Tuesday, 21 June 2016
Death of Jo Cox, MP: Expressions of Sympathy
Yes, that is agreed.
As Cathaoirleach, on my own behalf and on behalf of all the Members, I wish to be associated with expressions of sympathy paid on the death of Jo Cox, MP, following a horrific attack as she worked last week. I understand that she won a seat in the May 2015 general election, retaining the seat for the Labour Party and increasing the party's share of the vote. She was a campaigner on issues relating to the Syrian civil war and worked tirelessly for refugees. What we should remember about Jo Cox is that, apart from her political career, she was a mother, she has a husband and she has children. Her political career was cut very short and in a very untimely way by this dreadful act, which unfortunately can happen to any politician in what we call modern, civilised western Europe. It is an appalling event, so without saying too much on it, I offer my condolences to her family, colleagues and friends at this extremely sad time. It is a horrific vista, and it is appropriate that the Leader and this House give a brief time to allow for expressions of condolences following this horrific event across the Irish Sea.
As Leader of the House, I sympathise, along with other Members, with the family of Jo Cox at this very sad moment. She was a wife, a mother and a parliamentarian, and from all we have learnt of her since her tragic death one cannot but be touched by the sincerity of her motivation and her diligent representation on behalf of her constituents. In the wider context her death must be seen as an attack on democracy, and all of us who cherish democracy resent very much the manner in which she was callously killed.To her husband, children and members of the House of Commons, we send our deepest sympathies.
I wish to be associated with the tributes to Jo Cox, MP. Like everyone else, I did not know the lady. From what I have read, however, she was an excellent parliamentarian. She had previously been head of policy at Oxfam and brought many skills and much experience to her job as an MP. She was going about her daily duty, holding a clinic like any of us would, and she was gunned down and stabbed. What happened was an affront to democracy.
When I looked through the various accounts in the media, I saw that her husband, Brendan, issued a statement after her malicious stabbing. He said people would fight against the hatred that killed her. I want to put this matter in its broader context. In recent years we have seen a terrible polarisation in politics and life. People have been forced to take up positions. The middle ground is now seen as something to be frowned upon. This has not done justice to the ordinary people. I ask that we reflect on the type of politics we want. We can have diversity but it should not come down to the physical. There would be no more fitting tribute than if Brexit was passed in her honour.
I also want to be associated with the expressions of sympathy on the untimely and unseemly death of Jo Cox, MP. It is difficult to exaggerate the shock felt at the sad news of her murder. The big question relates to why this happened. When we hear further details, there does not seem to be an answer to that question. We have gone so far in the western democratic world, safe in the knowledge that public representatives who are there by the will of the people and by our say are safe and will not endure physical harm, because to do so would be an attack on us, on democracy, on the State and on the will of the people.
The murder of Jo Cox makes no sense. Even after we know more about the killer, it makes no sense because the democratic process requires us to follow a particular path in order to achieve our goals rather than resorting to physical violence. Such violence is never the answer. What will it do? It will give rise to another election, which could mean the election of somebody on the same course and with the same political objectives as Jo Cox. It inspires us all to dig deep and hold fast to law and order, justice, the safety of the person and freedom of expression. This is what we believe civilised beings should do.
This meaningless act of violence should prompt us to examine what goes on here. I will briefly mention what happened during the height of the water charges controversies and what was visited upon the then Tánaiste. My office was petrol bombed. There did not seem to be boundaries as to what could be done, particularly with regard to threats. There is a line and if one crosses it, there is a big price to be paid. We hold fast to this line. Today we think of Jo Cox and her family.
On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I send our condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Jo Cox. Our sympathy, thoughts and prayers are with her husband and two beautiful children, who must be so proud of their mother and wife. We cannot imagine the heartbreak her husband and two children are feeling. This cold-blooded hateful murder was an attack on democracy and an insult to our core human values. As public servants, the act has instilled shock, horror and fear in many of us in light of the fact all of us have similar routines in our constituencies doing very valuable clinic work.We join parliamentarians from across all democratic nations in sympathising with her loved ones and will remain united against hate and extremism. Jo Cox was a strong and determined advocate for justice and equality, and it is incumbent on us to continue her fight for same. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I wish to be associated with the statements of sympathy to the family and friends of Jo Cox, MP. No one who had seen video clips of Jo over the past few days could fail to be impressed by the smiling, bubbly character that she exuded. She was someone who had already walked the walk in helping people at home and abroad through her work with Oxfam and in her constituency.
I am sure that I am not on my own, but I must confess that I had never heard of Jo before last week's tragic events. While it is important that we hear about her now and appreciate her life, it is sad that she did not get more media attention while she was with us. Many people have said that she was a breath of fresh air in politics and the type of person that they would like to see in politics - positive, generous, hard working, dedicated and so much more. What a fantastic ambassador for women in politics she was. So much potential cut short. My sympathy to her husband and children, her extended family and friends, her party and all who knew her. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I thank Senator McDowell and the group for allowing me to contribute before them. I express my solidarity with the family of Jo Cox and the sympathies of Sinn Féin's Senators to her husband, Brendan, her two young children, her constituents and the British Labour Party. She was a mother, sister and daughter whose life was taken in horrific circumstances.
Jo showed through her previous career helping terrified and vulnerable people fleeing the most terrible violence in Syria that politics could still attract those with sincere motives and the will to work for social justice. Above all else, Jo Cox was a public servant and a worker who was murdered in her place of work. This in itself is a worrying development for those of us whose daily job means meeting the public. As Seanadóirí and Teachtaí, we are only representatives of the people. It is only through meeting and engaging with those whom we are sent here to represent that politics has any meaningful impact on people's lives. That such a basic function of democracy can come under attack is despicable.
Being on the receiving end of violence and abuse is not the preserve of any political party, but public representatives of our party have been shot and, indeed, killed over the years. What Jo Cox's husband said about sending a message of unity instead of hatred was poignant. Freedom of speech is needed and diversity of opinion must be protected. Robust, passionate debates are an integral part of political life, but the aggressive and violent targeting of individuals because of their opinions or stances on particular issues is wrong and will always be so. This happens at all levels. I was only a short time in local politics when a man entered my office, banged on the desk and told me that if I did not stop my "nonsense" about domestic violence, I would be very sorry. I have received the most vile anonymous correspondence and telephone calls and bullying on social media. I am not alone in that; many other men and women receive the same verbal abuse.
The role of some elements of the media in inciting hatred of particular politicians is gutter, inhumane behaviour and reflects more on their negative core beliefs and values. This must stop.This hatred for politicians fostered by some journalists is a huge barrier to many young women and men entering politics. One might ask why any sane person would want to enter the most hated profession in the world. The profession of politics requires one to stand up for justice and for what one believes in but also makes one a target for abuse. If we are to genuinely honour the legacy of Jo Cox, we must unite against hatred and against the vilification of people just because of the political party to which they belong or the views they hold. We must all stand together, across all parties, against that at all times.
The death of Jo Cox reminds us how vulnerable the ordinary exponents of democratic politics are as they go about the daily business of interacting with constituents and dealing with the day-to-day detail of democratic life in their community. She was a mother, wife, idealist, pragmatist, achiever and above all, before she went into representative politics, she was a woman who had proven her worth by rolling up her sleeves and becoming involved in real causes for real people.
We are reminded too of the fact that politicians are vulnerable, whether it is the Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, the US politician Gabrielle Giffords or the former Member of this House, Senator Billy Fox, who lost his life in 1974. Politicians are utterly vulnerable and utterly at the hands of those who put their own ideas before the right to life of others.
I agree with what has been said in the House today. We have to set our faces against the coarsening of political discourse. We have to vindicate high standards in democratic politics. We must have a society in which no Deputy or Senator going to his or her constituency office or place of work feels a sense of fear and loathing. We have to have a political system where nobody is subjected, as former Taoiseach Brian Cowen was, to vilification when he attended the Arbour Hill ceremonies and to appalling behaviour as he returned to his car as a private citizen, as seen on YouTube. As was pointed out by Senator Conway-Walsh, we must have a system where those who go into politics are not frightened out of it by having their tyres slashed, cars scraped and so forth outside meetings they attend in the course of their work.
If anything good comes out of a sickening tragedy such as this it must be that the Members of this and the other House join in solidarity with the members of the House of Commons in England, as fellow parliamentarians who associate with each other through various institutions, to vindicate real democratic values.
It is with a heavy heart that I rise today to offer my sympathy to the family of the late Jo Cox. Sadly, neither her five year old son nor her three year old daughter will ever know the great humanitarian who was their mother. Sadly, her children will not experience the woman who believed that motherhood was the greatest joy and surpassed all political ambition. We must ask what crime this beautiful woman committed. Why was it that she should have her young life taken? Was it because of the Brexit referendum? That would be an easy answer. We could all possibly live with the idea that some deranged person, driven by a passion for one side of the Brexit debate saw himself as doing a service to the cause. While there may be some merit in this hypothesis, it does not provide an answer. The truth is that we are living in an ever more violent society. Hate is a growing phenomenon in the modern world.Social media have become the vehicle for some to vent their hatred. Politicians, the religious, sportspeople and others are now subjected to some of the most horrendous outbursts of hate. Since the Brexit debate started, there has been an onslaught of racist commentary. Has anyone in the United Kingdom been charged with incitement to hatred? In Ireland we have laws on incitement to hatred, but they are infrequently used. I would like to refer to one case. A man who had created an extremely offensive Facebook page was prosecuted under the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 for his online activities. The case which came before the courts in 2011 serves as a useful warning to those who would propagate hatred on social media. People should know that in Ireland the ordinary libel laws apply to whatever is said or published. It is time for us to use the laws available to us to stop this scourge. There can be no room for hate at any level of our society. It needs to be challenged both at home and internationally. I refer, for example, to the gun laws in the USA where some 65 Senators have been described as "spineless" for voting yesterday to reject four measures that would have restricted gun sales, including the sale of guns to people on the federal terrorism watchlist. What does that say about the war on terror which has turned the Middle East into a tinder box of violence?
In Ireland we can do little for the Cox family. We cannot return a loving mother to her children. We cannot turn the tide of hate that led to her death. However, we can resolve to do our bit to challenge hate. We can try to subject those who use hate as a weapon of intimidation to the full rigour of the law. We can try to hold the owners of social media sites which are rapidly becoming platforms for hate responsible for what is published on such sites. We do not need new legislation; we simply need to use what is already available. As we extend our sympathy to the Cox family, let us tell her children that Jo made a difference and gave her life to teach us tolerance. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.
I join others in expressing my incredible sorrow and shock at the tragic death of Jo Cox following a brutal attack that sent shock waves around the world and extending my sympathy to her husband, Brendan; her two young children; her family and friends; and her constituents and colleagues who have lost a powerful advocate. She brought generosity of spirit, compassion and determination to every aspect of her wonderful life, including her personal relationships, her work for her constituency of Batley and Spen and her career in global development. Her work for Oxfam brought her to some of the most wartorn places in the world. She campaigned tirelessly for humanitarian relief and peace in these regions. She worked across party lines to achieve her goals and she never faltered in her determination to improve the lives of the world's most marginalised people. Every life counted in her eyes. She recognised the beauty and potential in every human being, from the refugee children of Syria and the members of communities caught in conflict in Darfur to the women who died needlessly in childbirth. She did her utmost to give a voice to those without one and direct the eyes of the world to issues it would sometimes like to forget.
Jo Cox was a passionate champion for gender equality. She played an active role in the women's movement. Like many members of the Civil Engagement group, she decided to step out of civil society because she wanted to see what she could achieve in representative politics. Her family has described how she entered Parliament because she wanted to be in the engine room of change. She had a respect for the importance of political debate, a determination to translate that respect into meaningful action and a willingness to reach across the aisles to do so. This stands in sharp contrast to the hostile and authoritarian approach taken by the groups the rhetoric of which seems to have influenced her attacker. Of course, there has been deep and widespread concern about the racist and politically divisive motivations expressed in her killing. Surely, therefore, we must heed the message of her husband, Brendan, who has called on us to honour her legacy with a united response against the poison of hatred in all its forms. Such hatred must not be allowed to corrode the political process or public trust in it. Democracy must not be intimidated. Barriers must not be placed between public representatives and the public space in which they represent the people. I agree that there is a question for the media to look to its role and the language it uses. It should use responsible language in how it engages in these issues. It is heartening, however, to see how so many have chosen to honour Jo Cox with a counter-flow of love and positivity in recent days, for example, with the raising of funds for groups such as HOPE not hate. One strong part of Jo's legacy, a powerful legacy which her children must surely be proud of and which all of us can learn from, must be the words of her maiden speech, "we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us". These words must inspire us to closer and more constructive collaboration as parliamentarians, but they must also inspire us as Irish, European and global citizens in a shared world. Yesterday was world refugee day. On the streets of Dublin, United Against Racism marched. In towns and communities throughout the United Kingdom and the world people came together to send a message of solidarity to the 65 million people who are now displaced, more people than at any time in history.
Jo Cox was a passionate advocate for these people driven from their homes by the scourges of conflict and climate change. She said these people have been forced to stay and face starvation and persecution or make a perilous journey in search of sanctuary. One way those of us in Ireland can honour her is by offering sanctuary to the men, women and children forced to risk their lives. Europe cannot be allowed to step away from its human rights principles. Let us commit to honour Jo Cox by working together across all barriers to bring about a more inclusive and equal Ireland and world.
I totally endorse the comments of Senator Higgins. Recently, I was in Beirut in Lebanon. That country, which is the size of Munster, has welcomed 1 million people into its small part of a turbulent land. We need to step up to the mark in Ireland and Europe. That is the best way we can honour Jo's legacy, her values and her tragic death.
I wish to share time with my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin, with the slot divided in three minutes and two minutes. I stand to pay tribute to Jo Cox, MP, and join the tributes being paid by others as leader of the Labour Party group in the House, as a woman Labour Party public representative and as a mother of two young children, as Jo Cox was.
The shocking and horrific murder of a young talented MP with a bright future in the British Labour Party was an attack on democracy. She was a devoted mother and wife, a keen activist on humanitarian issues and a former aid worker who spent more than a decade of her life on the front-line of aid provision in the developing world. Her death has shocked and moved people throughout the world and in Ireland. Tomorrow would have been her 42nd birthday. I and my Labour Party colleagues are proud to wear a white rose for Yorkshire in Jo Cox's honour. She was a feminist; she fought hard for women's rights internationally and nationally. She had an incredible record of activism on a range of issues in her short life. She was director of the maternal mortality campaign to stop women and babies dying needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth. She had chaired the Labour Party women's network in Britain and was a tireless campaigner for gender equality as well as development issues. Others have mentioned her work with Oxfam. She was Oxfam's head of global policy, having been an aid worker previously. Since being elected for the first time a short time ago for the constituency of Batley and Spen in Yorkshire she had made some articulate and passionate speeches. Others have quoted from those speeches. I believe those speeches will continue to inspire young people, especially women, to enter politics in future. I have in mind in particular her speech in April in support of the Alf Dubs amendment on the need to bring unaccompanied refugee children to Britain.
While the upcoming referendum on British membership of the European Union should not cloud over the horrific attack on democracy represented by the murder of Jo Cox, it does have important lessons for us. First, the need for respect in debate and respect for the views of others. Probably all of us in this House and people elsewhere have been subject to hate mail, as people in public life tend to be. However, I believe her death showed the need to tone down debate. We have seen recognition in Britain this week that the debate had to become less heated, nasty and violent in tone. As many commented, the day of her death was also the day the infamous UKIP poster headed "Breaking Point" was released, reaching a new low in the already ugly campaign being run by the Leave side in support of Brexit, a campaign already tainted by racism but which, with that poster, showed a really horrible depth.
Second, Jo Cox's death reminds us that her career and outlook on politics was eminently international. She was a woman who was simultaneously proud of her Yorkshire roots and her constituency of Batley and Spen but also seriously involved in international issues and the need to welcome refugees. This was particularly important at a time when we are seeing the greatest displacement of refugees of any time in history as well as the impact of climate change and grave issues around international conflict.
She had worked on an all-party parliamentary group on Syria with Tory MP, Andrew Mitchell, who was among the many MPs who paid moving tributes to her in the House of Commons yesterday. Our thoughts now are with her husband, Brendan Cox, her two young children, Leila and Cuillin, her grieving parents, her sister and family. We should recall, as her husband said, that her death must show us that love is stronger than hate and that what unites us is stronger than what divides us.
I am pleased to join my colleagues, Senators Bacik, Humphreys and the entire Labour Party group in the Seanad, to express our condolences to the family of Jo Cox. I am keen to place emphasis on what she believed in, which is far more important than what the person who murdered her believed in. Jo Cox was a person who believed in the human dignity of all individuals, regardless of who they were or where they came from. This is something we should reflect upon because often in Irish society and public discourse we tend to label people and undermine their humanity. This leads to inequality, prejudice and fear.
It is important that anyone thinking of entering politics, especially young women, would be inspired by Jo Cox and not fearful of what happened to her. We live in an era of harsh public discourse. Sometimes it is difficult to get across a nuanced point of view. Some political campaigns can be quite nasty and personalised. Elements of the media are intent on degrading politics and the public discourse we engage in. It is important for anyone listening to those of us in this House, the other House or those in any parliament throughout the world to agree that politics can be the noblest of causes. For a person to take up a campaign and believe in something so vehemently that the person is willing to spend his or her life or career in pursuit of that aim is a good and decent thing. We must protect the public discourse and those who wish to engage in that discourse with everything we can. Again, I join my colleagues in expressing sympathy. I am keen to reassure young men and women who look at and believe in politics that the beliefs and values of Jo Cox will win out.