When Minister of State Mary Butler is in Dublin, her life is almost entirely limited to two locations: Leinster House and Buswells Hotel across the road.
Security fears mean things like popping out for lunch or taking a stroll down Grafton Street are mostly a thing of a past, the Fianna Fáil TD for Waterford told The Irish Times.
Ms Butler, who is Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, was speaking following Wednesday’s far-right protest outside Leinster House which led to the arrests of 13 people.
The demonstration, which Tánaiste Micheál Martin called “fascist-like behaviour”, featured a mock gallows covered in portraits of politicians. TDs were harassed and jostled, while staff were prevented from leaving the building for about two hours.
“What happened reached a new level. It was orchestrated to cause as much disruption as possible,” said Ms Butler. She said two of her staff were subject to abusive comments and were called “traitors” as they entered the building.
Later in the day, the Minister was unable to go outside to meet a group of retired Waterford Crystal workers who were visiting Leinster House while a large number of her colleagues were unable to attend the removal of her party colleague, Co Meath councillor Damien O’Reilly.
“People have a constitutional right to protest but I just think what happened on Wednesday crossed a line,” she said.
Ms Butler is more attuned than most to possible threats. In January, she spoke of her immense pride in her teenage son who is transgender. Since then she has received a large amount of online abuse as a result.
There has been other, unrelated abuse as well. During the summer, the Minister received an email to her publicly available address from someone telling her that if they ever meet her, they “will not be responsible for their actions”. The person also said they were “prepared to go to prison”, Ms Butler said.
The message was referred to An Garda Síochána which viewed it as a credible threat and launched an investigation. Gardaí visited Ms Butler’s home and two constituency offices. They provided security advice, including the installation of a peep hole and more secure doors.
“I don’t want to become the victim. It’s not about me. I love doing my job. But it has come to this,” Ms Butler said.
On another occasion, a person Ms Butler said was linked to the far right entered her office and began filming her secretary who was there on her own. Another person threatened to come to her office “with a lorry load of slurry”.
Her offices no longer operate an open-door policy and all visits are now by appointment. Her female staff were advised not to work in the office alone and the Minister was told in the short term not to travel anywhere alone and to inform gardaí before attending any events.
She said that due to security concerns she limits her movements while staying in Dublin on Leinster House business during the week: “I stay in the Dáil all day and it’s straight over to Buswells for the night.”
Ms Butler believes the far right are a “small minority” who are not representative of most people’s views.
“That element gets a lot of coverage. I think I gets too much of a platform,” she said.
She also criticised certain fellow members of the Oireachtas for giving a platform to far-right activists, including some who attended Wednesday’s protest.
“It’s very disappointing. Some people in the Oireachtas have also spread misinformation,” she said.
“I’m not sure why they do it, whether it’s for publicity or because they don’t understand the issues.”