Par-European rights watchdog alerted after Irish opposition leader sues broadcaster

Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, filed the case last month following a radio interview aired in February concerning a then-brewing controversy over the fact that no representatives from any of the country’s three governing parties had been invited to speak at a rally organised for International Women’s Day.  [Shutterstock/MDart10]

An alert has been registered in the Council of Europe’s (CoE) press freedom platform after the head of Sinn Fein, Ireland’s largest opposition party, launched a defamation suit against broadcaster RTÉ.

Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, filed the case last month following a radio interview aired in February concerning a then-brewing controversy over the fact that no representatives from any of the country’s three governing parties had been invited to speak at a rally organised for International Women’s Day.

McDonald, who spoke at the rally but was not part of the RTÉ broadcast, sued the outlet over comments made by a journalist on the programme about allegations of the mishandling of historical sexual abuse allegations by Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army.

The alert, filed on Wednesday (25 May) by the Index of Censorship, classifies the suit as a SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

In April, the Commission released a directive designed to tackle these suits, which are seen as a threat to press freedom as powerful individuals often use them to silence journalists.

The directive focuses on cases with “cross-border implications” but recommends how similar measures could be enacted into national law. Ireland was one of three member states referenced by Commissioner Věra Jourová at the directive’s launch as having already begun exploring how to do so.

The CoE notes that this is the third time McDonald has initiated defamation proceedings at Ireland’s High Court since 2015. One of these past cases also related to allegations surrounding Sinn Féin and the IRA’s historic handling of sexual abuse allegations.

RTÉ is also facing a defamation suit from controversial Irish MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace.

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