Support system for protecting TDs and Senators from 'venom' to be considered

 

The Government Minister with responsibility for mental health has said she will consider setting up a support system to help TDs and Senators deal with the increasing level of vitriol, insults and threats they face in their political lives.

As focus increased on the possible role abusive messages on social media played in the death of Fine Gael TD Shane McEntee, Minister of State Kathleen Lynch said the consequences of such personal attacks should not be underestimated.

“I am giving serious thought to bringing [qualified] people in to speak to different groups of TDs about how best to protect themselves from the venom out there,” she said.

Mr McEntee found himself the subject of a barrage of criticism after comments he made to The Sunday Times defending the cut in the respite care grant. He said he agreed carers had to have breaks “but you could stay in a top hotel in Ireland for €700 a week”.

He withdrew the remarks the following day upon receiving a very angry response and said he was trying to point out that the grant was still high in a society where some prices had fallen.

Abusive comments online

Since his death on Friday there have been dozens of instances of abusive comments pertaining to his death on social media, on online forums and on Facebook and Twitter. Most have been posted anonymously. One thread containing such comments was removed by moderators from the Politics.iesite.

Ms Lynch said she personally did not look at Facebook or Twitter.

“I feel that there are people out there who do not realise that it does not end there and there is a consequence of people receiving those comments. We do not all have the same resilience. Shane was such a sensitive and compassionate man and it is a tragic loss.”

A number of serving and former TDs who spoke to The Irish Times yesterday expressed deep misgivings about the growth of personalised abuse on social media networks. Labour Minister of State Seán Sherlock said yesterday there was a serious issue around anonymous postings on social media. “There is a lack of understanding among those posting of the cause and effect of what they are doing. There is a cumulative knock-on effect.”

Mr Sherlock said he had encountered a lot of personal abuse recently over a controversial statutory instrument that proposed to change online copyright.

Hate campaign

Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, himself the subject of a hate campaign directed at his Facebook page over budgetary cuts, said: “The level of vitriol and abuse has gone out of all proportions, driven by social media and radio programmes. This has a knock-on effect.”

Liam Twomey, a Fine Gael TD and family doctor, said politics created huge pressures and that was evident to him even before the recession.

“The problems are always there. The lifestyle is detrimental to family life and personal life and is also detrimental to your health.”

Another family doctor, former Fianna Fáil TD Jimmy Devins, said yesterday there was constant pressure and demands on TDs that was physically and mentally testing. He said the phenomenon of social media was also now very much coming into play.

“It’s an area that perhaps down the road people should look at: to make available support to TDs and Senators that is not necessarily there at the moment.”