Travellers criticise DPP’s refusal to charge columnist Brenda Power

Travellers’ rights campaigners say they fear the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to press charges against writer Brenda Power for incitement to hatred gives the media free reign to publish racist comment.

Travellers criticise DPP’s refusal to charge columnist Brenda Power

Pavee Point and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, both of which made formal complaints to the gardaí about an article Ms Power wrote in the Irish Daily Mail last year, said they hoped the Press Ombudsman, to whom they also complained, would take a different view from the DPP.

Ms Power said the complaints were “entirely pointless and futile” and the DPP’s decision not to prosecute her made an important statement about “the necessity of a free press and the value of open, fearless, and unimpeded debate”.

The complaints were lodged in April last year after Ms Power wrote a column about the vicious attack on boxer John Joe Nevin, a member of the Traveller community.

Mr Nevin, a silver medalist at the 2012 Olympics, was left with two broken legs in the assault that stemmed from a row within his extended family.

Ms Power subsequently wrote that the assault had not received the publicity and analysis it warranted.

“The media is terrified of appearing critical of ‘Traveller culture’, of which feuding is the principle expression these days,” she wrote before going on to accuse Travellers of murder, torture, bloodthirsty savagery, and milking the State.

Ms Power yesterday described what she wrote in the column as “pretty strong” but added: “I would have no compunction about saying it again.”

She added that it would be a “sorry day for press freedom” if the Press Ombudsman took a different view from the DPP and she urged the Government to repeal the Prohibition on Incitement to Hatred Act.

However, Martin Collins, a director of Pavee Point, said the act needed to be strengthened because it was “useless” in protecting minority groups.

“We are extremely disappointed,” he said.

“It’s bamboozling that the DPP feels that no further action is required or merited because in our view the article does constitute hate speech.

“By the DPP deciding that no further action should be taken against Brenda Power it effectively legalises and certainly gives a licence to a lot of journalists to print and publish articles which can be racist in nature.”

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties also called for the legislation to be amended because it said it set an “unattainably high threshold for prosecutions”.

Executive director Mark Kelly said: “In any truly democratic society it is essential that minority groups can live their lives free from fear and persecution.

“It is fair to criticise criminal behavior but it is neither just nor fair to attribute unacceptable behavior by some individuals to an entire group of people based exclusively on their membership of the Traveller community.”

The Department of Justice said the operation of the legislation was being examined as part of a review of the country’s integration strategy. “The review of Ireland’s Integration Strategy is nearing completion and is expected to be published shortly,” it said.

Sebastian Hamilton, group editor of Irish Mail newspapers, said he was delighted with the DPP’s decision which he described as a victory for free speech.

“The notion that writers should be thrown in jail for giving an opinion on a matter of social policy — in this case, an opinion shared by most of the public — is utterly abhorrent.”

More in this section