Abuse of politicians a 'constant': Almost a quarter of Cork elected representatives surveyed have received death threats

The Echo’s survey asked Cork’s 111 elected representatives whether they had received death threats or threats of physical violence, either remotely or in person, whether they or a family member had ever received threatening or abusive messages, and whether they had noted an increase in such behaviour over the past two years — 80 responded
Abuse of politicians a 'constant': Almost a quarter of Cork elected representatives surveyed have received death threats

Most respondents to the survey declined to comment publicly on their responses, with some who had received abuse saying they didn’t wish to volunteer for more, while some who had not received abuse said they didn’t want to paint a target on themselves.

A SENIOR Government minister and Cork TD has said online abuse for elected representatives is a “constant” after a survey carried out by The Echo found four in 10 respondents have received death threats while two-thirds have received threatening or abusive messages.

The news comes as Cabinet ministers are set to be given bodyguards and specialised cars following a review of their safety by An Garda Síochána.

The review followed increased concerns about the personal safety of Government members and a number of protests outside ministers’ homes.

The Echo’s survey asked Cork’s 111 elected representatives whether they had received death threats or threats of physical violence, either remotely or in person, whether they or a family member had ever received threatening or abusive messages, and whether they had noted an increase in such behaviour over the past two years — 80 responded.

Most respondents to the survey declined to comment publicly on their responses, with some who had received abuse saying they didn’t wish to volunteer for more, while some who had not received abuse said they didn’t want to paint a target on themselves.

A spokesperson for Micheál Martin said it is policy to never comment on threats against the Taoiseach’s security.

The highest-profile respondent who agreed to speak on the record was Minister for Public Expenditure, Michael McGrath.

“While I have not had explicit threats of physical violence, I have had messages that encourage suicide and messages expressing the hope that I would come to harm,” Minister McGrath said.

“There is a very fine line, but there hasn’t been an actual threat that I felt warranted a referral to the Gardaí [but] if I do get one, I won’t hesitate to pass it on to the Gardaí.

“Abusive direct messages and online comments are constant however. You try to brush it off, but we are all human at the end of the day so it is not easy.

“It has become part and parcel of being a public representative, particularly when you are in government,” he said.

“I do worry that the level of abuse being dished out online will deter good people from entering public life.”

Minister McGrath said he believed social media platforms have a lot to answer for, and with the government setting up a regulator in this space, he would be advocating for it to have real teeth.

“I can live with the abuse, but I worry about other people, young people especially, and the harm it is doing to them,” he said.

“This is developing into a huge issue across society and we need to get serious about tackling it.”

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Micheal McGrath: Abusive messages have become part of being a public representative.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Micheal McGrath: Abusive messages have become part of being a public representative.

Thomas Gould, Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central, said the level of abuse experienced by people in public life, particularly women, needs to be addressed.

“There is legislation coming through the Dáil and this needs to be as strong as possible but there also has to be some responsibility on big social media companies to do more to protect users,” Deputy Gould said.

ANGER

Cork City Councillor Kenneth O’Flynn said he had received a number of death threats, and had experienced damage to his property and car.

“It makes me feel really angry, and scared as well, and for a long time I stayed off social media because of just how upset it made me,” he said.

“It’s very easy to be a keyboard warrior or blocked number caller, but put yourself up for election, get your head above the parapet if you think you can do better than me.”

One respondent noted “a noticeable downward trend in simple good manners”, saying social media has exacerbated this.

“A small number of what I call ‘hardy perennials’ on social media platforms seem to think they can use words with impunity and without regard for the consequences of those words for those of us who are genuinely trying to do our best,” they said.

One respondent claimed that people are increasingly reluctant to run for election.

“We will be a nation led by headbangers if this is allowed to continue,” they said.

“No one has sympathy for politicians and I doubt this will change before it is too late. The United States and the UK are clear examples of such.”

One respondent claimed to never once have received an unhappy comment, and said “Ye need to come to West Cork and see how ’tis done right”.

ANXIETY

One respondent spoke of suffering depression and anxiety in the wake of a death threat.

“I have received threats and abuse online and by phone, but the one direct threat to my life came in letter form …

“My husband and I paid to get the gates at the back of our yard fitted with electronic sensors to open and close as I no longer felt safe at night coming in, parking and walking down to the end of our yard to close it manually,” they said.

SURVEY

ALMOST a quarter of Cork’s elected representatives who took part in a survey by The Echo have received death threats, while two-thirds have received threatening or abusive messages.

Over a third of Cork’s representatives who took part in the survey have received threats of physical violence, while three-quarters of female elected representatives said they had received threatening or abusive messages.

The Echo surveyed Cork’s 18 TDs, three senators, four MEPs, 55 county councillors and 31 city councillors, and out of 111 elected representatives, 80 responded to the questionnaire, giving a response rate of 73%.

Asked whether they had, in the course of their work, received a death threat online or by telephone, 18 of all respondents, or 23%, said they had, while 13 of those respondents, or 16% of all respondents, said they had also received a death threat in person.

Asked if they had received a threat of physical violence online or by phone, 29 respondents, or 36%, said they had, while 20 of those respondents, or 25% of all respondents, said they had also received a threat of physical violence in person.

Some 52 respondents, or 66%, said they had received threatening or abusive messages, while 16 of those respondents, or 20% of all respondents, said this had spilled over into family members having received threatening or abusive messages.

Asked whether they had seen an increase in threatening or abusive behaviour over the past two years, 44 respondents, or 55%, said they had.

Of Cork’s 26 female elected representatives, 17, or 65%, responded to The Echo’s survey, with female representatives accounting for 21% of respondents.

Four female representatives, or 24% of respondents, said they had received a death threat online or by telephone, while two of those respondents, 12% of all female respondents, had also received a death threat in person. Five female representatives, or 29%, received a threat of physical violence online or by phone, while three of those respondents also received a threat of physical violence in person.

Gender differentiated[female = 17 of the 80respondents]

  • Q. 1. Have you received a threat on your life, online or by telephone? 4/17 Yes = 24% [higher for women].
  • Q. 2. Have you received a threat of physical violence, online or by telephone? 5/17 Yes = 29% [lower for women].
  • Q. 3. Have you received a threat on your life in person? 2/17 Yes = 12% [lower for women].
  • Q. 4. Have you received a threat of physical violence in person? 3/17 Yes = 18% [lower for women].
  • Q. 5. Have you received threatening or abusive messages? 13/17 Yes = 76% [significantly higher for women].
  • Q. 6.Has a family member received threatening or abusive messages? 3/17 Yes = 18% [lower for women].

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