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FactCheck: Is Regina Doherty right to say she didn't support the use of civil disobedience?

The Government Chief Whip denies having made some controversial comments. We put that claim to the test.
Jan 24th 2017, 8:30 PM 15,932 68

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GOVERNMENT CHIEF WHIP Regina Doherty has become entangled in a controversy in recent weeks, over comments she made about potential civil disobedience by her constituents.

Before Christmas, the Fine Gael TD appeared to express support for farmers and others in Meath in engaging in civil disobedience to oppose the installation of pylons.

But last week, she denied having done so, and told RTE Radio One’s News at One that the comments attributed to her were “so far removed” from her “personality” and position as Government Chief Whip.

So let’s have a look at that original statement and see whether Doherty’s denial stands up to scrutiny.

(Send your FactCheck requests to factcheck@thejournal.ie, tweet @TJ_FactCheck, or send us a DM).

Claim: Regina Doherty did not express support for civil disobedience

What was said:

You can listen to excerpts in a video below, but these are the key points.

In a statement given to Morning Ireland for broadcast on 22 December, Minister of State Regina Doherty said the following:

I am bitterly disappointed but not surprised by the An Bord Pleanala decision. I am particularly disappointed with the treatment by Eirgrid of the people of Cavan, Meath and Monaghan.
We are about to enter into a phase of civil disobedience to hamper the decision made by An Bord Pleanala and I fully support the farmers and landowners in that action.
In terms of my position in government, I have one last chance to work to get this decision overturned and I am going to remain in government to use that chance.

The Chief Whip, in response to FactCheck, claimed that:

The text issued by RTE was not a statement issued by my office and is incomplete by way of the conversation I had with the researcher on the 21st December.

We asked the Chief Whip’s office whether she denies having said the following, in that conversation:

We are about to enter into a phase of civil disobedience to hamper the decision made by An Bord Pleanala and I fully support the farmers and landowners in that action.

We did not receive a response to that question.

FactCheck also asked Regina Doherty’s office what comments she made, beyond those included in the statement published by Morning Ireland, which would have contradicted, moderated or contextualised her expression of support for civil disobedience.

We did not receive a response to that question.

The decision in question was one by An Bord Pleanala, which sanctioned the construction of 299 pylons in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, as part of Eirgrid’s North-South Interconnector project.

However, on last Tuesday’s News at One, the Chief Whip stated:

The suggestion that I would support – or actually, [as] has been made on a number of occasions by your radio programme, or your station – is that [sic] I would actually encourage civil disobedience, is something so far removed from, number one, my personality, and number two, the position that I hold as Chief Whip.

Conclusion

3/12/2013 Electric Pylons Source: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie

In her statement to Morning Ireland, Regina Doherty clearly expressed support for “farmers and landowners” in acts of civil disobedience she was predicting would follow An Bord Pleanala’s ruling.

There can be no doubt that the “action” referred to was civil disobedience by those opposed to the pylons. Indeed, her statement specifically said “that action”, having earlier mentioned “a phase of civil disobedience”.

The contention that the Chief Whip made additional remarks, not reflected in the statement published by RTE, is not relevant, even if it is true, unless those additional remarks would have served to contradict, moderate or contextualise her stated support for civil disobedience.

When asked, her office did not provide such remarks.

The question of whether Regina Doherty encouraged civil disobedience is less clear. Obviously, she did not explicitly state that she “encourages” the actions in question.

However, a statement can have the intent or the effect of encouraging a behaviour, without making that encouragement explicit.

Whether or not her expression of support for civil disobedience had the effect of encouraging the “farmers and landowners” in those actions, we don’t know, but it is certainly plausible.

(One is more likely to do something if one is publicly supported in doing it, particularly by an influential senior government official).

Neither do we know whether it was the Chief Whip’s intention to encourage that behaviour. But we do know that her stated position, in response to FactCheck, is:

I certainly do not encourage civil disobedience.

In conclusion, we give her claim – that she did not express support for civil disobedience – a verdict of NONSENSE.

As defined in our verdicts guide, this means “The claim is wildly inaccurate, logically impossible, and/or ridiculous”.

In this instance, the Chief Whip’s expression of support for civil disobedience was unambiguous, and her subsequent claim that she did not express that support is therefore somewhat bizarre.

This is the second time FactCheck has examined a claim by Regina Doherty. Previously, we gave her a verdict of FALSE. You can read her FactCheck file here.

FactCheckFileReginaDoherty

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

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Dan MacGuill

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