Paul Murphy sends 800-word letter claiming defamation by Taoiseach and ministers

Solidarity TD says Varadkar ‘thuggery’ claim against Dáil rules

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Solidarity TD Paul Murphy came to blows in the Dail after Murphy asked for an investigation into the Jobstown trial. The Taoiseach responded saying Murphy should, 'apologise' to Joan Burton and her advisor.

 

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy has written to the Ceann Comhairle accusing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of defaming him when he accused Murphy of thuggery during a Dáil debate on the Jobstown protest.

In an 800 word letter to Seán Ó Fearghaíl, signed by Mr Murphy and his fellow TDs Ruth Coppinger and Mick Barry, they say the comments were defamatory and in violation of Dáil rules. “We believe that these remarks require your attention under Standing Order 61”, the letter states.

The Taoiseach claimed the “thuggery” occurred during a “violent protest” against Joan Burton, as tánaiste, and her adviser Karen O’Connell in 2014. Mr Murphy and five others were acquitted of the false imprisonment of Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell in the protests in Tallaght in west Co Dublin.

Mr Murphy has also said comments during the heated Dáil exchange by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, TD Bernard Durkan, Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys were also defamatory and in breach of the Dáil rules.

“We believe that the defamatory nature of these remarks may not have been apparent to the Ceann Comhairle at the time, and in line with Standing Order 61 (3) would request that you consider the remarks made by the numerous Member of the House outlined above”, the letter concludes.

The Ceann Comhairle has, meanwhile, sought legal advice about whether Mr Murphy abused Dáil privilege when he accused three gardaí of “co-ordinated perjury” during the trial of Murphy and five other Jobstown protesters. The six men were acquitted last month of falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell during the water-charge protest in 2014.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during heated exchanges with Paul Murphy in the Dáil
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during heated exchanges with Paul Murphy in the Dáil

Mr Ó Fearghaíl brought the question of privilege to the Dáil Committee on Procedure on Wednesday evening and also asked the Oireachtas legal team to examine it. If the accusations are found to be an abuse of privilege Mr Murphy may face disciplinary action, but the sanctions are limited.

The Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, told The Irish Times that Mr Murphy’s Dáil claims of Garda perjury were outrageous and that the House cannot be used to attack people who have no way of defending themselves.

“What he did was neither fair nor proper,” Mr Martin said. “There is an irony in Paul Murphy pitching himself as the standard bearer in a crusade for justice by completely ignoring the basic rights and protection that those he opposes are entitled to.”

Mr Murphy said in response that he will continue to make similar statements about members of the Garda Síochána outside the chamber and that he is not hiding behind the legal protection that the Constitution gives everything said in the Oireachtas. “Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar should engage with the substance of the issue rather than engaging in pointless attacks.

“Our position is clear,” he said. “I did not name any individual. I did not make any individual identifiable. I made the same point in the Dáil that I have made at numerous press engagements.”

Paul Murphy during heated exchanges with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil
Paul Murphy during heated exchanges with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil

Full text of letter to Ceann Comhairle:

Dear Ceann Comhairle,

We would like to draw to your attention to remarks made by the Taoiseach on Tuesday 11 July during Taoiseach’s Questions and remarks made by the Taoiseach and a number of Deputies during Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday 12 July. We believe that these remarks require your attention under Standing Order 61. We have detailed these instances below and supply a copy of the relevant transcripts.

When responding to a question in Taoiseach’s Questions on 11 July, An Taoiseach said, “I was particularly struck by the moment when a vote was taken as to whether the two women should be detained all night. That was more like a scene from Lord of the Flies than a scene from a peaceful protest.”. Deputy Murphy never made these remarks, nor did anyone on the Jobstown protest; this was clearly demonstrated in the recent court case and is therefore on the public record. To attribute these words to Deputy Murphy, or anyone on that protest, is significant as it would be an important piece of evidence pointing to committing false imprisonment. Deputy Murphy has requested that the Taoiseach retract these remarks, which he has not done.

When responding to Deputy Murphy during Leaders’ Questions on 12 July, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made the following comments which we believe are defamatory and are in violation of Standing Order 61.

Responding to the question the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, “It may well be the case that the Deputy was not engaged in kidnapping, but it was thuggery and your behaviour was wrong.” This is a direct accusation of thuggery and is defamatory.

He further remarked, “The protest was ugly, it was violent, it was nasty.” This is an allegation that Deputy Murphy was involved in a violent protest, which again is defamatory.

The Taoiseach goes on to say, “For those of us who have seen some of the coverage of it that was broadcast on television, whether it was the anger, the virulence, the words that were being directed at two women going about their course of work on the day a water balloon being thrown in somebody’s face, all of those things were behaviour that is unbecoming of a Member of this House, unbecoming of somebody who believes in democracy and unbecoming of somebody who has any respect for other human beings”. In these comments the Taoiseach clearly alleges that Deputy Murphy was involved in ‘anger’, ‘virulence’ and throwing a water balloon by saying that “all of those things were behaviour that is unbecoming of a Member of this House.” These are false allegations, which are defamatory.

During these exchanges, Minister for Justice Deputy Charlie Flanagan said “More threats”. This is a defamatory accusation implying that Deputy Murphy had previously made threats against members of the House or others.

We believe that Deputy Bernard Durkan is also in breach of Standing Order 61. On numerous occasions he directly alleged, or implied, that Deputy Murphy had falsely imprisoned two people.

He directly accused Deputy Murphy of false imprisonment when he said “You held them inside for three hours”, and later “We know that you held captive two women for three hours.” When Deputy Durkan posed the question “Who detained two women?”, he clearly implies that an act of false imprisonment occurred.

Furthermore, he stated “Led by you”, “Led by you. You organised” and “All led by you.” Again, this is a false and defamatory allegation that Deputy Murphy ‘led’ the protest, which Deputy Murphy did not, this has been clearly shown in the court case and a matter of public record.

We further believe that Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor violated Standing Order 61 when she, too, made defamatory allegations that Deputy Murphy had engaged in false imprisonment.

She implied that false imprisonment had occurred when she posed the question “So, she was not locked inside a car.” And went on to defame Deputy Murphy when she stated “Two women were kept in a car” implying that this act amounted to false imprisonment when a jury has found this not to be the case.

We also believe that Minister Heather Humphrey’s remark, in reference to Deputy Murphy, “bully boy”, represents a clear breach of the spirit of ruling 428 in Salient Rulings of the Chair (Fourth Edition) which deals with insulting and abusive expressions applied to a Member.

Deputy Murphy has been found not guilty of false imprisonment. It is also a matter of public record that Deputy Murphy never engaged in, nor encouraged violence or threatening or abusive behaviour in any way. Deputy Murphy is entitled to have his good name and integrity upheld against these allegations and insinuations.

We believe that the defamatory nature of these remarks may not have been apparent to the Ceann Comhairle at the time, and in line with Standing Order 61 (3) would request that you consider the remarks made by the numerous Member of the House outlined above.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Murphy TD

Ruth Coppinger TD

Mick Barry TD