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Saturday 20 October 2018

Waters to sue Irish Times on Myers slur

JIM CUSACK and MAEVE SHEEHAN COLUMNIST John Waters, who has a daughter with singer Sinead O'Connor, is taking legal advice with a view to suing the Irish Times for defamation arising out of the 'mother-of-bastards' article by columnist Kevin Myers.

The development will add to the pressure on Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy, who tried to draw a line under the controversy yesterday by publishing an apologia in which she admitted she had twice read the article before deciding to publish it.

Her explanation may serve to only further inflame the issue because, for the first time, Ms Kennedy admitted she took the decision to publish even though she believed the article to be "deeply offensive to children and their mothers" and stigmatised them.

Pointedly, Ms Kennedy did not say the article was deeply offensive to fathers.

In his column, An Irishman's Diary, on Tuesday, Mr Myers referred to the singer, Sinead O'Connor.

He wrote: "The lads who (in Sinead O'Connor's immortal word) are the donors are probably elsewhere, donating away wherever and whenever they can, and usually without having to pay a penny of child support for the results of their generous donations."

Mr Waters, who plays a full role in the upbringing of his and Ms O'Connor's nine-year-old daughter, Roisin, believes this statement grossly defamed him. On legal advice, he refused to comment yesterday. But he is to meet his lawyers this week.

The fathers of Ms O'Connor's other two children may also have a similar case against the Irish Times.

In April 2002, a High Court jury in Dublin awarded Mr Waters ?84,000 plus legal costs following a four-daylibel trial over an article in the Sunday Times by gossip columnist, Terry Keane.

Mr Waters sued the newspaper over an article entitled 'Allow me the last word on John Waters' world' in which Ms Keane criticised a speech delivered by Mr Waters before the start of a play in Dublin's Abbey Theatre in June 2000.

Mr Waters claimed that Keane's comments meant that he was a bad father to his daughter Roisin and unsympathetic to her needs. He told the court that the article had seriously damaged his reputation and his legal team argued that the words were published maliciously.

Yesterday, Ms Kennedy said she regretted publishing Mr Myers' column on Tuesday, but still clung to her belief that its publication "may have started the real debate".

In a departure from an editorial on Thursday, which expressed "regret" for publishing the column, Ms Kennedy yesterday said "sorry" - a tacit admission that the editorial did not go far enough.

The crisis is the worst to engulf Ms Kennedy in her two years at the helm of the newspaper. Her admission that she sanctioned the article will raise questions about her judgement, in a week when the newspaper was lambasted for publishing Mr Myers' words, both by the publicand by senior figures on her own newspaper.

A member of the Irish Times Trust, David Begg, said last week that he was shocked by the article and will raise it with the board. Three Irish Times columnists, and several staff, also criticised publication of the column. The offending article was published on Tuesday, after being read twice and approved by Ms Kennedy, despite objections from at least two senior editors, according to sources within the newspaper.

In what critics will say is a further lapse of judgement, Ms Kennedy decided against running an unqualified apology on Thursday, despite protests from some editors.

Instead, she ran an editorial that championed the ethos of the Irish Times in exposing "odious opinions" that could stigmatise children.

The editorial began: "Irish society has changed hugely in recent decades and at a pace that is breathtaking. Much of this change is for the good and has been led by the Irish Times."

Vincent Browne, another Irish Times columnist, has attacked the editorial's opening sentences for a display of "astounding self-regard that will haunt Geraldine Kennedy for the duration of her editorship". The editorial also said that the newspaper "regretted" the offence.

But the editorial was roundly criticised as inadequate by members of the public and by Ms Kennedy's own columnists. Mr Waters described it as "mealy-mouthed".

He also said: "Unless this is addressed adequately, today, then the editor should be removed in my view.

"I'm not calling for the editor to gratuitously resign. I'm saying that unless this is addressed openly and unshirkingly, and that these issues are dealt with, if the Irish Times is to fulfil its function in Irish society and prepared to put this up, then it has to come out and defend it." Mr Waters is understood to be considering whether he should address the controversy in his Irish Times column on Monday.

Ms Kennedy's predecessor, Conor Brady, said: "Kevin Myers should not have used the language he did to describe innocent children and unmarried parents. The Irish Times should not have allowed it through its editing process."

Mr Myers' own sister is an unmarried mother. Asked yesterday, he said he did not know how she would feel about the use of the word bastard, but he did not consider the word is always pejorative.

"As Sinead O'Connor said on the Late Late Show on Friday, she has three lovely bastards," he said.

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