Taoiseach condemns TD’s ‘frightening’ move to sue Irish Times journalist

Varadkar says personally suing journalists designed to ‘make them think twice about what they write’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has described a Sinn Féin TD’s decision to sue an Irish Times journalist as “frightening”.

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said suing a journalist personally was only designed to do “one thing”.

“It’s designed to make journalists afraid, it’s designed to make them think twice about what they write, and I think it’s wrong,” he said.

The Fine Gael leader was responding to Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns, who said she was “very concerned” about the prevalence of strategic lawsuits against public participation.


“As you know these lawsuits involve public figures, powerful individuals or rich corporations taking vexatious cases against media, activists or indeed members of the public in an effort to muzzle their critics,” she said.

“It is particularly concerning when journalists are personally sued in addition to the publisher as these cases can be financially ruinous. When proceedings are taken in the High Court, costs sometimes run into the millions of euro, forcing journalists and media outlets to settle out of court, even in cases that they could win.”

Ms Cairns added that the effect of this was that those with “deep pockets can shut down debate and silence public interest journalism” and said despite promises from successive governments to reform defamation laws for years, “we’re still waiting”.

She was speaking after the Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Bay South, Chris Andrews, lodged defamation proceedings in the High Court against The Irish Times and its political correspondent, Harry McGee.

Mr Andrews is understood to be claiming that he was defamed in an article written by McGee and published in The Irish Times concerning Sinn Féin’s response to the Hamas attack on Israel last month.

Among the matters covered in the article were comments by Mr Andrews on social media about the events in Israel, which included his responses to a tweet from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Mr Varadkar said he “wasn’t going to” bring up the matter but that he did agree with the Social Democrats leader.

“People are entitled to sue the media if they so wish, but they don’t have to,” he said. “There is other ways to seek redress and one is a complaint to the Press Council and I think that’s the appropriate course that people should follow and to see a member of this House, not just suing a major newspaper but also personally suing a journalist, that’s only designed to do one thing - it’s designed to make journalists afraid, it’s designed to make them think twice about what they write, and I think it’s wrong.

“There’s other ways to get redress and get corrections and clarifications and at the very least, the first step should be the Press Council and not suing a news organisation, particularly not suing a journalist individually, I think that is frightening actually.”

The Taoiseach said Minister for Justice Helen McEntee was working on the heads of a Bill amending Irish defamation legislation and hoped to have that enacted next year.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times