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Junior minister Sean Sherlock had said he was not prepared to share a podium an event tomorrow with the organiser of the petition. Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland
Copyright laws

Sherlock agrees to attend debate with organiser of anti-’SOPA’ petition

Following a ‘change of heart’, Seán Sherlock agrees to attend a discussion featuring the solicitor behind an 80,000-name petition.

Updated, 21:10

JUNIOR INNOVATION MINISTER Seán Sherlock has this evening agreed to attend a panel discussion including the organiser of a petition attacking his online copyright laws, after earlier saying he would not share a stage with him.

Sherlock is due to attend a forum on digital rights being held at Dublin’s Science Gallery tomorrow, alongside founder Tom Murphy, Paul Durrant representing internet service providers, and solicitor Simon McGarr, who founded the StopSOPAIreland petition.

Having this afternoon said he would not share a podium with McGarr – accusing him of “causing some reputational damage to this country by deliberately misinterpreting the [new legislation] as SOPA” – the minister this evening said he had had “a change of heart”.

“If Simon accepts, then I’m very happy to have him on the panel,” Sherlock told this evening. “I think we need to move on on this debate and a good panel discussion does require the presence of somebody from the Stop SOPA Ireland campaign.

I still reject their interpretation of the [legislation], but for the process of transparency and debate I realise that in order for everyone to have confidence in the process, it is vital that Simon and his colleagues would have their say.

Earlier Sherlock had said he wanted “some balance on the podium” at tomorrow’s event, and that he would not appear “with someone who generated an online campaign that falsely compared the Statutory Instrument to the US SOPA legislation.”

The minister’s earlier statement followed an article by McGarr published on today, in which he said he had been told Sherlock would cancel his appearance at the forum, which was to discuss a controversial statutory instrument drafted by Sherlock earlier this year.

That legislation – dubbed the ‘Irish SOPA’ by its opponents, who claim it could far-reaching consequences similar to proposed laws in the United States – had attracted over 80,000 signatures to the StopSOPAIreland petition before it was enacted on February 29.

“There is no room for the public interest in that vision. For better or worse, I was on the panel representing the tens of thousands of Irish people who had lobbied the government over the SI as part of the campaign,” McGarr had written, adding:

And the Minister didn’t want even one voice from that group to be heard.

He said he had agreed to be dropped from the panel at the event in order to facilitate Sherlock’s attendance.

Organiser Sean Nicholls had said on Twitter that McGarr had not been “uninvited” from the forum, and that he had been invited to participate in a question-and-answer session at the event, though not as a main panellist.

Sherlock explained his earlier opposition to sharing a platform with McGarr by saying the now-aborted SOPA laws in the United States were “completely unrelated” to the statutory instrument signed in February.

I stated that Mr McGarr was responsible for causing some reputational damage to this country by deliberately misinterpreting the SI as SOPA. [...]

I reserved my right not to share a platform with any body who was acting solely in their own interests and not those of the wider online community who we meet and assist every day.

The Labour junior minister said Ireland was doing more to attract investment from online companies than any other European country, and that “any person that started a campaign that deliberately misinterpreted that legislation should take responsibility for their actions in damaging this country’s reputation”.

More details on the digital rights forum, which takes place at 1pm tomorrow, can be found here. Booking in advance was required and the event is now booked out.

Read: Sherlock confirms that ‘Irish SOPA’ has been signed into law

More: Sherlock appeals to opponents of copyright law to “call off the dogs”

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