Strengthening democracy

 

Sir, – Politicians in Ireland are widely accessible, and I believe they should remain so. What needs containment is the amount of hate speech and bile that is anonymously circulated online, often based on “alternative facts” that can move opinion based on hearsay and untruths. Such activity is also the basis for many areas of online bullying. I believe we in Ireland should use the tragedy of the targeted killing of Sir David Amess to create a political and social reset – that is to rebuild online discourse protocols (limited anonymity) that will enhance a more developed and honest engagement between people and their ideas as well as between politicians and the people they serve. – Yours, etc,

MATT SHANAHAN TD,

Independent,

Waterford.

Sir, – The brutal murder last week of Sir David Amess MP, of Jo Cox MP a number of years ago, and the killings of political representatives in Northern Ireland and across the world, remind us that democracy comes at a high price. Tragically, we have lost dedicated parliamentarians, but their dreams of a society built on the principles of equality, democracy, freedom and the dignity of the individual live on.

Difference is an essential feature of public discourse in free societies. However, in more recent years in particular, difference in political discourse is often perceived and experienced as negative, acrimonious and polarising as politicians, their followers and opponents engage in torrents of hostile rhetoric. With the “winners” and “losers” on the political stage losing focus on the true interests and needs of the people they represent, what results is a loss of public confidence, a belittling of politics and our political institutions, and a gradual erosion of parliamentary democracy.

As John Hume said in his Nobel peace address, “Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it.”

Respect for difference is a core value that sits at the heart of the peace and reconciliation work of both the John and Pat Hume Foundation and of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.

We believe there is an urgent need to promote civility in politics where differences are respected, where ethical and civil dialogue is embraced and where efforts are focused on working together to enhance and better serve democracy, diversity and political decision-making. In Ireland and in Northern Ireland, in particular, we can do so by rededicating ourselves to the Belfast Agreement commitments to “partnership, equality and mutual respects as the basis of our relationships”. – Yours, etc,

BARBARA WALSHE,

Chairwoman,

Glencree Centre for

Peace & Reconciliation,

Enniskerry,

Co Wicklow:

Dr SEÁN FARREN,

Chairman,

John & Pat Hume

Foundation,

Belfast.