The Irish Times view on threats to politicians: an unacceptable attack on democracy

The perpetrators are not acting in a vacuum. A broader coarsening of public discourse has taken place

Two disturbing new reports will add to mounting concern over the unacceptable threats and abuse which elected politicians now endure.

A survey from the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) has found that two thirds of elected councillors had experienced threats, intimidation or harassment over a two-and-a-half year period . Councillors reported threats of violence, damage to property, death threats, arson, and threats of sexual violence. More than half of recipients felt worried or extremely concerned as a result of these experiences. Many are considering leaving their roles as a result.

A draft document circulated to members of the Oireachtas details similar levels of abuse and threats experienced by TDs and Senators. The report, from a task force led by former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, finds that abuse is prevalent, problematic and targeted disproportionately at women and minorities. Online abuse is fuelled by digital anonymity, and often driven by misogyny, racism and intolerance.

In addition to the personal impact on individuals, the taskforce heard evidence of the negative consequences for political participation. These include potential candidates being discouraged due to fear of abuse, existing politicians deciding not to run again, politicians avoiding contentious topics and ceasing activities in the community.


Both reports identify the pressing need for more effective support, security advice and Garda resources to address the problem. AILG will engage with media regulator Coimisiún na Meán to address the question of online abuse. O’Sullivan recommends a range of security measures, including better resourcing and faster responses from social media platforms and new Garda reporting mechanisms to receive and co-ordinate responses to incidents of abuse.

It is repugnant for any individual to be targeted in this way. Elected politicians, like all citizens, have a right to expect the protection of the State against vile attacks of this sort. Abuse and threats of violence against elected representatives also constitute an assault on Irish democracy. Such behaviour has traditionally been associated with the darkest and most sinister anti-democratic forces. That it has become normalised on social media and in day-to-day life represents an alarming degradation of the public sphere and a threat to society’s most fundamental values. It is incumbent on all arms of the State to respond swiftly and firmly. But the perpetrators are not acting in a vacuum. A broader coarsening of public discourse has taken place. The false proposition that all elected representatives are venal or corrupt has been allowed to spread unchallenged, providing a permission structure for criminal abuse. It is time for those who engage in such banalities to reflect on the consequences.