Ulster and Ireland rugby player Paddy Jackson’s plans to sue Labour senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has spurred a public backlash, with hundreds of people tweeting under the hashtag #suemepaddy.
Lawyers for Mr Jackson, 26, confirmed that they are considering a case against the former government minister over online comments about the Belfast rape trial, with his lawyers warning that others risk similar action if they continue to “attack our client”.
After nine weeks of public evidence, Mr Jackson and three other co-accused were acquitted of all charges. Mr Jackson was acquitted of rape and sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman. Fellow Ulster and Ireland player Stuart Olding, 25, was also acquitted of rape; Blane McIlroy, 26, was acquitted of exposure; and Rory Harrison, 25, was acquitted of withholding information.
The verdict led to outrage on social media, nationwide protests which will continue in cities across the country today, and calls for reform of the way people who allege sexual assault or rape are treated by the courts.
In the aftermath of the trial, Labour senator and former government minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was among thousands of people who posted a tweet on social media site Twitter under the hashtag #Ibelieveher and referencing the co-accused, before deleting it a short time later.
In response, Mr Jackson’s lawyers confirmed they have issued a legal warning to Mr Ó Ríordáin threatening to sue over the public message and saying others may face similar action.
KRW Law senior associate Marie Hans said in a statement: “I can confirm we have issued pre-action libel correspondence against a named senator in the Republic of Ireland. The legal action relates to a tweet sent to a number of other persons before it was eventually taken down. We will not hesitate to repeat similar legal action against anyone, who deliberately or otherwise, sees fit to attack our client.”
Mr Ó Ríordáin did not respond to a request for comment, while a Labour spokesperson declined to comment. In a Twitter message, fellow Labour senator and sex abuse survivor Máiría Cahill said: “My friend and colleague @AodhanORiordain is a good guy. A decent guy. Not the sort of guy who talks about ‘spit roast’ in a WhatsApp chatroom.”
Despite Mr Jackson’s lawyers warning they may also take legal action against other online commentators, hundreds of people took to Twitter yesterday using the hashtag #suemepaddy.
The legal threat against Mr Ó Ríordáin is in addition to action being taken by Mr Jackson and Mr Olding against the BBC for identifying them in 2016 before they were charged, a case which can also now go ahead.
Speaking at an Easter Sunday commemoration, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she understood the online backlash to the verdict, as the treatment of the woman who alleged assault was “a circus”, “humiliating”, “puerile”, and “voyeuristic in a way that was absolutely not necessary and is actually counter to justice”.
Meanwhile, the North’s attorney general, John Larkin, has launched an investigation after a juror posted comments on broadsheet.ie about the trial after it concluded.
Two people have been questioned by the PSNI in relation to naming the complainant in the case online. A number of outlets which covered the trial are also seeking to have ongoing reporting restrictions on aspects of the case lifted.
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