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Saturday 7 December 2019

Anti-abortion activist reported councillor to WRC for 'harassment'

Fianna Fail's Darragh Butler
Fianna Fail's Darragh Butler

A Fianna Fail councillor has expressed shock at being the subject of a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) over an alleged incident with an anti-abortion campaigner at a pipe band contest.

The WRC investigated a claim that Darragh Butler, who represents the Swords area on Fingal County Council, had engaged in harassment on the grounds of religious belief, contrary to the Equal Status Act.

The WRC adjudication officer dismissed the case, saying the complaint was not filed within the statutory period of two months of the alleged incident.

Mr Butler, who has been a councillor for 12 years, denied the claim and described the complaint as "vexatious and misconceived".

Mark J Savage, an evangelical Christian and carpenter from Swords, said he was approached by Mr Butler inside the front entrance of Swords Castle on May 5 last year at the Leinster Pipe Band Championship as he was distributing anti-abortion leaflets during the Eighth Amendment referendum campaign.

It is understood the leaflet contained a heading that gave the impression it was being distributed on behalf of Swords Castle.

Mr Savage complained that the councillor confronted him in a threatening manner and engaged in "thuggish and intim- idating" behaviour, as well as invading his personal space.

He told a WRC adjudication officer that the incident happened after Mr Butler had read one of his leaflets.

Mr Savage claimed Mr Butler was a service provider under the Equal Status Act as he was an elected member of Fingal County Council, which has hosting the pipe band competition.

He explained that he had failed to submit a complaint within the two-month deadline due to the "mental and emotional distress and anxiety" he suffered as a result of the incident, which he said was ongoing.

Discrimination

Mr Butler said he was shocked to have such a complaint levelled against him and categ- orically rejected Mr Savage's claims.

He maintained he was attending the pipe band championship as a private citizen.

The adjudication officer ruled that Mr Savage had provided no supporting documentation to corroborate his statement.

She said she was mindful that Mr Savage had taken previous cases to the WRC and Circuit Court and was entirely familiar with timelines under equal status legislation.

Mr Savage has previously made similar complaints of alleged religious discrimination against a number of parties, including former health minister James Reilly and Google.

He was also involved in Ireland's first "right to be forgotten" case when he failed in his legal challenge to have Google remove a link that described him as "north County Dublin's homophobic candidate" for the 2014 local elections.

In a statement, Mr Butler said he had been surprised to find Mr Savage disseminating false information.

He said their interaction was confined to asking him to stop distributing the leaflet.

Mr Butler said Mr Savage had also been asked to stop by event organisers and was later removed by gardai.

"I am pleased that Mr Savage's spurious claim failed, but I am disappointed that I had to waste valuable time, energy and resources in defending my good name and reputation," he said.

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