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David Quinn (file photo) Photocall Ireland

Iona Institute's David Quinn settles case with abortion rights activist over defamatory tweet

The case was raised in the Dáil by the Green Party’s Neasa Hourigan last year.

DAVID QUINN, DIRECTOR of the Iona Institute and national newspaper columnist, has settled an action against an abortion rights advocate who he claimed defamed him on Twitter, in a case raised in the Dáil last year.

Quinn received a financial settlement along with an apology from Karen Sugrue, a Limerick woman who tweeted the defamatory remark on 21 May 2022.

Quinn is chief executive of the Iona Institute, a registered charity which aims to “promote the place of marriage and religion in society” according to its website.

Speaking about the case on social media today, Sugrue made an apology and accepted that she had defamed Quinn, but said she wanted to use the opportunity to speak out on why “Ireland’s defamation laws need to be changed”.

She said the stress of the case proved a “drain” on her time, energy and resources, and claimed it had an “enormous chilling effect” on her freedom of speech, and her activism and lobbying.

She also questioned whether “a badly worded tweet from a private person” should result in a year of being threatened with action in the High Court and the potential to lose her home.

Dáil discussion

The dispute previously made its way into the public arena during a Dáil discussion late last October regarding ‘Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation’ (Slapps), which were described by Dublin Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan as “meritless or vexatious lawsuits” taken against weaker parties who “convey information on a public matter that is perceived as unfavourable or uncomfortable to the powerful”.

Hourigan said she had become aware of a number of such cases, referencing Quinn by name and noting his lawsuit.

During the Dáil discussion, she called for legislation to include provisions for the regulation of the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in such legal cases, which she said can often take place outside the court process.

When contacted by The Journal at the time, Quinn said he could not comment on the case. He has been contacted again for comment today in light of the settlement.

However speaking to the Irish Times about the case, Quinn said his legal threat against Sugrue was not a Slapp because it was defamatory, and that he had no issued threats of legal actions against other people.

Sugrue published the details of the case on Twitter this morning, alleging that last October she had been “invited to sign a confidentiality agreement – an invitation that I declined”.

“And this is why I am now able to use this opportunity to talk about why Ireland’s defamation laws need to be changed,” she added.

Sugrue said that she was “angry, tired [and] hungry in the queue in Dunnes” when she made the tweet.

“I replied to a tweet of his that referred to doctors who perform abortions as ‘deliberately killing patients in the name of autonomy’”, she said, adding that it was “the perfect storm for stupidity.”

Sugrue said she accepted her response was “clumsy and badly written”, and that she “never had any difficulty apologising” to Quinn for the defamatory remark and quickly  offered to do so, along with paying “costs and some damages”.

She claimed that offer was “instantly rejected” by Quinn and she was threatened a High Court suit.

“My solicitor was surprised as I am not a public person and my comment was seen by very few people,” she said, before questioning why would someone with the “profile of David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute and columnist for national newspapers, invest his time and money” into the legal action.

“Should we be able to say anything we like online? Absolutely not. I get abuse online all the time and it’s appalling. Should a badly worded tweet from a private person result in a year of being threatened with the High Court and losing your house? Also no.”

She added that she had spoken with Hourigan and other TDs including Green Party Minister Catherine Martin, the party’s TD Patrick Costello and People Before Profit–Solidarity’s Mick Barry to work on defamation law reform.

Justice Minister Simon Harris announced plans in March for sweeping reform of Ireland’s defamation laws, which he said will protect public-interest journalism and reduce the legal costs and delays in making a claim.

Sugrue urged people to contact their local TDs and Harris so that they bring in these reforms to “protect activists and journalists”, as she outlined what she called a “drain” on her energy and resources during the defamation case with Quinn.