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Last week, politically-fringe protesters demonstrated outside the Dáil resulting in a number of TDs receiving abuse. Rolling News
Hate speech

European speakers of parliament urge for better protections against abuse towards politicians

Hate speech and violence towards politicians is posing a “serious challenge” to the functioning of democracy.

PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKERS AND presidents have urged for better protections to be put in place for politicians on all levels against hate speech and violence.

Speaking at a pre-conference event at the European Conference of Presidents of Parliament in Dublin this morning, speakers of parliament shared their thoughts on how to better protect politicians from hate speech and violence.

An expert panel made up of Ex-Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, policy researched Hannah Phillips from the Jo Cox Foundations and Vice President of a local representatives organisation Carola Gunnarsson spearheaded the event.

53218244967_d1c8605d0e_k (L-R) Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion, Ex-garda chief Nóirín O'Sullivan, Vice President of UCLG Carola Gunnarsson and policy researcher Hannah Phillips. Maxwell Photography Maxwell Photography

Between the panel and contributions from European parliament speakers, the event explored better ways to moderate online hate speech against elected representatives and how to better promote civility in public discourse.

A number of factors are believed to contribute towards a hostile public atmosphere including, polarisation, extremism, dissatisfaction and discontent with politics, and fake news.

There has been growing concern over hate speech and threats of violence against elected representatives, both on and offline, which is posing a serious challenge to the functioning of democracy.

The forum discussed how the hate speech and abuse is a shared issue for most European nations and discussed methods, such as policy change and police monitoring units, to try tackle it.

O’Sullivan said hate speech was a centuries-old problem which was now spreading faster and further due to digitalisation and the rise of populism.

Later during the conference, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó’Fearghraíl detailed that the threats to democracy are taking place in spaces for public discourse that are “unrestrained, unregulated, and unable to guarantee fundamental standards for democratic debate”.

Standards such as a respect for human rights and freedoms, pluralism, and above all, power.”

“It is internationally recognized that a society is better served when there is a diverse political representation,” Ó’Fearghraíl added.

53219529743_14f37ba549_k Ó'Fearghraíl speaking to the conference earlier today. Maxwell Photography Maxwell Photography

Speaking during the same ceremony, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić said Russia’s war in Ukraine has brought extreme nationalism which has led to the return of far-right groups, targeting minorities and feeding a discourse of hatred.

Last week, a number of anti-immigration, politically-fringe protest groups demonstrated outside the Dáil where a number of attacks took place direct against politicians and their staff.

Thirteen protesters were arrested and have since been charged for public order offences. Gardaí investigating the groups are using social media to determine if the group’s goal was to incite hatred, the Sunday Independent reported last week.

A number of attempts to try and regulate social media have been made by the European Union, most recently in the Digital Services Act which enforces stricter moderation of social media platforms.

The panel believes incidents, such as the protest seen last week, and other acts of hate speech and threats of violence against elected representatives could contribute to creating an atmosphere of fear and can dissuade others from entering the political sphere. 

Participants were encouraged to continue the conversation domestically through the lense of free expression so that sitting and future politicians are able to carry out their work and feel safe to contribute to the democratic process.

Other events include the murder of British MPs Jo Cox in 2016 and David Amess in 2021 and, within the EU, an arson attack on the Mayor of Saint Brevin les Pin in France.

O’Sullivan, who was tasked with chairing a task force on protecting politicians from such abuse earlier this year, said it was “not only an affront to democracy but to a safe and inclusive society” where citizens can fully participate and engage in spirited debate.

This month, Labour leader Ivana Bacik said she and other members of her party had received a number of threats from the far-right.

During her party’s think-in event she said it was important to “ensure that far-right groups don’t get a foothold in our communities” and that her party wants to fight “any sort of rise of racism and bigotry”.

The discussion was moderated by journalist and broadcaster Flor MacCarthy and introduced by Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion.