Saturday 24 August 2019

'Political jousting' went too far, says FG activist in abuse row

Barry Walsh with Enda Kenny, Simon Coveney, Leo Varadkar and Alison Meagher (then Young Fine Gael Dublin Organiser) in 2010. Photo: Maxpix
Barry Walsh with Enda Kenny, Simon Coveney, Leo Varadkar and Alison Meagher (then Young Fine Gael Dublin Organiser) in 2010. Photo: Maxpix
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The Fine Gael activist at the centre of the online abuse storm agreed to step aside from the party's executive council following a private request on behalf of the Taoiseach.

Leo Varadkar is understood to have sent an intermediary to visit Barry Walsh and inform the former president of Young Fine Gael that he wanted him to voluntarily resign rather than be forced out.

Mr Walsh subsequently wrote to Fine Gael saying he deeply regretted "the tone and language I used in some of my tweets", adding that he "took the political jousting a step too far".

The Irish Independent understands Mr Walsh was a member of Fine Gael's disciplinary committee which is due to investigate his case. Sources say before the probe got under way he would have had to be removed from the committee, complicating the situation further.

It comes as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he is looking at compiling a "formal code of behaviour" for party officials and TDs who use social media.

He also hit out at social media companies for distancing themselves from online abuse.

"The social media companies have a lot to do here as well. This business of the social media companies, who are earning lots of money, standing back and saying 'this is nothing to do with us', I don't think that is sustainable any longer," he said.

Reacting to Mr Walsh's online posts, the Opposition leader said they were "terrible" and "wholly inappropriate".

Among tweets highlighted by Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell at a parliamentary party meeting were ones that described Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and Dublin North-West TD Róisín Shortall as "bitches". He also attacked actor Tara Flynn, who has spoken publicly about her own experience of abortion.

"From what Tara Flynn says, she was pregnant and just couldn't be bothered having a baby. So she had it killed. Why is she a feminist hero?" Mr Walsh tweeted on October 1.

Mr Martin said: "It's about time people stopped using social media platforms to simply abuse people, insult people, accuse people of things they haven't done, use all sorts of language to dehumanise them.

"Social media platforms are in danger, particularly in the political sphere, of degenerating into very extreme, intolerant political language." Ms O'Connell last night told the Irish Independent she felt a "responsibility" to bring Mr Walsh's behaviour to the attention of Fine Gael HQ after "a huge volume of people contacted me".

Irish Independent

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