Tailored security services should be provided by gardaí for politicians, new report recommends

Draft report headed by former garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan recommends swathe of new measures to address prevalent abuse of public representatives

Female public representatives previously spoke of having to put extra locks on their homes and offices, and some said they no longer hold constituency clinics on the advice of gardaí. Photo: Bryan O Brien / The Irish Times Keywords: Government Dail Politics

Tailored security services should be provided by gardaí to politicians while the Oireachtas should set up a new social media monitoring unit, an unpublished report by former garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has found.

Ms O’Sullivan was appointed last summer to lead a cross-party taskforce designed to address the safety of politicians in Ireland, following reporting about the scale of abuse faced by politicians during the course of their work, particularly female politicians.

Female public representatives previously spoke of having to put extra locks on their homes and offices, and some said they no longer hold constituency clinics on the advice of gardaí while others said they questioned whether they would do the job if they had known the issues beforehand.

A draft copy of Ms O’Sullivan’s report, seen by The Irish Times, was circulated among taskforce members late on Thursday afternoon and it contains 14 detailed recommendations about how the issue should be addressed.


For election candidates, the taskforce has recommended that it should no longer be a requirement for the home addresses of election candidates to be published and this should be optional.

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In a series of recommendations around the role of An Garda Síochána, it says that “comprehensive security reviews” should be conducted on a periodic basis “to ensure appropriate and proportionate measures are in place to maintain safe access and egress to the Leinster House complex, while balancing the rights of individuals and citizens to engage with the democratic process.”

It recommends that An Garda Síochána should assign a dedicated appropriately resourced team of personnel, with sufficient knowledge of the workings of the Houses and its environs, to liaise with Leinster House authorities and to ensure the required day to day security arrangements are in place.

It also says that An Garda Síochána should appoint dedicated points of contact at national, regional and local level to proactively provide tailored security advices to elected representatives and that established reporting mechanisms should be set up to receive and co-ordinate responses to incidents of abuse.

All information regarding reports of threats and investigations, including the outcome of enquiries and investigations, should be collated at a national level to inform the overall threat assessment, the report says.

Ms O’Sullivan’s report has also recommended that The Electoral Commission should engage with local authorities in providing general crime prevention and security advice to prospective candidates while there should also be crime prevention briefings set up through the divisional crime prevention officers.

In terms the Oireachtas, the taskforce says there should be a proposed social media monitoring unit. TDs and Senators could opt in to the service which could mean that they would be able to report harmful or illegal content directly to social media platforms as “trusted flaggers” for action. Reports from this could also be made to gardaí.

Within the Oireachtas, a dedicated single point of contact could be set up in the superintendent’s section to whom security related incidences could be reported, which could also involve an escalation process to gardaí.

The report finds that significant levels of abuse are being experienced by those who participate in political life.

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“The consequences of abuse, as reflected in national and international studies, are far-reaching for the individuals who experience it and can act as a potential barrier to participation in political life and undermine the democratic process.

“From the evidence, the taskforce concludes that abuse in political life is prevalent, problematic and is targeted disproportionately at women and minority groups. Online abuse is intensifying and becoming normalised, fuelled by the anonymity provided by digital platforms, and often driven by misogyny, sexism, racism and intolerance.

“The taskforce concludes that given the potentially serious impact on democracy, and diverse and inclusive representation, a strategic and co-ordinated and approach is needed to address the issue. The taskforce recommends that the Houses of the Oireachtas lead in co-ordinating a comprehensive and sustained response, in partnership with Government departments and other relevant stakeholders, through the establishment and resourcing of a senior officials oversight and implementation group to action the recommendations in this report.”

There are also recommendations around what actions political parties should take.

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“It is recommended that political parties have codes of conduct in place with clear principles and expected standards of behaviour, including internal pathways for reporting abuse in a confidential manner.”

“It is recommended that An Coimisiún Toghcháin, as part of its research programme, undertake comprehensive research of the prevalence of abuse of politicians, at national and local level, and of political candidates and establish a baseline assessment of the issue. This should include the targeted abuse of women and minority groups during election cycles and identify barriers to participation and inform the policy response to address them.”

It is also recommended that local authorities provide psychological support services to local representatives.

The Task Force was also informed that “abuse appears to be becoming more extreme in nature and more prevalent, with the impact becoming more of a burden on those who choose to enter and engage with politics at every level.”

Female politicians are experiencing “substantially higher levels of abuse that is sexual, sexist and/or degrading in nature.”

The taskforce heard “powerful personal testimony from national and local politicians of their lived experiences of abuse and its impact.”

“Beyond direct personal impact, the taskforce heard evidence of the negative impacts of abuse for political participation and democracy. These include potential candidates being discouraged due to fear of abuse, existing politicians deciding not to run again, politicians avoiding contentious topics, politicians avoiding community-facing activities and/or candidates avoiding in-person canvassing which decreases chances of election.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times