Ireland: Anti-gay marriage group win damages after drag queen calls them homophobes

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Ireland’s state broadcaster RTÉ has been forced to pay out €85,000 (£70,000) in damages to journalists and members of the Catholic Iona Institute, after they were accused of homophobia on a chat show.

Last month on the Saturday Night Show, drag artist Panti (Rory O’Neill) alleged that the Institute and several associated journalists were homophobic.

The institute is a Catholic lobbying group that campaigns on social issues to “promote the place of marriage and religion in society”, and opposes equal marriage on the grounds that “marriage can only be between a man and a woman”.

Irish Communications Minister Pat Rabbite had intervened in the row, and warned against using the term “homophobe” to describe opponents of equal marriage.

He said: “It is too loaded a term to be used to categorise those who hold contrary views on what is a matter for legitimate public debate”.

The six claimants who filed for damages were David Quinn, founder of the Iona Institute, Irish Times columnists John Waters and Breda O’Brien, and Institute members Dr Patricia Casey, Dr John Murray and Ms Maria Steen.

The Irish Independent reports that that some of the litigants were offered right of reply and the opportunity to take part in a debate on last week’s Saturday Night Show, but this was turned down.

Mr Waters, who is believed to have received the largest share of the out-of-court settlement, stood down from the board of the Irish Broadcast Authority last week.

Ms O’Brien said she will be donating some of her share to a charity set up in memory of Tom O’Gorman, a member of the Institute who was murdered last month.

She said: “I will definitely be donating some of the money to the Tom O’Gorman fund. I want to remember Tom.”

After the incident, broadcaster RTÉ temporarily removed the clip from their catch-up player, citing “legal issues”, and aired an apology two weeks later.

Broadcaster RTE and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland received hundreds of complaints about the row, both about the initial incident and RTÉ’s decision to air an apology.