'It can be very intimidating': Cork councillors describe being subjected to harassment as new report shows prevalence of issue 

'It can be very intimidating': Cork councillors describe being subjected to harassment as new report shows prevalence of issue 

A new report by the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) which revealed that almost 72% of councillors who responded to the survey have experienced threats, harassment, and intimidation in the past three years.

Cork councillors who have received harassment online, and in one case have even received death threats, have appealed for ‘respect’ amid concerns that the harassment of councillors could be “extremely worrying for the future of politics”.

It follows the publication of a new report by the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) which revealed that almost 72% of councillors who responded to the survey have experienced threats, harassment, and intimidation in the past three years.

Almost half (48%) of respondents to the survey, which was conducted in partnership with Crime Management Group (CMG), said that they have considered or are currently considering leaving their role because of such threats and harassment.

Fine Gael councillor Sinead Sheppard said she had not experienced such harassment but voiced concern about the report findings. 
Fine Gael councillor Sinead Sheppard said she had not experienced such harassment but voiced concern about the report findings. 

Fine Gael county councillor Sineád Sheppard, who last year suggested to the Government the idea of having a new taskforce established to examine the area of online bullying and abusive behaviour, stated yesterday that it was “very scary to see some of the stats in the report”.

Ms Sheppard said that although she has not experienced such harassment in the last number of years, the role of a councillor “is quite demanding” and that “while you love your job, it’s 24 hours a day because even when you’re at home it’s people looking for information on social media or if you’re tagged in something a response is expected immediately”.

“It’s horrible to think that anyone is being subjected to that and it’s extremely worrying for the future of politics,” said Ms Sheppard.

“We want young, vibrant people coming into this role and if people are reading this they’d probably think again about coming into it.

“You’d hate for that to put them off because I really don’t know in other professions would they be dealing with it as much.”

She said that her message to anyone dealing with such abuse is “not to be a victim to these people online” and to report them to the authorities.

'It can be very intimidating'

Fianna Fáil councillor Colm Kelleher said he has received private messages on social media saying, ‘I hope you die’.

“For me, personally, it’s water off a duck’s back because I’ve tough skin but it can be so distressing when you see people wanting you to actually die,” said Mr Kelleher.

Councillor Colm Kelleher
Councillor Colm Kelleher

“It’s normally to do with something that’s current, something controversial going through the Oireachtas, or something controversial happening on social media.

“I’ve spoken to colleagues, in particular, female colleagues, and it can be very intimidating for them.

“People say you need tough skin to get into politics and, to a certain extent, you do but there needs to be respect because we’re people at the end of the day.”

He said that trolls who target public representatives across multiple platforms often have to be blocked.

“Nine times out of 10, you brush it off. Sometimes, I don’t even read them but I was taken aback when I received messages from people wishing I was dead.”

He said that he believes “the conversation has started” on these issues and while public representatives who want to help people in their community “get things wrong from time to time”, that “no one deserves to be spoken to that way”.

Death threats 

Cllr. Ken O'Flynn.
Cllr. Ken O'Flynn.

Independent councillor Ken O’Flynn said that he has received three death threats in the last two and a half years and that his car has also been pelted with stones.

“I’ve been harassed and have received aggressive texts and harangued on social media,” said Mr O’Flynn.

“Quite often, people send messages to you that are nasty.”

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