Belfast Telegraph

Amnesty leader steps down after 'offensive' tweets

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

A Northern Ireland man has resigned as chair of the UK's leading human rights organisation after he posted a string of tweets making fun of mental illness.

Ciarnan Helferty has stood down from his role with the international charity with immediate effect after the messages were criticised on the social networking site.

The 26-year-old Belfast man was chair of Amnesty's board of directors.

In recent months he used his Twitter account to post jibes about people with schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Dozens of complaints were made by members of the public, who said the jokes were "unacceptable".

They caused particular offence given Mr Helferty's position with Amnesty, which says its purpose is to "protect people wherever justice, fairness, freedom and truth are denied".

In one tweet Mr Helferty posted: "When one door closes, another one opens. Jeeze... I hate this OCD."

And in another he wrote: "I've decided to enter that BBC TV singing contest for schizophrenics – The Voices."

Others defended the messages as "gallows humour".

Following criticism of the tweets, both Mr Helferty and the charity apologised.

He also reported himself to Amnesty's internal standard procedures.

Mr Helferty is also the non-executive director of SHAC Housing Association and is employed as an executive officer at the British Medical Association.

A spokeswoman for Amnesty yesterday confirmed Mr Helferty had stepped down from the voluntary post he had held with the body.

"Vice-chair Sarah O'Grady has temporarily assumed the chair's responsibilities until the board elect a successor in their next scheduled meeting in September," she said.

"AIUK (Amnesty International United Kingdom) thanks Ciarnan for five years of service to the board, the last two years as its chair.

"Amnesty International UK fully understands concerns expressed about jokes that contribute to prejudice towards those suffering from mental illness.

"We regret any offence that may have been caused."

Earlier this month Mr Helferty apologised for any offence caused by the messages.

"I understand why concerns have been pressed and apologise unreservedly for any offence or embarrassment caused by my jokes," he said.

"This was not my intent and I remain deeply committed to equality, human rights and the effective support of those living with disabilities and mental health problems."

The British Medical Association also distanced itself from the remarks which the leading medical group described as "insensitive".

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