Security for politicians needs to be reviewed, says Taoiseach

Comments come in wake of Sir David Amess murder and protests at home of Tánaiste

Micheál Martin speaking to journalists as he arrived for the EU summit meeting in Brussels on Friday. Photograph: Johanna Geron/Pool via AP

Micheál Martin speaking to journalists as he arrived for the EU summit meeting in Brussels on Friday. Photograph: Johanna Geron/Pool via AP

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that security for politicians needs to be reviewed after the murder of British MP Sir David Amess and protests at the house of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

“We do need to review it, in terms of what security is required,” Mr Martin told journalists in Brussels, where he is attending the European Council summit of EU leaders.

But he said that security precautions for politicians should not be “over the top” and should rely on garda intelligence with regard to any potential threats.

“That’s the ultimate protection that we can give to politicians, to spot things before they become challenging and difficult,” he said.

He said that the “hate messaging” that was directed at politicians online is unacceptable. “Groups are forming who create bile around politicians and target politicians . . . I think that’s not acceptable either. On the physical security side, we need to keep an eye on that.”

Mr Martin said he had been harassed on the street in the past but that politicians must ensure they are not pushed off the streets.

“What I would say is that we need to protect that ingredient in Irish politics, that connection between people. And sometimes I think some extreme political groups want to disrupt that connection, that that’s part of the agenda,” he said.

“There were times in my political life when I would have been, people would have encircled me and would have roared and screamed at me and shoved phones up to your face and all the rest of it,” he said.

“I would keep going. And because I think it’s absolutely essential that we don’t lose the ground, and don’t lose the street as elected representatives. I’m a passionate believer in parliamentary democracy.”

“I always make a point of walking my streets,” Mr Martin said. “And I think anybody who wants to disrupt that . . . there’s an agenda there sometimes to disrupt that sort of practice, to almost denormalize conventional politicians, and to turn people against them.”

‘More violent’

He said this could “generate a more violent, sort of interaction with politicians.”

Mr Martin was speaking after a group of anti-vaccination protestors gathered at Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s house in Dublin city centre, the third time it has happened in recent weeks.

Speaking in Limerick Mr Varadkar said he agreed with the Taoiseach.

“I have to say I have always had a lot of confidence in the gardaí and in the special protection unit, and I very much trust in them to make the right decisions and to provide whatever level of security they think is appropriate,” he said.

When asked if he had ever faced a credible threat to his life, he replied: “We’re not supposed to discuss security matters, if that’s okay, so I’d prefer not to answer.”

However, Mr Varadkar said that while he obviously was in favour of keeping public representatives safe, “we also don’t want to be in a security bubble either where we are cut off from our constituents and from people”.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil senator Malcolm Byrne is to introduce a bill that would prohibit protests at people’s homes. The bill was approved at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting this week.

“Sadly we have seen a tiny minority who shout loudly about rights but haven’t a clue about responsibilities and feel it is acceptable to target a person in their home,” Mr Byrne said in a statement.

“There are plenty of places to peacefully protest apart from outside a person’s home. We are fortunate in Ireland to have that right.”

Mr Byrne also said that social media companies should take stronger action against extremist groups and hate speech and pointed out that the forthcoming Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will seek to address the failures of self-regulation by the tech giants.