Tuesday 20 August 2019

Taoiseach and Fine Gael failed to tackle online abuse by senior member - despite knowing about vile posts

President's wife, actor and TDs targeted in tweets since 2016

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

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael failed to act on concerns about a senior member of its national executive despite officials being aware of vile online posts about women.

The party has been unable to contact Barry Walsh since Dublin Bay South TD Kate O'Connell distributed a dossier of offensive statements he has made on social media.

And while Mr Varadkar has told the Irish Independent he believes the language used by Mr Walsh was "not acceptable", he stopped short of publicly seeking his resignation.

Mr Walsh referred to Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald and the Social Democrats' Róisín Shortall as "bitches". And he called well-known actor and writer Tara Flynn a "killer" for having an abortion.

Well-placed sources say officials in the party were aware of the crude comments, which were publicly posted, but didn't intervene. And former general election candidate Stephanie Regan told this newspaper: "Barry has worked hard for the party and has a history with the party. He was protected."

Read More: Trail of offensive tweets that were ignored by Fine Gael

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell
Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell

Mr Walsh is well-known to the Taoiseach, who is an avid user of social media. He backed Mr Varadkar in the Fine Gael leadership contest.

Prior to that he was the director of elections in Dublin Bay North last year when Ms Regan and Education Minister Richard Bruton were on the ticket.

Before that he worked as parliamentary assistant to Lucinda Creighton and was based in Government Buildings.

The Cork native was president of Young Fine Gael from 2007 to 2010.

Ms Regan said she called him out for describing women as "bitches" on Twitter almost a year ago. "I said to him at the time, 'Barry you need to rethink your derogatory language when it comes to women'," she said.

Fine Gael's national executive is to meet later this month to discuss complaints from Ms O'Connell and Ms Flynn.

However, as far back as May 2016 Mr Walsh's tweets were garnering attention online. At the time, President Michael D Higgins' wife Sabina expressed an opinion on Ireland's abortion regime, leading him to write: "A really disturbing insight into this vile woman's worldview."

Among the most notable of his Twitter posts was an attack on Tara Flynn who is the voice of TV3's 'Blind Date'. She has spoken publicly about her experience because it's "too easy to dismiss faceless stories".

Six weeks ago, Mr Walsh tweeted: "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?"

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Ms Flynn said: "It's genuinely frightening when it seems a senior member of a party in government is allowed to get away with misrepresenting you. I'm glad to see Fine Gael, and Kate O'Connell in particular, taking it seriously."

At the weekend, Mr Walsh addressed Fine Gael's National Conference in Cavan, where he received a round of applause from some members.

He questioned Health Minister Simon Harris's commitment to an abortion referendum, saying it would create six months of distraction when members should "focus on the growth and development of the party".

Yesterday Mr Harris said he was proud of Ms O'Connell for bringing the issue to the wider attention of the parliamentary party.

"Honoured to call her a colleague and a friend. A hard-working, bright person who stands up for what she believes, demands high standards and calls out low ones," he tweeted.

Education Minister Richard Bruton declined to comment on the controversy.

It is understood Mr Varadkar has told colleagues that he would like to see Mr Walsh step down from the party.

However, he stopped short of such a call when questioned by this newspaper, instead stating: "Mr Walsh's use of language is not acceptable to me as party leader. A disciplinary process is now in train and will be completed swiftly in accordance with party rules."

He added: "All debate should be conducted in a respectful manner at party meetings, in the media and on social media.

"Party officers have a particular responsibility to set the standard in that regard."

Mr Walsh did not reply to queries and last night blocked his Twitter from public view.

Irish Independent

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