Former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has resigned from the Commission on the Future of the Media.
Rusbridger had come under pressure as a result of the recent admission by the former Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade that he had been a supporter of the IRA while working for the paper.
The Guardian published an article by Greenslade in 2014 which was critical of Máiría Cahill, who was a victim of sexual abuse by a former IRA member. Ms Cahill has called for Rusbridger to resign from the commission, which was set up by the Government to make recommendations about the future of the media in Ireland.
Fine Gael senator Regina Doherty and the Labour leader Alan Kelly have also called for Rusbridger to step down. Last week the commission said it unanimously backed Rusbridger to continue in his role, and the Government said it wanted him to remain in the position.
However, Rusbridger announced his resignation on Sunday evening in order to remove distractions from its work.
In a statement issued through the Government press office, he said: “I was pleased to be invited by the Taoiseach to be part of the Future of the Media Commission. I was heartened by his backing for my continued involvement, along with the Culture and Media Minister, Catherine Martin.
“The unanimous support of my Commission colleagues was very important to me. The Commission is considering critical issues for Ireland and I don’t want my involvement to be a distraction from its work, so I have told its Chair, Prof Brian MacCraith, that I will step down.”
The Taoiseach and Ms Martin thanked Rusbridger for his “significant contribution” to the commission to date.
Ms Cahill told a BBC Spotlight programme in 2014 that as a teenager she was raped by an IRA member and that the IRA had sought to cover up the assault.
She subsequently complained to the Guardian about the piece written by Greenslade.
In a statement to The Irish Times, Ms Cahill said: “Roy Greenslade and his actions have caused an awful lot of upset and trauma. I note the Guardian have now removed his articles on me. His editor at the time had an opportunity during the review of his position on the Future of Media Commission to be fully transparent about what he knew about Roy Greenslade. I don’t believe this explanation stood up to scrutiny.”
Ms Cahill said the “actions of the Future of Media Commission and their ‘unanimous support’ for Rusbridger and the way that was communicated to me, was equally distressing.
“It is not okay to treat someone who has been a victim of child abuse in this manner and I hope this never happens again to anyone else,” she said.
Rusbridger issued another apology a week ago for publishing Greenslade’s article, in which Greenslade had questioned Ms Cahill’s motive for speaking out at the time.
Saying while he knew then that Greenslade was a supporter of Sinn Féin, Rusbridger said he had not known he supported the IRA’s campaign. “I wish I’d known. I wouldn’t have published it now and I’m sorry,” he told The Irish Times last week.
The Future of Media Commission – where Rusbridger has chaired Zoom-held sessions – was appointed by the Government in September 2020 and is due to furnish its report in the next few months.
Ms Cahill’s lawyers complained about the Greenslade article at the time and the matter was sent by the newspaper’s lawyers to the then Guardian readers’ editor Chris Elliott, though it was not brought to Rusbridger’s attention.
Elliott said he could not “see grounds for suggesting that the article has a number of significant factual inaccuracies”.
However, Rusbridger has now apologised “both for the article and for the upset it must have caused her” because the article “spectacularly fails on transparency grounds”.