Thank you Michael Barron for your apology

by Michael Nugent on February 16, 2016

I would like to thank Michael Barron for ringing me today to apologise for his comment on Aoife Fitzgibbon O’Riordan Facebook page, in which Aoife had falsely accused me of using dog-whistle homophobia to defend misogyny.

Michael has sent me the following email to publish here:

“Hi, Michael.

It was very good to talk with you by phone earlier today and thank you for accepting my apology on this issue. Again I apologise for commenting on the thread.

I appreciate your work and that of Atheist Ireland to support LGBT people over the years, where you have shown clear support rather than any bias. I wish you very well and look forward to working together into the future.

Michael”

I accept Michael’s apology. I am aware that he has also been the victim of personal smears in the past, so he understands how it feels to be the target of unjust and hurtful misrepresentations.

Unfortunately this now seems to be an occupational hazard for those of us who actively campaign to bring about an ethical society, as opposed to those who rage-blog about us.

I and Atheist Ireland support Michael in condemning any attempts to undermine his character and the good work he has done for years for LGBT rights, and now for equality in the education system.

I hope that Aoife will now follow suit and withdraw and apologise for her defamatory smear about me.

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shatterface February 16, 2016 at 5:26 pm

Good on Michael.

That’s a real apology, not a no-pology. No attempt to blame Michael Nugent for the misunderstanding. No attempt to apologise for one accusation only to come back with a worse one. No doubling down. We don’t see much like this.

2 tina February 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm

Yes…it’s exceedingly rare for full on social justice warriors to apologise for anything, as we’ve seen with Myers, Lee and a host of others. The usual MO is to smear, shame and shun anyone in the out group and usually to escalate that. Truth is of no consequence, nor are atheist/secular goals of much importance. What matters is their status in the in group and furtherance of SJW ideology. Deviate from that and you are ‘fair game’ and a ‘supressive person’. Loyalty is also rare as they are always on the lookout for deviation and will throw anyone under the bus who questions the narrative. Projection and deliberate misinterpretation and outright lies just par for the course.

3 Derek Walsh February 16, 2016 at 6:22 pm

This is good news.

But it’s a case that clearly illustrates the danger of casually defaming someone. Aoife’s “semi-private” conversation with her 1,200 closest friends had the potential to do real damage.

Michael Barron fronts an organisation committed to education equality in Ireland.
Michael Nugent fronts an organisation committed to education equality in Ireland.
Michael Barron is gay and was led to believe that Michael Nugent was a homophobe.
Had the misunderstanding not been cleared up, this could have had a significant impact on the ability of their respective organisations to work together, and therefore on their shared goal of education equality. There are enough obstacles to overcome without unnecessary animus being created between leaders of two NGOs that have a common purpose.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that other people have read Aoife’s post and drawn conclusions without seeing Michael’s defence of his reputation. I join Michael in hoping that Aoife will withdraw her remarks, apologise and work to undo the damage she has caused.

4 Citizen Wolf February 16, 2016 at 6:36 pm

A good apology. Well done Michael Barron.

@Derek
1,200 friends?!?! Holy cow, when she commented on the last post and referenced her “friends-only” post, I imagined maybe a hand-full of people.

1,200?!?! And Aoife regards this as ‘private’ !! WTF.

Bizarro world.

5 Brian February 16, 2016 at 7:49 pm

A question for those of you who are so comfortable throwing around accusations of defamation:

Is it defamatory to recklessly accuse someone else of defamation?

(Especially a person who is a writer and thus has a clear interest in not having her reputation tarnished by implying that she is the sort of person who engages in defamation, either due to incompetence or maliciousness…)

6 racismisbaddude February 16, 2016 at 8:12 pm

Citizen Wolf @ 4

You encourage a scary precedent. If it is wrong to tell a small circle of friends an opinion on a restricted thread that only .000001% of a social network can see, would you discourage people from making accusations of serious crimes or of having socially unacceptable beliefs from the privacy of their darkened bathrooms, door closed behind them with no one in earshot as they tap the truth as they see it into Facebook on a cell phone?

7 John Greg February 16, 2016 at 8:13 pm

Michael Nugent said:

“Unfortunately this now seems to be an occupational hazard for those of us who actively campaign to bring about an ethical society, as opposed to those who rage-blog about us.”

Well, not to say “We told you so”, but us nasty Pit folk did indeed tell you so several years ago.

I am certainly disheartened that you have, for over a year now, become a target of these irrational, dangerous people.

But keep up the good work, Michael. Unike SJWs, rage-bloggers, and offence-junkies, you actually walk the walk and talk the talk.

8 Citizen Wolf February 16, 2016 at 8:34 pm

@racismisbaddude

I’m not encouraging or promoting anything. I was merely expressing my surprise at the number of people able to see Aoife’s communication.

9 Shatterface February 16, 2016 at 8:36 pm

Is it defamatory to recklessly accuse someone else of defamation?

Is it defamatory to recklessly accuse people of defamation for accusing someone else of defamation based on the actual words they have posted on Facebook?

Is it defamatory to recklessly accuse people of defamation for accusing someone else of defamation by recklessly accusing someone of defamation based on their accusations of defamation?

10 Derek Walsh February 16, 2016 at 8:48 pm

Brian:

“Is it defamatory to recklessly accuse someone else of defamation?”

According to the Defamation Act 2009, a defamatory statement is one which “tends to injure a person’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society”.

An actionable defamatory statement has three ingredients:

it must be published,
it must refer to the complainant and
it must be false.

So Aoife could bring a defamation suit against Michael for accusing her of defamation. The first two categories are easily satisfied, so it would rest on whether the accusation is true.
For that we need to look at Aoife’s statement. It certainly has the potential to damage Michael’s reputation, so can be considered defamatory under the Act, whether or not Aoife could successfully mount a defence should Michael take action against her.

So Aoife’s statement was defamatory, and possibly actionable. Aoife would need to prove it true, or otherwise defend it (perhaps using the “honest opinion” defence).

Statements that Aoife’s statement was defamatory are also defamatory, but not actionable because they are true.

(I’m not a lawyer but I did read and copy-and-paste parts of http://www.lawyer.ie/defamation)

11 Derek Walsh February 16, 2016 at 8:59 pm

racismisbaddude:

You encourage a scary precedent. If it is wrong to tell a small circle of friends an opinion on a restricted thread that only .000001% of a social network can see,

It is wrong, if that opinion is likely to unjustly harm their reputation. That’s not a precedent set by Citizen Wolf, it’s long established in legislation and in common law. If I make a false statement about you to one other person, I have wronged you. If I make it to more than a thousand people, then I have wronged you proportionately more. Pointing out that there are 7.4 billion people who I didn’t tell would not be an effective defence.

would you discourage people from making accusations of serious crimes

I’d certainly discourage people from making false accusations; and making any accusations publicly should not be done without serious consideration of the consequences.

or of having socially unacceptable beliefs

It’s fine to have socially unacceptable beliefs. It should be encouraged.

from the privacy of their darkened bathrooms, door closed behind them with no one in earshot as they tap the truth as they see it into Facebook on a cell phone?

Publishing is publishing, even if you are physically alone when you do it. Whispering horrible lies about Michael Nugent or anyone else so nobody can hear them is not defamation. But posting those same lies on Facebook – where people can read them – is.

12 Brian February 16, 2016 at 9:15 pm

@Shatterface

I would think that it could be defamatory to recklessly accuse someone of defamation if the accusation is false.

@Derek Walsh

If accusing Aoife of defamation is supposed to imply merely that she uttered statements that would tend to injure Michael Nugent’s reputation, then that’s true, but I take it that that isn’t what Michael meant (if it is what he meant, then the charge of defamation is trivial, and Michael himself probably engages in it every time he makes someone look like a fool in public).

If the implication is supposed to be that Aoife’s statement was in contravention of the law on defamation, and if such an accusation is false (because, for example, it was an honest opinion, and thus did not contravene the law), then I don’t see why making that accusation in a reckless manner might not itself count as a form of defamation.

13 Derek Walsh February 16, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Brian:

If the implication is supposed to be that Aoife’s statement was in contravention of the law on defamation, and if such an accusation is false (because, for example, it was an honest opinion, and thus did not contravene the law), then I don’t see why making that accusation in a reckless manner might not itself count as a form of defamation.

It’s not that a false and defamatory statement that is an honest opinion doesn’t “contravene the law”; it’s that even if a statement is both false and defamatory, someone so accused may make a defence that it was an honest opinion.
Saying that the statement is a malicious lie might be considered actionable; merely saying that it is defamatory and false would not.

14 Brian February 16, 2016 at 9:39 pm

@Derek

A statement that is an honest opinion, as defined in the law, is not defamatory in the non-trivial sense (i.e. in the sense of being a statement that contravenes the law on defamation). It may be defamatory in the trivial sense I defined earlier, but that does not seem to be what Michael, or other commentators, have in mind.

15 Derek Walsh February 16, 2016 at 9:44 pm

Brian:

Such a statement is defamatory in the legal sense, and is actionable. If Aoife could demonstrate that she was expressing an honest opinion, it is possible that a court would find in her favour. However, the possibility of such a finding does not prevent Michael and others from referring to the statement as defamatory. (The same defence of “honest opinion” would of course be available to Michael in the unlikely event that someone with a legal background decided that his statements could be considered actionable.)

16 Brian February 16, 2016 at 9:50 pm

“Such a statement is defamatory in the legal sense”

Right, but the legal sense of a defamatory statement is just any statement that tends to injure a person’s reputation. Under that definition, true statements are defamatory. (It actually used to be the case in some jurisdictions that you could successfully sue someone for defamation even if what they said was proven to be true)

To call someone’s claims defamatory in that sense is trivial at best, and extremely misleading at worst.

17 Derek Walsh February 16, 2016 at 9:58 pm

Brian:

I’m not really sure what your point is. Aoife’s statement was defamatory in just about any sense you can think of. It was injurious, and it was false. Michael could take legal action against her for it under the Defamation Act.

18 Brian February 16, 2016 at 10:02 pm

“I’m not really sure what your point is. Aoife’s statement was defamatory in just about any sense you can think of.”

Well, I can only think of the two senses I outlined above, one of which is trivial (since it also applies to true statements) and the other of which doesn’t apply here (since Aoife’s statement was an honest opinion based on allegations of fact, it doesn’t contravene the law on defamation).

19 Shatterface February 16, 2016 at 10:07 pm

I would think that it could be defamatory to recklessly accuse someone of defamation if the accusation is false.

That was t what I asked, that was what you asked.

I asked you about defaming somebody by recklessly accusing people of defamation for accusing someone else of defamation based on the actual words they have posted on Facebook.

You are trying to dodge the accusation of defamation by counter-accusing those who call out defamation of defamation.

We can play that recursive shit all day. Try it in court.

20 Brian February 16, 2016 at 10:14 pm

@Shatterface

Both of your examples involved reckless accusations of defamation, which in my opinion may be grounds for a successful defamation suit, if the accusations could be shown to be false. It doesn’t matter what you add on to the example beyond that, since a false accusation of defamation may be sufficient on its own to damage a person’s reputation.

The idea that Aoife’s comments were defamatory (in the sense that they contravene the law on defamation) is simply false: the comments meet all the criteria of the honest opinion defense. My point is that recklessly accusing people of defamation without sufficient evidence may, ironically, come closer to actual defamation than anything Aoife has written.

21 John Greg February 16, 2016 at 10:29 pm

Brian must be a member of Brony’s Rhetorical Army; 5th Linguistic Tricksters, Conflabbers, and Pointless Pedants wing.

22 Brian February 16, 2016 at 10:31 pm

I’m just the one person who who has apparently read the law on defamation…

23 Shatterface February 16, 2016 at 10:39 pm

The idea that Aoife’s comments were defamatory (in the sense that they contravene the law on defamation) is simply false: the comments meet all the criteria of the honest opinion defense. My point is that recklessly accusing people of defamation without sufficient evidence may, ironically, come closer to actual defamation than anything Aoife has written.

Your case is self-refuting because anyone who accepted that Aoife’s accusation was allowable as honest opinion would have to conclude that accusations that she was being defamatory would be allowable as honest opinion.

On your world nobody would ever be sued for defamation and that’s demonstrably not the case on ours.

24 Shatterface February 16, 2016 at 10:42 pm

I’m just the one person who who has apparently read the law on defamation

Then you’ll be able to name cases that bear out your interpretation of the Law.

If what you are saying is correct then for every accusation of defamation there would be an equal number of counter-accusations of defamation.

25 Brian February 16, 2016 at 10:46 pm

@Shatterface

I’m not sure why you think it would follow from the assumption that Aoife’s claim meets the criteria of the honest opinion defense, that an accusation that it doesn’t would necessarily meet the same criteria (it might, of course, but it’s not a given). In deciding whether something counts as a statement of fact or a statement of opinion, the court will have regard to the extent to which the statement in question is capable of being proved, for example. The statement “Aoife’s comments are in contravention of the law” for example, certainly looks like something that could be proved, while the statement “Michael Nugent’s choice of words are an example of dog whistle homophobia” probably could not. (Indeed, any accusation of homophobia is likely to run into similar problems, which is probably why no one has ever successfully been sued in Ireland for calling someone homophobic).

26 Shatterface February 16, 2016 at 10:51 pm

Sorry, I missed the cases you were basing your opinion on from in your extensive study of Law at the University of Google.

27 Brian February 16, 2016 at 10:56 pm

(How does one insert quotes into comments?)

“If what you are saying is correct then for every accusation of defamation there would be an equal number of counter-accusations of defamation.”

Only if the original accusation actually met the criteria of a defamatory statement, as set out in the law. I don’t know of any cases where someone has successfully sued someone for defamation on the basis of a defamatory accusation of defamation, but there would seem to be no impediment to such a case happening in principle, given the law as it stands.

28 Brian February 16, 2016 at 10:57 pm

(As I have missed your reply to the points I made)

29 Citizen Wolf February 16, 2016 at 10:57 pm

It seems that some people inhabit a bizarro world where words we use in this world mean whatever they want them to mean in their world, and laws in this world mean whatever they want them to mean in their world.

30 Derek Walsh February 16, 2016 at 11:08 pm

Brian:

I’m just the one person who who has apparently read the law on defamation…

You may have read it, but you certainly haven’t understood it. Or you wouldn’t keep using phrases like “in contravention of the law” when referring to a tort.

31 Brian February 16, 2016 at 11:13 pm

@Derek

What would you say would be a more appropriate phrase? What is it about my use of the phrase that suggests to you that I don’t understand the law on defamation?

32 Derek Walsh February 16, 2016 at 11:41 pm

Brian:

What is it about my use of the phrase that suggests to you that I don’t understand the law on defamation?

Pretty much what I said, that it’s a tort. It’s a civil issue, not a criminal one. It doesn’t make sense to refer to someone or something being “in contravention of the law”

What would you say would be a more appropriate phrase?

“defamatory as defined in the Defamation Act of 2009″.

Your argument seems to be that Aoife’s comments are not really defamatory, because she might successfully be able to mount a defence, but that the accusation that they are defamatory is itself defamatory, even though the same defence would be available to someone who made that accusation.
If that’s a correct interpretation of what you’re trying to say, then you’re simply wrong, Both are defamatory, but only one is likely to be actionable.

33 Brian February 16, 2016 at 11:51 pm

“It doesn’t make sense to refer to someone or something being “in contravention of the law””

Why not? The Defamation Act is law, and it makes perfect sense to speak of behavior that contravenes it. The fact that it happens to be a civil issue rather than a criminal one doesn’t change those facts.

“Your argument seems to be that Aoife’s comments are not really defamatory, because she might successfully be able to mount a defence”

My argument with respect to Aoife’s comments is that they clearly meet all of the criteria necessary for a successful defense of honest opinion, as set out in the relevant law. They are therefore not defamatory in the non-trivial sense I defined above.

“but that the accusation that they are defamatory is itself defamatory, even though the same defence would be available to someone who made that accusation”

The defense of honest opinion is available to anyone who finds themselves accused of defamation. Aoife’s comments clearly meet all of the relevant criteria to mount a successful defense. It is not obvious that the same could be said of a false accusation of defamation, for reasons I’ve already explained (comment #25).

34 Derek Walsh February 17, 2016 at 12:01 am

OK Brian, I think we’re done here. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

35 Rosemary February 17, 2016 at 12:15 am

As a casual observer, one with decent English comprehension skills, I’d like to point out that Brian has lost this argument and lost it early in the thread. The evidence for this is laid out clearly in the commentary above. I respectfully suggest that he stop digging.

36 Brian February 17, 2016 at 12:39 am

I’d respectfully suggest that a mere assertion that someone has lost an argument, unaccompanied by any supporting evidence or argumentation, isn’t likely to be persuasive to anyone who isn’t already predisposed towards a particular side of the debate.

37 Rosemary February 17, 2016 at 12:46 am

Brian, I wrote three sentences. Read them again and try to spot the one you missed.

38 Brian February 17, 2016 at 12:57 am

If you’re referring to your claim that “the evidence for this is laid out clearly in the commentary above,” I would point out that claiming that evidence exists to support your assertion is not the same thing as actually providing it.

(Of course, you might be referring to some other part of your comment. In which case, feel free to clarify.)

39 Phil Giordana FCD February 17, 2016 at 1:07 am

Cry me a river!

40 Richard "The King" Sanderson February 17, 2016 at 1:57 am

Thanks, Mr. Barron.

41 JackSkeptic February 18, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Apologising takes a lot of courage, especially when the group identity and potential push back from that apology is so strong.

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