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Couple from supermarket ad campaign 'considering leaving Ireland' after online abuse

They have called for more robust hate-crime legislation to be introduced.

Fiona Ryan and Jonathan Mathis
Fiona Ryan and Jonathan Mathis
Image: YouTube/Lidl Ireland

THE MIXED-RACE couple who were the subject of online abuse after appearing in an advertising campaign for a supermarket chain have said they are considering leaving Ireland.

Fiona Ryan (33), her fiance Jonathan Mathis (32) and their 22-month-old son Jonah feature in a current television and billboard campaign for Lidl.

The couple were the subject of a number of abusive online posts after Gemma O’Doherty, a former journalist who unsuccessfully sought to run in the presidential election last year, tweeted about them.

On 7 September, O’Doherty tweeted the following about the ad: “German dump @lidl_ireland gaslighting the Irish people with their multicultural version of ‘The Ryans’. Kidding no-one! Resist the Great Replacement wherever you can by giving this kip a wide berth. #ShopIrish #BuyIrish.”

Several people commented underneath her post – many people defended the family but others directed racist and insulting comments towards them.

Lidl Ireland and members of the public reported O’Doherty’s tweet and Twitter later removed it, saying its content violated the platform’s standards.

Ryan and Mathis feature in an interview in the Irish Times today. Mathis is originally from Brazil, but grew up in England. The couple met in London seven years ago and now live in Co Meath. 

Speaking to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1 today, Ryan said she found out about the tweet when the producer of the Lidl TV advert called her on 8 September.

Ryan said the producer wanted to be the first person to tell her about the tweet but “couldn’t bring herself” to say its exact content, adding: “so I went and looked at it myself”.

‘Physically shaking’

Ryan said that after reading the tweet and the responses underneath it she was “physically shaking” but “had to pull it together” because she was with her young son at the time.

She said she “couldn’t believe” what some individuals were saying about her family and was shocked that people in Ireland “had this view … of multicultural families”.

Ryan said she didn’t want to read the comments but had to take screen grabs of them in order to report the situation to An Garda Síochána.

When I read through them all I was pretty shook, I kind of feared for my safety, for my son’s safety straightaway. It was pretty harrowing to have to read through all that and I don’t think anybody should be subjected to that kind of online abuse.

Ryan said she called the gardaí and visited a station to make a complaint but was told it was “a civil matter”. She said she insisted on making a complaint, adding that there seems to a “lack of understanding” in Ireland in relation to online abuse.

She said she received a letter from the gardaí this week, about two weeks after her original complaint, informing her that an officer has been assigned to her case.

Speaking about the fact her family are considering leaving Ireland, Ryan said: “I feel like if my 22-month-old son has to live in a country that doesn’t protect his human, civil right to be who he is then of course I’m not going to live and stand in a country that does that to my child.” She added that her partner is “angry” and “really hurt” by the situation.

Ryan said her family’s experience highlights the need for hate-crime legislation, and more robust regulation of social media, in Ireland. She called on the government to explore what they can do to protect people from such abuse.

“We need change and we feel like it’s our duty to help that happen in Ireland,” she said.

The Irish Times said O’Doherty has informed the couple that she is considering legal action against them regarding the “outrageous and false allegations” made about her.

O’Doherty staged protests outside Google’s offices in Dublin in August after she was suspended from YouTube for violating its policies on hate speech and harassment. Several counter protests also took place. O’Doherty denies any wrongdoing.

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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