Paul Murphy TD: ‘Protesters should apologise’ for abusive remarks towards President Higgins

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy has called on the protesters who shouted personal insults at President Michael D Higgins to apologise.

The move comes after the TD was engulfed in controversy after he told the Irish Examiner the President was a legitimate target for protest because he signed the Water Services Bill into law without sending it for review.

The demands for apologies go much further than the TD’s initial remarks on the matter that calling President Higgins a “midget” was not nice, and “ableist” — offensive to people of restricted growth.

Demonstrators posted footage of themselves on social media in which verbal abuse such as “midget parasite” and “traitor” was hurled at the President as his car left a school in North Dublin, prompting a fierce debate on whether it was appropriate to target Mr Higgins.

Mr Murphy, declined an invitation to speak to the Irish Examiner yesterday but acknowledged he knows the people responsible for the abuse, and called on them to say sorry.

“I think they should apologise for using personal abuse, for the names that they called him. That’s inappropriate, it doesn’t add anything to the cause against the water charges.

“I think I know who they were, I think I’ve seen them on previous protests.

I don’t have their phone numbers, and couldn’t pick up the phone to ring them, no,” Mr Murphy said.

The move came after Mr Murphy criticised the way the Irish Examiner presented his views on protests against the President.

While Mr Murphy acknowledged the story outlining his opinions in yesterday’s Irish Examiner was correct and accurate, he said the headline: “TD defends Higgins abusers”, amounted to a “hatchet job from the school of gutter journalism”.

Irish Examiner editor Tim Vaughan rejected the allegations and insisted the newspaper stood over the headline and would not apologise for it.

The TD has said he will make a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman if he does not receive an apology and correction in regard to the headline as he believes it to be in breach of the Press Council’s code of practice regarding truth and accuracy.

“In my interview... I clearly defended protesters’ right to protest, but criticised the personal abuse. That is not reflected in the headline, which is designed to damage me and the anti-water charges movement.

“I fully defend the right of people to protest against any political figure they want, including the President.

“I criticised any abuse of a personal nature against the president. Abuse of this nature is not helpful to the anti-water charges movement.

“However, the position of the President is a political position. The presidential election is clearly a political election. People had illusions in the President that he would not sign into law the water charges, or would delay them by calling a Council of State.

“This belief was fed by political statements which the President often makes which are critical of austerity measures and in defence of human rights and because of the mass movement of people who had clearly rejected the water charges,” Mr Murphy said.

Mr Vaughan said he disagreed with the TD’s contention the headline was misleading or inaccurate.

Writing to the deputy, the editor acknowledged Mr Murphy had disagreed with “personalised comments and midget comments, which are ableist,” in the article.

Mr Vaughan stated: “However, your definition of abuse, verbal or otherwise in the overall context of the protest, is notably restricted to “verbal abuse which was of a personal nature” and the “personalised comments and midget comments”.

“Aside altogether from the non-verbal aspects of the protest which you defended (and which some people believe was abusive of the President, while others disagree with this view) I would submit that shouting “scum” and “you fucking scumbag” at President Higgins, as the protesters did, qualifies as generally abusive behaviour, as distinct from “the personalised comments and midget comments” which you have said you disagree with.

“In the circumstances, I do not accept that the headline was in breach of Principle 1 of the Press Council Code of Conduct and an apology or clarification is not appropriate,” Mr Vaughan wrote.

Mr Vaughan told the Socialist Party TD he would publish his criticism in today’s newspaper, but this should not be taken as an acceptance of the validity of his complaint but rather as a reinforcement of the newspaper’s commitment to freedom of expression.


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