The Irish Times view on the abuse women politicians face: dangerous and intolerable

Female politicians face threats, abuse, harassment and violence - and the problem is getting worse

Public and political life is becoming a more difficult place for women, and that is a very significant problem for the country. Recent reports revealed that the problem of threats, abuse, harassment and – sometimes – violence against women in political life is much worse than many of their male colleagues, or their constituents, realised.

Death threats, rape threats, sexual harassment, a daily barrage of abuse on social media, TDs being followed, people hanging around their offices, briefings from the gardaí and Leinster House authorities about how to protect themselves, having to put extra locks on their homes and offices – these are all examples of what women politicians are expected to put up with. And most politicians say that it is getting worse.

One TD recalled in this newspaper being called a “bitch, tramp, whore, and eejit online and in person”, and saw her photo superimposed on to images of “witches, people getting sick, scantily clad bodies.” This is simply intolerable. It will drive women out of public life and dissuade others from entering in the first place. That not alone represents an injustice that women currently in public life are forced to tolerate, but it demeans our society and damages our politics.

There are a few things that can be done immediately and without any legislation. The social media companies who facilitate through their platforms the abuse of women – and other public figures – should deny the cloak of anonymity to people to make threats or gratuitously and viciously attack other people. It is well-established that people are emboldened by online anonymity to say things to and about other people that they would never dare to say in person or in any forum where they might be identifiable.


Forcing the internet companies to do this would be tricky and time-consuming, but they could do it themselves if they wanted to. Why should they have to be compelled to do the decent thing? Shouldn’t they just do it?

Secondly, the gardaí should become much more proactive in pursuing people who make online threats of violence against others, especially women politicians. There are laws already on the statute books that criminalise incitement to violence and threatening behaviour. A knock on the door from a garda might serve as a useful warning to someone who threatens to sexually assault a female politician.

Thirdly, our society needs to become much less tolerant of the abuse of politicians and public figures. At a recent public meeting in Co Galway, cow dung was thrown at two politicians; the perpetrator was not, reports suggest, asked to leave or even upbraided for his behaviour by other attendees. That bespeaks a willingness to tacitly tolerate his outrageous behaviour, and it is not good enough. We must do better.