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Protesters outside the Dáil carrying a mock gallows with pictures of politicians and a dummy with a noose (rope) around it neck hanging from it at the start of the new Dáil term after the summer break.
safe participation in political life

Ireland ‘losing a generation of young people’ in politics because of abuse and harassment

Former garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said Ireland is following the trend seen in other European countries when it comes to abuse of politicians.

ABUSE IN POLITICAL life is “prevalent, problematic and disproportionately targeted at women or minority groups”, a new report has found.

The Oireachtas Task force on Safe Participation in Political Life, which was chaired by former garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, has today published its findings and recommendations after a year of work.

The report was accompanied by the results of a survey conducted by University College Dublin which looked at abuse and harassment experienced by TDs and Senators and their staff. 

The survey was distributed to all 220 members of the Dáil and Seanad and all 580 political staff, however just 61 members (28%) and 200 (35%) of staff responded. 

The key findings from the survey were that 94% of TDs and Senators and 72% of political staff that responded to the survey have experienced some form of threat, harassment, abuse or violence. 

When asked if specific issues were related to the abuse, TDs and Senators reported: 

  • Immigration (67%)
  • Women’s Rights (47%)
  • Housing/homelessness (40%)
  • LGBTQ+ issues (40%)

The UCD report found that abuse has “strong chilling effects” with 45% of respondents saying the abuse resulted in them avoiding engaging with a specific policy area. 

When asked why she believed there was such a low response rate to the survey, lead author of the report Eugenia Siapera, said it was possibly down to a number of factors – namely that politicians are busy and that people may not want to talk about abuse because of retraumatisation.

Chair of the Oireachtas task force, Nóirín O’Sullivan agreed with this and said from the evidence presented to the task force people felt “quite retraumatised”. 

She added that some of the evidence presented was “quite harrowing”. 

Speaking at the launch today in Leinster House, Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann Jerry Buttimer said he worries that the rise in abuse of politicians means that Ireland is “losing a generation of young people” from political life. 

Buttimer called for the 16 recommendations of the task force to be urgently acted on. 

As previously reported by The Journal, among the recommendations is for tailored security to be introduced for Oireachtas members alongside the establishment of an opt-in social media monitoring service for abuse. 

The taskforce has also recommended that it should no longer be a requirement for election candidates to publish their home addresses. 

Rising threats

O’Sullivan made the point today that Ireland is following the European trend when it comes to abuse of those in political life.

“The reality is that the Slovakian Prime Minister has just been injured in a shooting. We most certainly do not want to see that here,” she said. 

O’Sullivan added that Ireland does not want to follow the trajectory of the UK and other European countries and said the recommendations of the task force aim to prevent this.

In the UK, Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist a week before the Brexit vote in 2016

Meanwhile, just today in Slovakia, prime minister Robert Fico was shot and at the time of writing remains in a life-threating condition in hospital.

In recent weeks and months, there have been a number of high-profile incidents where politicians have been targeted in Ireland – this included a hoax bomb-threat at the home of Justice Minister Helen McEntee and masked people demonstrating outside the home of Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman. 

Taoiseach Simon Harris said in the aftermath of a protest outside his own home that he was examining whether new legislation was required to deal with such incidents.

When asked by The Journal today if she is satisfied that existing legislation is adequate to respond to such incidents she said she believes it is. 

Our conclusion was that there are sufficient laws in place.

“We were informed by the Department [of Justice]‘s representatives that there are new laws coming into play. So for example, around incitement to violence, civil orders, that’s another example as a deterrence to people that would fall just short of the justice system.

“So on that basis, we were very satisfied that the legislative framework that’s there at the moment is sufficient and robust and that An Garda Síochana have the powers,” O’Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, O’Sullivan also said that it was “very regrettable” that X, formerly Twitter, “was not in a position” to engage with the task force like other social media companies did. 

She said the message received from X was that they were “unavailable” when contacted. 

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