Ceann Comhairle to discuss issues raised by David Amess killing with Garda chief

Attack will not change access to politicians here, Ó Fearghaíl predicts

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl added that changing the accessibility of politicians would amount to allowing the ‘criminals who carry out these heinous acts to win’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl added that changing the accessibility of politicians would amount to allowing the ‘criminals who carry out these heinous acts to win’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has predicted that public access to politicians in Ireland will not change after the killing of British MP David Amess as it would amount to allowing perpetrators of such “heinous acts” to win.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl also said security at Leinster House is kept under “ongoing review” and he expects to meet Garda Commissioner Drew Harris later this month on general security arrangements.

He said while the meeting with Mr Harris was planned before the attack on Mr Amess, the issues raised by the incident “will have to be considered in the light of what has happened”.

Mr Amess was killed in a suspected terror attack while he held a constituency clinic on Friday.

It comes five years after the murder of another British MP, Jo Cox, who was shot and stabbed by a far-right extremist outside her constituency office days before the Brexit referendum.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl said both incidents were “deplorable” and “utterly reprehensible”. He added: “It’s hard to view an attack on politicians as anything other than an attack on the democratic system itself.”

However, he said he did not expect a reduction of constituency clinics here, nor restrictions placed on them.

The accessibility of politicians was, he said, “at the heart of what Irish politics is about” and predicted: “That is not going to change.”

Mr Ó Fearghaíl added that changing this would amount to allowing the “criminals who carry out these heinous acts to win”.

“They must never be allowed to win. Democracy must triumph no matter what.”

The Ceann Comhairle said security had been improved at Leinster House in recent years with a scanning machine installed at the entrance for visitors.

There has been concern among many politicians about an apparent increasing toxicity of political debate in Ireland, often fuelled by posts on social media. There have also been protests at the homes of Ministers such as Simon Harris and most recently Tánaiste Leo Varadkar which have been widely condemned.

Asked if he was concerned there could be violent incidents here, Mr Ó Fearghaíl said “hopefully not” but added that it “could happen anywhere”.

He said “onslaughts” are made on TDs and senators on social media, with female Oireachtas members in particular being targeted.

He suggested there had been an “intensification” of this problem during the pandemic, saying “people had more time on their hands”.

There needs to be an education programme to encourage people to be responsible in what they post online, he said.

Shock

Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys said there was shock at the “terrible attack” on Mr Amess.

She said politicians’ ability to meet constituents was “something we hold very dear in this country”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics she said gardaí “continually review security arrangements” and anyone with concerns should report them.

Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs have been contacted by PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne about their personal security in the wake of the killing of Mr Amess.

Stormont MLAs and local councillors are also expected to be consulted about possible increased security measures for politicians in the region, as Britain’s home secretary Priti Patel launched a UK-wide review.

The North’s minister of justice Naomi Long said a balance needed to be struck between protecting elected representatives and allowing them to carry out their duties.

She said: “I think as elected representatives we want to be accessible, we want to be approachable and it is very difficult to balance that [while] trying to protect yourself and indeed your staff and other people who are with you.”