Fine Gael Senator is threatened with violence on social media following canvassing post

Mary Seery Kearney was ‘physically sick’ after reading physical and sexual threats online

Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery Kearney: ‘One of the direct messages pretty much amounted to a rape threat.’ Photograph: Laura Hutton

Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery Kearney: ‘One of the direct messages pretty much amounted to a rape threat.’ Photograph: Laura Hutton

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A Fine Gael senator has said she experienced threats of physical and sexual violence online following a simple post about canvassing last year.

Fine Gael senator Mary Seery Kearney said she was threatened on social media in the run-up to the local elections last year.

Ms Kearney, who was elected to South Dublin County Council last May, said she felt “weak at the knees” and “physically sick” after reading the abuse she received on Facebook.

The Irish Times asked each of the State’s 160 TDs and 60 Senators about their online experiences last month. Sixty one responded; more than half (32) said they had received online threats of physical violence.

Seven said family members had faced online physical threats. Slightly more than a quarter of the respondents (17) said they had reported threats of violence to An Garda Síochána.

Thirteen – four men and nine women – have received harassing or intimidatory sexual material online. Five, including four of the women, made reports to gardaí.

Ms Kearney recalls how she posted a picture of her campaign team under a sign advertising her first public meeting on Facebook in February 2019 and subsequently boosted the post to a wider audience on the platform.

“I got some very direct threats [in the post] and then also some direct messages,” she told The Irish Times.

“I was threatened with physical violence. One of the direct messages pretty much amounted to a rape threat, so sexual and physical assault. Stuff such as ‘if I came their way’, ‘if they got their hands on me’, that sort of thing. I moderated it [on Facebook] at the time and then deleted it because I found it so upsetting.

“It was literally a photograph of my campaign team, wearing yellow jackets, with ‘Vote Mary Kearney’ on them and a poster up on a lamppost. It was something as innocuous as ‘delighted to be out first night canvassing’.”

Garda

Ms Kearney said she didn’t contact the Garda at the time but in hindsight she believes she should have.

“I suppose my reaction was this is part of the course and if I’m going to stick my head above the parapet and say I would like to be a public representative, this is what goes with that,” she said.

“It shouldn’t, but as a new politician...I just thought I have to toughen up and just be able to take this because this is how it goes.

“It’s not acceptable, we need politicians, we need people to be brave and to represent their communities and to be voices for their communities. It’s one thing to criticise that they don’t like my policies and that’s fair enough, absolutely, but it’s another thing for it to become personally directed with threats of violence.”

Ms Kearney, who is a practising barrister, was appointed to the Seanad in June and said she hasn’t received any threats on social media since the incident last year.

“I’ve become less naive about posting stuff I suppose. I wouldn’t boost a Facebook post generally which is what I did on that occasion,” she added.

“That brought me outside of my electoral area and outside of people who I have connections with or them connections with me. They mightn’t agree with me politically but it’s less anonymous.”