ireland?

"I don't really like reading people's comments, but I actually had to do it in this case because I wanted to report it to the police," she told RTÉ's Seán O'Rourke.

"I had to go through all the tweets myself and screen shot the ones that were, for want of a better word, racist.

"When I read through them all I was pretty shook. I kind of feared for my safety, and my son's safety, straight away. It was pretty harrowing to have to read through all that. I don't think anyone should be subjected to that kind of online abuse," she added.

Ms Ryan reported the abuse to the guards a day after discovering the tweets. However, she was told it was a "civil matter" and that "they couldn't do anything about it.

"I initially rang the guards the day after I found out which was Monday, I think. The garda on the phone said that it was a civil matter and they couldn't do anything about it, basically. Just thinking about that, it doesn't feel right to me that it was a civil matter," she said.

READ MORE: 'The law is not on our side' - African man living in Ireland speaks about the racist abuse he has faced here

"I went into the police station four days after I rang. I talked to a garda, and she didn't really know why I wanted to report it. I had to insist like four times that it was an attack on my family and I feel like I have the right to report it.

"Since then, I rang the week after and asked the guards if there was any update. They said my statement was still in transition, and that I should wait another week. I waited another week, and then I finally got it a letter - two weeks after I reported it - from the Victims Support Unit, saying that I do actually have an investigative officer.

"From the start of this week I haven't heard anything yet so my next protocol is to ring up to get some sort of idea of what's going on," she added.

Ms Ryan, who works as an actor, said she and Jonathan have considered moving out of the country since the incident.

"I feel like if my 22 month old son has to live in a country that doesn't protect his human right to be who he is, then of course I'm not going to stay in a country that does that to my child.

She added: "We need change and feel like it's our duty to help that happen in Ireland, basically."

READ MORE: Jail terms given to small number of people who commit hate crimes, says report

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