Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman says he has become the victim of a “far-right social media pile-on” by groups using misinformation to play on concerns about child protection issues.
Speaking following a week of social media attacks on his views around the age of consent, and accusations of associating with an alleged “paedophile apologist”, Mr O’Gorman said the protection of the most vulnerable remained his “central” focus as a politician.
The Minister said there was a definite homophobic element to the abuse he was receiving and that his predecessor Katherine Zappone had been subjected to similar attacks for being gay and because she didn't have children. The Green Party Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu has also been subjected to online attacks around race, said Mr O'Gorman.
“It’s an attempt by the far right to silence people from minorities and to suppress difference. They’ll use whatever they can to undermine those who seek to stand up to their agenda. But it certainly isn’t going to work with me.”
He described the accusations as “ridiculous” but cautioned that the information being spread could become “really damaging”.
Mr O’Gorman has been criticised in recent days for marching alongside British LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell at Dublin’s Pride march two years ago.
In a 1997 letter to the Guardian, Mr Tatchell controversially wrote that some of his friends had made a "conscious choice" to have sex with an adult when they were under the age of 13. "While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful," wrote the British campaigner.
Mr Tatchell has since claimed the letter was edited and said sex with children was “impossible to condone”. “This means I condemn it,” he said in a tweet posted last week. “I oppose adults having sex with children.”
Mr O’Gorman said on Monday that Dublin Pride was “the first and only time” he met Mr Tatchell. Asked if he knew of the 1997 letter before Pride, the Green Party Minister said he did not.
“I had no idea about the letter. Had I read it straight before the march I probably would have re-considered (taking a photo with him). I absolutely don’t share his views on those points and I’m glad that he’s since clarified exactly what he meant there.
"I would have seen him primarily as an advocate for LGBT rights in the UK in the 1990s and 2002 but more recently particularly vocal on treatment of LGBT people in Russia and Chechnya. "
In a video posted on Twitter on Sunday, actor John Connors said allegations about the Minister and his association with Mr Tatchell should be “the political scandal of the year”.
The actor accused the Green Party of inviting Mr Tatchell, a “paedophile apologist”, to take part in Pride and highlighted the campaigner’s efforts to lower the British age of consent to 14. “This should be a national scandal, this is a disgrace,” said Connors.
Mr O'Gorman said the Green Party had not invited Mr Tatchell to take part in Pride but that he was invited to Ireland by another group involved in the festivities.
On the age of consent, Mr O’Gorman said he had no plans to bring it down from 17. “I don’t wish to lower the age of consent, the Green Party doesn’t wish to lower the age of consent and this Government doesn’t wish to lower the age of consent,” he said.
Last week, former journalist Gemma O'Doherty tweeted a screenshot of a photo of an Irish actor who had recreated the famous Goya painting 'Saturn Devouring his Son' which the Minister had re-tweeted. "Another day of sordid revelations," wrote O'Doherty, before calling for the Minister to step down.
A number of Twitter users accused Mr O’Gorman of supporting Satanism, claims he dismissed as ridiculous.
“It’s a painting of a famous Greek legend and I like a well put together Halloween costume. But now it’s being cited as an example that I support Satanism. It’s gone to the ridiculous.”
Asked to respond to calls for his resignation because of his association with Mr Tatchell, Mr O’Gorman said he would not respond to individual online posts.
The Minister said he had a “track record of working to implement child protection policies” through is work on school management boards and his seven years as Green party justice spokesman.
“The protection of the vulnerable has been central to everything I’ve done in politics... and now as Minister for Children, as well as Minister for Disability, Equality and Integration, child protection will continue to be central to my work.”
Mr O’Gorman said he had found the online allegations difficult to deal with but was conscious that “everyone in politics has to accept a level of scrutiny” and he accepts this.
“I had hoped that the ridiculousness of allegations would be seen and people would say this is just a mob piling on but because some people are believing this misinformation, it’s important to highlight what these groups are doing and also give complete clarification.”