The University Times, the newspaper of the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union, was forced to retract two of its articles, print an apology and a reply, and pay legal costs, after being threatened with legal action. The newspaper was accused of defaming Mr David Quinn, a founding member of the Iona Institute and prominent conservative Catholic commentator.
The newspaper published two articles which were contested by Mr Quinn. The articles, “Queerly Beloved”, written by Paul Doyle, and “What Lies Behind the Facade”, written by Conor Kenny, were responses to the Iona Institute’s YouTube video entitled “The Case for Man/Woman marriage”. According to the editor of the University Times, Owen Bennett, “both articles strongly attack the video and the reasoning which informs it.”
Mr Quinn had a particular issue with Mr Kenny’s article which made reference to Quinn in relation to anti-gay legislation in Uganda. The article also mentioned that Mr Quinn had founded a “bigoted hate group”, which Mr Quinn claimed was a reference to the Iona Institute. According to a solicitor’s letter, Mr Quinn was “enormously upset” with the characterization and felt “personally defamed”.
The University Times was informed by Mr Quinn’s solicitors in the last week of January of their client’s distress with the article. Mr Quinn sought a full retraction of both the articles from the University Times website, as well as an apology and a right of reply in the next subsequent issue.
On 1st February, Owen Bennett responded to a request by Trinity News for comment and Trinity News published an article about the matter, which quoted Mr Bennett.
Mr Quinn received a published apology in the 12th February issue of the University Times. The apology, which was situated on the back page of the University Times’ election supplement, admitted that the two articles “contained defamatory material in relation to David Quinn”.
It described Quinn as a “well-respected commentator on religious and social affairs”. The newspaper “unreservedly” accepted that it was “entirely inappropriate to refer to him as a person whose character is questionable”. The University Times also apologised for referring to the Iona Institute as a “bigoted hate group” and further “unreservedly” apologised for “the hurt and distress caused to Mr Quinn and his family and colleagues at the Iona Institute”.
Quinn’s reply article, entitled “The Gay Marriage Debate: Who is Really Spreading the Hate?” was published underneath the newspaper’s apology. Quinn complains in the article that individuals in Trinity College who are pro-life or anti gay marriage, to whom he refers as “dissidents”, are “likely to be accused of being anti-women if they oppose abortion or ‘hating’ gay people if they oppose same-sex marriage”.
He writes that there are “countless” examples on social media websites of “the vitriol against those who hold ‘traditional views’”. He adds that it is “much harder to find equivalent amounts of equivalent abuse being directed at those who are pro-choice or pro-gay marriage”. He described the two articles to which he had objected as a “blatant attempt to discredit” him as a “holder” of pro-life and anti-gay marriage views.
Mr Quinn also made several references to Owen Bennett’s interview with Trinity News. Mr Quinn accuses Trinity News of “dismissing” his concerns in relation to the articles, which were that the University Times had defamed him by effectively describing him as “a racist” who had “formed a ‘bigoted hate group’”.
He writes that while he accepts the University Times’ apology, Mr Bennett’s “misleading comments to Trinity News entirely undermines this apology”. Quinn finishes the article by accusing the University Times of “shameful behaviour” and attempting to “shut down the debate”.
The Trinity News article quoting Mr Bennett had also said that, after the release of the Iona Institute’s video, their YouTube account was suspended for a time, that Google stated that it was not shut down for reasons of censorship, and that this claim was “contested” by Mr Quinn. In fact, while he initially contested this, he later accepted that this was an “automatic procedure on their part”. We have added a clarification to this effect to the online version of that article.