Press freedom campaigners urge Ireland's Sinn Fein to stop suing critical journalists

Left-wing party has a reputation for aggressively pursuing its media critics, particularly via the court system.


Ireland's leading opposition party, Sinn Fein, has been implored by a group of media freedom organisations to stop "chilling public interest speech" by threatening journalists with legal action.

The letter, co-signed by Reporters without Borders (RSF) and numerous foundations and campaigners from Ireland and elsewhere, implores Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald to change her party's approach to critical journalists, which it says have begun to resemble "a coordinated campaign against the media in Ireland".

In particular, RSF and its colleagues cite a current lawsuit brought by a Sinn Fein parliamentarian, Chris Andrews, against The Irish Times and its political correspondent that focused on the party's response to Hamas's 7 October attacks in Israel, which saw hundreds of people attacked and killed and many others abducted into Gaza to be held as hostages.

The article in question looked at tweets and statements from several left-wing members of the Irish parliament, including some from Sinn Fein.

Correspondent Harry McGee wrote that "what was notable from the reaction of the left in Ireland was an avoidance of any direct condemnation of the Hamas attack...Instead, the response was largely either to ignore the atrocity, or to contextualise the attack as a product of Israeli oppression."

Sinn Fein's leaders have condemned Hamas's violent actions, but the lawsuit launched by Andrews in response has been met with alarm.

"Everyone has the right to defend their good name," reads the RSF letter, "but the law should not be used as the first line of defense. This is especially true for politicians, who must respect the essential role that journalists have in holding power to account."

Among those condemning the party for its tactics is Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who said in parliament recently that the party's approach to critics was to "shout them down or sue them".

Ireland's Prime minister and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald take part in a TV election debate in 2020. Ireland's Prime minister and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald take part in a TV election debate in 2020.NIALL CARSON/AFP

“To see a Member in this House not just suing a major newspaper but also personally suing a journalist is only designed to do one thing,” he said. “It is designed to make journalists afraid. It is designed to make them think twice about what they write and that is wrong. There are other ways to get redress and corrections and clarifications.

“At the very least, the first step should be the Press Council of Ireland and not suing a news organisation, and particularly not suing a journalist individually. I think that is frightening actually.”

Having formerly operated as the political wing of the IRA, which mounted a failed decades-long terrorist campaign to reunify the island of Ireland, Sinn Fein is heavily tipped to be in a position to form a government after Ireland's next parliamentary elections, which are expected to be held next year.

The party won a plurality of the vote in the last election, but the two other major parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, were able to form a majority coalition with the smaller Green Party and a number of independents.

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