Throwing of excrement at TDs a sign of ‘creeping sinister aggression’ towards politicians

Minister of State Anne Rabbitte and TD Ciarán Cannon were at a public meeting in Galway when the incident occurred

Minister of State Anne Rabbitte has reported the incident to gardaí. Photograph: Collins

Fine Gael TD Ciarán Cannon has said the throwing of bags of manure at himself and junior minister Anne Rabbitte at a public meeting in Co Galway on Wednesday night is a cause for “serious concern” and is indicative of “a creeping sinister aggression” towards politicians.

Mr Cannon said there is a level of aggression, “sometimes spilling over into naked hatred”, being directed at politicians “of all parties, and indeed, of none”.

Mr Cannon and Ms Rabbitte, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, are TDs for Galway East. They were attending a local community public meeting to discuss the decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant permission for an industrial biogas facility at the edge of Gort town when the incident occurred.

Mr Cannon said the meeting was the first opportunity to call together the community to determine what the next steps might be in opposing the facility. A presentation had been made in relation to seeking a judicial review of An Bord Pleanála’s decision. He said the floor opened up for questions and contributions following the presentation.

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“A gentleman sought the mic and he spoke, essentially misunderstanding the planning process completely, blaming Anne Rabbitte and I, and the Government, for granting permission, for allowing this to happen and that we should be ashamed of ourselves and that it was just typical of the attitude of Government towards rural communities in general,” Mr Cannon said.

“He went on and on and then he handed back the microphone and immediately having done so, he then walked a considerable distance down the hall and threw a bag of what I now know was animal excrement at me.

“He then walked back up and he deliberately walked towards Minister [for State] Anne Rabbitte who was standing at the back of the hall and threw one at her.

“Then he stormed out of the meeting and not long after that he made his way back in and he remained standing within two metres of Anne Rabbitte for the whole duration of the meeting.”

Mr Cannon said such behaviour “should not be tolerated” and that Ms Rabbitte had reported the incident to An Garda Síochána, who have since spoken to both of them.

“This is completely premeditated, he [the man] knew what he was doing,” the Galway East TD said. “He went to the bother of putting animal excrement into two plastic bags.

“And if we begin to kind of say, this is just all part of what politics is about now in 2023, I think we’re going down a very slippery slope,” Mr Cannon said.

“We had an MP stabbed to death in October of 2021, we now have MPs wearing stab vests to their clinics. That is certainly a road we don’t want to go down and it’s important that it’s called out for what it is, not allowed flourish and become the norm rather than the exception.”

Condemned incident

Ciaran O’Donnell of the Gort Bio Gas Concern Group has condemned the incident and says that the person who threw the cow manure has no connection with their group. Mr O’Donnell, who was co-chairing the public meeting when the two TDs were hit, said that he did not realise the severity of the incident until after the meeting had finished.

He says that the Gort Bio Gas Concern Group has hosted a number of public meetings in recent years and respectful and open communication has always been a key part of those meetings.

“At the time, I was hosting the meeting with a stationary microphone and another person was moving through the crowd with a second microphone, giving people a chance to speak. When that person [the man who thew the manure] was finished speaking, it appeared to me like he threw something innocuous into the air. I thought, at the time, that it was some of the fliers that we had been circulating ahead of the meeting.

“There was a bit of commotion at that point and he left the hall. After that we moved onto the next person who wanted to speak. I didn’t realise at the time what had been thrown. It wasn’t until the end of the meeting that I was fully updated as to what had actually happened.

“We fully support Anne Rabbitte and Ciaran Cannon and thank them for their continued support over the last five years against the positioning of an industrial scale bio gas plant in the town of Gort.”

Mr O’Donnell said that he believed that the person who threw the material had left the venue and did not realise until much later in the meeting that he had returned. Mr O’Donnell also said that he has not been in touch with either Deputy Cannon or Deputy Rabbitte since the meeting, but will be in touch, when appropriate, in the days ahead.

Ms Rabbitte initially posted details of the incident on her Twitter feed just after 8.20pm on Wednesday. “Attended a meeting tonight and a bag of sh.t thrown a me and my Government colleague !!!” she tweeted.

Speaking on Galway Bay FM on Thursday, Ms Rabbitte said “the legs were taken right out from under me” following the incident.

“I actually had dry mouth, I wasn’t able to put words together at that point. Yet, I was able to tweet as I felt I needed to ventilate my anger at what was actually unfolding personally to me and how I felt that – I just didn’t feel good about it,” she said.

A spokesman for Ms Rabbitte said she was in contact with local gardaí.

An Garda Síochána said it was investigating “all the circumstances” relating to the incident.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Micheál Martin spoke to Ms Rabbitte this morning to offer his support.

“This kind of behaviour towards public representatives is totally unacceptable. One of the strengths of Irish democracy is the ease of access to our public representatives. People have a right to protest and argue their points, but these kind of unacceptable actions damage civil society and democratic discourse,” he said.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times