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Friday 31 March 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Alamy Stock Photo Cork South-West TD Holly Cairns
# Harassment
Soc Dems TD Holly Cairns tells of stalker appearing at her house and sending sexual messages
Cairns said that she had briefly considered if she wanted to continue in politics due to the pornographic messages she was receiving.

CORK SOUTH-WEST TD Holly Cairns has outlined the harassment she’s suffered from a stalker who has repeatedly showed up to her house and sent her sexually abusive messages.

Speaking on Virgin Media News’s podcast The Groupchat, Cairns said that the abuse faced by women in the public eye is highly gendered and has interfered with her job as a TD.

Cairns told the podcast that she was advised by the Gardaí not to have a constituency clinic to meet people about local issues because it would be publicly advertising to potential stalkers where she would be.

“It interferes with your job to the extent that you can’t do the same things as your constituency colleagues,” she said.

Cairns explained how she’d experienced less severe harassment during her four years as a county councillor before becoming a TD in the 2020 election. 

“It wasn’t until somebody who had started off with messages to my work phone, then ended up turning up the house on several occasions and wouldn’t stop doing that. It changed everything for me.”

“I didn’t have a lock for a door even if I wanted to and we didn’t have the key for the door. I didn’t have blinds, I didn’t have any kind of security. And now I have CCTV, I have blinds, I have locks,” she detailed.

Cairns added that she had considered whether politics was the right career for her following the abuse.

“It did occur briefly, when I didn’t feel safe anywhere, not even my own home. I don’t feel like that now after a bit more time to recover from it.”

She also said that she was hesitant to speak out about her stalker because it might put other women off entering politics.

“If I knew what I’d be getting myself into, I wouldn’t have done it. But am I glad I didn’t know? Yes. I wouldn’t change it for the world because I’m very honoured to be in my position.”

When asked by one of the podcast’s hosts, Zara King, if she’d consider her stalker’s actions to be “unwanted romantic advances,” she agreed.

“I got images, somebody was cutting out any porn that had the name Holly on it,” Cairns said, adding that when she was in Dublin for Dáil meetings she would receive messages from this person who told her they were outside her house.

The Social Democrats TD also said that she wouldn’t go to her constituency office alone out of fear that she could be targeted there.

“All TDs get abuse, I think it’s an across the board problem. I think it’s just that the nature of it is very different, that women get very sexualized.”

“There’s the public commentary that you get that everybody can see. And then there’s private messages, there’s voicenotes, letters, and stuff in person.”  

Cairns stated that she had been scared to address the topic publicly and that a trend had emerged of harassment and abuse against politicians.

She referenced how earlier this month a bag of animal dung was thrown at Junior Minister Anne Rabbitte and TD Ciarán Cannon, while the man who claimed to be responsible refused to apologise while speaking to the media.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny condemned the act and detailed how his family were traumatised and had to move home after a car was driven through their gate, his car was set alight and persistent death threats were being sent to him.

Cairns also referenced the level of political targeting in the UK, where two MPs, Jo Cox and David Amess, were murdered in separate incidents at constituency meetings in the past seven years.

“Even though there is a reluctance, and I feel a bit scared talking about it, it’s something that we actually do have to talk about,” Cairns said.

“What is the change in our society? Why is this happening, that people are behaving in a way that I don’t think they did before?”