Monday, 22 March 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I wish to raise a similar issue those raised by Senators Norris and Keogan. All Members will be well aware of the abuse and harassment of elected public representatives, both on social media and offline. It is a problem that appears to have increased significantly in the last number of years both at local and national levels. I will give an example. The current mayor of Galway city, Councillor Mike Cubbard, has been the subject of a particularly disgusting campaign over the last 12 to 18 months. I know Mike very well. I stood in four elections against him and I found him fair and well able to have a political debate. He is the first person in generations in Galway to hold the office, back to back, for a two-year period. There has been impersonation of Mike, lewd messages and death threats. Recently, his parents' house has also received threats. This is very worrying, and I consider it abhorrent. I believe the Garda must take more specific action.
While the example I am discussing happens to be male, we should make it clear that it is even worse for female elected representatives. Research published by National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG, last October found that 96% of female politicians have received abusive messages online. Almost 40% of female politicians interviewed reported being threatened with sexual violence, while 25% said they have been verbally abused in public.This is utterly disgusting and, obviously, is highly likely to discourage women from going forward for election. We need to encourage young people to participate in politics and not prevent them from doing so. I do not think there is an easy fix to this problem but we need real examination of the issue. We need to tackle it in some way, whether through tougher penalties from a legal standpoint, some sort of education campaign that could be run in our primary and secondary schools or a combination of both methods. There is an absolute need for us to do so not just for current elected representatives but also for those who will follow in our footsteps. There are many great aspects of being an elected representative; we need to ensure that this growing negative aspect does not overshadow them. I ask the Leader of the House to invite the Minister who will soon have responsibility for justice, Deputy Heather Humphreys, before the House. I am aware the lady is extremely busy, but if she could spare an hour over the coming weeks, I would be very grateful.