Is It Possible to Defame A Politician?

It has been reported that a 25 year-old man has been arrested for allegedly sending out a tweet that referred to Minister Pat Rabitte as a  “rabbit”.

The report opines that: “The subtle refererence (sic) to Minister Rabbitte as a ‘rabbit’ can be used as grounds for defamation of charactar (sic) and online bullying.”

Is this assertion actually true? Is this a case of defamation?

The Defamation Act of 2009 defines a “defamatory statement” as “a statement that tends to injure a person’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society, and “defamatory” shall be construed accordingly”.

If one were to ask the reasonable member of society, in other words your average bloke at the betting shop or the chipper, what he thought of politicians, the majority of responses would not be printable in a publication without an 18+ age limit. It is worth noting that when one looks up the definition of the popular Irish slang phase “a cute hoor” one invariably finds the word ‘politician’ contained somewhere in the explanation.

Accordingly, it might be argued that the reputation of any politician is by default on a par with those fish known as ‘bottom feeders’. In the case of Mr Rabbitte, his recent media performances have unleashed an outpouring of public vitriol so intense that it might be argued that his reputation could not sink any lower.

The second leg of the enquiry would be what does it mean to be called a rabbit?

My research revealed the following:

“Symbolic rabbit meanings deal primarily with abundance, comfort, and vulnerability. Traditionally, rabbits are associated with fertility, sentiment, desire, and procreation. Rabbit meanings are also closely linked to the seasons, the changes of Mother Earth, and specifically Springtime.” (

Is it not any man’s dream to be called a good looking stud who makes the girls all gooey-eyed and lustful in Spring? Even more so when one is at an age (and girth) where some cruel wag might describe you as ‘past it’?

Animal activists might argue that the rabbit has a case against the unfortunate tweeter.

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from full-time practice in 2002 to take up a lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). His current interest is the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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