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Mary Lou McDonald says she's glad Barry Walsh resigned over comments about female politicians

The Sinn Féin deputy leader was subject to online abuse by Walsh.

Barry Walsh, who was a former president of Young Fine Gael.
Barry Walsh, who was a former president of Young Fine Gael.
Image: Mark Stedman RollingNews.ie

Updated 6.15pm

SINN FÉIN DEPUTY Leader Mary Lou McDonald has said she is glad that Barry Walsh has stood down from Fine Gael’s executive council.

Walsh, a senior member in the Fine Gael Party, was heavily criticised for comments he made about female politicians on Twitter.

McDonald was one of the female politicians targeted by Walsh online, calling her a bitch in one tweet.

Speaking at the beginning of her party’s Ard Fheis in Dublin this evening, McDonald said she was glad that he had offered his resignation.

“I didn’t know who he was until about yesterday afternoon. I mean his remarks were obnoxious and offensive. I hope and I understand that Fine Gael are dealing with it and really people commenting in public on any person, on any woman, on any public figure really should desist from such abusive language,” she said.

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis Deputy Leader of Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald with leader of Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland Assembly Michelle O'Neill, speaking to media ahead of the opening of the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in the RDS, Source: RollingNews.ie

Resignation letter

In his resignation letter, Walsh said he wanted to “prevent any further distraction” and was resigning “out of respect for the membership of the Fine Gael party”.

He said: “I deeply regret the tone and language I used in some of my tweets. I realise that some of my remarks have caused serious offence to many people and I apologise unreservedly for that.

As you know, I first got involved in politics because I have passionate views on many issues and have always enjoyed robust political debate, however I accept that with many of these tweets I took the political jousting a step too far.

Walsh added that he would make no comment publicly until a disciplinary process was conducted by Fine Gael’s executive council.

At this week’s Fine Gael parliamentary meeting, Kate O’Connell TD distributed print outs of tweets sent by Walsh.

They appeared to show a number of derogatory tweets sent to female politicians on Twitter. In response, the Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty came out strongly against her fellow party member on RTÉ yesterday, saying that the tweets were “not even close to normal behaviour”.

Among those targeted on Twitter by Walsh, was actor and writer Tara Flynn. Earlier this week, she wrote on Twitter “I’d like to meet Barry Walsh. I don’t expect an apology, but I’d like him to sit across from me and say whatever he has to say.”

Leo Varadkar attends launch of Future of Europe Source: Brian Lawless via PA Images

The story has made the headlines in a number of papers today, including the Irish Independent which reported that “Varadkar failed to halt online abuse by Fine Gael ally”.

Speaking to a pool of reporters in Gothenburg this morning, the Taoiseach said it would be best for Walsh to resign from his position on the executive council.

“Mr Walsh is below the standards of what I’d expect from a Fine Gael officer,” he said.

There are lots of trolls, lots of nasty people and lots of horrible language used on Twitter, but I expect Fine Gael officers to set a higher standard.
I think at this stage it would be best if he resigned and stepped down as a member of the Fine Gael Executive Council pending a disciplinary procedure which is now underway.

Chair of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment, Catherine Noone said she spoke to the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the member last night following the parliamentary party meeting.

Although Noone said she wanted to be careful with her words for fear of prejudicing any formal disciplinary action taken against Walsh, she agreed with Doherty.

She added that this was not about men versus women – “it is about human decency”.

Asked about the controversy today, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD said he felt it is part of a wider issue of the increasing use of “extreme” language in political discourse.

The language used and the nature of the tweets are terrible, unacceptable and inappropriate. And I would just say generally, it’s about time that people stop using social media platforms, some people, in the manner that have been using them, to simply abuse people,  insult people, accuse people of things they haven’t done. Using all sorts of language to dehumanise them.

“I think the social media companies have a lot to do here as well. This business of social media companies, who are earning lots of money, billions, standing back and saying that it’s nothing to do with us. I just don’t think that’s sustainable,” Martin said.

On the Walsh issue in particular, Martin said it was instructive to all those in politics.

Obviously it’s a Fine Gael internal matter, my understanding is there may be disciplinary issues there, but I think all in political life we need to be vigilant to the degenerate us of twitter and social media in that manner.

He added that Fianna Fáil has “general guidelines” on the use of social media but that a review may be needed on the introduction of a “formal code”.

Attempts were made by TheJournal.ie to contact Barry Walsh yesterday but there was no response by the time of publication.

- With reporting from Christina Finn, Rónán Duffy and Sean Murray

Read: Twitter abuse: Fine Gael TDs call out senior party member who labelled women ‘bitches’

Read: ‘The Dáil is no Westminster – but it certainly is a boys’ club’

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