A criminal case relating to alleged online abuse of Clare GAA secretary Pat Fitzgerald and other county officials is at an advanced stage.
An Garda Síochána have confirmed to the Irish Examiner that the investigation into a request made by the Clare County Board is ongoing and “a file is currently being prepared” for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In November, Clare GAA chairman Joe Cooney stated the board had alerted Gardaí to a series of derogatory remarks made about Fitzgerald and other officials over several years. Clare GAA provided a series of social media posts to Gardaí.
Cooney said: “A complaint has been lodged with Clare GAA by an employee (Pat Fitzgerald). It arises from social media and what has been put up on it, not alone over the last couple of months but the last number of years.
“Other officers of Clare GAA have also been badly maligned on social media. It’s not good enough for people working as volunteers for the GAA whether at club or county level to be subjected to that. In fact, it’s a disgrace.
“It has been going with Pat for a while back, but other officers have been getting it very badly too over the last couple of weeks and months. We’ve handed it over to An Garda Síochána now and we want a thorough examination to be carried out to find out who’s behind it and put an end to it.”
At a county board meeting in November, a Facebook page was singled out by a number of delegates as being the main source of the abuse. It is believed Fitzgerald was subjected to attacks as Clare conducted the process to select their senior hurling management team for 2020.
In his annual report, Fitzgerald outlined why the Gardaí were contacted: “I suppose there comes a time when one has to cry ‘enough is enough’. For years I have been pilloried on social media and other online platforms, subjected to cheap shots by a majority of people who haven’t the decency or courage to put their names to the posts. And for most of the time I have chosen to ignore the diatribe.
“I have always prided myself as being a person with solid principles and values, of decency, integrity and honesty. But this year’s vitriol descended to unacceptable levels. When online posts question those personal characteristics and enter the realms of a smear and belittlement campaign as I see it, I just could not sit idly by any longer and bite my tongue. It was time to take forceful action.
“Such an unwarranted character assassination impinges on my family as well. One can cocoon one self for so long but they too have been hurt by the unacceptable comments posted by people sitting at a keyboard, hiding behind the shields of anonymity.
“It hasn’t just been this year alone, it just came to the point where I had to go down a road I had thought long and hard about previously. A cohort of people have consistently been of the one mind, hitting the keyboard trying to tarnish my good name and that of other officers of the county board.
“It wasn’t something I did lightly but I think you will all agree it is time to put a stop to the vilified attacks. Other officers of Clare GAA have been maligned on social media and these posts are also included in the dossier of complaints.”
Fitzgerald’s son Davy is also understood to have been targeted by the same sources and the ferocity of them towards his father as well as himself is understood to have been one of the reasons why he stepped away as manager in September 2016.
For a number of years, the current Wexford senior manager has been an advocate for the Government to implement legislation against cyber bullying. Last month, he hit out at the latest derogatory remarks made about him.
Fitzgerald said last Saturday week: “I got absolutely lambasted last (Friday) night in Clare for no reason whatsoever. What actually gets me is faceless cowards that can say stuff and they don’t have their name to back it up. And then that goes all around the place and people might think that is actually true.
“It actually disgusts me some of the stuff that goes on, to tell you the truth. I was told today that something was said and I said ‘just leave it, it’s not the truth, I’ve no interest in looking at it’.”
Before he finished his term as Clare GAA chairman in 2015, Michael McDonagh highlighted the dangers of abusive posts on social media: “I seriously fear that (online abuse) will go too far some day and somebody will be put under so much pressure from what is said about them on social media.”