Ross O’Carroll Kelly column 'not racist towards English people'

Over 250 complaints to Press Ombudsman made about articles published in the Republic last year

A photograph of a child visiting his father in prison and an allegation the Ross O’Carroll Kelly column is racist against English people were some of the issues decided on by the Press Ombudsman last year.

Ombudsman Peter Feeney received 252 complaints relating to articles published by print and online publications in 2019.

Of these he made rulings on 32 complaints, with most of the remainder being abandoned by the complainant, ruled inadmissible or resolved without the need for an investigation.

Mr Feeney upheld 15 complaints, meaning the offending publication was obliged to take corrective action and print his decision.


The Press Council received 15 appeals of Mr Feeney’s decisions from both publications and complainants. Of these, three were upheld.

The figures and some details of the cases are contained in the Press Ombudsman annual report.

Launching the report, chairman of the Press Council Seán Donlon said that newspapers are more important than ever and that many face extinction due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Member publications of the Press Council are a vital pillar of democracy,” he said.

In one matter, Bulelani Mfaco of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (Masi) complained about the publication of a derogatory word for black people in full in The Irish Times. The word was printed in quotation marks in a court report concerning a man accused of racially abusing a taxi driver. It was quickly replaced with a censored version of the word.

Mr Mfaco alleged its publication was in breach of the code of the Press Council's conduct of practice. His complaint was rejected by the Ombudsman but upheld by the council on appeal.

A woman complained to the Ombudsman that her underage son’s privacy was breached when they were photographed by the Sunday World visiting his father in prison. The Ombudsman upheld the complaint and ruled that even though the child’s face was pixelated he was still identifiable.

His decision was overturned by the council which found the photographs had been taken in a public place and the newspaper had taken “reasonable steps” to conceal the boy’s identity.

The Ombudsman rejected a complaint that the satirical Ross O'Carroll Kelly column in The Irish Times contained racism towards English people. The complainant took issue with a column detailing "anglophobic abuse" by children towards English fans at a rugby match.

Mr Feeney said he accepted the complainant was offended “by the remarks made by the fictional children” but “that there was no intention to cause grave offence or to stir up hatred on the basis of nationality.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times