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Sinn Féin says Leo Varadkar's claims about 'racist and homophobic' online supporters are 'without foundation'

Louise O’Reilly says Varadkar is seeking to distract attention from government policy.

Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald ahead of the 2020 general election.
Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald ahead of the 2020 general election.
Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated Dec 3rd 2020, 5:25 PM

SINN FÉIN HAS said claims made by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar that he has been targeted by supporters of the party with racist and homophobic abuse are “without any foundation”.

Speaking at a parliamentary party meeting last night, Varadkar told members that accounts replying to him on social media with abuse are held by people who support Sinn Féin.

Fine Gael has frequently accused Sinn Fein of engaging in organised online trolling, a charge the party denies.

Sinn Féin publishes guidelines for its representatives and activists about how to behave online, encouraging “common sense and personal responsibility”.

Speaking about the Tánaiste’s claims today, Sinn Fein TD Louise O’Reilly TD said that Varadkar was seeking to distract attention from government policy and that her party was against any such abuse.

“There are no more staunch defenders of Leo Varadkar, or any other politician online, when they have been the subject of any abuse,” she said.

He said that without any foundation, without any basis in fact. I’m not sure why he said it but I’m sure he wants us to talk about that, rather than talk about government policy. 

Speaking about the issue on RTÉ’s Drivetime programme this afternoon, Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh said she was part of the parliamentary party meeting and was not surprised to hear Varadkar’s comments. 

“It’s not the first time I would have heard sentiments like that from colleagues, I’m a gay woman in politics, I see it unfortunately quite often myself,” she said. 

Online all the way throughout my campaign and since there has been that kind of goading language, unnecessary soft commentary, hence the reason why I’m disappointed when I see language like this. My role here is to call it out and set and example for my constituents.

Whilst saying she deals with homophobic comments regularly, Walsh said she “won’t be as specific” about whether the issues come from supporters of specific parties.  

Far-right

O’Reilly was speaking at the launch of Le Chéile, a cross-sectoral alliance of organisations set up to counter the far-right and fascism in Ireland. 

The alliance is made up of a number of social justice organisations, several which were involved in the Repeal the 8th movement, as well as various anti-racism groups.

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TDs from Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, the Social Democrats and Rise were present at today’s launch.

O’Reilly says her party “stands against racism and stands with those people who stand against racism”. She cited the attack on her party colleague Martin Kenny TD following comments he made in support of asylum seekers. 

“We have done it in our communities. And in actual fact members of our party, elected representatives, have been targeted personally. Martin Kenny had his car burnt out, so when it comes to standing up to the elements of the far right, Sinn Féin is at the forefront” O’Reilly said.

“We would love if Leo Varadkar and others right across the political spectrum sent a very, very clear message.”

Also speaking at the Le Chéile launch, Rise TD Paul Murphy said that people online can professes support for any party but that it doesn’t mean they reflect the view of that party.

“It can be the case that someone who votes for and professes to support parties of the left expresses vile, racist or whatever views online. And our job there is to make clear that isn’t our view whatsoever, we stand absolutely against it and condemn any such abuse, And the truth is that it is the parties on the right in this country that have attempted to sew division,” he said.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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