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Saoirse McHugh, Dan Boyle, Arnold Guo, Aoibheann Mahon
THE MORNING LEAD

'Their face was twisted up in anger': Election hopefuls share stories of abuse at the doors

One candidate had racist abuse shouted at him before the person attempted to knock him from a ladder as he put up election posters.

HAVING A LADDER kicked while at the top of it, being chased down the road, being harassed with phone calls and having abuse “roared” at them – these are some of the things election hopefuls have had to deal with as they canvass ahead of the June elections.

This year as we head into the local and European elections in June, much of this discourse has focused on the changed political landscape and the increased hostility towards those who are participating in the democratic process.

Last week, an attack on Independent Fingal councillor Tania Doyle and her husband made headlines after Doyle’s husband was left with a gash on his face and bruising on his arms after the incident.

Since then, various candidates have spoken up about being harassed and attacked while canvassing or hanging up posters and a video has circulated online of a campaign team receiving racist abuse while canvassing in Limerick city.

Meanwhile, graffiti in Waterford city has been described as a threat to “kill politicians” while in Dublin a swastica was cut into a poster of Solidarity-People Before Profit local election candidate Ruth Coppinger.

This week, The Journal caught up with a number of other election candidates to discuss their experience of canvassing this year.

All have been keen to stress that the vast majority of their experiences have been positive, but abuse and harassment have nonetheless been a feature. 

A number of women seeking election have told The Journal that they no longer canvas alone after having negative and “scary” experiences. 

Changing behaviour

The same week Doyle and her husband were attacked, European election candidate Saoirse McHugh also faced threatening behaviour while canvassing.

As a result of it, McHugh said she would “definitely not” go canvassing on her own now.

Speaking to The Journal, McHugh, who is an Independent candidate running in the Midlands North-West constituency, downplayed the encounter but described it as a “scary interaction”.

While out canvassing in Kildare, McHugh dropped a leaflet into the letterbox of a house after there was no answer when she rang the bell. As she walked away a man came out of the house and began to harass her. 

McHugh said the man’s face “twisted up in anger” and he began “roaring” at her and asking what she thinks of “these f*cking migrants”. 

McHugh, who was canvasing with her brother but was alone at that moment, said she almost froze.

The man continued to shout at her using racial slurs and referenced “fucking Ukrainians” and “fucking Palestinians”.

I was really quite afraid.

“I realised, I suppose how little I’m confronted with that sort of anger day-to-day,” McHugh said. 

She added that as she walked away the man continued to yell names at her and shouted “Heil Hitler” after her. 

This encounter took place on the same day that the attack on Tania Doyle and her husband was reported, McHugh said what happened to her was “nothing in comparison” but it has really made her “think twice before knocking on doors”.

‘You’re paid to work for me’ 

In Dublin, first-time Fianna Fáil candidate in Artane-Whitehall Aoibheann Mahon spoke to The Journal about how she had to block a man’s phone number after he repeatedly made aggressive phone calls to her.

She first encountered the man while out canvassing. At the time he barraged Mahon with conspiracy theories related to the Covid vaccine and migrants.

Mahon said the man eventually left her alone after she didn’t engage with him, but after getting her phone number from her election leaflet he continued to call her weeks afterwards.

On one of these calls, the man told her that she was “paid to work for him” and demanded that she provide him with full details on the proposed hate speech legislation. 

Mahon said after the experience: 

I would never canvass on my own, ever.

Racism – ‘You’re not Irish’

Arnold Guo, is a first-time local election candidate in Ballymun-Finglas for Fine Gael. It’s an area that hasn’t had a Fine Gael councillor since 2016.

While he was putting up his election posters recently a man tried to knock him from a ladder. Luckily, Guo said, he had a colleague holding the bottom of it. 

Guo said the man was shouting racist remarks about Guo “not being Irish” as he approached and while he kicked the ladder. Guo is from China but has lived in Ireland for 27 years.

Despite this incident, Guo said his experience on the doors has been in the main positive and where people disagree or raise issues with Fine Gael they do so in a respectful way. 

“We knew it was going to be hard and that there would probably be a bit of resentment, but to be honest overall I don’t get much abuse,” he said.

Guo said however that the online abuse has been “a nightmare” and that he and his family have been targetted. 

“Unfortunately those people are a very small portion of Irish people, but they make the loudest noise.”

Menacing

In Cork city, Green Party councillor for the South Central ward, Dan Boyle has 30 years’ experience in politics. Speaking to The Journal, he said a recent encounter while canvassing was the first time he has experienced this level of vitriol and “menace”. 

After what Boyle described as an aggressive encounter with a man while canvassing recently, the man followed him and continued shouting after Boyle cut the conversation short.

“You always get people who won’t agree with you, who argue strongly against what you stand for but this I feel is a bit more menacing and a bit more dangerous,” Boyle said.

This week, a task force headed by former garda commissioner  Nóirín O’Sullivan published a set of 16 recommendations to safeguard and protect people participating in political life. 

The accompanying report found that abuse in political life is prevalent and predominantly targeted at women and minorities. 

Among the task force’s recommendations is for increased cooperation between the Oireachtas and the gardaí to improve security arrangements for TDs and senators. 

It also recommended that election candidates should have the option not to publish their home addresses. 

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

 

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