By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister has revealed that she once had to remove an uninvited person from her home, as MLAs called for an end to abuse of elected representatives.
Michelle O’Neill said no politician should face abuse or threats for carrying out work on behalf of their constituents.
The North’s political leaders paid tribute to murdered British MP David Amess at the start of business at Stormont on Monday.
DUP First Minister Paul Givan said the Conservative MP was “brutally killed when serving his community”.
He added: “Sir David was a giant of Westminster politics and rightly, tributes have been paid from right across the political spectrum.
“Sir David was a close friend of the Democratic Unionist Party, a close friend of Northern Ireland. Someone that we shared common values with. Passionately pro-union and Northern Ireland’s place within it.
“Deeply pro-life, caring for people at all stages of their life and we mourn his loss.”
Mr Givan added: “We know police are now investigating and doing so under terrorist laws. Northern Ireland has never been immune from attacks on democracy and terrorists.
“We have had multiple attacks on elected representatives over the years and members of this house continue to receive threats and that is to be condemned.
“We do need to think about how we treat each other, how we speak to each other and that goes beyond this Assembly chamber, it goes to wider society.
“Too often I hear public representatives being dehumanised by people. We are very much part of this society, not separate from it.
“All of us need to reflect on that. But today is about remembering a faithful public servant and we join in mourning his loss and we send our deepest Christian sympathies to his family and his friends.”
Ms O’Neill said: “To hold public office is a privilege. We are all trying to do our best. Mr Amess was also doing his public duty.
“I would imagine there are very few MLAs across this chamber who haven’t been at some time subjected to abuse, whether that be in person or online, there are very few of us that escape that.
“Everybody here will understand the anxiety that you will feel at times as an elected representative, the threat that we can experience on a regular basis.
“We still carry on with our public duties, but it is not acceptable that anybody who steps into public office is subjected to threats, intimidation or harassment.”
The Sinn Féin deputy First Minister added: “I myself have received numerous threats. Threats that have had to be reported to the PSNI. I made a report to the police last year and an arrest was made as a direct result of an attack.
“I’ve had to physically remove an uninvited person from my home. That’s the type of thing we experience as public representatives and that is not acceptable for anyone to have to deal with that.
“Just before I came in to the chamber I spoke to one of our MPs who had to phone the police to remove people from his office. People who have come to protest at his office, but they intimidated the staff to the point where the staff were frightened and the PSNI had to be called.”
She concluded: “As legislators we must defend democracy and we must promote the rule of law, so today our thoughts are very much with the family of David Amess.”