A few months ago, shortly after this website launched, we were one of the very few voices to stand up for Young Fine Gael President, Killian Foley-Walsh, after he and some colleagues were denounced for attending a conference in Washington D.C. held by the Young Americas Foundation.
A quick reminder:
“The young man in the photo above looks harmless enough, doesn’t he? And yet, this week, more Fine Gael politicians have said that he should resign his position than ever said the same for their colleague, Maria Bailey, after she was caught apparently trying to perpetrate an insurance scam. He is Killian Foley-Walsh, the President of Young Fine Gael, and this week, the Irish Examiner said that there was a “commonality” between him, and the terrorist who shot and killed 18 people in El Paso, Texas. Maria Walsh, MEP, herself not a wet week in her party, called on him to resign. Noel Rock, a Fine Gael TD, led the condemnation of him in the Irish Independent. You might imagine he did something terribly wrong.
He did not.
His crime was to attend, in Washington DC, the conference of the Young Americas Foundation, a conservative-leaning organisation for young people. He met Vice President Pence. He listened to a speech by Senator Ted Cruz. He met, presumably, some young supporters of President Trump, and, worst of all, he said he enjoyed it. This then sparked what can only be described as hysteria.
The Irish Independent was the first to weigh in. “Anger”, it thundered in a headline, “as Fine Gael youth leader attends right-wing US conference”. Who, exactly, is angry, we are never told.”
Time moves on quickly, and it’s very likely that most people who read and consumed the news about Killian Foley-Walsh have forgotten his name. The media outrage machine did what the media outrage machine does – it made someone the story for a week, and then it moved on, ignorant of whatever damage it left in its wake.
This weekend, Mr. Foley-Walsh stepped down as YFG President, because his term of office had come to an end. It’s customary to give a farewell speech on these occasions.
What Mr. Foley-Walsh did in his was extraordinary. He talked about the impact of those few days of media coverage in August.
“(people say I’m not afraid of controversy)… but that is completely wrong. I am terrified of controversy. I am stone terrified of it. I hate it. You mightn’t think it…..
You might say he brings it on himself, but I don’t. I’m terrified of it.
I spent a lot of weeks there watching my phone, watching for numbers I didn’t know, scared to answer them because I knew it would be another journalist, calling to ask people like me who they don’t know, questions that they don’t care about, to try to paint me in the worst possible light”.
He went on to discuss the impact of the controversy on him, bravely revealing that he had engaged in self-harm as a way of coping with the mental stress of what happened.
“You wouldn’t see these marks if you didn’t look closely. And that’s because, frankly, I’m careful. The truth is I had done these things to myself. Because I was upset. It’s been a tough couple of months, but I did these things to myself. And it’s wrong and it’s stupid, but I did them. And I’m starting to stop doing them”.
Watch the full speech here. And yes, that’s Mr. Varadkar sitting in the front row:
The impact of social media mobs on people, often aided and abetted by the mainstream press, is hardly understood, because it is a new phenomenon. It takes courage to speak so openly about that impact, though, and it should give us all pause for thought.
Killian Foley-Walsh is a very fine young man. Show his speech to your children.