Iona Institute director threatens legal action against pro-choice campaigner; demands compensation and NDA

Iona Institute director threatens legal action against pro-choice campaigner; demands compensation and NDA

It’s been revealed that David Quinn of the Iona Institute has threatened legal action against a member of an Irish pro-choice group. Neasa Hourigan of the Green Party divulged the information during a Dáil debate on Tuesday, 25 October. According to Hourigan, Quinn demanded that his target not only pay him financial compensation and issue an apology, but also sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). This would bar his target from publicly discussing the legal threats, which The Beacon understands have been ongoing for a number of months.

Quinn has vigorously defended a right to freedom of speech in the past. After Twitter banned former US President Donald Trump from its platform Quinn described the move as “an assault on free speech”. He’s also criticised the creation of safe access zones outside premises which provide abortion services as “a danger to free speech”.

SLAPPed down

Before highlighting Quinn’s legal threats, Hourigan explained to the Dáil about the use of so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). According to the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), SLAPPs are “lawsuits designed to block accountability and suppress critical speech”. The European Commission, which announced in April its intention to introduce legislation clamping down on SLAPPs, said they’re generally used against journalists and defenders of human rights. The goal is stop them from publicising or speaking out on particular issues. 

While congratulating the government’s intention to also legislate against SLAPPs, Hourigan also noted that the proposed legislation falls short. She said that there’s

a process whereby a person or entity instructs a legal representative to write a letter threatening legal action, sometimes demanding an apology, usually demanding some financial restitution and, increasingly and more worryingly, demanding the signing of an NDA, all without any court being troubled at any time.

It was then that the Green Party TD brought Quinn’s legal threats to the attention of the Dáil. She disclosed that Quinn “has asked not only for money and an apology, but also the signing of an NDA”. And Hourigan asked that the government “examine what additional protections can be put in place for activists and groups in the pre-court phase of this type of activity”.

In a document The Beacon has seen, the head of the European Commission’s Anti-SLAPP initiative has also been made aware of Quinn’s legal threats. He describes such cases as “not legitimate”. 

Money and hate

The Beacon understands that Quinn is being represented by Cormac O’Ceallaigh Solicitors in the threatened legal action. O’Ceallaigh was previously a partner in Sean O’Ceallaigh & Co. Solicitors with his brother Ruairi, the latter of whom “effectively embezzled” €1.5m which had been left to the Catholic Church. According to a 2011 report Ruairi “misappropriated funds and used them for buying and refurbishing properties”. Described as a “devout Christian”, he was later struck off for his actions and was eventually jailed in 2014 for stealing a total of €2.8m from clients. 

Iona’s funding has also come under scrutiny. A 2021 report revealed that the group received funding from the Italian Novae Terrae Foundation which itself came from the proceeds of a Russian money laundering scheme. And in August a report by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) described Iona, which Quinn heads, as being part of a collection of far-right hate and extremist groups in Ireland. Iona, it said, “is deeply embedded in the anti-LGBTQ+ movement in Europe and is adamantly against same-sex marriage and civil unions”. After GPAHE published the report a spokesperson for Iona told the Sunday Times “it is examining legal options”.

Featured image via Youtube – Screenshot

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