Back in March I was rather surprised when an article on this blog was referred to the Assembly Ombudsman! Now I can report the Ombudsman’s decision that ‘the complaint does not warrant a full investigation’.
On February 27 I wrote on this blog about Dr Margaret Ward, who had spoken at a Sinn Fein sponsored conference Putting Irish Unity on the Agenda. In the course of her address she described herself as a representative for the women’s sector in the Bill of Rights Forum in 2008 and indeed she is very much to the fore in the ‘women’s sector’.
I also noted that in March 2009 she had also spoken at a conference organised by Sinn Fein to mark International Women’s Day. On that occasion she was introduced as chair of the Women’s Centres Regional Partnership and I explained that ‘according to its website the WCRP is funded by DSD and is made up of four lead partners, one of which is the Women’s Resource and Development Agency, represented by Margaret Ward.’
The article then explored Dr Margaret Ward’s political history, stretching back to her days in the People’s Democracy and the fact that in October 1975 she was a founder member of the Socialist Women’s Group, which was established by some of the most radical feminists. According to Dr Ward herself, they ‘tried to link women’s oppression, partition and the imperialist domination of Ireland’. Her reference to ‘partition and the imperialist domination of Ireland’ was presumably her description of the Union. In a booklet entitled A Difficult Dangerous Honesty, she also explained that ‘it was women who came from various places – from People’s Democracy, the Revolutionary Marxist Group and the Irish Workers’ Group – together with ones of us who hadn’t really a notion’.
On 9 March the Women’s Resource and Development Agency wrote to Declan O’Loan, the chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee, complaing about the blog and claiming that my comments were ‘derogatory and disparaging’ and ‘potentially libellous’. The letter from Patricia Donald, which ran to three and a half pages, claimed that I had broken the Code of Conduct for Members of the Assembly but at no point did she deny or refute any of the facts that I had reported in the article.
The complaint was referred to the Assembly Ombudsman. Tom Frawley OBE, and in his reply to the committee he said:
The Committee has on a number of previous occasions taken the position that Members must be permitted, within the law, to express their views on matters which some may consider controversial. It is axiomatic that not everyone will be comfortable with any particular Member’s views on a matter and particularly so if that matter is controversial or has political or moral connotations. Both the ‘blog’ and Mr McCausland’s reply make clear that the articles published represent his personal views.
That was the end of the matter and I welcome the decision which upholds the principle of free speech – one of the foundations of a genuinely liberal and democratic society.
The irony is that those who often pose as liberals are often the most illiberal and intolerant and are unwilling to accept the right of others to express dissent from their ‘cosy consensus’ or to scrutinise them in any way. It is almost as if they believe they are above scrutiny or comment.