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Luke 'Ming' Flanagan during a recent address to the European Parliament
ming flanagan

How the 'cold, calculated' hack of Flanagan's account was designed to damage his reputation

Flanagan said the tweet was a ‘skilfully carried out attempt to destroy me’.

IN FEBRUARY 2020, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan was pictured standing beside Saoirse McHugh who was running for the Greens in that month’s general election.

“Vote Saoirse McHugh number one,” read the caption of the accompanying photo on Flanagan’s Facebook page.

Flanagan, an independent politician who served as a TD before becoming an MEP in 2014, noted in the Facebook post that he had been “told by many that I will damage my political career by canvassing with Saoirse McHugh”.

The Green Party at the time wanted a ban of turf cutting, something Flanagan is opposed to.

84976492_2735732679837364_3343067853031997440_n Luke 'Ming' Flanagan campaigned with Saoirse McHugh when she stood in the 2020 general election

“For many of my supporters canvassing with Saoirse McHugh is seen as a betrayal. I can understand this. I expected it. It’s not though,” said Flanagan in his 2020 Facebook post, pointing to her other environmental policies.

The two had stood as rivals in the Midlands North West constituency in the EU elections of 2019, where they had to endure a marathon count process lasting four days. 

Flanagan was successful in that election, while McHugh missed out. During the long election count, Flanagan was pictured introducing McHugh to his daughter.

The MEP at the time hailed McHugh as a “quality candidate” and said she would have been elected had she received more media coverage.

The infamous tweet was sent over a year later – posted from Flanagan’s account by his former parliamentary assistant Diarmuid Hayes.

On 28 September, 2020 at 2.50am, the post sent from Flanagan’s account on X, formerly Twitter, read: “Sapirse [sic] mchugh photo skinny dipping.”

Hayes admitted to sending the tweet from Flanagan’s account and this morning was sentenced to 150 hours’ community service, in lieu of a 15 month prison sentence.

He was also fined €5,000 in damages to Flanagan, plus court fees.

Dooagh beach

The context of the tweet has it origins in a 2017 Guardian article about a beach in Achill Island, Co Mayo reappearing after vanishing in 1984.

The Guardian interviewed locals at Dooagh beach about the return of sand and Saoirse McHugh was among those featured.

The article was accompanied by a photo of McHugh running towards the beach, naked, for a swim. The journalist noted that the beach, “for all its newfound fame, or fame regained, is still an underpopulated stretch of sand”. 

The image has since been removed from the article.

At a court hearing last month where Hayes admitted to sending the tweet, Belgian public prosecutor Thomas Deschamps described it as an act of revenge and accused Hayes of crafting a tweet that would ruin Flanagan’s honour and reputation.

He noted the sending of the message in the early hours, as well as the misspelling of McHugh’s name.

Dechamps said this misspelling was designed to give the impression that a drunken Flanagan had been searching for images of McHugh online.

Flanagan added that the tweet was a “cold, calculated, skillfully carried out attempt to destroy me”.

ming Luke 'Ming' Flanagan in court in Brussels this morning.

‘Traumatising’

During sentencing today, Judge Isabelle Jacquemin said Hayes was “conscious” of how the tweet would be construed when he posted it.

“You realised it would damage his reputation, you published it with the intention to damage his reputation and honour,” she told the court.

The way in which the tweet was construed also had a heavy impact on Flanagan’s family.

At the court hearing last month, Flanagan said the incident had been “traumatising” for him and his family and led to abuse and ridicule.

Flanagan said he and his wife were abused on the street, and that his teenage daughter was afraid to leave the house as a result.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Flanagan said his Twitter account had been hacked.

Flanagan’s public defence was perhaps not helped by a perception that the MEP wasn’t particularly tech savvy, despite the MEP having close 60,000 followers on X, formerly Twitter, and using the social media platform effectively throughout his career.

A few months before the McHugh tweet, Flanagan made headlines when he addressed the European Parliament via videolink from his bed, without trousers – and only running shorts – on.

Flanagan said at the time that he had mistakenly positioned his iPad in portrait mode, rather than landscape.

He added that he mistimed his morning run, arrived back just in time for the meeting, and “threw on a shirt and sat there in my running shorts”.

The tweet from Flanagan’s account was also perceived as yet another example of the obstacles women face when running for politics.

In the days following the tweet being published, McHugh said Flanagan made her aware of the incident and that she believed his account of events.

IMG_4453 Diarmuid Hayes leaving the Palais du Justice in Brussels this morning

Hayes was able to log into Flanagan’s Twitter account via a third-party app to send the tweet. 

While Hayes was no longer working for Flanagan, he had access to the MEP’s account on the third-party app that he was still logged into, despite the fact that Flanagan had recently changed the password.

The tweet was sent from Belgium, while Flanagan was in Ireland after returning home due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Hayes, who worked for Flanagan for 18 months, told last month’s court hearing that the post had been a joke and an “impulsive decision” that he had taken in the middle of the night.

The post made headlines across Ireland and the UK, but Hayes told the court he “didn’t for a minute” think it would garner such media attention.

At the court hearing last month, Flanagan said the incident received “massive” coverage and expressed concern that “the fact that I’m innocent” will not gain as much media attention.

“I’ll pay the price for this forever,” said Flanagan.

However, in a post on X today after the sentence hearing, Flanagan said he is happy the case is “done and dusted” and that he and his family “are now heading off to have pancakes and enjoy the sun”.

Speaking outside court this morning, Flanagan said his “name has been cleared”.

“The main thing for me is, I’m glad this is all over and I don’t have to deal with this anymore.”

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