Online ad lobbying accusation ‘made up’

Mattie McGrath
Mattie McGrath

Claims that the Taoiseach lobbied Google and Facebook to ban some advertisements ahead of the Eighth Amendment referendum have been dismissed as “totally made up”.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath made the allegation yesterday and said he would be questioning Leo Varadkar on the matter in the Dáil.

The Tipperary TD, who is campaigning for a no vote, said he had no specific information on whether the internet companies had been lobbied before they made the decision to ban advertising ahead of the referendum, which will be held on May 25.

However, he said: “The Taoiseach, as we know, has been to some very powerful HQs of different places, and his €5m communications strategy, he’s big into his Google and his Facebook and his tweeting and everything else, it’s his hallmark really, his new style since he came in, so I have questions and I’ll be putting them in the Dáil, on who he visited, who he met and to what purpose and has he an open line of communication to some of these powerful headquarters of these hi-tech companies.”

The claims were yesterday dismissed by both Facebook and a spokesman for the Taoiseach, who described them as “totally made up”.

The allegation was also strongly refuted by Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, who is leading Fine Gael’s campaign for a yes vote.

“The corporations made these decisions quite rightly by themselves and we welcome them overall. It’s very important to know who pays for these ads,” she said.

“As far as I am concerned, this vote on May 25 isn’t about pro-abortion or not, it’s pro-choice or no choice,” she told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics. “If you are voting no on May 25, you are actually saying that the status quo that is there at the moment is OK.”

Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher, who was a member of the Oireachtas Committee which examined the Eighth Amendment, said the evidence is “overwhelming” to support a yes vote.

“Three women, girls, a day take the abortion pill,” he said. “The abortion pill is bought online, unsupervised, without any medical oversight and 10 women a day travel to the UK, so they are the statistics.

“Behind the statistics are all the individual stories of people who have had crisis pregnancies, pregnancies that they couldn’t continue with for many reasons, and then of course the issue of rape, sexual assault, and incest came very much to fore.”

He said the committee came to the decision that they could not put women and girls through “some sort of judicial process” to prove that they had been the victim of rape or incest.

However, Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae said repealing the Eighth Amendment would remove all protection from the Constitution for “babies in the womb”, which he said he could not agree with. Ireland and the Philippines are the only countries in the world with such protection written into the constitution.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Brendan Howlin has said the party has lost a considerable number of posters across the country but will continue to campaign strongly for a yes vote.

“We have lost thousands of posters; I suppose some will fall down of their own accord but some have been aided and abetted,” he said.

“But we won’t be dislodged by that — we will continue to replace posters to try and give a message across.”

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