In recent weeks we’ve had a flurry of communications, here at Gript, asking that we do what other media allegedly will not, which is to name the Irish politician who has been suspended by his party pending the outcome of an investigation into claims that he “groomed” teenagers online. Indeed, since that story broke, a number of politicians have been widely accused online of being the person at the centre of the story. These include at least one Green Party affiliated, and at least one Sinn Féin affiliated, member of the Oireachtas.
In fact, no media reporting has indicated that the person concerned is a member of the Oireachtas at all, and these claims are entirely baseless, fact-free, and defamatory speculation on the internet.
The absence of the person’s name has also led some people to claim, falsely, that there is an attempt to “cover up” this story. This is despite the fact that the story was on the front page of the Irish Mail on Sunday this weekend.
The reason that the politician at the centre of the scandal has not been named is straightforward: He has not been charged with any crime, and the law demands, as does natural justice, that he be assumed innocent.
It is standard practice, in criminal matters, that a person is not named until they are charged with a crime by the Gardai. Readers might remember the awful situation that developed at the time of the Aisling Murphy murder investigation, when one individual was widely identified online as the suspect in custody. It later transpired that this person was entirely innocent.
The only exception to the rule that a person is not named until such time as they are charged with a crime is if the person being questioned confirms, on the record, that they are the person being questioned. Were that to happen, the media could in some circumstances run a story reporting that a named person had said that they were under investigation for the crime alleged.
But that has not, as yet, happened in this case. To date, the accused person has made no comment on the matter of any kind.
Further, even then, we may not be able to name them. The convention in Irish reporting has always been that the highest duty in reporting a crime is to its victims. This is doubly so when the crime involves sexual exploitation. If there was any risk that identifying the person accused could also identify the victim of sexual exploitation, then the person accused could not be named.
Some readers have also wondered why the person at the centre of this case has not been named by their political party. The answer is much the same: A person accused of a serious offence has not been convicted of that offence, and is entitled to the presumption of innocence, even in an internal party investigation, like the one multiple media outlets have reported is underway in this case. Further, the party has a duty to this person’s alleged victims, to protect their identity.
Of course, the downside to these rules, which are perfectly sensible, is that they tend to place innocent people under suspicion. There is one politician in Ireland, at present, being investigated for the potential grooming of an underage child for sex. Despite this fact, multiple politicians have been identified, online, as the person responsible. Logic should tell you that as a result, at least one person is having false rumours spread about them on the internet.
What’s more, those politicians are at a disadvantage: They could formally deny it, but Joe Bloggs TD doesn’t look good in a headline that reads “Joe Bloggs TD denies he is being investigated for grooming a child”. The best they can hope for is that the name of the accused person eventually does come out, and that they get cleared.
But even then, for some of them, the stench may linger. And that is a grave injustice, whatever one’s views of their politics may be. Even writing here that someone is not the person involved would, of course, just lead online sleuths to turn their focus on some other, also probably innocent, person.
So, in summary: There is no cover up. The names you have read in relation to this story in whatsapp groups and on facebook pages are, by definition, almost certainly wrong.
There is one politician at the centre of this. In time, the public may or may not come to know his name. The important thing is that justice is done for the alleged victims in this case, not that media puts a face on the front pages.