Refugee tribunal member sues for defamation

Una McGurk caused controversy after speaking at anti-lockdown rally in August

 Una  McGurk confirmed on Wednesday she has lodged the action but declined to comment further. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Una McGurk confirmed on Wednesday she has lodged the action but declined to comment further. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

A senior counsel who spoke at an anti-lockdown rally last summer is suing a refugee group for defamation.

Barrister Una McGurk lodged the case on Tuesday, one day before the end of her term as a member of the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (Ipat), which decides refugee applications.

Ms McGurk’s second three-year term on the tribunal officially ended on Wednesday.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has decided not to renew her contract, meaning she will no longer sit on the tribunal.

“The department can confirm that a decision has been taken not to reappoint the person concerned to the tribunal, and the person concerned has been advised accordingly,” a Department of Justice spokesman said. “Given the circumstances, it would not be appropriate for us to comment further.”

The barrister caused controversy when she appeared at an anti-lockdown event at the Custom House in August and spoke against mandatory mask regulations to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Her comments did not address immigration but she shared the stage with several members of the anti-immigration Irish Freedom Party, whose leader Hermann Kelly has espoused the far-right “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

The rally was attended by a large number of far-right activists, including members of the National Party who displayed a banner reading “Ireland belongs to the Irish”.

Protest

Ms McGurk’s appearance at the rally led to calls for her removal from Ipat and drew criticism from refugee campaigners, including the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (Masi).

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said at the time he did not believe Ms McGurk’s appearance at the protest was compatible with membership of Ipat.

Ms McEntee subsequently requested a report on the matter from the tribunal.

Ms McGurk was not removed from the post and later described receiving a “slap on the wrist” following an inquiry.

Ms McGurk is also a member of the Mental Health Tribunal, another quasi-judicial body which decides on the detention of mentally ill patients.

After the anti-lockdown rally, the Mental Health Commission, which oversees the tribunal, said it was examining the matter. It is understood Ms McGurk was not removed from the tribunal following an inquiry.

On Tuesday, Ms McGurk lodged papers in the High Court naming Masi, its founder Lucky Khambule and its spokesman Bulelani Mfaco as defendants. It also listed direct provision campaigner Donnah Vuma.

The senior counsel, who is not a member of the Law Library, is to represent herself. The High Court deals with claims worth €75,000 or more.

Masi has been sharply critical of Ms McGurk in recent months. It set up a petition calling for her removal from Ipat and has highlighted her decision to uphold the refusal to grant refugee status to a bisexual Nigerian man who said he feared persecution in his own country.

‘Seriously defamed’

It is not clear precisely which statements Ms McGurk claims are defamatory. Ms McGurk confirmed on Wednesday she has lodged the action but declined to comment further.

Mr Mfaco said he could not comment.

In a short video, which was filmed outside the Four Courts last week, Ms McGurk said she had been “seriously defamed” on social media and that she had issued High Court proceedings for defamation. “Open season for Una McGurk is now over,” she said.

Ms McGurk, who also describes herself as a “transformational life coach”, maintains a YouTube channel and other social media accounts where she shares controversial views on Covid-19, vaccinations and 5G technology.

She has called Covid-19 “a fake pandemic” and has falsely claimed it is no more dangerous than the flu. She also falsely claimed Ireland has already achieved herd immunity.

She has shared posts from the Irish Freedom Party and from a far-right YouTuber who has been behind several anti-immigration demonstrations around the country, although none of her own public statements address the topic of immigration.