Fine Gael tweeter Barry Walsh should have heeded his own words
Surprising that FG executive council member not pulled up on posts before this week
Barry Walsh is a member of the Fine Gael executive council.
Barry Walsh’s gratuitous tweets have been something of a secret in plain sight. What is surprising is that he was not pulled up on them before Kate O’Connell delivered a coup de grace at the Fine Gael parliamentary meeting on Tuesday.
Walsh, a solicitor, has been prominent in the party for over a decade but has made national headlines after the Dublin Bay South TD disclosed a series of abusive tweets sent by him, many directed at female politicians and commentators.
He is the former head of Young Fine Gael and is now on the party’s executive council. In last year’s general election, he was director of elections in Dublin Bay North. He also advised Lucinda Creighton back when she was minister of state for European affairs.
His current role is a voluntary and behind-the-scenes one but nonetheless an important one within the party.
Politically, Walsh very much belongs to the Christian Democratic wing of Fine Gael. He has very strongly-held anti-abortion views; defends denominational and Catholic education; rails against the ‘nanny state’ and political correctness; is pro-Israel; and strongly backs ‘right of centre’ administrations.
In that respect, he is one of a minority of voices offering an alternative (and probably unfashionable) viewpoint on Irish politics and society on social media, particularly on Twitter.
There is one thing about having strong views and being outspoken in articulating them, or criticising the ‘totems’ which represent the views. It is an altogether different matter when you resort to abuse or insulting ad hominem attacks.
Sure, Twitter can be a viper’s nest and has its fair share of trolls. As another commentator with a similar world view, John McGuirk, has said, Walsh is not the only offender and pointed to some vile tweets directed at anti-abortion campaigners.
However, Walsh was elected to his position in Fine Gael (albeit internally) and it was hard to disagree with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when he stated clearly that responsibilities go with that. They include not insulting colleagues or using abusive and personalised language.
Walsh has posted a total of 10,000 tweets, many on abortion. Among them are dozens where he takes insulting potshots at opponents.
There are at least five instances, where the word ‘bitch’ was used. Among those described as such were Róisín Shortall, Mary Lou McDonald, Nanci Pelosi and Marine le Pen, as well as un-named contributors to radio and TV programmes.
Other targets include the National Women’s Council; Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International; Labour Senator Aodhan Ó Riordáin, and President Michael D Higgins.
He has regularly personalised attacks on female commentators, journalists, medical professionals and activists who support repealing the eighth amendment. They are variously described by name as “dimwit”, a “crone” and a “quack”.
In a tweet on reported comments by Sabina Higgins, the wife of the President, he wrote:
“Wow. Sabina Higgins calls babies with fatal foetal abnormalities as “outrages against nature”. Just wow…
“A real disturbing insight into this vile woman’s worldview.”
The tweet that caused most reaction referred to Tara Flynn, an actor and comedian who had an abortion.
“She was pregnant and just couldn’t be bothered having a baby. So she had it killed. Why is she a feminist hero?”
The abusive tenor of the tweets have attracted very harsh criticism from Fine Gael colleagues today: Regina Doherty was particularly outspoken saying he had “serious issues” and was one of the “angriest young men I have come across”.
Walsh was indeed subject to pillorying on social media on Thursday, though some, including McGuirk, argued the reaction was over the top.
One senior TD agreed privately. He said that while Walsh was “way out of line with the tweets”, the reaction was not proportionate. He thought, for instance, that Doherty had gone too far in her comments.
“The vilification on social media is the original, but in reverse,” the TD said. “There’s a big difference between being an elected representative and a party member, albeit on the executive.”
The difficulty for Walsh has not been about his views (no matter how stridently they were expressed) but the personal invective. One of those he attacked, columnist Colette Browne, pointed to an article he himself wrote in which he said “words have the capacity to cause extreme hurt”.
“It is unfortunate that a most offensive and inaccurate use of language has recently entered the Irish political and media lexicon.”
Perhaps, he should have more closely heeded his own words.