Garda launches inquiry over Ó Searcaigh documentary

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The controversy over a documentary about poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh intensified yesterday as the Garda Press Office confirmed that an investigation was under way into the case.

The Rape Crisis Network Ireland welcomed the Garda investigation and said the case raised the issue of wealthy Irish people travelling to poor countries where people were vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.

Ó Searcaigh issued a statement yesterday expressing concern at the portrayal of him in the film and describing it as "not only distorted and inaccurate but also very damaging to my reputation".

The film Fairytale of Kathmandu accompanies the Donegal poet to Nepal to film his education projects but goes on to express concern about his relationship with young men there.

A young man is shown going to his hotel room and the hotel manager later tells the film-makers that he had asked the poet's young Nepali friend to stop bringing so many boys to Ó Searcaigh's room.

The film shows Ó Searcaigh saying that he had sex with some youths "but I wasn't coercing them into having sex . . . that door was open all the time".

The film will be screened at the Dublin International Film Festival on February 18th and 21st and will be shown on RTÉ on March 13th.

Film-maker Neasa Ní Chianáin told RTÉ's Liveline yesterday that she had contacted the Irish health authorities and passed on copies of the documentary tapes because of her concern. She said she understood that social services had contacted gardaí over the case.

The Garda Press Office said yesterday that it did not comment on individual cases "but we can confirm that we have been in contact with police in Nepal in connection with this".

The film stresses that none of the young men were under 16, the age of consent in Nepal. The age of consent in Ireland is 17 years and there is a provision under the law to prosecute an Irish citizen who is involved in the sexual exploitation of a child outside the State.

In his statement, Ó Searcaigh said "the veiled suggestion that I exploited young men for my own sexual gratification is not true". He said he was openly gay and had never made any secret of that in Ireland or Nepal.

"The documentary seeks to portray one aspect of my life in Nepal in a very salacious manner. I have been travelling to Nepal for over 12 years and have developed many relationships with many people."

He said he had helped and befriended many young men, young women and families. "The film-makers have very deliberately chosen to depict me in a manipulative and exploitative manner, which I not only resent but which has hurt me deeply.

"I feel very hurt by the manner in which Neasa Ní Chianáin has feigned friendship in order to further her own commercial interests."

This was rejected by Ms Ní Chianáin who said she had greatly admired the poet and had originally envisaged that her film would be an ode to him.

She rejected suggestions that it was an attack on gay culture. "This film is absolutely not against gay culture. [ If] you substitute those boys for girls and the issues that this film raises are exactly the same."

Also on Liveline, poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi said she would be "astonished" if Ó Searcaigh had been involved in anything that could be described as sinister. "I know and like Cathal Ó Searcaigh very much indeed. I admire him as an extraordinarily good poet."

Mhac an tSaoi said it would have been an honourable action if the film-maker had withdrawn from the project and released Ó Searcaigh from any obligations. She said she felt the poet had been "entrapped".

This was rejected by Ms Ní Chianáin, who said there was a lengthy paper trail showing how the documentary came about.

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