The chair of Amnesty International UK has resigned after Scrapbook exposed a string of mental health jokes made on Twitter. Ciarnan Helferty was roundly condemned for the off-colour remarks (in full here) about schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder, most of which were made while he was in the high-profile role for one of the world’s most respected rights organisations.
Helferty’s resignation was broken to “leading activists” in a letter from Amnesty UK vice-chair Sarah O’Grady, who said:
“Ciarnan’s comments are incongruent with the policy and aims of Amnesty International.”
“In resigning, Ciarnan has demonstrated personal integrity and responsibility. His actions also emphasise that remarks of this nature are not appropriate for someone leading an organisation at the forefront of the human rights debate.”
Here’s a sample of his work:
You can read the resignation announcement below.
I am writing to let you know that Ciarnan Helferty has today resigned as Chair and Board member of AIUK Section and as a Trustee of AIUK Charitable Trust.
Following criticism of Tweets which he had made, which included jokes about mental health, Ciarnan immediately apologised and referred himself for investigation under the Board Code of Conduct. Cris Burson-Thomas, our Treasurer, and I are responsible for overseeing this process. I understand Ciarnan’s reasons for resigning and respect them. There are also wider lessons to be learnt for the Board including the introduction of mandatory training on equality and diversity and the AI Social Media Policy.
Ciarnan’s comments are incongruent with the policy and aims of Amnesty International.
In resigning, Ciarnan has demonstrated personal integrity and responsibility. His actions also emphasise that remarks of this nature are not appropriate for someone leading an organisation at the forefront of the human rights debate.
Ciarnan has made a truly outstanding contribution to AIUK as a Board member for the past 5 years and as Chair of the Board since May 2011. He has been involved with Amnesty for many years. He was previously Chair of the Student Action Network and has represented AIUK at 2 International Council Meetings. The Board of AIUK and I wish to thank him for his inspirational and committed leadership and his many, many hours of voluntary work for Amnesty. Ciarnan has demonstrated an immense commitment to human rights and to the Amnesty movement, showing courage and compassion in equal measure. I hope he will continue to play an active part in our human rights work and that we will see him again at future Amnesty events.
As Vice-Chair of the Board I will now lead the Board until its next meeting on the 21st September at which point the Board will elect a new Chair. The term of the new Chair will be until May 2014 when the Board will elect a new chair in line with its normal practice. AIUK’s Board Chairs and Vice-Chairs are elected on an annual basis. Already a member of the delegation to the 2013 International Council Meeting (ICM), I shall also now take over the leadership of the delegation, having been a Board member since 2010.
The ICM starts on August 17th and runs until the 22nd August. It will be my first ICM, but I am pleased to have the support of experienced ICM veterans, Kate Allen and Tom Hedley, as well as the expert support of Cris Burson-Thomas and Kerry Moscogiuri to help progress our own resolutions and interest in the financial discussions and decisions that will take place. Ciarnan will not now attend the ICM as originally planned. Hannah Perry, Board member and Chair of the Active Members Sub-Committee, has agreed to join the delegation and will bring expertise in youth and student activism, as well as communications to the team.
I shall continue and build on our work led by Ciarnan in improving communications with you, AIUK’s leading activists. As such I will write to you immediately after the ICM to brief you on any key decisions taken, and again after our September Board meeting to inform you of the key decisions made at the meeting, including the election of the new Chair.